It’s happened many times before, but I still don’t understand it. If you’re going to break the law by promoting Christianity through the public schools, why would you brag about it to the media?
The latest example is from Calhoun County in Mississippi, where students, faculty members, and administrators in the county’s school district held a massive Come to Jesus rally for everyone a week before the beginning of the new school year.
“To lift up the students, the support staff, the administration… That they would just follow God’s leadership,” says Bruce High Principal, Dallas Gore.
The high schools in Calhoun County each held their own prayer service to spiritually prepare school and community members for the upcoming school year.
To be clear, this wasn’t a student-led initiative or local churches coming together on their own to pray. This was a top-down request from school leaders who themselves participated in the event. It sent a strong message to everyone, Christian or not, that non-Christians will not be welcome in these buildings.
Here’s a game for you: Below are two quotations. One’s from a seventh grader who shouldn’t be blamed for not knowing any better. One’s from an administrator who absolutely should. Can you tell which is which?
“We’re trying to change the culture of the school. We’re trying to create school pride back,” said _______.
“It’s a good thing for schools to have because you need God in every school, no matter what religion you are,” said _______. “You don’t have to pray with them, but I think it’s good to have Christ in schools.”
The bottom one is from the student, who thinks Christ is a necessity at every school. The top one is from Principal Gore, who thinks the way to create “school pride” is by excluding anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus (whether he intended to do that or not).
It’s not like the faculty members are helping:
“You know to be able to lift our school systems up, to encourage them, especially those who believe, who are Christians,” said assistant kindergarten teacher, Autumn Baker. “Just encourage them to keep holding the faith, to keep strong.”
“That they know or get to see a type of life that is humble, that is putting others above them-self, and is willing to serve others and being kind, loving, and all the values that Christ in his life tried to model,” says [teacher Travis] England.
I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable or safe in a school where acceptance of Christ was a prerequisite and where the Christian faith was meant to be synonymous with goodness.
It doesn’t matter that this is Mississippi and all this praying is for a good cause. If a school district really wants to improve morale and make the system better, there are plenty of ways to do it that don’t involve illegal preaching. If they don’t know what those are, they have bigger problems on their hands.
Don’t blame ignorance either. In another interview, Principal Gore admitted he knew there were rules about church/state separation:
“Society has tied the hands of many leaders like me with what we can and cannot say to students but we can still live and model our lives after a life of Christ,” says Gore.
He knows there are things he can’t say to students… and yet he thought a prayer circle would pass a legal test? When you get something as obvious as that wrong, it sends a message that you’re in no way qualified to run a public school with a diverse mix of students.
Another comment he made was equally disturbing:
“These children are moldable,” said first year principal at Bruce High School, Dallas Gore. “These children are still impressionable and they are looking to the leaders of our community, such as people like me, for the example to be set.”
That’s precisely why it’s illegal to push Christianity upon them in a public school. It’s the same reason all of these people would be up in arms if a Muslim principal asked everyone — teachers, students, administrators — to kneel on their prayer mats and ask Allah for a great school year. Proselytizing has no place in a public school district. If this is the best way these people know to help the students they’re responsible for educating, it spell real trouble for the entire District.
It’s also disturbing that two news organizations that reported on this didn’t even bother contacting church/state separation groups for their take on all this. Instead, they gave the impression as if this was all fine.
I was tipped off to this story by several people, one of whom was a former teacher in the Calhoun County schools. That teacher said (but I haven’t confirmed) there were also prayers over the intercom every morning, which would also be illegal.