These Christian teachers want to bring Jesus into public schools

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Source: The Washington Post

Finn Laursen believes millions of American children are no longer learning right from wrong, in part because public schools have been stripped of religion. To repair that frayed moral fabric, Laursen and his colleagues want to bring the light of Jesus Christ into public school classrooms across the country — and they are training teachers to do just that.

The Christian Educators Association International, an organization that sees the nation’s public schools as “the largest single mission field in America,” aims to show Christian teachers how to live their faith — and evangelize in public schools — without running afoul of the Constitution’s prohibition on the government establishing or promoting any particular religion.

“We’re not talking about proselytizing. That would be illegal,” said Laursen, the group’s executive director. “But we’re saying you can do a lot of things. . . . It’s a mission field that you fish in differently.”

Not everyone agrees that it’s acceptable for teachers to “fish” in public schools, where government officials are not allowed to promote or endorse any particular faith.

The nation has been fighting over the role of religion in public education for more than a century, and in helping public school teachers understand — and push toward — the legal boundaries of expression, Laursen and his colleagues are wading into one of the most fraught issues in American life.

Some advocates say the organization urges teachers to invite Christianity into the classroom in ways that might be unconstitutional and that are bound to make some children — and their parents — uncomfortable.

“They appear to be encouraging teachers to cross the line,” said Daniel Mach of the American Civil Liberties Union, which fought the Christian Educators Association in a 2009 court case over Florida teachers’ religious expression at school. “Decisions about the religious upbringing of children should be left in the hands of parents and families, not public school officials.”

Others say that there would be outrage if teachers of any other faith were being encouraged to express their beliefs in the classroom, legally or otherwise — particularly at a time when anti-
Muslim sentiment is on the rise and some parents have complained that academic lessons about Islam can amount to religious indoctrination.

“What this really amounts to is a privileging of the majority,” said Katherine Stewart, a journalist whose questions about Christianity in her children’s public school led her to write a 2012 book, “The Good News Club,” about evangelical Christians’ efforts to reach students in school. “If a Wiccan, Muslim or Satanist public school teacher were to try to put their sacred texts on their desk . . . they would likely be shut down.”

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