There was an agreement made known to the public on Wednesday (December 7) between the Sumner County School Board and the ACLU to end the recent law suit over religious activities in Sumner County schools.
I know this is a volatile subject, but after reading the actual Consent Decree, I believe this is a fair ruling under the current circumstances.
The most important aspect to me is the STUDENTS RIGHTS. The rights of our students should be vigorously protected, and they have been through this ruling.
Here is a statement from the Sumner County School Board of Education when announcing the agreement:
“Under the terms of the consent decree entered today, students enjoy the full range of constitutional rights to share their religious views so long as they do so in a non-disruptive manner. They can form religious clubs, organize See You at the Pole prayer events, share their faith, pray in the end zone after football games, and engage in other non-disruptive religious activities.”
Other important points from the ruling include the following:
– Teachers will continue to exercise their constitutional rights. Teachers are still permitted to pray over a lunch meal, voluntarily pray with other teachers, and wear personal religious jewelry (despite what the Tennessean erroneously reported on December 8, 2011)
– There has never been a “no bowing” rule from the School Board for teachers, and there is no such rule now.
– Teachers and employees can still use the term “Christmas.”
– Despite these personal rights preserved, teachers and other school officials can not participate in student-led activities or appear to endorse those activities.
This restriction on employees is a better alternative than eliminating all clubs. By removing adult participation, it actually helps our students self-express and lead from their own convictions. Having worked with a lot of student clubs on campus, I think this agreement will allow more students to assert leadership, which is the actual purpose of a religious club.
– According to my interpretation of the agreement, teachers and school district employees won’t be able to participate in baccalaureate, among other religious services. While I believe this restriction is overreaching and unfortunate towards a nice custom such as baccalaureate; this issue isn’t as important as the student’s constitutional rights (which were preserved).
– Schools in Sumner Countywill be permitted to make use of religious facilities in the community when necessary to host large events, such as high school graduations. I think the restrictions to use religious facilities in this agreement are a little narrow and somewhat unnecessary, but if there was any place to compromise, this was a good place to do so. According to this settlement, if schools need a facility that seat over 1,000, they can use religious facilities for this purpose. While the agreement has restrictions that makes using a religious facility difficult, at least there is the opportunity.
Can youth pastors visit schools?
Under the new agreement, they can visit students when they sign in, and visit a specific student.
They cannot visit the cafeteria at lunch time.
I was a youth pastor for ten years, and I spent a lot of time visiting students in the cafeteria during their lunch time (much of that at Sumner County Schools). How important is this task as a youth pastor? In my opinion, this shouldn’t be that big of a deal (I may write more about this later in the week). There are other ways for youth pastors to connect with students than the lunch hour.
And truthfully, as youth “pastors,” we are called to equip our students to do ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). God can use these new restrictions on adult involvement to motivate more students to personally share their faith instead of relying on their youth pastor to roam the cafeteria during lunch.
Our community has been in a crisis mind-set because of this law suit. Yet, crisis can bring innovation. This lawsuit from the ACLU can feel to some Christians like an assault on their “rights.” However, our God works all things for our good. If we approach this issue with humility, we may discover God’s work in our students is bigger than the methods we have always depended upon. I believe in the students of Sumner County, and I believe they will be able to assert self-leadership on campus, which will make the gospel more attractive to those investigating Christianity.