Monday, March 14, 2016

Christian organization training teachers to get around laws and promote religion in public schools

An organization called the Christian Educators Association International, which "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," Emma Brown reports for The Washington Post.

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

Some advocates argue that "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," Brown writes. "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."

"Laursen said he believes teachers of every faith have—and deserve—the same constitutional protections as Christian teachers when it comes to expressing religion at school," Brown writes. "He and some other Christian educators say the culture in many public schools feels particularly hostile to Christianity compared with other religions, making it intimidating to admit a relationship with Jesus. And they say that by explaining the law in concrete terms, the Christian Educators Association has empowered them to express their faith with new boldness."

"During weekend-long seminars in hotel conference rooms, the group teaches teachers that they have a right to pray with colleagues during breaks or at lunchtime," Brown writes. "They may lead before- and after-school religious clubs for students. They can honestly answer students’ questions about their beliefs, and they may even pray with students outside work hours. Teachers are told it’s OK to keep a Bible on their desk and teach about it in class, so long as it fits within the curriculum. And they are urged to witness for Jesus by acting in a godly manner, in part so that others might be provoked to wonder—and ask—why they have so much kindness and compassion."

Charles C. Haynes, a First Amendment expert at the Newseum Institute’s Religious Freedom Center, said that "while the Constitution says that government cannot establish religion, it also says that the government cannot inhibit religious freedom—a provision that allows students—and to a lesser degree, teachers—to express their faith in school," Brown writes. He told her, “The First Amendment does not exclude religion from public schools. It gives us the ground rules for how religion comes into public schools.”

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