Recently, I have been asked the question of whether a Christian school is a "necessary" function of a church. Put another way, is a faith-based, K-12 education a necessary component of exercising one's religion? Years ago, my answer might have been "no." Recent events—and, particularly, recently passed state legislation—however, have led me to a different conclusion.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to practice one's religion. Specifically, the First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that conduct flowing from a "sincerely held religious belief" is constitutionally protected free exercise. In the 1965 case United States v. Seeger, the court provided a robust defense of free exercise.
"Men may believe what they cannot prove," Justice Clark wrote, citing United States v. Ballard. "Local boards and courts in this sense are not free to reject beliefs because they consider them 'incomprehensible.' Their task is to decide whether the beliefs professed by a registrant are sincerely held and whether they are, in his own scheme of things, religious."
The test then for whether a faith-based education is a necessary component of exercising religion is (1) whether belief that it is a necessary component is sincerely held and (2) whether such belief is, in the claimant's "own scheme of things, religious."
In a cultural and educational climate that becomes increasingly opposed (dare I say hostile?) to scriptural principles, truths and morals, the argument for the necessity of religious education grows ever stronger. For an illustration, consider a short list of recently passed legislation in the state of California.
In 2008, Senate Bill 777 sprang into law. The bill redefines the word "gender" in the California Education Code to mean "sex, and includes a person's identity and gender expression. 'Gender expression' means a person's gender-related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person's assigned sex at birth."
Thus, as far as California public education is concerned, the entire concept of gender is not a matter of science or anatomy, nor is it a matter of a God-given designation of His created order into "male and female." Rather, it is merely a matter of individual expression. What's more, the code prohibits as discrimination differentiation between persons on the basis of their gender in "any program or activity" conducted by a public school or college. That is a pretty extreme limitation, broad enough to apply to athletic programs, facility designations and perhaps even dorm room assignments.
Senate Bill 48, effective in January of this year, calls for a revision of public school history textbooks to place emphasis on contributions by members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community throughout history. It is no longer enough to analyze historical figures through the lens of their contributions to society and the beliefs that motivated their conduct. Now, teachers and textbooks must emphasize the sexual preference of historical figures. Even more distressing than revisionist history, the law forbids curriculum from including any "sectarian or denominational doctrine" that is contrary to the state's broad anti-discrimination policy.
In addition to calling for alterations to state curriculum and teaching objectives, a number of California statutes have outright assaulted the already dwindling rights of parents to direct their children's education, particularly with regard to religious teachings on sexuality. Under the guise of student privacy rights, students as young as 12 years old are able to access medical services for sexually transmitted diseases, seek counseling from school employees on matters of gender confusion, sexual preference and premarital sex, and even obtain abortions—all without parental consent.
The California attorney general has gone a step further, interpreting the law not even to impose a duty upon public school officials to notify parents after their children have obtained such services. This is true even when a 12-year-old girl, upon the advice of a school counselor, has elected to get an abortion.
This isn't even the half of legislative and teachers unions' efforts to undermine traditional values and notions of right and wrong. The California Teachers Association, one of the most powerful and well-funded political groups in California, will continue to unravel the thread of religious teachings on these subjects if it has its way in changing state educational laws in upcoming years.
Limited counter measures
More and more, religious parents find themselves toe to toe with state authorities regarding the raising of children in accordance with sincerely held religious beliefs and notions of morality. And unlike other negative cultural influences, such as TV, parents can't interject into the programming a religious analysis of the messages being communicated or simply change the channel.
Returning to our inquiry of whether faith-based education is a necessary component of exercising religion, it seems that each day that goes by and each new piece of legislation signed into law affirm that it is.
For more information on state education laws' impact on religious liberty, visit the website of Advocates for Faith & Freedom at www. faith-freedom.com and order a copy of "Hijacked K-12: The Commandeering of California's Public Schools."
Lindsay Walton is an associate attorney with Murietta-based Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a non-profit law firm dedicated to effecting positive change in law and culture, one case at a time.
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