Christian song allowed in school talent show; Muslim prayers permissible on school field trip

Sheryl Young
Yahoo! Contributor Network
Oldest schoolhouse in Delaware, National Register of Historic Places.

In a previous Yahoo! News piece I wrote on religious rights in American public schools, one commenter challenged my column for covering only prohibitions, and not citing any incidents where religion was allowed.

Here are a couple of positive examples.

* In October, teachers at a Chicago public school were going to censor two students from singing about Jesus in a talent show. Lawyers informed the Elmer H. Franzen Intermediate School and the entire Itasca School District that opening a forum for voluntary student expression means students cannot legally be censored for religious expression within the material selected. This would be a violation of the First Amendment. (See this Liberty Counsel news release).

An exception would be if that expression includes hateful discrimination toward another group. Because the material had to be screened by teachers, it was obvious the song "Call on Jesus" indicated a personal preference for faith, and did not force others to abide by it. The performance was allowed.

* In September, a social studies class from Wellesley Middle School toured the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. Mosque officials invited male students to join traditional Muslim prayers. And some of the boys from the school class were allowed by the teachers present to participate in the prayer service.

Is this a positive or a negative? One difference is that the Wellesley school trip was during class hours. The Franzen school talent show was after school hours.

Although the field trip (conducted during school hours) also included a visit to a Jewish synagogue, this begs the question: Would the children have been allowed to pray with the Jewish synagogue attendees? Or did the teachers remain silent at the Mosque because they were afraid it was politically incorrect to speak up?

Neither of these issues has been reported in "mainstream media," except for the second incident, which hit Fox News and Yahoo! News. (The latter is no longer available online.) It's imminent that someone will leave a comment saying they don't put stock in Fox News. However, those stations known to Americans as mainstream media stations (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, etc) are no longer typically reporting pro-Bible-based school incidents, and are being careful not to report incidents that may be taken to reflect negatively on Islam.

Americans are beginning to have a wonderful desire to show the many decent American Muslims that we care for them and do not fear them. But is this leading public schools to have a slanted idea of what should be allowed for one religion while not allowed for the others?

For example, Jan. 16 each year is National "Religious Freedom Day" (promoting freedom of religion, not freedom from religion). A group called World Changers has gone into Florida school districts in previous years to give away Bibles after school hours. But this year, the Collier County School District banned the distribution of the Bibles, even when they would have only been distributed on non-class time.

Banning the Bibles, after school hours, on Religious Freedom Day?

If schools want to promote tolerance and diversity, much care must be taken to do exactly the same thing for all religions across the board. It could become impossible to know which desires for freedom of religious expression are allowable, and which are not.