Recently my children’s book Ella Mae the Courageous Cheerleader was featured in a public educator’s reception in a Barnes & Noble in San Antonio. It was on display, but I was unfortunately not able to attend the event myself. When I reached out to the store manager to find out how my book did in the event, she shared that the book got a lot of attention and initial interest, but as soon as they saw it contained a message about God and faith, they said they had no use for it in their school. She wanted to know how I usually respond to that feedback. I hadn’t needed to yet and realized that I had better get a response ready for the next time.
I was really surprised that the piece was rejected for having faith content. After all, aren’t we living in the land of freedom of speech? I went to work researching the laws of prayer and religious expression in public schools for myself. Yes, a lot of limits have been set over time, but it appears there is still a lot that teachers and administrators can do to keep expression of faith alive if they have the courage.
First, I was refreshed to find that Texas law specifically affirms the right for students to pray in public schools as long as it is voluntary. Texas also established a schools ability to institute a period of silence, which a student may reflect or meditate. (Yay Texas). (Texas Education Code 25.901 and 15.082).
I also found that under Federal law, The US Department of Education states that students can read religious books, proselytize with other students, and even distribute religious literature in the same way they would non-religious literature. Teachers do have some limits. Under law they cannot specifically discourage or promote religious activity because of its religious content, and this applies to anti-religious activity as well. They can teach about common civic values but must remain neutral with respect to religion. Finally, they can teach about the Bible as literature and teach about religion in society but cannot provide specific religious instruction.
So, back to the original question posed to me. What is my response to public teachers or administrators who say they have no use for a book in their school because it mentions God? I say there is plenty of room for it if used in a way that honors the laws of our nation:
1) Make copies available in the school library. Students have the upheld right to read religious books at school, and even proselytize with other students. It becomes the student’s choice to check it out and read it or not. Create opportunities for them by having spiritual content available by student selection.
2) Make copies available in the school counseling office. If students self-elect to read it to help them discuss an issue they are having with bullies, it is within their legal right to do so.
3) Make copies available in the classroom. Make every opportunity to allow students to express their faith, the way our current law allows and protects. As long as the reading is available for their choosing, no laws are being broken. They can even read it aloud to the class without any laws being broken.
I’ve actually donated several copies of Ella Mae the Courageous Cheerleader to public schools and the librarians have welcomed them with open arms. If you would like to help keep positive faith-based messages in public schools, a great way to do so is to purchase copies of your favorites and donate them to your child’s classroom. Students have the right to talk about the content pretty much any time they want. You can help the cause by creating opportunity for them to do so.
Stephanie Cameron is author of the children’s book Ella Mae the Courageous Cheerleader. The book is available online at the following stores: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Family Christian Store and Tate Publishing Bookstore.
Ella Mae’s love for cheerleading is strong, but so are the bullies on the cheer team. Ella Mae, the Courageous Cheerleader is a children’s book written in rhyme, sharing a personal story of dealing with bullies. It teaches children how to respond to meanness with kindness, courage and confidence. Ella Mae will inspire children who are dealing with bullies at school to turn to their faith in God. By responding according to His Word, they too can receive God’s promise of blessing and the confidence that they are doing the right thing.
– See more at: http://www.ellamaebooks.com/blog/#sthash.tApgogl6.dpuf