Thursday, January 09, 2003
OMAHA WESTSIDE BIBLE CLUB CASE OFFERS OPPORTUNITIES
FOR FREE-SPEECH LEARNING BY KIDS
A federal lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Denver against a Colorado high school’s officials, who allowed a wide range of noncurricular clubs to operate there, including a Gay/Straight Alliance . . . but refused students’ requests last September to start a Bible Club.
The suit was filed against Monarch High School in Louisville, Colo., part of the Boulder Valley School District.
The American Center for Law and Justice appears to have smooth sailing toward a victory in its suit, alleging violations of the Constitution’s First and Fourteenth Amendments, and of the Equal Access Act.
Their case appears to be a winner, too, because of the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case, Board of Education v. Mergens (110 S.Ct. 2356) in which officials of Omaha’s Westside Community Schools sued a girl named Brigid Mergens. She wanted to start a Bible Club at Westside and have the same access to the school newspaper, bulletin boards, public address system and annual club fair as other student-led clubs. Those clubs, such as the chess club, various political clubs and social clubs, involved students but do not directly relate to the body of courses offered at the school the way the Math Club and Spanish Club, for two examples, do.
Westside had egg on its face, bigtime, for opposing the Bible Club because of the Equal Access Act of 1984. It was passed specifically to prevent discrimination against religious and other types of speech. The Supreme Court ruled that Miss Mergens’ Bible Club could and should go on, with equal rights to all other clubs, as long as it didn’t become disruptive of the normal school day. If some clubs are allowed to put on panel discussions and hold meetings during school hours, it was reasoned, then ALL clubs must be given that same right, and all must be permitted to be pictured in the school annual and so forth.
Free-speech rights of students don’t end at the schoolhouse door. Far from it, as a matter of fact.
Besides the Omaha Bible Club case, a recent incident in Ann Arbor, Mich., clarifies the student club picture even further. Gay activists and certain school district employees at Pioneer High School tried to force the students’ Christian club there to censor their view that homosexual behavior is wrong and sinful. Their basis? The Ann Arbor school board had a “non-discrimination” policy, which the pro-homosexual activists argued was violated by the Christian kids’ assertions. But this past October, the Ann Arbor school board realized that what the homosexual activists wanted would amount to erasing the Christian students’ constitutional and federal statutory rights to free speech. You can’t put the political agendas of adults over the constitutional rights of students, in other words. Fortunately, the school board saw that and changed their policy, avoiding a lawsuit.
However, another lawsuit against that Michigan district is pending over the same issue: because school officials allowed pro-homosexual adults purporting to be clergy to monopolize a panel discussion during school hours for students on “homosexuality and religion,” and specifically denied the right of those with other points of view a voice in the event, the Thomas More Law Center (www.thomasmore.org) filed suit on behalf of student Betsy Hansen and her mother on constitutional grounds.
That suit also appears to have smooth sailing toward victory.
In the words of the ancient scholars: duhhhhh!
These cases just point to excellent learning opportunities for students, parents and educators, about our most precious freedom, the rights guaranteed by the constitution’s First Amendment. There are plenty more places for parents and taxpayers to educate themselves about students’ free-speech rights, especially with regard to the important and controversial clash over whether it is good or bad to allow homosexual activism inside public-school buildings. See especially:
American Center for Law and Justice (click “Student Rights”)
The Rutherford Center (click “Students’ Rights in Public Education”)
But here’s the key opportunity:
Since these court cases make it clear that it violates an individual student’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association to ban both a non-disruptive, student-led Bible Club and a non-disruptive, student-led Gay-Straight Alliance, school officials need to wake up, back off and let the free speech rock ‘n’ roll, as long as it doesn’t disrupt school or violate discipline policies.
Then let the ones who really matter in all of this get in there and do some actual learning – and teaching – within these clubs.
By that, I mean Christian students ought to be joining the Gay-Straight Alliances with an intent to find common ground and point the way toward truth as they see it. And pro-homosexual students ought to be joining the Bible Club . . . with an intent to find common ground and point the way toward truth as THEY see it. Get the adults and the political activism out of the picture, and focus on the learning and the students. Watch the decibel level come 'way, 'way down. Both views of the truth would have an opportunity to influence the clubs’ activities so that nobody’s rights are infringed and the truth can come out.
Guess which truth will win out?
Give the kids and the conflicting points of view a level playing ground. Believe in kids, and let them work together. You’ll be glad you did. So will our country.
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