Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Texas Parents Upset About Bibles in School

The Gideons, a Christian group that distributes Bibles all over the world is in hot water in Texas. It seems that they worked out an agreement with the public schools of Frisco, Texas to leave Christian Bibles (with the Old and New Testaments) on tables in Frisco public schools. Fox News reports as follows.

Some parents in Frisco, Texas, are fuming because their public school district allowed Christian evangelists to provide Bibles to students on school grounds, which administrators say was done to stop even more proselytizing outside the schools.

Frisco Independent Schools allowed Gideons International to display Bibles on tabletops in all 13 of the district's middle and high schools last week. Officials say it didn't violate the law, but some parents say school is not the place to be offering the Good Book.

I am trying to understand this dispute properly. even within Christianity there are different versions of Scripture. Catholics and Greek Orthodox each recognise books in their bibles which are not part of the King James Version. Jewish Scriptures do not, of course include what is referred to as the New Testament. Then there are Mormons and Muslims who have the book of Mormon and the Koran respectively. How do you create neutral common ground? It is important for members of religious minorities not to be bullied or marginalised for their faith. Catholic immigrants for instance had bad experiences in the nineteenth century when anti immigrant bigotry expressed itself as attacks on their faith. Anti Mormon sentiment came out in ugly ways as well over the years. Teachers are generally taught not to impose their faith upon members of religious minorities. We as a society are protective of those who are not of the religious mainstream.

Unfortunately, we seem to have gone too far in attempting to create a neutral environment. The argument in Frisco, Texas bespeaks a certain awkwardness in maintaining religious neutrality. I have proposals that might if adopted ease the tension.

First, I think there should be a moment of silent reflection in every public school. The time could be used for prayer, contemplation or short daydreams. This should not offend anyone who is not already determined to be offended.

My second proposal involves the weeks at the end of summer vacation in late August and early September. Every house of worship should offer its version of scripture to the children and young adults of the congregation before school starts. They should also offer a booklet with scriptural excerpts and inspirational thoughts that can be taken to school for use during the moment of silence. A weekly or monthly faith newsletter might also be a good idea. The themes of the campaign should be drawing upon one's faith tradition for the sake of proper participation in school life and bringing honour to whatever faith is being espoused. such books should also be offered on the internet to children who may not be affiliated with any house of worship.

Schools present challenges to believers of any faith. At all grade levels, there is the question of bullying. Then there are questions ranging from dating to cheating on tests. A special sermon prior to the start of school and periodic followups might have a proper effect within the schools. Children who are going through a rough time should be encouraged to turn to their clergy person for guidance.

There are special problems in an environment where different religious and ethnic groups share a common space. every child should be presented with the scriptures of his faith before the first day of school. Proper guidance should establish their relevance to his or her daily life and educational career. The Gideons raised interesting questions in their attempt to bring scriptures to school children. Local houses of worship have an indispensable role in making sure that every child has the guidance they need. The Gideons of Frisco Texas should be thanked for raising legitimate questions. Now the ball is in the court of local houses of worship. I hope they will run with it. Children get new clothes and school supplies before the start of every school year. Let's pay attention to spiritual preparations as well.

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