Previously, Focus on the Family Education Analyst Candi Cushman discussed how the Supreme Court’s sweeping redefinition of marriage will impact parental rights in our schools. She now addresses some commonly asked questions we receive pertaining to its effect on students’ religious freedoms. –Jim Daly
Q: Do you think Obergefell v. Hodges endangers students’ rights to express a biblical point of view at school?
The short answer is yes.
The Court decision is the latest in a long series of legal and societal actions that have chiseled away at many of our most cherished freedoms. In some ways, this latest ruling was more like an axe blow than a chisel. So, speaking in terms of a cumulative effect, it presents one of the greatest threats we’ve seen in recent history to students’ rights.
In short, the decision has set the stage for a national tug-of-war between religious freedom on campus and classroom instruction promoting the redefinition of marriage. Because same-sex marriage is now considered the law of the land, it’s therefore viewed as fair game for inclusion in any academic subject.
To summarize it a different way: The Court’s action put the weight of federal law heavily on the censorship side of the rope, meaning those who hold a traditional view of marriage will be increasingly marginalized and silenced. The key question now is, can we restore at least a little balance on behalf of students’ religious freedoms?
Unfortunately, some important players in the education world seem to be working against that goal: For instance, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association (NEA), just passed a resolution equipping its state affiliates to make a case against religious freedom legislation.
Q: Practically speaking, how does this tug-of-war play out in the classroom?
At this point, we can’t answer this question definitively, but we can take cues from trends that had already begun before the decision. Let’s consider what happened to Dakota Ary, a 14-year-old honors student in Fort Worth, Texas.
During a class discussion about religion and homosexuality, Dakota turned to his friend and explained that same-sex relationships didn’t align with his Christian beliefs. Suddenly, Dakota found himself accused of a possible “bullying” offense. He was immediately sent to the principal’s office and punished with suspension.
Dakota’s attorney later explained to reporters there was a history with the teacher regarding homosexual topics. That teacher had “posted a picture of two men kissing … that offended some of the students … He told the students this is happening all over the world and you need to accept the fact that homosexuality is just part of our culture now.”
So the sad reality is that, for a while now, not even traditionally conservative cities in the heart of Texas have been exempt from censorship in the name of “tolerance”—or in this case “anti-bullying.”
But the good news is Dakota stood up for his religious freedom rights, and the suspension was removed from his record. The bad news is that incidents like these are only going to increase. And the Supreme Court’s decision makes it more difficult for students like Dakota to successfully defend their First Amendment rights.
Q: So we see individual and free speech rights are being threatened. Does the same hold true for Christian student clubs in public schools from kindergarten to higher education?
Yes, but in a different way. Students can no longer take their First Amendment right to meet together and form associations with likeminded people for granted.
Within the last two years, in the name of “nondiscrimination,” an alarming number of Christian student clubs have been “derecognized.” This means they’ve lost access to what their schools previously provided for free: meeting space and promotional opportunities. So, unless they have thousands of dollars lying around to suddenly pay rent and buy advertising, they’ve lost their visibility and their voice.
This silencing has occurred on nearly 30 college campuses, both private and public, across the country.
Q: What spurred this pattern?
Yet another U.S. Supreme Court decision. In 2010, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez upheld the right of a California law school (Hastings) to deny funding and official recognition to a Christian student club.
The Christian club in that case committed the unpardonable sin of daring to unite around the belief that the Bible is the “inspired word of God” and that: “In view of the clear dictates of Scripture, unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle is inconsistent with an affirmation of the Statement of Faith.”
Essentially, the Court’s decision cleared the way for colleges to give Christian clubs a Hobson’s choice: Either stop requiring your leaders to share a commitment to your club’s biblical principles or give up your rights to meet on campus. Of course, that sort of renders the whole point of having a club moot.
So again we see a cumulative effect: The 2010 decision coupled with Obergefell puts even more weight at the censorship end of rope.
Q: So Christian students are between a rock and a hard place…
I believe a Vanderbilt student, writing for Christianity Today after her club was derecognized, expressed it most eloquently. In the piece, Trish Harrison Warren wrote:
“The line between good and evil was drawn by two issues: creedal belief and sexual expression.
“…It didn’t matter to them if we were politically or racially diverse, if we cared about the environment or built Habitat homes. It didn’t matter if our students were top in their fields and some of the kindest, most thoughtful, most compassionate leaders on campus. There was a line in the sand, and we fell on the wrong side of it.”
Q: Once again, you’ve given us extremely sobering news to digest! Is there any hope for our campuses in the near future?
I have a tremendous amount of hope. And ironically, I see that hope coming from the same place where we’re seeing many of the threats to religious freedoms – our nation’s campuses.
Or to be more specific, the young people with bold faith setting foot on those campuses.
When you think about it, many of the largest, most far-reaching cultural revolutions – for good or for bad – have been spurred by youth. And in the Bible, we see examples of young people who led the way for the rest of their culture by providing an example of spiritual boldness and taking a courageous stand for their belief in God. We see this in the books of Daniel and Esther, which tell the stories of a young man and woman, who despite their youth, had the courage to stand for God’s principles in an unbelieving culture. Their action had a huge impact, even on nonbelievers, for generations to come.
A 13-year-old student named Giovanni comes to mind. He brought his Bible to school – and was told by an educator he wasn’t allowed to do that. We recently interviewed Giovanni, and I think you’ll be as encouraged as I was by this young man’s conviction and joy in taking a stand for his religious freedoms at his school, even in the face of tremendous pressure to stay silent.
Q: That is encouraging. But what can we do to come alongside these students?
First, be proactive in educating the next generation. In order for more students like Giovanni to feel confident about expressing their faith in the public square, they have to understand the founding principles that shaped this nation. Keep in mind that today’s Bible-believing youth are tomorrow’s leaders who will work to reverse many of the discouraging trends we’re experiencing now.
A positive, fun way to empower students in your life is to let them know about a new event Focus on the Family is sponsoring: Bring Your Bible to School Day, which will take place on Oct. 8.
On that day, thousands of students will celebrate their religious freedoms and share God’s hope with friends by simply bringing their Bibles to school—and using their free-speech rights to talk about it with friends! Students can sign up to access age-appropriate participation guides at BringYourBible.org
Second, be persistent in supporting policies that protect religious freedoms for future generations. To that end, we have resources available at our Social Issues page that equip you to stay abreast of the latest developments.
Also, be encouraged that we serve the eternal God, who promises to walk right beside us through the hottest fires and deepest rivers (Isaiah 43:2) and reminds us that truth and love overcome (John 16:33). And remember, you’re not alone: Our staff here at Focus on the Family is working hard every day to come alongside you and equip you with tools to not only protect your rights, but also to have a redemptive impact in your communities.
And finally, be in prayer. This ultimately a spiritual battle, so ask the Lord to raise up a new generation of bold believers and pray that those currently in positions of power would protect the basic freedoms on which our nation was founded.