Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Well, the Spencer (Iowa) School Board is back at it, further discussing a Draft Policy on Religion that is bound to get them in trouble. School Board member Rev. Barb Van Wyk, one of the drafters of the policy, went so far as to say:
"We are looking for common ground here, not battle ground," added Van Wyk, one of the policy's writers. "And in our community, I think it's a really good thing to have a healthy discussion about this - because we all know that there is a spiritual component to our lives..."
So I think it's important for us as a school district to look at having a policy, because we are interested in educating the whole person, the whole student. And to totally avoid the spiritual component because we're afraid to do so because it's going to cause more trouble, and everyone's afraid of the trouble it might cause, I think we are doing a disservice to our students. That's why I'm eager to see a policy adopted that would bring it out."
They appear to be getting basically good advice from Steve Avery, apparently the board's attorney. After noting that no other school district in the state has a similar policy, he advised among other things:
... the public district cannot, under the First Amendment, promote one school of thought or one secular [sectarian?] belief - and cannot prevent an individual from expressing his or her free expression of religious belief.
A local religious program, course or materials, he warned, "needs to be very broad brush."
"You do need to be certain that there's no agenda with regard to the course or the materials...You will not be successful avoiding, in my opinion, litigation if you adopt a secular [sectarian?] view or a course material that only would be supported by one type of thinking or one group.
He warned that graduation and extra curriculars are areas that will attract lots of attention and litigation if religion is included.
"To have a prayer as a portion of a program is not going to pass muster," Avery said, as opposed to students voluntarily gathering for a baccalaureate... "watch out there."
On distributing religious materials on schoolgrounds, Avery warns to "use the same policy for all organizations, no matter what they are."
"It's all over the news that we're talking about a religious liberty policy. If we just drop it now, the message will be that God is a four letter word."
Oh, and I know the next part! ahem....
"Maybe you should watch your tone and be more welcoming of these religious folk. If you don't let them draft up a policy explicitly advancing religious (or spiritual) ideas, you risk alienating them forever. You should be willing to find a middle ground." (Where 'middle ground' is for some reason defined as crossing over from a point of neutrality into explicit religious advocacy).
dropped or not, the message is the same.