John Leo

    Another fairly common school crisis comes when a class is asked to write an essay or draw a picture of someone they regard as a hero. Mao Tse-tung or Vlad the Impaler will bring no rebuke, but if the hero is Jesus or Moses, watch out. Last week the second circuit court of appeals in New York accepted the case of Antonio Peck, who, as a kindergartner in 1999, had his drawing censored from a class wall display because of church-state concerns. Along with the rest of his class, Antonio was told to draw a picture to illustrate his understanding of the environment. He drew a man with upraised arms, wearing a robe. When asked, the boy said the man was Jesus, who was “the only way to save the world.” The trial will decide whether the school was guilty of viewpoint censorship.

      In Tennessee, the Knox County board of education is being sued for refusing to allow a 10-year-old to read his Bible during recess. The school argued that recess is not free time and that the school can forbid the reading of religious material during that period. The Phoenix-based Alliance Defense Fund, which defends religious liberties cases, supported the student.  After ADF intervened, a school in Torrance, California, backed down from its decision not to allow a student on a dance team to perform to religious music. ADF also defended students who had been forbidden by their schools to participate in the national September 21 “See You at the Pole” prayer and religious event on school grounds. ADF argued that religious expression cannot be treated differently from any other constitutionally protected expression.

     As if to prove that church-state objections can be found on the right as well as on the left, the band director at C.D. Hylton high school in Virginia pulled the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by Charlie Daniels Band after a conservative objected. He wondered why the school should be allowed to sing about the devil when they are not allowed to sing about God. Next week: the ACLU sues to ban deviled eggs from the school cafeteria.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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