A lawsuit alleging religious discrimination deep in the Bible Belt proves Southern Baptist leaders were wrong to oppose a resolution this summer calling for an exodus from public schools, says the statement’s co-author.
Lawyers in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Plano, Texas, filed a civil-rights lawsuit on Wednesday against the Plano Independent School District alleging a pattern of religious censorship and violation of students’ free-speech rights.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
On Thursday afternoon, a judge granted a temporary restraining order allowing elementary school students to pass out gifts with religious messages at “holiday parties” on Friday.
The lawsuit stemmed from complaints that a third-grade boy was prohibited from passing out goody bags containing candy canes with religious messages while secular gifts were permitted.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Jonathan Morgan was not allowed to hand out candy cane pens last year with an attached message, “The Legend of the Candy Cane.” The statement said in part that the red stripe on the candy cane represented “the blood Christ shed for the sins of the world.”
Earlier, according to the Plano-based Liberty Legal Institute, a girl was not allowed to hand out pencils with “Jesus” written on them at a class birthday party.
Last week the school district sent a letter home asking parents not to send their children to school wearing anything red or green this holiday season and requiring that all cups, plates, napkins and icing for holiday parties be white.
Bruce Shortt, co-author of the controversial anti-public school resolution that died in a committee at this summer’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, called the napkin policy “a comic-opera example of anti-Christian fanaticism in the schools.”
Ironically, Shortt said, Plano is home to Prestonwood Baptist Church, an SBC mega-church with a pastor named Jack Graham. Graham is immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was among SBC leaders who opposed the resolution proposed by Shortt and T.C. Pinckney labeling schools “officially Godless” and “anti-Christian” and spoke dismissively of it in the press.
“The schools in question are in exactly the sort of community in a Red state that we were repeatedly told had schools that were ‘different’ and that were ‘Christian friendly,'” Shortt said.
Shortt, who lives in an affluent Houston suburb and yet home-schools his children, said Christians who believe that are “deluding themselves.”
“Our pastors and parents quite obviously have no real idea about what is really going on in these schools, as the Plano incident proves,” said Shortt, who has written a new book titled The Harsh Truth about Public Schools. The book is published by the Chalcedon Foundation, an organization dedicated to rebuilding a “Christian civilization” in the United States.
“The question now,” Shortt said, “is whether the Southern Baptist Convention’s leadership is finally going to do what should have been done last summer.” That is to “recommend to our brothers and sisters in Christ that we take our children out of Pharaoh’s schools.”
Lawyers for the school district questioned the motivation for the lawsuit and said the district had already decided students can pass out whatever messages they want, as long as they are not obscene, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Shortt, an attorney, works with Exodus Mandate, a Columbia, S.C.-based organization calling for creation of a network of church and home-based schools to replace America’s public education system. Among religious leaders endorsing the movement are D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries and James Dobson of Focus on the Family.
Pinckney, who co-authored the defeated SBC resolution with Shortt, is a retired brigadier general in the Air Force and former second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He edits the Baptist Banner, a conservative newspaper aligned with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia convention.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.