First Amendment Advocate, Vol. 3, No. 2, August 2002
The Newsletter of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United
School scoreboard teaches students the wrong thing
BY Jim Huff
Someone in an Oklahoma City Public School has determined that a High School needed a religious endorsement on the scoreboard in its gymnasium.
The scoreboard has a very modernistic profile of a colonial tri-corner hat. On the hat is a Christian symbol — a “cross”. Beneath the hat is a New Testament reference: “I Cor. 9:25.” The Bible passage compares the temporary, earthly rewards for athletic events with the eternal, heavenly reward of a Christian.
This inappropriate public endorsement of the Christian religion is teaching students the wrong things. The scoreboard teaches students to:
1. Be unconcerned for other students values. Students know that Supreme Court rulings do not allow public schools to take sides on religious matters.
2. Disregard court rulings. It teaches a “pick and choose mentality” toward which court decisions to obey and support.
3. Accept religious endorsements from secular authorities. It teaches students that the school district or administration can determine which religious values are worthy to be promoted in a public school gyms.
4. Worst of all, it teaches students that religious symbols and scripture references can be treated trivially. On the scoreboard the religious symbol is “secularized” and the religious principle is reduced to a vague “slogan.”
Religious symbols and scripture references should be treated thoughtfully and reverently. That is best done within the students’ own family and faith group.
Unfortunately, some people seem determined to teach students the wrong things about our Constitution and about faith.
For many years, I have visited with middle school, high school, college and older aged Oklahomans. In public school classroom settings, adult conferences, Sunday School classes, fair booth dialogues, and in teachers’ meetings I have had many direct, face-to-face discussions. The full spectrum of Oklahoma viewpoints on the principle of “separation of church and state” have been expressed. To their credit, the majority of students I have spoken with, and not their elders, have a far better understanding of the proper role of the public schools related to student religious values.
Students are often better informed about current student prayer and religious expression in the public schools. The students do not demonstrate fear and anxiety. The students readily acknowledge that they have devotional clubs, participate in a variety of prayer activities, discuss their personal religious values and feel no unfair limitations on their religious convictions. Students agree that all of these activities are above board and done on a voluntary basis. The students do not seek trickery or school rules requiring participation.
Students are definitely more fair minded in their attitude toward other students with differing views than their own. Most high school students are more considerate and sensitive about students with differing religious views than older Oklahomans. Even those students with clear Christian convictions do not seek school imposed support for Bible views. Students, more than older Oklahomans, seem to understand the fairness of school district neutrality in matters of religious viewpoints.
I have advised the appropriate district representatives of the scoreboard’s religious content. The most common response has been, “That’ll have to come off.” We will have to wait and see how long it takes for its removal.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”
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