CLC head calls for Bible to return after its removal from Neosho school
January 14, 2005
By Lee Warren
NEOSHO — When Chuck and Mary Alice Nelson’s daughter sat down recently at a computer to access the Bible and related testing materials that her parents donated to the Neosho R-5 School District at the end of the 2003-2004 school year, she discovered that both the Bible and the materials had been removed.
The Nelsons made the donation to the district’s accelerated-reader program (designed to allow students to earn points by choosing from thousands of books and then taking comprehension tests to see if they can remember what they’ve read) simply because they wanted to give students a chance to earn credit for reading the Bible just like they would if they read any other book in the program.
According to Superintendent Mark Mitchell, the Bible and testing materials were removed because they might be “an excessive entanglement of church and state.”
Before commenting about the Neosho case specifically, Rodney Albert, chairman, Missouri Baptist Convention Christian Life Commission, voiced his disagreement with the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the establishment clause in the First Amendment.
“I believe that they misinterpret what our Founders intended and overstepped their boundaries in regulating the Bible and the Christian religion in the public sphere,” Albert said.
Even though Albert doesn’t agree with the court’s decision, he said that the Neosho R-5 School District is in clear violation of current legal opinion on the Bible’s role in public schools.
“This is blatant discrimination of Christianity and it is completely unacceptable in the 21st Century,” said Albert, who serves as pastor of Hallsville Baptist Church. “I don’t want to judge what’s in a man’s heart, but there are simply too many Supreme Court cases on this issue and too many Department of Education clarifications for this action to be done in ignorance.
“So, it’s difficult to reach any other conclusion than that the leaders who made this decision are either educational Neanderthals living somewhere in the 1970s completely oblivious to U.S. legal opinion on the Bible’s role in public schools or that they are blatantly hostile and aggressively discriminatory against the Bible.”
Charlie Burnett, pastor of Harmony Heights Baptist Church in Joplin and chairman of the MBC Executive Board’s Administrative Committee, pointed out the relevance of the Bible in public education since the inception of America.
“In the beginning of our nation, the Bible was one of the basic readers for elementary kids,” Burnett said. “I believe that we still ought to keep it that way.”
Albert agreed. He said citizens of the Neosho R-5 School District—whether they are Christian or not—ought to be willing to fight for the right of students to have access to a Bible in the public schools.
“The role of the Bible in American heritage is firmly established,” Albert said. “Dr. Benjamin Rush, usually called the ‘father of public education,’ went so far as writing a pamphlet in 1791 called A Defense of the Use of the Bible as a School Book. So, here’s the father of public education within a decade or so of the Revolution coming to a close, a great physician who also gave his life to forwarding public education in America, making sure that the Bible is front and center.”
Albert issued this challenge to Christians in the school district:
“For Christians, it’s personal,” he said. “Our sacred book has been treated with colossal disrespect. As Christians we are taught to love and cherish the Word of God. So, as Christian citizens, we have an obligation to make sure that the Bible is esteemed, and revered, and honored. And if we can do something to make sure that the Bible is available to public school students, we ought to do that.”
Taxpayers in the district will have a chance to voice their opinions at the next Neosho R-5 School Board meeting. The board decided to continue the discussion about this topic during their next meeting Jan. 18, 7 p.m., at Neosho Middle School.
“I would certainly hope that the school district would say that it’s perfectly fine to allow the Bible to be in a voluntary reading program because that at least allows people to have the freedom to read it if they want to,” Burnett said. “Otherwise, they’re cutting off freedom that isn’t their right to cut off.”