MARSHALL – A small town in Missouri briefly became a flashpoint of religious freedom when inconclusive reports hit media outlets that a student at Bueker Middle School here was told he was not allowed to read his Bible during his free time.
A seventh grader there told his parents and WDAF-TV in Kansas City a teacher told him he could not read the Bible at school. However, there has not been validation of the accusation and the principal has since made public comments assuring the Bible and faith are welcome and have always been welcome at his school.
Principal Lance Tobin told TheBlaze.com the issue has since been resolved, but said no one ever told the student he could not read the Bible in school.
“We just all agreed and we talked about school and religion,” Tobin said of a meeting between himself and the student’s parents. “And I wanted to make sure that they were comfortable understanding that their child could have the Bible at school and could read the Bible at school.”
He also told TheBlaze.com there is “no teacher involved whatsoever.”
Federal courts have made it clear students’ rights to free speech extend into school, and such activity is also protected by an amendment to the state constitution passed in August of 2012. It guarantees public school students “the right to free exercise of religious expression without interference” so long as such expression is private, voluntary and not disruptive of instructional class time.
Last summer Missouri lawmakers further made the point that students have religious freedom in class. Governor Jay Nixon signed the bill known as the Missouri Student Religious Liberties Act July 2, which passed by extreme majorities of 131-16 in the House and 30-1 in the Senate.
Under that law, students may share their religious beliefs in homework, artwork, and classroom presentations so long as that expression is relevant to the subject matter at hand. Teachers and school district officials may not penalize a student based on the religious content of their oral or written assignments. Clothing, accessories and jewelry with religious messages or symbols are also protected to the same degree as any nonreligious messages or symbols.
“The problem is we continue to be dogged with intimidation by organizations like the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] who cause public schools to live in a world of fear, confusion and misinformation,” said Kerry Messer, director of the Missouri Family Network and the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission’s legislative liaison, told The Pathway when the bill passed the legislature. “It occurs daily in Missouri. School districts are desperately scared of litigation that can destroy their budgets and will simply settle even though they would eventually win in the courts.”