With all the “political grandstanding” going on, adults can learn something from children, says the founder of Thursday’s Bring Your Bible to School Day.
“At this time, when there’s a lot of wariness in our country, it’s refreshing to see these kids, when there aren’t any cameras involved, doing something from their personal convictions,” said Candi Cushman, director of education issues at Focus on the Family, an evangelical Christian organization that supports families and advocates for conservative public policy. “Maybe we can take some cues from them and celebrate what unites us rather than what divides us.”
Thursday is the fifth annual observance of the event Cushman started because students in numerous states were reporting to Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family that school officials were barring them from having their Bibles at school.
“Students were being told you can’t read your Bible during free time, you can’t have it out — you have to hide it in your locker, you have to erase references to your Christian faith during graduation speeches,” Cushman said. “We wanted to remind the next generation what their basic rights are.”
The event has grown from 8,000 students taking part in 2014 to nearly 500,000 last year, she said. Cushman expects to exceed half a million participants this year.
“It resonates with students,” she said. “It’s something simple they can do that makes them feel like they can express who they are and express their faith in a positive and fun way.”
While Focus on the Family sponsors the event, students organize local support using posters, T-shirts and other promotional materials to let their peers know what it’s about.
Essentially, students bring their Bible to school Thursday and read it during free time, such as an open reading period, lunch break or recess. Some students gather in groups at lunch to read their favorite verses, for example, or start conversations with other students about their beliefs.
Students can’t read the Bible during class, Cushman said, but can spend their free time reading it like any other book.
“I shouldn’t be ashamed of who I am and what I believe,” said 16-year-old Palmer High School student Ethan Willard, in a video promoting this year’s event.
Reading Bible verses gives him “the courage and the strength and the will to carry on,” said Ethan, whose father died in the past year.
Placing his Bible on the corner of his desk during classes on Bring Your Bible to School Day has resulted in more people asking him about why he does that and what he believes.
“When they’re going through tough times, they’re using me as a trustworthy person,” Ethan said, which he believes has opened up an opportunity for God to “do good in their lives, even if they don’t believe in Him.”
While bringing a Bible to school is protected speech under the First Amendment, public schools have students with a wide array of religious beliefs, parents who are not religious and those who see religious beliefs as “deeply private and personal,” said Groff Schroeder, president of the Freethinkers of Colorado Springs.
The organization is for people who form opinions on the basis of reason, independent of authority or tradition, particularly religious dogma, and it supports the separation of church and state.
“Some parents see the idea of their children worshiping anything or anyone deeply troubling,” Schroeder said in an email. “Furthermore, many Americans have had negative experiences with religion, including religious intolerance and sexual assault.”
He said he and other Freethinkers are disappointed in Bring Your Bible to School Day, “ … because it appears to exploit children to pursue and advance the religious and financial goals of Focus on the Family.”
Cushman said the event is student-led and the majority of students do not encounter any problems. Last year a first-grade student in Rhode Island who brought her bible and a coloring sheet to share with friends during free time was sent to the principal’s office, where the materials were confiscated.
“The mom stood up for her daughter’s free speech rights, and after a nearly six-month effort, they won a legal victory this summer,” Cushman said, “making it clear we are allowed.”
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