These days, it seems, every where you turn, someone’s either trying to foist their religious beliefs on you or take yours away. Christians want to put up Christmas trees in city parks and buildings but don’t want to allow Jews, Wiccans, or Seinfeld fans to put up a menorah, Yule log, or Festivus pole. And the Atheists would rather not see any of it. Of course, it is important that the government not endorse one religion over the other and one place that the separation of church and state is critical is in the school system. But what about the separation of church and student?
Occasionally, teachers and school officials go a little overboard in trying to avoid even an appearance of promoting a particular religious belief. Recently, a teacher and principal at Madison Park Elementary in New Jersey apologized to a third-grade student and her mother after the teacher had told the child she couldn’t read her bible during “quiet time.” Having dealt with a nearly identical situation (and even checking with the ACLU), I can tell you that the teacher was in the wrong to prohibit the girl from reading the bible during a free choice time. If the students are allowed to read a book of their choosing, then the bible would be no different than Harry Potter, Eragon, or Alice in Wonderland.
Even having a copy of the bible in the library, as some schools in the Old Bridge Township school system do, is not a problem, especially if it is used as a cultural and literary reference and other, similar works such as the Qur’an are included as well. It would be, of course, a different matter if the teacher or the school district handed out bibles to students, but that’s not the case here. Basically, if the student is allowed to choose their reading material, then the bible is fair game.
In practice, of course, it doesn’t always work that way. In the case I was involved in, a boy’s parents wanted their son to keep his bible in his desk and read it at recess time. Sure enough, the boy brought in his bible, put it in his desk — and left it there the whole rest of the year. I guess you can give a kid a bible but you can’t make him read it.