By Max S.
Pipeline Copy Editor/News Editor
Americans learn about their rights from an early age. We hear about freedom of press and speech, religion and assembly, but these rights technically only apply to full citizens—legal adults, not high school students.
The question of the privileges granted underage students in public school has long been an issue. The Supreme Court, in various court rulings, has determined that students in school do not shed their rights as they walk into the building; however, their rights are limited.
If their freedoms inhibit other students’ learning or are determined to be inappropriate for a school setting, then a public school administration has the right to limit the free speech of its students.
One morning while walking through Pikesville High School, I noticed several new signs on the walls. These newcomers, small signs, had straightforward quotes written upon them with a clear citation. One of these posters reads “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord you God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Other Bible verses, predominantly from the New Testament, were posted on the rest of the signs around the school.
After several weeks the signs are still up, and have not gone unnoticed. I constantly hear complaints and grumblings from non-Christian friends. In examining the issue of the signs, which come from the Christian Club, the question remains—are these signs protected freedom of speech, and if so, do they violate the separation of church and state in public school?
Based upon Supreme Court rulings on the issue of freedom of speech in school, PHS students have the right to express their opinions, which means that religious clubs are protected, so the creation of Christian Club and the Jewish Student Union do not inherently violate any laws.
While expressing one’s opinions is protected freedom of speech, proselytizing (trying to convert people to your religion) is not. Although the signs do not directly call people to convert to Christianity, they imply certain beliefs about God and religion, and make followers of other religions and atheists around the school uncomfortable; however, causing discomfort does not make the signs unlawful.
On the contrary, it is a very American ideal to express one’s opinions regardless of whether or not they make other people feel awkward. This may be a flaw in the American system, especially when our freedom of speech involves making fun of religions that are inherently anti-American. But these signs are an excellent example of Americans voicing their opinions, and protected freedom of speech in public school.
Since we have found the signs to be protected under freedom of speech, now we ask—do they violate separation of church and state? State, in the case of a public school, is the administration of that school.
The school rules say that to post signs around the school building, a club or organization must get approval from the administration. For any signs that do not have a byline, a statement saying from whom the message comes, the implication is that the message comes from the school administration. But the verses posted by the Christian club have no by-line, nowhere does it say that the message comes from the Christian Club, or “come join the Christian Club in this room on this day.” Having seen this, the posters are effectively a statement by the administration endorsing this religion, this particular God and this particular faith. The Christian Club’s anonymous signs therefore violate the separation of church and state.
Some of these signs are really great to have in school. Messages about kindness, caring and loving one another pervade our school, but along with those messages are New Testament verses with blatantly religious messages.
Were anonymous quotes from all religions—from Islam to Judaism to Christianity to paganism—and from non-believers, then the speech would be protected, since the school would not be endorsing any one religion. So long as these Bible verses remain posted anonymously in our school, I want to see verses from the Old Testament, the Qu’ran, and other religious documents posted on the wall along with quotes from Nietzche that say “God is dead.” No matter how uncomfortable people may feel about this, that is true freedom of speech, and true Americanism.
Until that time when those signs have a by-line or all groups, religious or secular, who want their views expressed have anonymous signs around the halls, this editor finds the New Testament verse on the wall remains violation of church and state.
Freedom of speech means you can voice your opinions, and if it makes people uncomfortable you still have that right, but I would respectfully ask for the signs to be removed from our building, even if students can see from whom they come. An action’s legality does not make it right, and these messages make for a negative learning environment.
Quotes about kindness better our school, but quotes about God serve no purpose other than proselytizing, and just because the Christian Club can exercise its freedom of speech does not mean it should.
I would love to see more quotes, from all sorts of religious documents, about humanity and loving-kindness, but no more about a God in which I may not believe.