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Posted Verses Spark Constitutionality Questions

The PHS Christian Club's posters of Bible quotes have brought up questions of freedom of speech and the separation of church and state in public school.

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Joe November 20, 2012 at 04:41 PM
These signs are perfectly legal and to remove them would be a violation of the Maryland Constitution! " Art. 36. That as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to Him, all persons are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty; wherefore, no person ought by any law to be molested in his person or estate, on account of his religious persuasion, or profession, or for his religious practice, unless, under the color of religion, he shall disturb the good order, peace or safety of the State, or shall infringe the laws of morality, or injure others in their natural, civil or religious rights; nor ought any person to be compelled to frequent, or maintain, or contribute, unless on contract, to maintain, any place of worship, or any ministry; nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror, on account of his religious belief; provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that under His dispensation such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefor either in this world or in the world to come. Nothing shall prohibit or require the making reference to belief in, reliance upon, or invoking the aid of God or a Supreme Being in any governmental or public document, proceeding, activity, ceremony, school, institution, or place. Nothing in this article shall constitute an establishment of religion "
Joe November 20, 2012 at 05:20 PM
If every human lived by the Ten Commandments the world would be a much better place no?
Tim November 20, 2012 at 05:35 PM
The world only needs one commandment/rule. Basically covers it all. "Treat others how you would want them to treat you." I believe the unofficial "11th commandment" in the book of John is something like "Love one another as I've loved you". Pardon me if this isn't quite right. Not that living by the Ten Commandments is a bad thing, of course we'd be better off for it. I just find it much simpler then this.
Joe November 20, 2012 at 05:50 PM
That would be great Tim but we see daily so many who couldn't give a crap how they are treated and show it by the way they treat or interact with others.
Tim November 20, 2012 at 06:12 PM
I think deep down people want to be treated fairly. Take Walmart and its workers, for example. Would the CEO really want to be treated like his door greeters are treated? Sure, we can sit here and say "Hey, it's Darwinism at work" and I am honestly not trying to make this political. Another example: Inner city youth grows up poor and 'hardened' by his surroundings. Do you (not specifically you) not believe that although that person will mug someone, that they'd be OK with trading off a successful mugging for them being mugged themselves? Another example, more close to home: How many times do you see people racing/being rude when 'competing' for a parking spot at the Mall/Avenues, or TTC? When "X" person steals that spot he knows someone else was waiting for, would that really how he or she would want to be treated by someone else? I just feel like the only people who would truly not care the least bit about this are the ones that should be checked by a mental health specialist. I firmly believe that people want to be treated well by others, at their core, behind all the bravado and psychological armor. Just my opinion, and certainly subject to debate. Again, not selling short the concept of religion as a starting point for teaching morality.
Joe November 20, 2012 at 06:32 PM
"Would the CEO really want to be treated like his door greeters are treated? " How are they treated? By whom?
Chuck Burton November 21, 2012 at 02:41 PM
If a Shakespeare club put up signs quoting his works - no problem. An Ayn Rand club, ditto. The Bible is just another book, with a similar mixture of good advice and foolishness, so why worry about what the signs say?
Gary Herwig November 21, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Many WalMart door greeters will be working on Thanksgiving Day, both in the morning and in the evening. I wonder whether WalMart's CEO will be working on Thanksgiving Day.
Gary Herwig November 21, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Many WalMart door greeters will be working on Thanksgiving Day, both in the morning and in the evening. I wonder whether WalMart's CEO will be working on Thanksgiving Day.
Joe November 21, 2012 at 04:24 PM
I wonder how many hours and days a week Mr Walton and his family worked and how little pay they took home in the early years of building the largest retailer in the world. I wonder how many people have jobs that they would not have without WalMart.
Gary Herwig November 21, 2012 at 04:50 PM
I too wonder how many hours and days a week Mr. Walton and his family worked and how little pay they took home in the early years of building the largest retailer in the world. However many hours and days it was, he did so voluntarily, pursuant to his and their choice to do so. There is no question that the number of people that WalMart employes is a great thing, but even the most ardent capitalist would have to agree that the entire notion of Black Friday quickly is getting otu of control.
M. Petain November 21, 2012 at 10:03 PM
I think many people are missing the point; there is supposed to be separation of church & state. The school in question is not a private school nor a parochial one. It is a Baltimore County school in the state of MD. There should be no religious posters anywhere in the school.
Joe November 21, 2012 at 10:15 PM
That would be a direct violation of the Maryland Constitution. Please read it. "" Art. 36. Nothing shall prohibit or require the making reference to belief in, reliance upon, or invoking the aid of God or a Supreme Being in any governmental or public document, proceeding, activity, ceremony, school, institution, or place. Nothing in this article shall constitute an establishment of religion " THAT is the point!

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