Though they've been Ministry Friends of the Alliance Defense Fund since 1998, Vicki and Brian Bailey had never had reason to draw on ADF resources personally … until the day they learned firsthand that religious freedom and today's education culture can intersect uncomfortably in even the most innocuous moments.
My little girl, Rachel, is the kind of child who keeps a pastor honest. She's only in first grade, but when she sits in a service, she pays close attention. She keeps her Bible open and she wants to know exactly which Scripture the preacher is reading, so she can read along with him.
That's not just for Sunday, either. She has a little orange Gideon New Testament she carries in her backpack. Sometimes at school, during free reading time, she pulls it out and peruses it.
One day last spring, a kindergarten classmate of hers saw what she was reading. He likes small books himself, and asked if she had another little Bible that he could have and read, too.
That night, she asked if she could take him one of our extra Bibles. Fine, I said, but suggested that she have her friend ask his mom, first, if it was okay for him to receive a Bible. Rachel did, but he kept forgetting, and the extra Bible bumped around in her backpack for a few weeks.
Finally, one day as class was ending, their teacher noticed Rachel giving the boy something out of her backpack, which he placed in his take-home folder. The teacher asked about it, and he told her, "Rachel gave me this little book." The teacher flipped through the Bible, handed it back, and called Rachel over. Rachel wasn't allowed to give away that kind of book at school, she said, and told the boy he'd have to give it back. He did, but Rachel said he looked a little disappointed.
“ I can't tell Rachel
TO LISTEN TO HER TEACHER
but not obey God.”
Later, the teacher sent me an email. "We're not allowed to distribute reading materials such as this at school, even if distributed by a student," she wrote. Yes, the boy had asked, and she was glad the two were talking about their mutual reading interests, but Bible trading was just a no-no. If we had any questions, she said, we could always contact her or the principal.
I had a feeling I was only going to get one answer if I pursued this, but a friend in my Moms In Touch group suggested I call the district Student Services office. (Moms In Touch is a group that encourages mothers worldwide to pray together each week for their children's schools.) I was afraid I might be getting in out of my depth, but then thought just to ask for a copy of the official district policy with regard to this situation. A secretary said she'd look for one and call me back.
Only she wasn't the one who called – it was the director of Student Services, and his message made it clear that he'd talked with the principal. Now I really would need to be sure of my facts.
About that time, I remembered the Alliance Defense Fund. Brian and I have been Ministry Friends of ADF for many years, and I've read stories along the way about ADF cases similar to what Rachel was going through. I started doing some research at their website. It was important, I thought, to be informed, and not just sound like I was on a tirade about what had happened.
After studying a few ADF cases, I was feeling more confident – and just then, the Student Services director called again. It turned out he'd been a principal himself, at one point, and was familiar with Christian clubs and activities on campus. He explained that there's just a lot of confusion on the whole "separation of church and state" idea, that people often have their own notions of what they think that means, and that most really don't know the legal truths involved.
"So," I said. "You're telling me that what my daughter did should have been allowed?"
"Yes," he said. Students could share Bibles, as long as it didn't disrupt classroom instruction. He said he'd talk to our principal, and added that he was impressed, after dealing with so many parents who just wanted to tell him "what they'd heard," that I'd actually made the effort to familiarize myself with the law. But, of course, I really couldn't do anything else.
Brian and I have made a deliberate choice to keep our children in public school. I know that's not for everyone, but it's where we believe our children are supposed to be. It's a good training ground for them, where they can learn to live out and share their faith with others. We feel that if we want them to do those things later, as young adults, we have to teach them to do it now.
Learn more about how ADF is defending the freedom of students across America to live and share their faith in public schools, colleges, and universities.
But that makes it all the more important that we do all we can to protect their freedom to live for Christ at their school. I can't tell Rachel to listen to her teacher but not obey God. On the one hand, she needs to absolutely respect the authority that's over her, but when the authority is wrong, she needs to honor God above that – above everything – regardless of the consequences.
Paul warned us that "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12)." As parents, teaching our children to live godly lives, we have to expect that, sooner or later, that teaching will bring us into conflict with the culture that dominates our public schools. We need to prepare for that, not only by praying for our children and their teachers and administrators, but by knowing our constitutionally protected rights, and being ready to stand graciously but firmly for those rights when they're challenged.
Today, the boy has his Bible. Rachel's in first grade at another school. They've mostly forgotten all about what happened. But during that busy week last spring, I know that Rachel and her brother, Jonah, were watching Brian and me. In truth, I think with every Christian, someone is watching … to see if we really believe what we say. To see if we will stand and speak up for the truth.
For us, the test of that began with Rachel wanting to give a boy a little Bible. And with us, as her parents, wanting to give her a little courage … a little example of how to stand. God was so good to give us that opportunity, and the resources of ADF to make the most of it.