Monday, October 12, 2009

Freedom Watch

Freedom Watch

America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, is all about religious freedom. Yet, in the name of separation of church and state, religious groups have often had to battle for equal access to public facilities or the freedom to teach the Bible. Even then, simple letters can usually clear up situations in which Christians face discrimination.

Santa Rosa County, Florida:
The ACLU filed a lawsuit against Florida’s Santa Rosa County School District last year and, in response, the school district agreed to a consent order that ended with the banning of religious activities at county schools. As a result, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes was prevented from renting school facilities at Jay High School and teachers were forbidden to attend baccalaureate services.

When contacted about the issue, the Alliance Defense Fund wrote a letter to inform the school district that these prohibitions were unconstitutional. The school district then reversed its policies and allowed the Christian athlete group to meet on school property and renewed teachers’ freedom to attend private baccalaureate services on their own time.

San Diego County, California:
A pastor and his wife were cited and their home Bible study in Bonita, CA was shut down, making national news. On April 11, David and Mary Jones were told they had to get a permit in order to hold the home studies, in which between five and 27 people gathered each week.

“She asked me if we sang songs, said Amen, praised the Lord or not. I don’t even think I answered because I was so taken aback” said Mary Jones, whose home had been used for the Bible study for five years.

When the event made the news, the county at first explained that the whole thing was about parking. One of the neighbors had apparently complained about inconveniently parked cars. Last week San Diego County finally made an official apology to the couple. The county’s chief administrative officer Walter Ekard wrote a letter on Wednesday, June 3 to say that the citation should never have been written and the Jones family was not required to get a permit.

Tulsa, Oklahoma:
For two decades, Child Evangelism Fellowship has put on a Bible-based summer vacation program for kids in Tulsa’s inner city projects. The fellowship’s goal is to help these high-risk kids stay out of drugs and crime through fun activities and messages that also teach them about God. A non-profit group that administers recreational programs for the Tulsa Housing Authority, Youth At Heart, recently told Child Evangelism Fellowship that they could not run programs that spoke about God or Jesus. Youth at Heart informed the Christian group that religious instruction was not permitted on public housing property. They said the policy had been in place for a long time, but just had not been enforced.

Mathew Staver of the Liberty Counsel commented, “There is a mistaken notion if you allow equal access to a religious group, you’re violating the Constitution.” So far the housing authority has declined to comment, but a 2001 US Supreme Court ruling makes the case clear; religious groups have the same rights to access public facilities or property as any other group.

Larry Koehn, head of Child Evangelism Fellowship in Tulsa, is not very worried. “Last fall, one of our schools said we couldn’t hold a club after school for the same reasons,” he said. “I contacted the Liberty Counsel and they wrote a letter to the school board explaining equal access, and they let us in.”

Religious discrimination continues to take place in America, but Americans have a number of legal groups ready to assist them when problems and confusions sprout up. Those who experience daily religious freedom around the world should praise God for the liberty they enjoy. It is a precious gift that should never be taken lightly.

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