It’s Public Schools Week! Public education needs our support now more than ever

by | Feb 23, 2022

Recognizing Public Schools Week may seem slightly out-of-lane for a blog dedicated to issues surrounding religious liberty. In fact, as I emphasize every year, supporting a robust public education system is an incredibly important component of maintaining faith freedom for all. Public schools offer education to all children without indoctrination in religious viewpoints or practices. It also provides a community space for children of all religious backgrounds to learn together, play together, and just be together: a remarkable daily lesson in empathy and community-building. As Dr. Stephen Reid explains in a reflection for BJC’s Medium channel, supporting public schools “is an expression of the common good valued in Christian theology.”

 That is why strong religious liberty advocates – such as BJC – oppose dangerous initiatives like school vouchers and other schemes that would send taxpayer money to fund religious education. We also oppose efforts – like Project Blitz – which back legislation that would promote religious belief in a variety of ways in public schools. It is why advocates pay such close attention to religious liberty challenges involving public schools, including one that is currently headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. There, a football coach claims his termination over his practice of praying on the field after games violates his Free Exercise rights under the First Amendment. BJC’s Jennifer Hawks provides a helpful review of why public school teachers are the “defenders of religious freedom for 90% of U.S. schoolchildren.”

With the challenges faced by educators and administrators this year – from banned books and curriculum complaints to handling COVID-related restrictions and facing the spread of illness – it’s never been more important to show our support for the role of public schools in our communities. The Rev. Robin Anderson explains this powerfully in a beautiful new column about the importance to her ministry of supporting the work of public schools and public school teachers. That does not mean, she says, “that we encourage anyone to proselytize in public schools. Far from it!”

In another new and illuminating column, Dr. Sabrina Dent explores some of the complexities of church-state separation for communities of color and reminds us that every child should “have access to a quality education in public schools without the threat of discrimination or religious privilege.”

What can you do to help spread the word about your support for public schools? Plenty! BJC has a great resource on religious liberty in public schools. You can access it as a PDF, and they have graphics with the  information on social media — you can share it with your friends on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram. You can also tell a personal story on social media to describe your own positive public school experience as a student, parent, teacher, or community member. Use the hashtag #PublicSchoolProud.

Public schools remain an essential institution by educating our children in important civic values – both inside and outside the classroom – and by connecting communities across a number of social divides. But we can’t take it for granted. Efforts to weaken the public school system are intensifying around the country. You can start being an advocate today!