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Put God Back in Public Schools?

| January 5, 2013

Whose God? Whose Christianity? (Len Matthews)

Whose God? Whose Christianity? (Len Matthews)

By Adam Hamilton

One reaction to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been a call to “put God back in the schools.”  I even heard one person suggest that the violence that happened in the school was because “we took God out of public schools.”  As a pastor I have a deep desire to lead people to God and encourage people to pray, read the Bible, and carry their faith into every part of their lives.  But I’ve got a few questions about “putting God back in the schools.”

In America our public schools are intended to be religiously neutral.  Our teachers and schools are neither to endorse nor to inhibit religion.  I believe this is a very good thing.  When my kids were growing up I wanted their teachers to teach them science, reading, math, and history.  I also wanted them to care about my kids.  But I did not want my children’s public school teachers teaching them religion.  That was my job as a parent, and the job of our church, Sunday school, and youth group.

If we’re going to put God back in schools, which God are we talking about?  Within the Christian family alone there are often dramatically different ways of talking about God:  fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals, Pentecostals, Charismatics, moderates, progressives, liberals, Calvinists and Arminians, high-church and low-church – and these are just the Protestants!  Add in Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and a host of groups that are often said to be outside the mainstream and you can begin to see the dilemma.

And while 78% of all Americans claim to be Christians, 22% claim another faith or no faith.  If these numbers are applied to teachers, this would mean that one in five teachers may be Hindu or Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist, atheist or agnostic.  Few of the folks calling for “putting God back in schools” seem to be okay with people outside of the Christian faith teaching their children about God.

The religious neutrality in our schools is, I would argue, one of our strengths.  Teachers cannot inhibit or deride religion.  But this does not mean that we’ve taken God out of public schools.  I’m reminded of the book of Esther in the Bible.  God is not explicitly mentioned in the book, but that did not mean that God was not at work in the story.

Christians believe that God is everywhere and is involved in our lives at every moment, whether we publicly acknowledge God or not.   Most of the teachers I’ve met in public schools are people of faith.  For many, their faith shapes how they approach their work as teachers.  It strengthens, informs, and inspires them to love their students and to pursue their work with excellence.  As in the book of Esther, they may not explicitly mention God, but God works through them nonetheless.


Students also bring their faith into the schools.  They are free to pray any time, provided they are not disruptive.  They are free to talk about their faith, provided they are not belligerent or hurtful to other students.

Finally, there are many ways that churches and other religious groups may partner with public schools, provided that they are not seeking to evangelize.  In the Kansas City area, the church I serve has partnered with six elementary schools in which a majority of the students live near the poverty line.  We build playgrounds for these schools and paint and rehab their buildings.  We fund literacy efforts and provide free books.  We ensure that each child has a winter coat, gloves and hat, and school supplies, and we provide funds for special programs the schools otherwise could not afford.  We also have tutoring programs with hundreds of volunteers who read to children and otherwise help the teachers and support their work.  Every Friday we send backpacks with nutritious snacks home with 1,400 children who are at risk of being hungry on the weekends.  We also distribute beds for children who we discover are sleeping on the floor in their homes.  Our people are motivated by their faith to do these things.  They don’t talk about their faith, but it is clearly seen in their actions.

I’m convinced many of America’s heroes are public school teachers and administrators.  Many of these people do what they do because of their faith.  We don’t need mandatory, non-sectarian prayers read over the loudspeaker to “put God back in schools.”  God never left the schools.  God is still at work through the hundreds of thousands of gifted teachers and administrators, committed parents, and passionate volunteers who seek to help give our children “a future with hope.”

Rev. Adam Hamilton is the founding pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. He grew up in the Kansas City area. He earned a B.A. degree in Pastoral Ministry from Oral Roberts University and a Master of Divinity Degree from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. This piece originally appeared at his blog. Reach him by email here.

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30 Responses for “Put God Back in Public Schools?”

  1. Gia says:

    Kids are going in school to learn & not to be influenced by some kind of propaganda.

  2. michelle says:

    Amen.

  3. DavePaulSaunders says:

    So you dont want schools to opress your children but you want to it yourself? You & all parents should either wake up realise there is no scientific evidence to back up “God” (although you seem to want hold a BIble in court; a systrem that ironically requires EVIDENCE) before killing or locking someone up etc.

    Religion is oppressive & supersitious. One man with massive dellusions taken way out of context no doubt & mass histeria over the last two thousand years & you all take his words for granted. Its pathic & really about time we got everyone to stop oppression. Religion (Catholics & the others) are the worst form of oppression. And yes I went to a Jesuit school – I wasn’t given a chance to believe what I wanted to but I never took it seriously – not when we were being taught SCIENCE. Wake up stop opressing your own kids. Your halfway there to a decent human being as you dont want schools doing it However, a Church is not different then a cult. Opression is WRONG. Religion and worship are just two other words for it.

  4. DWFerg says:

    Interesting perspective— People who advocate for God back in our public schools yearn for a time long gone There used to be trust in the basic institutions-Family, Church/synagogue(people back then did not include mosques),Government,corporations,and overall basic civilized behavior. Drastic Popular culture changes, mores, technology, TV, Media, computers, cell phones, all have driven the world toward instant answers and gratification- Speed limits,violence, and a general lack of RESPECT for any authority has eroded in some case to anarchy and civil disobedience all in the name of “Rights”- Whatever that means….People want things to be civilized, orderly and in some nostalgic fashion “The way it used to be”—Good luck with going back in time unless you are in the movies…People used to use guns for hunting food, now they slaughter innocent people and collect guns in record numbers for fear their government will try to prevent or, God forbid,,try to take away their prized possessions of protection, insurance and tradition No , we cannot go back to the 50′s, but we can seek a calmer, more peaceful world, where “everyone can just get along”, and live their life ,minus fear and complete disregard for our fellow man….In some ways, this is the God people are trying to get back into people’s minds and hearts……..

  5. Samuel Smith says:

    Matthew 6:5-6: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

  6. J says:

    No..it’s not… No is’s not supposed to be a Godless Gov’t.. Period..It would behoove American’s to .. know .. who . is in this Country ..and wht they brought with them.. and only they can do that for themselves..and then.. I guess ..support whomever they wish.. But.. we have something.. America did not have.. and .. then when we got it.. we did not know how valuable it was.. and I don’t know if we have embraces it yet… it is. ..the internet.. There are a lot of reputable sites that give honest information and that is another thing ..they have to decide for themselves.. But this invasion from a lot of entities.. have gained power… partly because we were not aware.. or aware of how big it was.. And then.. the .. it can’t be.. not in America.. thought.. I just don’t what would ever be a wakeup moment more than this Administration.. coming to power.. and I know.. I was curious .. about the Bushes.. One World Order statement.. and I looked them both up.. with words from their own mouths.. that alarmed me.. I just think that.. America.. and the world for that matter will not be able to.. look up .. stuff ..and be enlightened..if.. we do not.. understand who is here .. and who we are as a Nation…. You cannot .. give.. these entities.. an inch.. We never … invited..them in to share in this Nations Government… There have always been two sides .. all you have to do is..look at the thrashing and hashing of Our Founding Father’s… But .. it ..did.. get hashed out.. I think the other side.. are the Blue Dog Democrats.. which is fine.. This makes to views.. working things out.. But it is not.. one world order folks.. or.. a muslim agenda.. etc.. How.. did this come about?!.. The One world order folks have been busy.. and so have the Muslim Brotherhood.. and frankly.. the.. invasion.. of this Nation.. from primarily Mexico.. Mexico.. that is so very rich.. even now and was.. richer and could be again.. It is ..not about.. a better life here.. And.. it seems once our laws are.. set forth to be adhered to.. the process is not that hard to do to.. be.. here.. if you want to be.. But.. there are laws for a reason.. it is not just about them.. We are so tolerant… to our neighbors.. who basically are attempting to invade us without a shot being fired.. and.. we are not mad at them.. But… like them..But should not there be numbers.. so that.. this Nation can.. legalize.. other ethnicities.. also… It is like.. we are a strewn Nation.. with.. people.. who.. have no knowledge.. of .. their job .. They go into a job evey day.. and . . like shoot from the hip.. Oops. should not say that.. Not now a days.. because it is bad.. out there.. but you know what I mean.. You cannot run anything like that.. so ..who are these people doing it?.. People that do not have this Nations wellfare at heart. they are agenda driven people..And it would behoove Americans to know.. who they all are.. and what they are doing.. And Christians . and Christian pastors expecially should know.. He should know.. Our schools did pray..and taught the bible.. even.. he should know the rudder of Christ… who he is..He should know.. what it is like .. where he is.. vs where he isn’t ..and to just give.. it to where he is not.. just.. because a .. few of them .. subvert.. the intent of This Nation.. by aquiesing on their behalf?!.. Does he not know.. that Christ is the glue.. that holds things together.. ?.. Thats rights the wrong’s.. done by them?.. but to give them a seat at the table..and just hand over parts of her. because.. they have fallen for a ploy..of their.. ?.. There is nothing .. that will not right itself.. if.. we truly understand who Christ is.. He works .. with them.. not.. give ground .. to them..and aquiese.. But .. i guess it has to be the wisdom..of God.. that.. . only he can impart.. in fighting her enemies.. that use Gramsci.. speak and tone.. to sound..oh.. so.. sincere.. but the thing is.. they just cannot always.. carry it off.. in fact.. it is impossible.. and so.. And you know.. tht is why.. thye started in the heads of our youngsters.. It is the Churches part.. to train and educate our children.. in scriptures.. who are alive and aciademia.. if nothing else.. ..to.. take her back when they come of age..In fact.. the better we teach our Children…the better they will give them a run for their money..They place a high price.. on education.. and it is proven.. to be.. right.. There is nothing wrong.. with… target.. exellence.. in the essentials.. and then expand.. to give younsters.. not just the ciriculum.. but.. the desire.. and thirst and excitement.. of learning.. and then.. we will win.. Am I making sense?

  7. "My Daily Rant" says:

    Lets try useing the god we used while building this once great nation.”In God we trust”

    • Dorothea says:

      @My Daily Rant

      Are you advocating using the same god who was there at a time when women could not vote and slavery was legal?

      • Geezer says:

        Just look at the brilliance that is life, the design of it, all coded in DNA.
        I may not believe in the the god Yaweh, or Jesus, but I am sure that we’re not products borne of some
        “Big Bang.” I do believe in evolution, but ask: how did humanity come to be?
        If we evolved from apes, why are there Gorillas and other apes still peeling bananas?

        We shouldn’t teach religion in school, it isn’t down to a science, and it is divisive.
        Why would we want to espouse such a thing?

        I don’t have the arrogance to say that I know if there is or isn’t a supreme being.
        I am but a grain of sand in our vast universe.

        So are you….

  8. Jim R. says:

    Let’s Teach the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus in our schools too. There is as much evidence for thier existence as there is of Gods.

  9. Gordon Butler says:

    Amen, Amen, Amen! Students and adults who work in schools still have a lot of freedom to express who they are, what they do, and what they believe. It always disturbs me when I hear Christians share their disdain for public schools and the people who work there. It disturbs me even more when Christians assume that all children need for a good education is a Christian school. Over 38 years in education, I was involved in a variety of ways with private, parochial, and charter schools, and many of them attracted parents by marketing their Christian ideologies. Although there are schools where well-intended teachers and administrators provide a good education for their students, there are also many without sufficient resources (including a quality curriculum and enough quality teachers) to provide what children need. When I see churches start schools with little idea of what it takes to provide quality education, it hurts… because it hurts children. There are lots of nice teachers who will work for low pay because they weren’t qualified to get a job in public schools. (No, I’m not insulting every teacher in those schools. There are of course teachers whose faith or dedication calls them to provide excellent service to students wherever they are. I wish there were more of them.) A decade ago, I was involved in shutting down a charter school that received public funds. The school celebrated its Christian values and held classes in a local church. Each classroom had a sign which stated, “If you don’t know the answer, pray about it!” That procedure didn’t seem to make up for the fact that the adults in the building had no clue as to what to do about the daily chaos in the classrooms and the fact that students were learning very little. Sadly, there are many so-called Christian schools where parents naively leave their children, are told they are achieving great things, and never know the difference. Give me good teachers in a good public school with parents who accept responsibility for modeling and teaching values anyday. I don’t think it is any more responsible to protect one’s children by sending them them to a place where they won’t get a good education in hopes that someone else willl teach them Christian values than it is to sit idly on a mountain top waiting for God to provide your daily needs. Something to think about…

    • Magnolia says:

      Gordon, I don’t see teachers teaching values anymore. You can’t teach values if you can’t teach discipline. School has become indoctrination to political values. Just look at any university.

      We are so busy stuffing ideologies down their throats, our children are illiterate, they cannot spell, but they are told homosexuality is ok, abortion is ok.. I think that should be up to each human being to decide for themselves. This does not mean we prefer a Christian education, it means stop teaching our children your political ideologies and get back to the basics. Let the parents and the churches do the rest.

      We are failing our children because of our own agendas. I am tired of people saying we cannot go back to the 50s. You don’t want to respect people anymore, be nice to them, stop the foul language, the excessive violence in the movies and video games? What does this say about our society? Family values have become a dirty word and our children are growing up in a world devoid of hope for the future. This is what we have to change. I don’t care which decade you choose, this one isn’t working.

  10. BW says:

    I think both sides of this debate often make some points, but the conversation needs to be more rational. I do not agree that the solution to all of our issues in society is forcing religion on others. I believe in God and am a Christian. One thing I’ve learned is that you can offer that to others but it is always up to them to choose that path or not. Jesus, for example, stood on the beach and told the brothers to “drop their nets” and follow Him. But it was up to them to make that decision.

    With that said, the reality is that we have lost the teaching of respect for others and the gifts granted to us as Americans. Is it time to restore that? Absolutely. It should not be ok for any student not to stand and salute our flag no matter what the language used. We need to trust in our Educators and allow them to insist on respect in our schools. It is not enough to think our schools just teach “book stuff” and the values they’ll get at home. Our children spend a great deal of time at school and this time forms a lot of their social skills and value systems and insisting on certain behavior is not a bad thing.

    When it comes to religion in general if one wants respect for not believing then that same person needs to be respectful of those that do believe. And it is not possible for anyone that does believe to “turn it off” as religious values become a part of the person.

    • Jim R. says:

      Those that believe in any of the blood soaked religions that are a detriment to human progress deserve no respect. Should I respect someone who believes that walking on water and rising from the dead are real events that happened? All religious people are unbelievers too, just like me, the Catholics ridicule the Mormons, the Christians hate Muslims, the Jews know their beliefs are superior and on and on. The world would be a better place if it was based on reason instead of superstition.

  11. Geezer says:

    “He stretcheth out the North ouer the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.”
    Job 26:7 – King James Version (1611)

    This bit of scripture is often interpreted as “a sphere suspended over nothing”
    If that was the intention of Job, how did he know that the earth was round?

    Yet in other places (books) in the bible, the earth is flat.
    Naysayers notwithstanding, everyone should read the bible.

    -But not in school……

  12. NortonSmitty says:

    Of course we should put God back in schools! We all know we have to honor the One True God or face his wrath! We must defend him to the death as he orders, for he is all powerful and demands it! HE IS MY GOD!!!!

    However, your god is just damn silly.

  13. NortonSmitty says:

    Once again I give you the definitive word on the subject: http://www.venganza.org/about/open-letter/

  14. Deep South says:

    Being raised in the South, we always said the Lords Prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a moment of silences. All sporting events were led in prayer by a local Minister before the game , and we were led in prayer before we took the field. Those were quieter simpler days when everyone respected each other, and kids were taught to respect their elders, and not speak unless spoken to. I believe we need God in every aspect of our life.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      Deepster, we did the same thing up north. But we both know that is not the reason they were quieter and simpler days.

  15. Stevie says:

    Armed guards protect the Presidents daughters and this seems to be working 100%.

    God doesn’t wear a gun.

  16. Flagler Native says:

    School is for A,B,C’s and 1,2,3′s. Not for any religion or personal beliefs. Unfortunately schools don’t feel this way. If they did then the wouldn’t decorate the halls with Christmas decorations or have teachers dressing up as the Easter Bunny and hopping from class to class to say “hello” to the kiddies. The colonists who founded this country came here to escape religious persecution. They wanted to be free and to be able to practice their own beliefs in peace. Funny how this country has deviated from those original values. Everyone’s beliefs are everywhere. Every year starting with New Years then on to Valentines day and all the way until Christmas shoveling holidays down our throats. In advertisements, in stores, in even the prices that we pay, just pathetic. If you want to be Christian then practice it at home, if you want to be atheist practice it at home but for goodness sake stop ramming it down our children’s throats at school.
    Maybe if the public school system taught more in reference to A,B,C’s and 1,2,3′s instead of getting side tracked on the holidays then maybe just maybe America would be producing smarter young adults come graduation instead of kids that don’t even know where all of these traditional pagan holidays come from. At some point people really need to scientifically research each and every holiday one by one through encyclopedias or other reference books, and then 90% of the global population wouldn’t celebrate these traditions and our poor children could finally be taught the truth instead of all their parents lying to them about fat men dropping down chimneys. Parents don’t want their kids to lie to them but then again, what do the parents do to the kids for their entire premature lives for every holiday?? Lie. And then the parents excuse it by saying “well son/daughter I told you those lies so it could be a surprise”! So adults celebrate a holiday that they say is supposed to represent Jesus’ birth and then….. LIE…sooo hypocritical. Any parent that does that to their child should be ashamed of themselves.

  17. BP says:

    People have a very poor understanding of someone who is mentally ill. God in school or not will not help someone who is mentally ill. Religion sometimes makes the mentally ill worse. I have encountered people who truly believed they were Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary reincarnated. Pray will not fix it either Only better understanding of mental health, better funding for research and better funding for social programs to allow someone to get help ca help reduce of risks of the next tragic event.

    These valuable programs were badly cut (as they were deemed “social programs for those too lazy to get a job” were cut years ago. Now we have these ticking time bombs walking the street. So are the cuts worth it?

    The discussion needs to start right there and leave God in church.

  18. Seadog says:

    When I was in Junior High School, the principal got a bad case of religon and brought in these fundamentalist preachers to give fire and brimstone sermons to the entire student body. I would not want to put my kids through that or any one elses.

  19. Stevie says:

    Christian schools escape mass shootings. Could it be that criminal shooters know the students are protected by a well regulated militia? People who are willing to sacrifice in order to protect the weak.

    • BP says:

      No Christian schools do NOT escape mass shootings. Last year or so 7 students were shot and killed at a Christian school mass shooting in California. There have been many others. This is a problem caused by people. Only people will solve it.

  20. Raul Troche says:

    The Muslims teach the Koran in schools. For a good rounded education I believe the Bible should be taught in our schools even If you don’t believe it. Here are several reasons I say that: It teaches a lot of vocabulary, it teaches wisdom ( knowing the difference between right and wrong) after all some of it was written by the wisest man that ever lived. It teaches us to love one another, it teaches patience and it teaches us to have faith. These are just a few good reasons. So even if you don’t believe in God it is a wonderful learning tool.

  21. Get it correctly, there is only one true God and those that actually have a Christian background will confess that Jesus is the true son of God. To deny God is to deny yourself. Do we need scientific evidence to know that black is black and white is white.
    Sure I would love to see God back in our schools. God serves a purpose in any person’s life. People on this site need to wake up. Nobody is forcing God on anyone, but take warning that a house divided will not stand Mathew 3;25
    To each to there own belief of ” What God” but the God that Created Heaven and Earth is the Supreme Authority….. Jesus Christ…… with man it is impossible but with God all things are possible.
    So what’s wrong with this country…….. think?

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