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Flagler Schools Will Reluctantly Adopt Religious Freedom Policy Imposed By State

| November 15, 2018

It's not just crosses, skullcaps and veils: a new policy will protect all religious expression, and non-expression, in public schools. (DragonOak)

It’s not just crosses, skullcaps and veils: a new policy will protect all religious expression, and non-expression, in public schools. (DragonOak)

“I think it’s irritating that we have to adopt a policy for something that we’ve never had an issue with and that we already do respectfully,” Flagler County School Board member Colleen Conklin said. “It’s just a pot-stirrer policy. It’s silliness.”

Conklin was referring to a religious-freedom policy the state Department of Education has drafted for all local school districts to adopt. Districts are adopting it verbatim.

Districts across the state had resisted adopting such policies since 2017, when the Legislature passed a bill–over substantial opposition– to vastly expand permissible religious expression on school campuses and during school hours, and to provide for faith-based speakers while protecting religious dress and wearable symbols. The new law also allows students to engage in prayer groups during the school day, with school personnel, as long as school personnel isn’t initiating.

“We do this already,” Conklin said at a board workshop Wednesday.

“We don’t have a policy on it though,” Board attorney kristy Gavin said. The board had discussed such a policy in 2017 and left it at that. “It came up but it wasn’t policy, that was really driven more by case law that surrounded when other school districts have been sued, when students have wanted to either have clubs or organizations or gather together during the school day and pray.”

After the Legislature passed the bill, no district adopted a policy, Gavin said, “they wanted to just continue to act and behave in a manner that they already were, which was to have not a policy but to do it on a case by case basis,” and in accordance with “whatever the local district’s tolerance” was.

At the time, there was also apprehension among districts that adopting a policy would lure lawsuits. But so far, no lawsuit has been filed.

“We didn’t adopt it, districts didn’t adopt it,” Conklin recalled, “because of the way the language was written: it could be any religion, which is what this actually is. So this could actually mean that if somebody is Wiccan, they can and have the ability to pray in whatever way. This covers any religion whatsoever.”

“Correct,” Gavin said.

The policy language is vague enough that it opens the way for vastly different interpretations of religion. The district, the policy states–for example– “will treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner that a school district treats a student’s voluntary expression of a secular viewpoint,” and “A student may express his or her religious beliefs in coursework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination.”

But the religious expression itself may well be discriminatory, particularly when some religious sects are indistinguishable from hate or terrorist groups: a student who happens to be a follower of Wahhabism, the puritan version of Sunni Islam followed in Saudi Arabia, could under the policy speak in favor of al-Qaeda and terrorist practices against people outside the “faith,” or gather on school grounds with fellow-Wahhabists (assuming there would be any) and communally promulgate their beliefs, without sanctions. Closer to home, the connections between the white-supremacy movement and Christianity, the KKK’s standard fare in its heyday, are re-emerging, or at least getting uncloaked.

The policy also does not define religion, leaving open the potential for a student or a group of students to proclaim doctrines of their own and pass them off as religiously protected expression. The policy’s invitation to the absurd has precedent: actual absurdities have been on full display at the state Capitol in Tallahassee every Christmas, as the state’s insistence on displaying a Christian nativity scene led to the adjacent erection of a pole made up of beer cans in celebration of “Festivus,” the fictional holiday made famous in various episodes of “Seinfeld,” the television sit-com, and of a satanic temple the following year (plus beer pole).

The policy to be adopted in Flagler as in other districts prohibits penalizing or rewarding a student based on the religious content of any work submitted. Students may wear clothing, jewelry and accessories that display religious messages, presumably within the bounds of the district’s dress code. And “A group that meets for prayer or other religious speech may advertise or announce its meetings in the same manner and to the same extent that a secular group may advertise or announce its meetings.”

While the district will be required to provide a “limited public forum” for student speakers at school events that feature public speakers, those forums are to protect religious expression, but also “provide a method based on neutral criteria for the selection of student speakers.” Those criteria are not spelled out in the policy. The district must also state that the religious expression does not reflect the district’s endorsement or sponsorship, and must issue the disclaimer publicly “at all graduation events and at any other event where a student speaks publicly.”

Gavin said that at a school board attorney conference she attended a week and a half ago, fellow-lawyers indicated that none of their districts were modifying the policy language. “Everyone is adopting the model policy as written by DOE,” Gavin said.

The policy, in full below, is to be advertised before the Flagler school board adopts it at a subsequent meeting.

Flagler’s Proposed Religious Expression Policy (2018)

21 Responses for “Flagler Schools Will Reluctantly Adopt Religious Freedom Policy Imposed By State”

  1. Don Schulze says:

    I think the adoption of this policy is a good thing.It simply insures that religious speech, clubs, gatherings, organizations, and etc. are given the same treatment, at all times, as everyone else. The previous “non-policy” allowed for case by case discrimination that would have to be contested bureaucratically or legally.

  2. UrHomeNPC says:

    WOW!!!! You mean that Flagler County actually has to follow the Constitution? This move will only be opposed who believe “their God is the only God” and all others are wrong.

  3. Pogo says:

    @Preying in the name of God

    Republicans are unrelenting in their efforts to create publicly funded parochial schools. Another “contribution” by the NRA’s undertaker (founder of Hiers-Baxley Funeral Services and sponsor of the stand-your-ground law) and all-in-one tool: Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who sponsored the bill.

    Be careful what you prey for.

  4. Really says:

    Praise the Lord our Savior and pass the ammo

  5. Vinny says:

    Thou shall have NO other Gods before Me

  6. Rick G says:

    Well as an atheist I believe all of the gods are wrong but I believe in each individual’s right to believe or not believe. As long as no beliefs are touted above the others so be it. This looks like another over step of the Legislature once again.

  7. Agkistrodon says:

    Pray-to worship, Prey-to attack or feed upon……maybe you should do some praying.

  8. Humanist says:

    As long as we are just respecting the beliefs of theists, and not making them part of the curriculum I’m fine with that. We should TEACH facts, but RESPECT beliefs to a reasonable point. Creationism has no place in a Science, or History classroom, and I hope this isn’t used to push that pseudoscience in our public schools.

  9. Michael Cocchiola says:

    This is Republican conservatism gone mad. They are so intent on shoring up the evangelical vote they’ll circumvent the U.S. Constitution and our time-tested national policy of separation of church and state. This is egregious and should be challenged in court. ACLU…are you listening?

  10. wow says:

    The answer is complete separation of church and state. That is actually what the constitution says. There should not be any religious expression in a publicly funded school. Go actually read the constitution.

  11. Flatsflyer says:

    The Bible has been transformed and translated into a Comic Book by the GOP. This was necessary because every sin. Is broken multiple time each and every day by these mentally deficient idiots..

  12. AtHomeNPC says:

    @wow – “There should not be any religious expression in a publicly funded school.” ?? So when a person is attending a publicly funded school they no longer have their 1st Amendment Rights? No one is suggesting that anyone be forced to belong to any religious group, but those who choose to should be allowed to as it is their right under the Constitution. Just it is anyone’s right to choose to not belong to a religious group.

  13. Dave says:

    It would be so interesting to see a large group of kids worshipping satan 3 times a day by the flag pole out front. Or if a large group start thier own religion, something hilarious and absurd that requires dancing in silver reflective outfits.

  14. flagler1 says:

    Did saying the lord’s prayer and pledge to the flag really ever destroy anyone? We did it every day in elementary school in the 50’s.

  15. Iva Hadit says:

    Rick G., it looks like another over-step by the legislature, because that’s exactly what it is.

  16. MarkingTheDays says:

    Finally! Bacchanals at recess!

  17. Pcmerry says:

    Schools should return to reading, writing, arithmetic and state funded schools should follow the constitution of separation of state and religion. Ok to read about religions but stop there, no physical expression of religious beliefs and customs should be permitted in the schools.

  18. Dave says:

    Since 1st grade I can remember sitting for and not saying the Pledge of Allegiance because it said “One nation under God” and it made me very uncomfortable. I dont even know why, maybe no one explained what the Pledge was really for, they just made you do it when you dont even understand what your pledging.

  19. Outsider says:

    Liberals have no one to blame but themselves. Every time a group of kids voluntarily prayed before a football game, the hired lawyers came out of the woodwork trying to stop it, and were reasonably successful. I don’t care what you believe; kids praying before a game certainly doesn’t hurt anyone. Maybe if all kids believed that God was watching their every move, they wouldn’t go and shoot up their school, or each other on the street corners, or bully others to the point of suicide. The harm allegedly done by prayers in school is nothing compared to the banning of them.

  20. Randy Jones says:

    Hey Michael Cocchiola – what part of the U.S. Constitution does this violate? My copy of the document says (at Amendment I), “Congress shall make no law respecting an ***establishment*** of religion, or ***prohibiting*** the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” [emphasis added]. I’ve read and reread the U.S. Constitution and I can’t seem to find this “separation of church and state” (policy) you mention. Perhaps I’m missing something? Perhaps my copy of the U.S. Constitution is different from yours? Help us out friend.

  21. Randy Jones says:

    Hey Wow, can you please copy and paste that portion of the U.S. Constitution the prohibits the free exercise of religion? I’d love to read it because my copy of the U.S. Constitution doesn’t say that.

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