Geography Does Make a Difference
In a law class I took in the fall one of my focuses was religion and education. I am at many schools in our region and what is acceptable here during the holidays, I am sure is not acceptable in other places. I am fascinated by how religion is treated differently depending on the location of the school in American and the cultural make up of its students and faculty.
On September 10, 2009, on a webpage of a Kentucky television station a story was posted. The story that circulated around the country was about a football coach who took 20 of his players to his church and 8 of his players got baptized. The players and the coach went for a steak dinner and to hear a motivational speaker from Texas. The students play football for a team in rural Kentucky in Breckenridge County. The coach even payed for the gas that was used in the bus. The coach claims that parents were informed about this trip. The Superintendent, Janet Meeks, who was a member of the same church and attended the same service as the students, defended the coach. She stated that no students were punished for their voluntary decision to either attend the trip to the church or not. This trip was voluntary and the students who went chose to go. The problem is parents are furious and may sue the school. A parent of a baptized child, Michelle Ammons, said that she had no knowledge and did not consent to the trip or baptism.
When I first heard about this story I automatically assumed the school was in the south, below the Mason-Dixon line. I was right.
The first college I went to was Delaware State College, which is now called Delaware State University. Delaware State is in Dover, Delaware and not a school that I would consider as in the "south." But every group event Delaware State started began with a prayer. I was always confused by this since Delaware State is a state school. The culture of the school was very southern. Delaware State was started as a national land grant college basically designed to educate poor African Americans. Many of the students are from the south and many of the administration of the school are also black. Interestingly enough, a huge majority of the professors are white.
Just last night I was reading about Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, which is another fascinating case about public school and, what I call, a hiden religious agenda. Basically in Kitzmiller the Dover Area School District (Dover, Pennsylvania; not Dover Delaware) voted to have a statement read in 9th grade science that there is another option if you choose to learn about it on your own which is called Intelligent Design. The statement also emphasis that Darwin's Theory of Evolution was just a theory. Eleven parents brought a law suit against the school district. The school district lost the court case and was forced to pay just over $1,000,000.
In the Breckinridge case, Author David Waters states "How long would it have taken the entire community of Breckinridge County, Kentucky to run the coach and the superintendent out of town on a rail if they had taken players to a mosque or a Hindu temple or a Wiccan magic circle?"
My advice to anyone who reads this is two fold. You never know what is going to "blow up" in the public eye and become a huge issue. The second piece of advice is if you are not sure what is going to happen and the issue involves religion at all, stay away or tread with extreme caution.