Last January, a fifth grader named Stephanie Versher celebrated her birthday by bringing brownies and gifts to her classmates. Among the gifts were pencils printed with the words “Jesus loves me this I know; for the Bible tells me so.”
But just as she was handing them out, the school principal showed up. She grabbed the pencils and scolded Stephanie for violating school policy. And she told Stephanie’s mother that if Stephanie was caught giving away religious items again, she would be expelled.
This was not the first time the Plano, Texas, Independent School District had violated the constitutional rights of kids. As John Gibson writes in his book, The War on Christmas, when children attended school Winter Break Parties — formerly known as Christmas Parties — they were warned not to put anything of a religious nature in goody bags to be shared with friends. Teachers didn’t hesitate to confiscate items like candy canes attached to cards explaining the Christian “Legend of the Candy Cane.”
Parents who helped out at Christmas — excuse me, Winter parties, were told not to bring red or green napkins, paper plates, or cupcakes. After all, these were the colors of Christmas! Nor could students pass out tickets to a popular Christmas pageant held every year at a local church. They were even forbidden to say “Merry Christmas” to their classmates.
Parents met several times with school authorities and finally decided they had no choice but to file a federal lawsuit: their children’s constitutional rights were being systematically violated.
Sometimes going to court can be the only alternative we have against those determined to defy the law. But Christians must be mindful of how they go about this. And the Apostle Paul offers an example of how to behave when our rights as citizens are violated.
Paul took a backseat to no one when it came to his legal rights. We read in the book of Acts that when Paul was falsely accused by Jewish leaders, and was about to be scourged, he boldly asked a centurion, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen, and uncondemned?” No, it wasn’t — and the scourging was cancelled.
Later, Paul told Festus, the procurator of Judea, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried; to the Jews I have done no wrong, as you know very well.” And then Paul exploited the nuclear option of that day: “I appeal to Caesar!” he said.
But Paul never forgot his Christian witness — even when his listeners were hostile. While behind bars, he witnessed to Felix, his wife, Drusilla, and to Herod Agrippa II. When he was taken as a prisoner on a ship bound for Italy, he comforted sailors during a shipwreck. During his two years under house arrest in Rome, we are told he “welcomed all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God.”
It’s hard to keep cool when our children’s rights are attacked and when we witness such insane efforts to erase Christian symbols from public life. But even when we are dealing with hostile school authorities — or even when we go to court in extreme cases — remember always that our ultimate goal is not winning earthly battles, important though they are, but souls for eternity. So, protest, but do it always in love.
(This update courtesy of the Breakpoint with Chuck Colson.)