Mackenzie Fraiser may be a sixth grader, but she knows more about her constitutional rights than Somerset Academy. The Las Vegas school took a big gamble when it told a 12-year-old girl to drop God from a paper for leadership class — despite the Education Department’s own rules allowing it. For a project on self-esteem, Mackenzie wanted to use John 3:16 to explain how her faith affects her identity. Since she was required to include an “inspirational statement,” Mackenzie turned to what inspired her most: the Bible. Before she could finish, the teachers ordered her to strip any reference to Scripture or God, claiming that it violated a government policy.
When Mackenzie got home and told her father (a pastor) what happened, he was rightfully upset. The family contacted our good friends at Liberty Institute, who gave the school 10 days to issue a written apology to Mackenzie. “Government officials telling little girls they can’t mention God is not the law,” wrote Liberty President Kelly Shackelford. “It’s religious discrimination, and it’s morally wrong.”
The Assistant Principal tried to justify the ban, claiming (wrongly) that the Department of Education prohibits religious expression in class. And while it sounds like something the DOE would do, the reality is that no such guidelines exist. In fact, what does exist is a defense of students’ rights!
These children “should never be intimidated into feeling like their faith is bad or something they have to hide,” said Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys. “The Supreme Court and the United States Department of Education repeatedly recognize that ‘students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions.’ Banning students from expressing their religious beliefs in class assignments teaches students that religion is bad. The school officials at Somerset Academy must apologize and affirm her right as a student to express her faith in a school assignment.” Let’s hope the administrators listen — and right this horrible wrong.
Tony Perkins heads the Family Research Council. This article is excerpted from the Washington Update that he compiles for the FRC.