When Relationships Collide, Session 4: Teaching Points

By Fiona Soltes

Have you ever wondered what a public school teacher can or can’t say, especially in terms of shaping your child’s beliefs?

teachingpointsIn 2008, a 16-year-old California student decided his rights were being violated. Chad Farnan’s European history teacher had been making comments that Farnan considered decidedly discriminatory. Among them, that creationism is “superstitious nonsense” and that “when you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.”

Farnan and his parents, however, went beyond simply talking to school district administrators, who dismissed the complaints. The case landed in federal court, and last year, the verdict came down: Some of the teacher’s words did indeed violate Farnan’s constitutional rights.

When it comes to rights, we often teach our kids about their own freedom to express themselves however they choose. We encourage them to share their beliefs without fear. But what about a teacher’s right to do the same? Have you ever wondered what a teacher can or can’t say, especially in terms of shaping your children’s beliefs? And does it make a difference if those teachers are for or against your views?

Keeping Christ in America’s Public Schools, written by David C. Gibbs Jr. and David C. Gibbs III and distributed through the Christian Law Association (christianlaw.org), makes it clear: Modern courts have determined that teachers and school officials are “agents of the state” and no longer “agents of the parents.” As such, they must practice separation of church and state to avoid violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

This means that while students can make religious comments that are “pertinent to the topic being discussed in the classroom”; decline to answer questions on tests that would require them to violate sincerely held religious beliefs; and wear religious clothing should they choose to do so, the rules are a bit different when it comes to the teacher standing in front of the class.

Public school teachers cannot express personal opinions about religion while in the classroom. They are to remain neutral, whether the comments expressed are their own or those of the students. The U.S. Department of Education released Religious Expression in Public Schools: A Statement of Principles, and a June 1998 update by then-U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley says this: “Schools may not forbid students acting on their own from expressing their personal religious views or beliefs solely because they are of a religious nature. Schools may not discriminate against private religious expression by students, but must instead give students the same right to engage in religious activity and discussion as they have to engage in other comparable activity.”

As we all know, however, we don’t live in a perfect world. Comments are made, opinions are shared, and lines can get murky. So what’s a parent to do if warning lights start to flash? Here are a few suggestions from Keeping Christ in America’s Public Schools:

  • Remember, parents have the right, in many cases, to “prevent their children from being taught material that would negatively impact or burden their own sincerely held religious beliefs.” If there’s no compelling reason for every child to participate in a questionable assignment or activity, the student must be allowed to opt out at the parent’s request.
  • The school board is elected by the community and therefore “legally expected to represent the perspective of the majority of the community.” In other words, there’s strength in numbers. The more people in a district who can present a problem in a unified manner, the more likely the school board will listen.
  • If and when religious discussions begin in a classroom, students are allowed to share their own viewpoints, “as long as these activities are not disruptive to the educational climate.” Debate that is respectful, wise, and well thought-out can be a plus in any classroom.

Finally, students and parents alike should understand their rights. A variety of resources are available, including the following: faith-freedom.com, christianlaw.org, and firstamendmentcenter.org.


Fiona Soltes is a freelancer based just outside of Nashville, Tenn. She’s a solid believer that there’s still plenty of prayer going on in schools — and hopes that it’s as much for the teachers, the environment, and the other students as it is assistance in passing tests and making teams. 


The Power of Prayer in Schools 

by Keith Manuel

There is still power in fervent, effectual prayer in public schools. In spite of legal opinions or administrative pressure, a parent or teacher can have a robust, personal prayer ministry.

If you’re a teacher, before class, take a few moments to prayerwalk your classroom, going to each desk, praying for each student by name. Silently pray for your students as they enter your classroom. Or pray for your students at night when you’re grading their papers.

When you pray, ask God to open doors for you or your church to minister to the needs of students’ families. As a teacher you, of all adults, are aware that some of your students will share information with you they may never share with another adult. Be open to opportunities to pray for your coworkers, as well.

Parents, you can be mighty prayer warriors on behalf of your children and their teachers. I know of one parent with a child in an elementary school who volunteered to read every few weeks in her child’s classroom. As she entered the school, she prayed for the receptionist and the administrators. She also prayed for teachers and students as she walked down the halls.

However, her prayer ministry didn’t stop there. While in the carpool line, she prayed for parents she saw. Every morning and afternoon, she prayed for the police officer who provided security for the school. While watching the children walking by with loaded backpacks, she prayed for their spiritual and physical needs.

Your work may not afford you the opportunity to walk the halls of your child’s school, but you can pray during parent/child field trips or while attending special school activities or sports. You can even get a list of all the teachers and pray for a different one by name each day during your private prayer time.

The consistent practice of prayer by believers can have a tremendous impact on our schools. Prayer may not be a corporate activity allowed in your setting, but no one can hinder the silent, yet powerful, prayers of a teacher or parent from reaching our Heavenly Father.


HomeLife cover

This article originally appeared in the August, 2010 issue of HomeLife. To subscribe, click here or on the magazine cover.


  1. Rita Cartrette says:

    This is a good article that was included in Bible Studies for Life lesson. Thanks! We need more of these. I have been unhappy with the links you are providing with the lessons, comments about sexual relationships in a marriage, link to an R rated movie. I encourage you not to allow this to continue. If it is the writers fault or the editor, this issue needs to be address and corrected. If the person responsible is not willing to change there is a problem with that person and you need to correct it. Take a stand. I expect high Biblical standards without comprise from my literature.

  2. Barry Still says:

    The material provided for lesson study is not as it used to be. Content is not as it once was. The “aids/helps” provided do not meet the needs of class members, and increase the lesson preparation time for teachers. It thus discourages new teachers from continuing in their calling. If improvements do not occur, I believe you will see reduction in use of the lesson material, and movement to other sources for Sunday School material. It used to be so good, and it hurts to see the difference in content and layout. Quarterly size, clock timings, and generic questions do not meet the needs across the wide spectrum of users.

    • Barry,

      I say this with all due respect, but if your “teachers” are ONLY counting on this material to teach a class and not putting in any extra time, then I would call them facilitators, not teachers. If someone is truly “called” to lead a group, then they are simply using this material as a base and doing what is necessary to provide the right experience for that particular group. Just my opinion…

  3. Bill Shepherd says:

    I have to disagree with my friend Barry! I’ve been an educator for 38 years. I’ve taught Sunday School for many years as well. When this new format came out a lot of folks in our church couldn’t believe that Lifeway “changed” the format and the size of the study guides. I stayed positive with my class, which we call ” mixed adults”, and they love the new format! I love the cd with the intro of the lessons by the writers. Ron Edmonson is a great writer which helps to love the curriculum. And the Live It Out section with the articles to kind of sum up the lesson is great! But I always use commentaries to supplement my teaching and to add thought provoking questions to gain more understanding of the lesson. I look forward to these articles every week and I always takes a few minutes before the lesson to have a discussion with the class! For our class we LOVE IT!

    • Wes Henson says:

      I agree Bill. I read the commentary, present the setting, the goal, and ask and facilitate the questions. What an engaged group!

  4. Donna Earlywine says:

    I love the new format and look forward to the article each week. I believe the studies are relevant and presented in a way that is easy to understand and teach. The commentary alongside each scripture section is very useful. The weekly articles always add to the lesson. Thanks for the improvements, Lifeway!

  5. Blake Giles says:

    The resource is fine, but the link from the printed material led to a 404 message. It took some searching to finally find it.

    • James Jackson says:

      Thanks, Blake. We realized the problem with that QR code after we went to print. We are confident we won’t make that same mistake again.

  6. Willie McGee says:

    I must admit that my initial reaction to the new format was a bit skeptical. Others in my class felt the same and commented as much. But as I began to study the lessons and questions presented, I realized the format had enhanced my learning experience. Keep up the good work, LifeWay. May your work always support the learning of biblical truth.

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