There once was a time that saying “God Bless You” or “Bless You” to someone after they sneezed was nearly always considered a kind gesture.
This was not the case for a Tennessee student recently.
Kendra Turner was kicked out of her class for saying “Bless You”, which was written by her teacher as a banned phrase on the classroom’s white board. It was among a list of phrases that included “my bad,” “hang out,” “dumb,” “stupid,”, “stuff,” and more.
Turner had said “Bless You” to a classmate who sneezed in the classroom.
The teacher asked her why she said it and Turner responded that it was something her parents as well as her pastor had taught her to say.
One of Turner’s classmates then asked the teacher what she had against the phrase “Bless You.”
The teacher responded by saying there will be no “godly speaking” in the class.
Turner responded by telling her teacher that her pastor said it was her constitutional right and her it’s her freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
Turner was then kicked out of the class and sent to the vice-principal, who only affirmed the teacher’s viewpoint. She was given an in-school suspension (ISS) for the remainder of the period.
The district’s statement is: “We can’t discuss discipline issues because of right to privacy of students, but I can say there are two sides to every story,” said DCHS Assistant Principal Lynn Garner. “Sometimes people spin things and turn them to make them seem one way, but I cannot discuss anything specific in order to protect the child.”
The district since said the issue wasn’t a religious one, but a discipline issue.
Now it’s obvious to me that when this girl saw “Bless You” on this insane list, she was going to put the teacher to the test.
Can you blame her? And the fact the district supports this teacher and doesn’t address the teacher’s take on this is crazy to me.
But this situation does bring public attention to an ongoing challenge for teachers and students, Christian or non-Christian, to know what they can and cannot say or do when it comes to sharing their faith in the public school setting.
Here are some tips from the Liberty Institute that should help:
1. Students have the right to First Amendment protections in public schools. The First Amendment protects students’ freedom of speech and freedom to express their religious beliefs. Just because they walk through the school doors does not mean students lose these rights.
2. Students have the right to read their Bibles at school during free reading times. The Bible is a book. If students can read other books of their choice at school, they can read the Bible too.
3. Students have the right to pray before an athletic competition, school assembly, or other extra-curricular activity. Prayer is private speech, and private speech is protected under the First Amendment. So if it is student initiated, student led, and not disruptive, then students have the right to pray privately or as a group. Think of it this way, if students can talk freely, then they can pray.
4. Students have the right to pray during free time, such as lunch or recess. Again, if students can talk freely, then they can pray. As long as they are not disruptive and it is during non-instructional time, they have the right to pray.
5. Students have the right to talk about religion with teachers and school employees. During school, if a student starts the discussion, he or she can talk about religion with any school teachers or employees. Outside of school, students can talk about religion with anyone at anytime.
6. Students have the right to talk about God in class or school assignments. If it fits the assignment, then students can talk about God. If students are writing a paper about their hero and God is their hero, then they have the right to write about God.
7. Students have the right to start a religious club at their public school. If non-religious extracurricular student clubs are allowed, then religious clubs are allowed. The club must be student initiated, student run, and voluntary, but a club is a club. The word “religious” in its title makes no difference.
8. Students have the right to distribute informational flyers and use school resources for their religious club. A religious club must be treated the same way a non-religious club is treated. If a non-religious extracurricular club can do something, like use the school’s bulletin board or pass out flyers, a religious club can too.
9. Students have the right to wear jewelry and clothing that expresses their religious beliefs. If students’ clothing complies with the dress code, then it is their constitutional right to wear a T-shirt displaying their beliefs. So if you are allowed to wear a shirt with your favorite sports team logo, then you can wear a shirt with a religious message.
10. Students have the right to share their faith with their peers. If students can talk about the latest celebrity gossip or new hit single, they can talk about God. As long as they are not disruptive and remain civil, anytime they are free to talk with their friends they are also free to talk about God with their friends.
Final thought from the Liberty Institute
Just because someone is a government official or in authority doesn’t mean their word is the law. Many times well-meaning individuals are misinformed or misguided.
For example, we all know where the term “separation of church and state” appears in the Constitution: Nowhere. The First Amendment says the school’s job is to protect each student’s freedom of religious expression and not force one particular religion on anyone.