October 11, 2013

Maine Voices: To ACLU of Maine bullies: Discussing faith is not promoting religion

No apology was needed from Biddeford schools for a presentation urging students to show kindness.

By Carroll L. Conley Jr.

AUGUSTA — Rachel Scott was a young high school girl killed in the Columbine shooting tragedy in April 1999. By all accounts, Rachel was a talented, kind teenager who found her inspiration to befriend the friendless in her devotion to Christianity.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carroll L. Conley Jr. is executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine in Augusta.

Rachel’s aunt, Debbie Phillips, talks to students in public and private school assemblies all over this country through an organization called Life Choices. Derek Volk, a local businessman, sponsored Life Choices to speak in several schools in southern Maine this past September.

Imagine Derek Volk’s shock and dismay when he learned that administrators from Biddeford schools had offered an apology for allowing Life Choices to present at their high school and middle school. These are the very same administrators with whom Mr. Volk and Mrs. Phillips met with the day before the presentation to allay their concerns due to a warning by the Massabesic High School principal that the Life Choices program was too religious for his taste.

They are also the very same administrators who told Mr. Volk, after witnessing the Life Choices presentation, that they would be happy to write a letter of recommendation to any administrator who might be concerned about the alleged overt religious aspects of the program.

So what would make these administrators shift from enthusiastic approval to throwing Derek Volk under the bus? The answer: bullying and intimidation. Who would do such a thing? The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. The ACLU of Maine threatened the Biddeford School Department with legal action unless they apologized for their sins (please forgive the religious reference).

So what was so offensive about this presentation? Debbie Phillips references Rachel’s decision to make Jesus Christ her savior as the source of her motivation to be kind to her fellow students.

How in the world is making a reference to historical fact (Rachel’s decision) a breach of the Establishment Clause? There was no appeal to convert to Christianity. As a matter of fact, if you watch the video of the presentation, Mrs. Phillips extols the blessings of religious freedom here in America where we value faith, but no one should tell you what to believe.

Ironically, I listened to Rachel Healy, communications director of the ACLU of Maine, on “The Ray Richardson Show,” and she stated she had leveled these indictments against Life Choices without having even seen the video of the presentation. In other words, the ACLU of Maine threatened legal action based upon hearsay.

Another alleged inappropriate aspect of the presentation was references to abstinence. Is the ACLU of Maine asserting that it is impossible to promote sexual abstinence without religious proselytizing? What religion is being established in so doing? Islam? Judaism? Christianity? All of these religions promote chastity.

Don’t all of these religions also condemn stealing and lying? Maybe we should remove all references to theft and dishonesty. While we are at it, let’s completely sanitize our public schools of all religious references. Get rid of “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.” Don’t you dare let anyone recite, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!”

Ridiculous, you say? I agree. Is this really what we want in America? Those Biddeford administrators wanted to utilize information they thought would be truly helpful to the students they serve. That’s what led them to allow Life Choices to present at their schools. But intimidation and bullying by the ACLU of Maine and the resulting fear of litigation are what drove this decision, rather than what was really best for the kids.

Would we disallow a Holocaust survivor to reference the role that faith played in regard to enduring the atrocities of a concentration camp? Would a Native American be denied permission to share how his or her spirituality encourages activity in environmental causes?

These days, I don’t know. Common sense would say, “Of course those would be appropriate expressions of faith and spirituality without establishing a religion or proselytizing.” But I’m not too sure what role common sense plays.

Yes, these are complex issues; I don’t pretend they aren’t. But one thing is for sure: I if administrators do what is safe and easy every time the ACLU of Maine makes a threat, our students’ educational experience will suffer. I applaud the initial courage of the Biddeford school administrators; I regret their capitulation.

– Special to the Press Herald

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