Editorials

This KC-area school district has crossed the line between church and state

The argument over the role of religion and faith in public institutions has come to Oak Grove, Missouri.

In a letter sent in early September, a group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation alleged that the Oak Grove R-6 district improperly co-mingles religion with district functions.

Mandatory faculty meetings open with a Christian prayer, the foundation says. A high school principal tells students faith “is of the utmost importance.”

“Many district employees display religious symbols on school property,” the group says. Creationism is discussed.

All of this appears to break the law. The Oak Grove district “has neglected its obligations to protect the religious freedom and rights of conscience of its students and faculty members,” the group argues.

There are conflicting concerns whenever religion edges into the public sphere. Prayers before public meetings are common. “In God We Trust” is inscribed on coins and currency. The Supreme Court recently approved a Christian cross on state property.

But a district crosses the line when it appears to endorse a religion, which seems to be the case here.

Several district patrons have complained. That should prompt the district and its board to stop the practices cited by the foundation.

Moreover, the practice dilutes religion. It removes what should be a family- and community-based endeavor and places it in the public schools, where faith can be misconstrued and misused by students and faculty.

We are not anti-religion. We endorsed the Supreme Court’s decision allowing public funds to be used at a private religious school in Missouri. We’ve called for repeal of the so-called Blaine Amendment in Missouri, which prohibits spending public money for religious purposes.

This goes much further.

Oak Grove Superintendent Bryan Thomsen has promised a response to the foundation’s concerns. That answer is still to come.

The district should avoid a costly legal battle over Christian teaching and symbols in the classroom. School officials should drop the questionable practices immediately, and return religion to the church or synagogue, where it belongs.

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