Bible Stories: Focus On The Family’s Claims Of Public School Persecution Don’t Hold Up

The event is Focus on the Family’s yearly attempt to transform average public school students into classroom missionaries.

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Perryville, the Great Chicago Fire and the defeat of the Roman Emperor Licinius by Constantine the Great.

But some schoolchildren are marking the day for alternative reasons: It’s Bring Your Bible To School Day. The event is Focus on the Family’s yearly attempt to transform average public school students into classroom missionaries.

“On this day – Thursday, Oct. 8 – thousands of students across the whole country will share God’s hope and celebrate religious freedom by doing something simple, yet powerful: They’ll bring their Bibles to school and talk about it with friends!” the website states.

The site offers a special Newsboys song and downloadable content like stickers and T-shirt designs, in addition to guides intended to instruct students about their rights. You have to register to view them, so of course I did.

Guides for both elementary and high school students are told to beware the cautionary tale of Giovanni Rubeo. As the story goes, Rubeo’s elementary school banned him from reading his Bible during school hours. The tale went viral courtesy of Fox News’ Todd Starnes. But as usual, there was more to the story: Rubeo got in trouble because he read his Bible instead of the book he’d been assigned for class. The guide neglects to mention this small detail.

High school students are also told about Brooks Hamby’s infamous graduation speech. Hamby made headlines last year after his dastardly school tried to prevent him from proselytizing his classmates at graduation.  Hamby bravely refused, and thus a hero was born. You’ll be happy to know this persecuted individual is now safely ensconced at Stanford University.

The site continues the theme with a blog post by Chase Windebank celebrating his religious freedom “victory” over his Colorado public school. “Victory,” however, isn’t the most accurate description of Windebank’s accomplishment.

To hear him tell it, he was banned from praying in school. That isn’t what actually happened. The school told him to stop using a study period to host prayer meetings, and he then filed suit with the assistance of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

But Windebank suddenly dropped the suit, claiming that the school would now allow students to pray at lunch. The school, however, had always allowed students to pray at lunch and had chosen to cancel the study period for the upcoming academic year. Neither party agreed to any terms; Windebank did not receive a settlement. That’s not a victory.

Once again, facts don’t appear to matter to Focus on the Family. The site repeatedly urges students to contact ADF if their schools infringe their rights, and reminds them that the Bible’s simply full of “young people” who take brave stands for God.

“We see this in the books of Daniel and Esther, which tell the stories of a young man and woman, who, despite their youth, had the courage to share God’s truth and love with an unbelieving culture,” it says.

Perhaps this event isn’t about sharing the gospel as much as it’s about creating clients for ADF and copy for Starnes.

It is also unclear how the experiences of Daniel and Esther are comparable to those of contemporary American teens. Daniel, after all, was a slave who survived a trip to the lion’s den. Esther was forced to become a concubine.

Neither fate is likely to befall Bible-toting students. But this is precisely the sort of fear-mongering that convinces students and families that their rights as Christians are at risk, and that committing the legal act of taking a Bible to school is somehow a subversive gesture.

The mundane fact is that any public school student can, on any day, bring his/her Bible, Book of Mormon, Quran, Dianetics or Bhagavad Gita to school for personal use. These students can also talk about their faith with their peers, as long as they don’t disrupt class or engage in harassment.

I’m sympathetic to these would-be Daniels and Esthers. I too once listened to the Newsboys and attended school in ostentatiously Christian t-shirts. 

But this is what I have to say to them now: America is not Babylon, and your principal is almost certainly not Ahasuerus. You live in a majority Christian country under a government that consists almost entirely of members of your faith. Religious persecution is real, and it is serious – but you do not face it here.

It’s important to be honest, too. And that means your role models should not be ones set before you by Focus on the Family and other extremist groups.

Perhaps you should consider today an opportunity to study instead of fighting your parents’ culture war.