Public Schools

A Mo. pastor has just reminded us why we need to pay attention to local school boards

  Rob Boston

Americans United is a non-partisan organization, and we can’t legally endorse or oppose candidates for public office.

But AU can, and does, urge people to pay attention to political races and find out where candidates stand on important church-state issues. This is especially crucial in local races like city councils and school boards. In some ways, the individuals holding local offices can have more impact on your life than political leaders in Washington, D.C.

I thought about this recently after watching a video of Pastor Rick Morrow of Beulah Church in Richland, Mo., offer some disturbing thoughts on autism.

‘Cast that demon out’

“I know a minister who has seen lots of kids that are autistic, that he cast that demon out, and they were healed, and then he had to pray and their brain was rewired and they were fixed,” Morrow said. “Yeah, I just went there. I mean, you can get online and see lots of examples of it. If it’s not demonic, then we have to say God made them that way. Like, that’s the only other explanation.”

Morrow continued, “Why [does] my kid have autism? Well, either the devil’s attacked them, he’s brought this infirmity upon them, he’s got them where he wants them, and/or God just doesn’t like ’em very much and he made ’em that way. Well, my God doesn’t make junk. God doesn’t make mess-ups. God doesn’t make people that way.” (Hat tip to Friendly Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta for bringing this to light.)

This is the sort of ignorant thing one hears in some fundamentalist churches, and that’s lamentable. But here’s where it gets worse: Morrow serves on the school board of Stoutland School District. That’s right – a man who believes that autism is a demonic manifestation has a hand in determining how the local public schools can best serve children with autism.

Morrow has been challenged by several parents who have autistic children. He’s not backing down. As AU Vice President for Strategic Communications Andrew Seidel made clear in a recent TikTok video, religious freedom means Morrow has the right to believe hateful things about autistic children and to preach his beliefs from the pulpit. But the separation of church and state means he does not have the right to use his elected, public office to impose his religious beliefs on other people through school board policies.

Pay attention to school boards

This incident is a reminder that we all need to pay attention to local school board races. Attend forums where candidates appear. Ask them pointed questions. Research them online. And vote – every time.

America’s public schools serve 90% of our children. They deserve schools overseen by people who understand that these institutions have a moral and legal obligation to serve all kids, regardless of race, creed, gender identity or different learning abilities. Step one is to acknowledge that no child is “junk.”

P.S. After you watch Andrew’s TikTok video, check out AU’s other TikTok videos while you’re there. We have a lot of great content.

Photo: Pastor Rick Morrow of Beulah Church. Screenshot from Facebook.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

Act Now