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School board to address religious expression

Thursday meeting will allow written questions from public, not spoken comments

School board to address religious expression

School board to address religious expression

Click here to read the Liberty Instit...


The next opportunity for public input on religious expression in Bulloch County public schools will take place Thursday evening.

The Board of Education scheduled an information session on the issue for 6 p.m. in the William James Educational Complex cafeteria, 150 Williams Road. The hourlong session will be followed by a work session meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 7:15 p.m. in the board room, also in the educational complex.

During the information session, board attorney Susan Cox will give a presentation on the law regarding religious expression in schools, as well as answer questions raised during the Dec. 5 board meeting. More than 250 people attended that meeting, and most of those who spoke accused the board of being too restrictive regarding employees' rights to religious expression, while some asked questions the board did not answer that night.

Those attending the meeting will be given index cards, on which they can write questions they have that are not answered during Cox's presentation. Board members will circulate through the audience to collect the cards, and Cox will answer those questions after she finishes giving her information, said Hayley G. Greene, the school system's public relations and marketing specialist.

There will not be a period for spoken public comments, Greene said. Work session board meetings typically do not have public-comment periods, while regular meetings do. The board typically meets twice a month, the first being a regular meeting and the second a work session.

The latest developments in the hotly discussed religious expression issue are that the school system late last week added a "Religious Liberties Discussion" section to its website, www.bulloch.k12.ga.us/religiousliberties, and that the Liberty Institute claimed victory after school board attorney Susan Cox responded point by point to the nonprofit religious liberty law firm's letter that had threatened a law suit.

The school system's religious liberties page includes links to correspondence to and from the board, news coverage and resources pertaining to the issue.

The Liberty Institute, a nonprofit religious liberty law firm, issued a news release late Monday afternoon with the headline, "Liberty Institute restores religious liberty for Bulloch County teachers and students."

At the Dec. 5 board meeting, resident Storman Glass said during public comment that a bulletin board with Scripture on it had been taken down at Southeast Bulloch High School. On learning that, Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson confirmed with SEB High Principal Donna Clifton that the school does allow bulletin boards by all student groups, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. So Wilson told Clifton that the bulletin board had to go back up, so long as the Scripture came from students with no faculty assistance, Greene said Tuesday.

Also after that board meeting, Clifton told Wilson that earlier in the year, she had denied a request to purchase T-shirts for a student Bible study group connected to FCA. Clifton told the FCA faculty adviser that no T-shirts with Scripture and SEB High Yellow Jacket logo together could be purchased with FCA funds using school system accounts, but she did say students could purchase T-shirts with Scripture using their own money and wear them, Greene said.

Wilson sought legal clarification from Cox. She responded that schools must treat all groups - religious and nonreligious - equally. Using that information, Clifton granted the request for the FCA to use its funds to purchase T-shirts with Scripture and the school logo on it using school system accounts, just as any nonreligious student club can do.

"That is the essence of neutrality - we don't promote and we don't hinder; we treat all groups the same," Greene said, relaying Cox's legal advice.

In addition to reiterating the recent exchange of letters between the Liberty Institute and Cox, the religious liberty law firm's Monday news release mentions the Bible study group, saying: "In another area high school, the leadership of a student-led Bible study that is also represented by the Liberty Institute announced a victory when school officials reversed a ban on students holding a weekly Bible study, posting Scripture verses on a school bulletin board, and using the school's name on T-shirts for their Bible study group."

Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.

 

The next opportunity for public input on religious expression in Bulloch County public schools will take place Thursday evening.

 

 

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