How about a little more common sense?

Published 9:28 pm Friday, January 3, 2014

By Rev. Chris Surber

Apparently religious freedom is especially intolerable in Bullock County, Ga. Their school board has been petitioned by Bulloch County Citizens for Religious Liberties to review its religious expression guidelines for teachers.

Teachers in the district received emails stating things like, “As of today, if you have a Bible verse on your school email and/or Bible verse posted in the classroom, please remove it immediately…. If a student-led prayer is initiated, you must remove yourself and step away from the group.”

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I didn’t realize the First Amendment didn’t apply in public school classrooms. You know, the place where we teach children about the First Amendment.

What happened to shared inquiry? What happened to the notion that a classroom is an environment for teachers and students to respectfully engage in reasoned exploration of the world around them? Why is it OK for a curriculum to contain reading material normalizing the adoption of children by gay couples but not OK for a teacher express her personal convictions in a respectful manner?

Simple, straightforward common sense dictates that for a classroom to be a true environment of learning, many ideas must be allowed to enter the dialogue.

I’m not advocating for all-out religious instruction in public classrooms. Nor am I so narrow-minded as to suggest that only religious dialogue consistent with my Christian belief systems be accepted.

If a public school is public, then allow for ideas common in the public sphere to be presented in reasoned and respectful ways. Nurture an environment conducive with producing a balanced citizenry — one that is capable of rational thought and able to show respect to people of various beliefs.

Why not tell teachers to keep their views on mathematics or writing composition out of the classroom? Well, that’s a specific skill taught in the curriculum, you say. True. Religion isn’t taught in the curriculum. Nor do I believe it should be. But neither are character, good manners, civic virtue or a whole host of other intangible qualities we need teachers to embody.

A classroom is a place for nurturing a search for truth. And truth has nothing to fear. It doesn’t have to be safeguarded against religious expression, ideological debate, or any other boogeyman of the political correctness police.

Here’s a thought. Perhaps we don’t need more SOLs to make publicly schooled children smarter or more internationally competitive. Perhaps we need to protect the rights of teachers to create learning environments in their classrooms that facilitate inquiry of all kinds of ideas — including religion.

In our efforts to keep the public sphere free from religious intrusion, all we are accomplishing is the death of common sense and ushering in the end of the search for knowledge in this country.

For public education to thrive, its teachers have to be given the freedom to create classroom environments where the flow of ideas is encouraged.

Common sense isn’t so common anymore. If we value education, let’s give more respect, not more restrictions, to our teachers.

Chris Surber is pastor of Cypress Chapel Christian Church in Suffolk. Visit his website at