We Let God Stay In School
by Kenneth N. Kruithof, Former Superintendent, Bossier Parish School Board, Benton, Louisiana
The war for religious freedom in public schools is being fought in a thousand small skirmishes every day, as students, parents, and educators take often lonely stands against an academic culture that, for nearly 50 years, has been immersed in the anti-Christian propaganda of the Left. For four decades, Ken Kruithof has been fighting that misinformation – and inspiring others to fight, too.
After almost 40 years as a teacher, coach, and administrator in northwest Louisiana’s Bossier Parish School District, I’m still not always sure what it is that sends a particular parent scurrying to the ACLU.
For instance, at Stockwell Place Elementary, a few years ago, it might have been any one of a lot of things. The Christmas songs sprinkled throughout the seasonal concert. The Christian symbols on the walls alongside other decorations during the holidays. The child who closed an awards ceremony with a prayer of thanks "in Jesus’ name." Or the prayers the teams prayed before games, or the activities of the student club, "Stallions For Christ."
"Whether you do something or do nothing, you’re taking a stand."
The principal who called me thought it might have been the little cross magnet on one of the teachers’ filing cabinets. At any rate, the mother of one of his Stockwell students was retaining the ACLU, and suing our school board for violating her understanding of the so-called "Separation Clause" of the First Amendment. Somewhere between the magnet and "Away In A Manger," she thought we were allowing too much "religion."
"Let me call an attorney I know," I said. As superintendent, I had an attorney on official retainer, but he wasn’t the one I wanted to speak with. I knew what he’d tell me.
This was not, after all, my first experience with the ACLU. Years earlier, as a middle school principal, I’d drawn the organization’s ire when I moved to change our school mascot from "Demons" to something less provocative. (We’d been seeing a surge in devil worship and satanic rites among students.) Once again, someone didn’t like it, and an ACLU attorney warned me I couldn’t exorcise our mascot, just like that.
"Watch me," I said. And that was the last I heard from the ACLU.
One of the first things I learned about responsibility – as a football coach, teacher, principal, or superintendent – is that, whether you do something or do nothing, you’re taking a stand. Some are going to support you; some are going to oppose you. I’ve always wanted my stands to count for something.
That’s why, during my years as superintendent, when teachers and administrators called and asked, "Can we allow prayers before assembly?" or "Can we let students pray before the ball game?" my answer was always, "Yeah, go ahead. If they’re mad, they’ll come and get me." You have to take a stand – and, thankfully, I knew the moral fiber of our community was such that they would support us in these decisions.
"There was an emotional groundswell of support for the decision throughout our community."
So, when I found out we were being sued, my first phone call was not to our board’s attorney. He would tell me to roll over and do whatever the ACLU told me to do, rather than risk an expensive lawsuit. I wanted a better option than that.
Instead, I called a friend, Mike Johnson, who attends my church in Shreveport, Louisiana, just over the river from Bossier. He’s an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, and he’d told me often how ADF was successfully defending schools and districts like ours against just this kind of legal aggression.
"There’s nothing wrong with what you’ve done," Mike told me. "If you like, I’ll come and talk to your board."
When Mike finished his presentation, the board voted unanimously to: 1) ask him and ADF to defend us, and 2) fight the federal lawsuit. Both decisions drew an emotional groundswell of support throughout our community. Rallies were held, and concerned parents printed T-shirts that read, "I support Stockwell Place Elementary and the First Amendment."
We felt very confident about the litigation, but as it turned out, ADF was able to secure a victory before the case went to trial. The plaintiff parents moved to another state, and the judge soon dismissed the case. That was God’s hand, moving in our circumstances. Afterward, at Mike’s suggestion, we tweaked our policies a bit, and trained our teachers in their First Amendment legal protections. And today, throughout our parish, students are not afraid to talk about their faith, and Christmas songs are still sung in the holiday concerts.
The case set a precedent for our school system, and others. Better, it sent a message to teachers, administrators, parents, and students that we were going to support them if they did these things in the right way. People knew we were willing to fight for what we felt was just.
The resources and the expertise that ADF lent our school system proved invaluable, and I frequently recommend ADF as a resource to those who call me for advice on similar situations.
At the time of my retirement last year, the Stockwell faculty invited me to lunch. "We wanted to thank you," the principal said, "especially for taking a stand to defend our teachers in that situation. You probably don’t know how much that meant to them."
Probably as much as it meant for me to have Mike Johnson’s legal expertise – and the dependable support of the Alliance Defense Fund.