Editor's note: Former football player Herman Weaver recently gave several anti-drug talks with religious overtones to middle and high school students. School officials said they were unaware Weaver's talk would be religious in nature and that he would attempt to proselytize the audience and hand out cards seeking to sign up students to receive religious material. Students had no choice; they had to attend the assembly.
We have been asking readers if they agree it was appropriate for a speaker at a mandatory assembly, whose sole topic was supposed to be about drugs, to inject religious material into that speech, and whether it would have been better for students to have been advised in advance and given the option of not attending. Here are some of their replies:
From: Dan Bridgewater
Recently, I've been dismayed by the letters to the editor on the issue of religion in public schools in the United States.
I believe that there is a very simpleway of looking at the issue.
What is not to be allowed is any form of worshiping aloud and proselytizing during school time and schoolevents. What is allowed is the study of religion and ethics as academic subjects.
Worshiping aloud includes spoken prayer, hymn singing ("The Battle Hymn of the Republic" as well as "Silent Night"), Bible or other religious readings as worship or "devotionals" and "devotionals" themselves (i.e., a "religious" thought for the day, etc.).
Proselytizing, which is attempting to convert from one belief or faith to another, includes preaching and witnessing limited to the virtues of one belief or faith (religious salesmanship).
What is barredis any public school sponsorship of all forms of worshiping aloud and proselytizing. This means that such practice is excluded from all school time and school events.
Not only does this mean that school facilities cannot be used to advertise such practice, but it also means that school functions cannot be used to support such practice, financially or otherwise.
Today, there is some study about religion in various courses, and there are few restrictions on teaching religion and ethics as academic subjects. In the least, the curriculum should not be limited to studies about one religion only.
At the most, there is nothing to bar presentations by representatives of various religious sects as to what they believe, how they worship, etc. -- comparative religion. These representatives just cannot lead or engage in worship or proselytizing.
What about the case of Herman Weaver? What is the policy and procedure for presentations by outside speakers?
I don't know what Weaver said nor what was printed on the card that was handed out to students. Neither do I know the extent of screening by school authorities prior to his presentations.
However, Iwould like to make a few points in general with regard to outside speakers.
In screening, one clue to the content of the presentation is found by looking at the sponsorship. For example, the group known as Campus Life is one of Weaver's sponsors.
This group's primary mission is to proselytize, and all of their activities include a "Jesus message." This should have been a tip-off to school authorities that there could be some problems with Weaver's presentations.
Another type of screening should be a review of the content of the presentation with the speaker. Of course, some speakers might decline if theyare prohibited from worshiping or proselytizing.
Also, there should be monitoring of each presentation by school officials. Any speaker violating agreed-upon rules should be prohibited from speaking further.
Basically, I would draw the line between worshiping aloud andproselytizing, on the one hand, and the studying of religion and ethics as academic subjects on the other.
My opinion is based on two beliefs.
One, religiously, the Golden Rule should apply: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Two, the establishmentclause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution also applies.It prohibits public support of religion.