Responding to the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday, State Representative Stan Lee (R-Lexington) blamed lack of religion in public schools. Pointing to students allegedly being forbidden to pray in or bring Bibles to school, Lee proclaimed, “You drove God out of the school house, what do you expect?”

Two major problems exist in Lee’s argument: students are not prohibited from either praying at school or from bringing Bibles to school; and using his position as a taxpayer-funded, elected position to endorse religious viewpoints is constitutionally problematic.

Religion in Schools

The law is clear on what role religion can play in public schools. While teachers, administrators, and other taxpayer-funded officials cannot endorse religion in any way – from leading or participating in prayer with students to allowing outside religious influences access to students on school grounds – students have always enjoyed a constitutional right to bring Bibles to school and to pray in their spare time so long as the prayer does not interfere with class time.

Cases ranging as far back as Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963) made this distinction clear.

The key to the distinction is choice: forcing students to engage in religious exercises violates the Constitution. That includes any prayer or other religious activity led by school officials, as the courts have repeatedly ruled children cannot reasonably be expected to feel they can exercise their right to abstain from those exercises due to peer pressure and the hierarchal mentor-student relationship that compels them to participate lest they be ostracized, punished, or worse.

Religious Establishment

State Rep. Stan Lee

In his speech on the House floor, Rep. Lee took free exercise of religion to an unconstitutional level when he associated lack of religion in schools with mass shootings.

Referring to the increase in deadly school shootings, Lee said, “But can we blame an almighty righteous God, who we told, ‘we don’t want you in the school house’?”

He went on to argue “right” and “morality” have been driven out of schools “…because we’ve driven God out of schools.”

He went on to argue mass shooting problems didn’t exist when children were allowed to pray and bring Bibles to school – a factually inaccurate statement as (1) the number and rate of school shootings hasn’t changed much over time (only the violence and death toll in those shootings has risen) and (2) children have always – even today – been able to pray in and bring Bibles to school.

Lee went on to say that “…if we would just turn to [God]” instead of “man-made laws, all of these problems would be solved.”

Lee didn’t explain how implementing a practice that’s already legal (and common) would reduce the number of mass school shootings. He did, however, offer what he viewed as a solution to the non-existent problem of school children not being able to pray or bring Bibles to school.

“So if we’re going to consider a bunch of other laws, maybe we need to consider some laws…to allow, maybe the Lord could come back in.”

Let’s Not Make the Same Mistake Twice

Any law proposed or passed by the state legislature requiring religious beliefs – Christian or otherwise – be mandated in public schools would be wholly unconstitutional and would cost Kentucky taxpayers thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) in costly litigation before ultimately being ruled unconstitutional.

Just as the country doesn’t need any additional ‘thoughts and prayers’ to stop the next mass shooting, Kentucky doesn’t need pointless unconstitutional legislation establishing or otherwise endorsing religion. We didn’t learn our lesson when we allowed Kim Davis to challenge established federal law based on her religious beliefs (and taxpayers are paying the price for that); let’s not make the same mistake twice.

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Tim Peacock
Tim Peacock is a lifelong writer and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBTQ advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. He also manages a news analysis blog (Peacock Panache) that focuses on civil rights, LGBTQ issues, church/state & atheism issues, women’s rights, and politics. You can learn more about him at his personal website: http://tpeacock.com

11 COMMENTS

  1. It’s sad that you missed the entire point Representative Lee made. But reading your bio, it makes sense, you think promoting LGBTQ in school is fine, in fact required, but promoting God is not. I certainly won’t try to change your mind, the God you apparently don’t believe in will judge us all in the last day. Its almost comical how you state that religious beliefs/actions are not restricted for students in our schools, and then go on through your entire article pointing out the very laws that restrict them. Try thinking about it this way: if we teach our kids that we’re nothing more than an evolved monkey, theirs no right or wrong, do whatever pleases you, there is no Heaven or Hell awaiting you, and that their isn’t a God who created you, then why in the world would i care about hurting myself or others?

    • First of all, thank you for reading and commenting. Engaging with readers, even those who disagree, is part of good journalism, and a needed part of democracy.

      As for “the God I apparently don’t believe in” – without getting into too much personal background, let’s just say that my lifetime of church involvement speaks to what I believe. But, I also believe that schools should honor the First Amendment, and neither promote nor inhibit religion.

      Rep. Lee’s comments are incorrect in three ways. First, schools should not be promoting religion. Second, there is not a “lack of religion” in our schools, unless you mean state-forced religion. There are prayer groups, Bible study groups, FCA groups, and so on. Third, research has shown that the primary cause of mass shootings in the U.S. is the flood of guns in this country. (See our story on “it really is the guns.”)

      And to your final point: if religion alone helped develop one’s moral compass, shouldn’t people in church be more moral than people who don’t attend? Again, statistics show that this is not the case. I would posit that development of a strong ethical core is the key, not just the teaching of religion.

      Again, thank you for reading and commenting.

      • There are just some very fundamental things that you and I don’t think the same way about, and it’ll likely keep us from ever agreeing on this. Religion, going to church, carrying a bible, none of that really means that someone truly believes in God. Living your life according to His word (which is found in the bible) is the only proof of that. And I’m not at all suggesting that it is the schools responsibility to teach kids about God. It would be wonderful since there’s really not a single other thing as important for them to know. But that’s ultimately the parents job. When our schools teach evolution as opposed to creation, they are in fact teaching the opposite of God. When they teach, or even just condone, anything which is condemned in the bible, they are teaching against God. This is such a huge topic to put into words, and then when someone like Rep. Lee states it in simple form, it’s easy to criticize. What I know he meant, was that our kids are growing up without a knowledge of God, without hope, without respect for authority (and that starts with respect for the God who created us all).

        I apologize for challenging your faith, I do not know you, and shouldn’t have done that. However, anyone who promotes what is the opposite of God’s will, cannot claim to be following it.

        The “research” you refer to, that the NY Times refers to simply correlates the number of guns owned rising and mass shootings rising, quite the jump. We could just as easily say that our population increase, or number of students per classroom rising or the cost of living, etc. Come on, Lowes sells more brands of hammers than they ever have in history, but more people aren’t hitting their fingers with them, are they.

        We have a serious moral issue in this country, and it’s not just kids. The question is, WHY do these shooters want to go in ANYWHERE and shoot ANYONE? Anger, hatred, mental illness, bullying, you name it. Guns are an effective tool to carry it out, but they certainly aren’t the catalyst. My son’s have guns, I have guns, all my friends do too, and none of us want to kill anyone. I think you have to get down to the cause, what is making these folks WANT to do these terrible things? Rep. Lee is right in my opinion, but that’s not all of the story. Our Governor is also right that the song lyrics and violent video games are part of the problem. Violence and disgust in – violence and disgust out.

        “Society” doesn’t want to admit that “WE” are responsible for the problem, it’s easier to blame it on guns and write a bunch of useless laws and regulations that ultimately won’t change a thing, but we can say “we did something”. And 10 years from now you and I will be talking about the knifings, or poisonings, or bombings, or cars running into crowds or any number of other things and still saying, how can we fix this?

          • It says “Thou shall not Kill”. So you are saying that if it said “Thou shall not kill AND thou shall not possess many guns” these shootings wouldn’t have occurred. Interesting…

          • Look, you believe that everyone should be able to own as many guns as they want, and that allowing everyone to have as many assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as they want is perfectly fine. I don’t.

            You also believe that if everyone simply had a different moral compass, and believed that killing was wrong, all of this would be solved. While I will agree with you that getting everyone to internalize that killing is wrong would make a huge difference, until that happens we need to keep the people without that moral compass from obtaining weapons, especially weapons that can kill many and rapidly.

            Finally, since both of us have stated our positions, and don’t intend on changing, I think I’ll let you have the last word. Thanks for reading and commenting!

          • Then my “last word” would be this. You say you “agree with me that getting everyone to internalize that killing is wrong would make a huge difference”. That was at its essence Rep. Stan Lee’s message. Next time, try to think about what someone is really saying before criticizing him for certain words you may not agree with. In the meantime, please remember that 98% of us out here with guns are good, law abiding citizens. Some of whom would probably risk their own lives to save others in a bad situation. As long as people are including us (by threatening our rights) in this issue, they’ll never win. If they instead find a way to focus their energies on the 2%, the ones that for whatever reason should not get their hands on guns, they probably could make a difference, and the rest of us would even get on board. Trust me, I am as heart broken, disgusted, sad, and scared as you and anyone else about these terrible tragedies. But I’m not willing to give up my right to protect my own family and loved ones, for some false sense of security you believe a “gun-less” world would bring. I know I haven’t made an impact on you, but thanks for the opportunity to state my opinions. I will continue to pray to God for a change in the moral integrity of our great nation.

      • Even if you were right, and it is the guns, you are saying that just because an 18 year old can acquire a weapon, lets even say we were giving them away for free, that he all of the sudden decides to walk into his high school and kill a bunch of people and usually himself. That makes no sense at all.

        • I am saying (and the research pretty conclusive shows this) that ONE of the key factors contributing to gun violence in this country is the amount of guns in our country AND the ease of access. It is something that we can address, just like every other nation in the world has done.

          It is amazing to me that after all the evidence we have that we can do something about this, people continue to value their guns over our children.

          You say that it’s a moral problem, and not a gun problem? Then great, let’s get rid of assault weapons, and high-capacity magazines, so that “those people” with moral problems can’t slaughter large numbers of people around them.

          • ok and lets get rid of cars too so drunk drivers can’t kill 200 times as many people every year.

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