On Tuesday, I gathered with community leaders and local pastors to stand in support of a seven-year-old boy who was told he could not give Bible verse cards to his friends at lunch time. I am thankful for the spirit of the press conference and feel that the Lord blessed this opportunity for us to be salt and light in our community. I encourage my fellow pastors across the country to continue to stand for the freedom of religious expression in your community as well.
My statement from June 7 Press conference:
(If you can’t see this video in your RSS reader or email, you can watch it here.)
Before we share our concern we want to emphasize our appreciation to the teachers and workers of the Palmdale School district. You carry out a mission that we truly support. We pray for you and respect your mission.
We appreciate the concern and ongoing investigation of Superintendent Maldonado as well as the district web statement affirming the district’s respect for religious liberty to the fullest extent of the law. I appreciate the good call I had with school board member Nancy Smith, as well as the school board’s commitment to transparency.
We also want to emphatically state our support for the Sheriff’s department service to our community, and especially the excellence displayed by the deputy who was requested to visit the student’s home.
I share the concerns of millions of Christians in America for the erosion of religious liberty in America. I am thankful for the Christian legal groups that stand to help in the moments when hostility toward our faith is expressed. But after watching coverage this morning and hearing the statements made about our deputies, I was deeply grieved by this mischaracterization of our Sheriff’s department.
Quote from US Congressman Steve Knight Letter this morning (Represents our 25th District):
As a former LAPD officer I understand that law enforcement is often asked to intervene in difficult situations. I want to express my appreciation and support for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for the professional manner in which they handled this difficult situation. The deputies in the Antelope Valley are the finest in the county and perform their duties with honor and integrity. As the school board’s investigation moves forward, it is imperative that the constitutional rights of the student be upheld and protected. Free speech during non-instructional time should not be censored or prohibited. I hope this matter is handled carefully and with utmost regard to the Constitution.
Our primary concern today is to stand for the religious liberty of a seven-year-old student of this school. Mr. and Mrs. Zavala placed their child in Desert Rose Elementary School in January, and Mrs. Zavala often included notes in her child’s lunch pail that included scripture references from the Bible. This spring the child shared his Bible notes with friends at his lunch time. The child’s mother was informed by a school employee that he could no longer share his notes with friends because of “separation of church and state.”
There are several facets to this story, and we realize a school investigation is underway. Nevertheless, the Constitution clearly protects a child’s right to religious expression at his lunch time and other non-instructional time such as recess or after school. We are encouraged by a child who believes in the powerful truths of Jesus Christ and desires to share with friends. We are praying for the Zavalas as they endure this difficult time for their faith.
If, in fact, this seven-year-old child was hindered from sharing his Bible verses and notes, we believe the staff involved need training regarding the educational codes and a reminder that we do not bully or demean students of faith.
As faith and community leaders, we believe it is vital for people of all faiths, that the district provides assurances that the children’s constitutional rights are upheld.
If, in fact, a student’s opportunity of religious expression at lunch time was discouraged, we request that an appropriate apology be made to the child and his parents for violation of his religious freedoms.
As pastors, we will continue to pray for and support our public school personnel. It is our prayer that good will come of this incident and that we can all work together for the betterment of the next generation.