Surely Johnston school board member Butler Hall has no real qualms with an online course in world religions. Surely he sees no real harm in a class that introduces, not indoctrinates, young people to the religions that have influenced individuals, cultures and societies, in many cases for thousands of years.
More likely, Mr. Hall is using his policymaking power to hold the class hostage while using his bully pulpit to rail against the circumstances that forced the school board to ban the Gideons from Johnston campuses.
But Mr. Hall and his fellow board members made the right call when they told the Gideons they could no longer hand out New Testaments in the schools here. The alternative would have been to give school access to all groups, even ones that most parents, teachers and students would find objectionable. Truth be told, we don’t think any satanic cult is chomping at the bit to hand out literature in Johnston schools. But at some point, such a group would have petitioned to do so just to force the school system’s hand on the Gideons.
At that point, the school board could have refused to yield, allowing the Gideons to stay put while telling the Satanists to peddle their literature elsewhere. But such a stance would have no doubt led to a costly lawsuit the schools would have certainly lost. Better to tell the Gideons “we’re sorry” than to pay lawyers to fight a losing battle.
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But while the Gideons can no longer hand out New Testaments to students, the online course would, by its own description, “help students develop an understanding of the diversity of religious beliefs, practices and institutions in our nation and abroad.”
And that seems a noble and worthy mission for any school system. On such matters as religion, a school system can and should help students understand the diversity of beliefs while leaving young people to decide which religion, if any, they want to explore and perhaps follow.
Mr. Hall, a former principal, has made it clear that he thinks the schools are better with the Gideons than without them, and it’s true that the New Testament is a good book filled with guidance on how to be a better human being. But the same can be said of the Torah, Koran and other religious texts. So it’s time for Mr. Hall and his fellow board members to allow the schools to introduce their students to the world’s religions.