Sunday, October 2, 2011

Worship service at a public middle school



On September 1, 2011, a Christian rapper known as “B-Shoc”(Bryan Edmonds) performed at New Heights Middle School, an under-performing public school in Chesterfield County, South Carolina. Following his performance, Christian Chapman, a Christian pastor, was brought on stage and performed an “altar call,” during which he preached and encouraged students to commit their lives Jesus Christ. Video footage was taken and shows that both Edmonds and Chapman were clearly preaching their faith to these students. In the video, Edmonds stated, “Because of this, people in public schools are going to get to know who Jesus Christ is. And that’s what I’m excited about.” Additionally, Chapman preached, “A relationship with Jesus is what you need more importantly than anything else.” Chapman also posted various messages on his twitter page which display his intent to increase the amount of school students “giving their lives to Christ.” This situation immediately received attention from the American Civil Liberties Union as they have launched an investigation alongside the school principal to determine whether or not the concert/assembly was a First-Amendment violation. Click here to view the article, and here to view the video post.

Clearly, there is an evident issue at stake, as an assembly overtly advertising a Christian message was permitted to occur at this public school. Although no law suits have been filed, this demonstration has the potential to head in that direction, especially considering the numerous Supreme Court cases which have occurred in response to prayer and worship in public schools (the author’s refer to a 1985 Supreme Court ruling which overturned prayer in an Alabama school district). Chapman and Edmonds have the right to express their religious beliefs, but holding an assembly in a public school where their views were pressured and encouraged among the student body is extremely controversial. As mentioned by the author, this incident violates the First Amendment as religious neutrality was breached in this assembly.

Although many people (including a student who stated, “They touched the lives of some very important people — our youth. The overall experience was astounding”) saw the event as a positive occurrence, there were numerous implications that Chapman and Edmonds failed to recognize. The fact that the administration could permit a Christian worship service to occur in the school gymnasium during school hours is a clear violation of the separation of church and state. The anti-establishment clause has clearly been violated, and Chapman and Edmonds should not have been permitted the right to conduct a worship service this public school setting. They have the freedom to share their beliefs with others, but certainly not at a public school. As indicated by his Twitter posts, Chapman has a clear motive where he has made it his goal to obtain as many converts as possible. Allowing Chapman access to a public school student population is unfairly advantageous for him since his beliefs are unwillingly being inflicted upon a secular crowd in an institution where learning is the primary focus and religious neutrality is demanded (by federal law). Giving Chapman this opportunity is completely unconstitutional. Chapman has every right to express and share his religious beliefs, just not in a public school. Additionally, during this assembly, Chapman performed an “alter call.” This was a visual display where kids were asked to stand up if they chose to commit their lives to Jesus. Unfair pressure was placed on the students who did not want to line up because they chose not to “turn to Jesus.” Again, this is completely unconstitutional and should not have occurred. Before any work can be done to fix the internal academic issues, the school must put some serious effort into fixing the errors they just made. Yes, the message evoked by Chapman and “B-Shoc” may be positive and encouraging to some students, but holding a worship service in a public school is illegal by all means as it is a direct violation of the First Amendment. This type of assembly should never be permitted to occur again in any public school in South Carolina as well as the rest of the nation.

14 comments:

Harry R. said...

I agree with Bryce that this issue clearly violates the establishment clause. The school organized and sanctioned a mandatory event in a public school which contained a predominantly religious focus. There is no legal support for this blatantly unconstitutional action.

Jack Ness said...

I am in complete agreement with Bryce here as well. I understand that "B-Shoc" should be allowed to perform his music and exercise his beliefs, but to do so in a public school for the entire population of the school is unconstitutional. The principal should not have allowed this, or even the superintendent. Just because this school is in South Carolina where there are many more religious people on average does not make this gathering at all correct.

Jean A said...

I agree with Bryce in that the establishment clause was clearly violated in this scenario. Forcing students to attend this Christian rappers performance as well as then pressuring students to commit their lives to Jesus by standing up during an "alter call" is clearly unconstitutional. Being that this is a middle school, the children present are very impressionable, and by holding such a performance, the Pastor is influencing students beliefs as well as enforcing his own. He had clear motive through his posts on his twitter page, thus I feel that any ruling by the court would come down as violation of establishment.

Ally R said...

I agree with Bryce in that this assembly should not have been permitted to take place within a public school environment. In many cases we've had in class regarding public schools and religion, parents argue that their children feel ostracized and pressured to follow their friends and their religion in order to fit in. Having an "altar call" would essentially put unneeded pressure on and call attention to those who choose not to follow Jesus.There was clear religious intent for this assembly, which violates the establishment clause as well as crosses the line of separation of church and state.

Sophie K said...

I agree with all of the above comments that this assembly should not have been permitted to take place in a public school environment because of a violation of the establishment clause. Additionally, this case is a direct violation of the “Lemon test” we recently talked about in class. It is clear from the twitter pages that there was a religious, rather than secular intent, which violates the first of the Lemon test criteria.

Jon W. said...

I agree with the comments that "B-Shoc's" performance violates the establishment clause and should not have occurred within a public school. Music especially rap, is very appealing to the kids and by performing and preaching religious ideals can be very influential. If this was a private school there would be no problem but since it is in the public sphere it is unacceptable.

Grant Z said...

I agree with everyone else's comments and with Bryce. To hold an assembly at a public school that is essentially a worship service is totally inappropriate. I would love to hear what the principal and superintendent have to say for themselves, and moreover, I would love to hear from whatever teacher(s) or administrator(s) thought this was a good idea.

Liz Petrillo said...

I agree with all the previous posts. A christian musical performance should not be permitted in a public school. However, this raises a point we have discussed in class, is being secular unfair to the religious people? There is no way to maintain neutrality, because obviously this rapper reached out to those who are religious, so not having him perform would make the religious people upset. On the other hand, having a christian performer would make non-religous or non-christains upset, therefore, any way the situation is spun, one party is unhappy.

Andrew Lichtenauer said...

To answer the question "Is being secular unfair to the religious people?" I would have to say no, it is not unfair. In my opinion, Americans should understand that there are particular public institutions that need not be influenced by religious opinions and standpoints. Of these institutions, public schools are some of the most important. There is no question that "B-Shoc" should not be allowed to perform at a public school. There are obvious religious intentions behind "B-Shoc" and his act, which means that his performance at a public school is a blatant violation of the establishment clause.

Callie B said...

I doubt this post needs another comment affirming that the assembly was clearly unconstitutional, however, after watching the video I was too shocked not to comment. I don't think there is any way an individual could argue that this holds up with any of the three provisions of the Lemon test. This incident makes me wonder how many others like it take place unreported in densely Christian populated towns and also what consequences the school will face. Just to reiterate the constitutional issue at stake here, this assembly violates the establishment clause as it's intent was not secular, and it advances religion.

Zermeno A. said...

I strongly agree with all of the above comments in that though the intentions on behalf of both Chapman and the school itself were probably thought of as un-harmful, they clearly violate the establishment clause. At no point should a religious group have any affiliation with a public school as this strongly contradicts the beliefs of separation of church and state. Middle School in and of itself is a period of awkwardness for many students, a time where they are trying to figure out who they want to be and with whom they want to associate. The Christian pastor should not have been allowed to utilize such circumstances towards his own religious advancement.

Marissa V said...

I also feel strongly that "B-Shoc's" performance at a public school clearly violates the first amendment. He is preaching his religious views to a secular crowd or young adolescents. These young people have the potential to be greatly affected by school performances and by having a religious individual be the spotlight, the school administration obviously is favoring a certain religion.

Annie M said...

I agree with Bryce. Although it is good that the assembly touched some peoples lives, the negative implications of others far outweigh them. It is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause and I find it especially inappropriate because of the age group it involved. At this time, middle schoolers are most impressionable and it was an event that the kids might have felt pressure to believe in and live for Jesus.

Mike HJ said...

This entire situation is completely ludicrous. I don't think there would be anyone who would disagree with the fact that this is some form of the establishment of Christianity within a public school. Furthermore, touching on "secularism anti-religious" I believe that the only way to be completely neutral regarding religion is to promote secularism instead of religion. While I understand that there are many values and virtues that religion promotes, I think that these same virtues can be practiced without conjuring religion undertones.