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THE REVEREND MARCIA C FREE, PASTOR 7308 EAST FOWLER AVENUE TAMPA, FLORIDA 33617 (813) 988-4321 TO: Representative Charles Canady, Chairperson and Committee Members of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Congress of the United States FROM: The Rev. Marcia Free, Pastor, First United Church of Tampa, & President of Hillsbourough Clergy Association DATE & PLACE: Friday, June 23, 1995, 12:00 p. m.,' Jefferson High School, 4401 West Cypress Street, Tampa, Florida SUBJECT: "Religious Liberty and the Bill of Rights" Good Afternoon Chairman Canady, other members of the Subcommittee, and community folks. I am Reverend Marcia Free, Pastor of the First United Church of Tampa and President of the Hills borough Clergy Association. I am a mother and a grandmother. My children and I were educated primarily in our public school systems, and my eldest grandson has just begun his public school education in Huntsville, Alabama. I am grateful to be a citizen in the United States of America where my religious freedoms are secured and where my right to express my religious beliefs are protected. In order to understand the depth of my belief in and my gratitude for our Constitution, let me begin on a very personal level. I practice the Christian faith. This means very simply that I love Jesus, and all the ways he has taught me to be: teaching me to love God and to love my neighbor. I want my grandchildren to know God's merciful, loving kindness in their lives, too. I want my grandchildren to know Jesus. It is the second Great Commandment that is at work today; that is, loving our neighbors as ourselves, wanting for my neighbor, what I want for myself and my loved ones. It is good to have a public forum that we might reason together on the subject of Religious Liberty and the Bill of Rights, ensuring the religious freedom of all of our citizens. Recognizing the vulnerability of our children in the public arena, let me address religion in the public school. A summary of current law regarding "religion in the Public Schools..." drafted by the Christian Legal Society, the conservative National Association of Evangelicals and others, lists what the Constitution already allows in the way of religious activity in public schools: * Individual students may pray quietly at any time, except when they are required to be actively engaged in school activities. (A colleague assured me that as long as there were math tests, there would be prayer in school.) * Students may discuss their religious views with their peers during free time as long as they are not disruptive. SUBCOMMITTEE ON THE CONSTITUTION 1 * Students may say grace before or after meals. * Students may participate in "See you at the flagpole" prayer gatherings before or after school, subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions. * Students may distribute religious literature to their schoolmates subject to reasonable time, place, manner and other constitutionally acceptable restrictions imposed on the distribution of all non-school literature. * Students may wear religious attire, and may not be forced to wear gym clothes that they regard, for religious reasons, as immodest. * The Equal Access Act guarantees that student religious clubs may meet on school property before or after school...[and] may include prayer, Bible study or any other non-disruptive religious activity. * The Constitution and Equal Access Act provide remedies for violations of these rights..." If we add a Constitutional Amendment concerning organized school prayer and other forms of government-sponsored religious expression, we would be limiting the very religious freedom we seek to ensure. Whose spoken prayer would we say? "Allah, the compassionate, the merciful...?" "Ohm, Buddha, thou transcendent one?" We put great trust in the teachers of our young ones, but how can we expect them to teach the deepest expression of our faith? Even if we agreed that Christianity is synonymous with American culture, which expression of Christianity would we want exercised? Methodist? Assembly of God? Peace Progressive Baptist? Roman Catholic? Leaders of the 1.6 million members in my denomination across the country have said, in part, "Recognizing the critical nature of these dangers we affirm our support of the public school system, democratically controlled by the entire community, financed through general taxation, and open to ALL children without discrimination as to race, creed, or economic status. As Christians we affirm that the responsibility for the religious education of children belongs to the home and to the church--not to the public school. The public school should not teach any sectarian religion, permit dissemination of religious propaganda, require attendance at religious observances, or violate the conscience of religious minorities. It does, however, have an important function in recognizing religion as an influential force in our society." Perhaps folks who are exploring a Constitutional Amendment option have not understood their already protected religious freedoms. They may have experienced teacher or school abuse of those freedoms. It is important that we educate ourselves, and our school leadership, to these precious freedoms. These precious freedoms must remain an integral part of our democracy. It is each family's and each faith community's privileged role and responsibility to nurture deeply held beliefs. We do not look to government to take over our responsibilities, but to protect our freedom to pursue and practice the beliefs that we cherish. SUBCOMMITTEE ON THE CONSTITUTION(REV. M. FREE, 1ST UNITED CHURCH OF TAMPA,JUNE 23,1995)


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