THE REVEREND MARCIA C FREE, PASTOR 7308 EAST FOWLER AVENUE TAMPA, FLORIDA 33617 (813) 988-
THE REVEREND MARCIA C FREE, PASTOR
7308 EAST FOWLER AVENUE
TAMPA, FLORIDA 33617
TO: Representative Charles Canady, Chairperson and Committee
Members of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Committee
on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Congress of the
FROM: The Rev. Marcia Free, Pastor, First United Church of
Tampa, & President of Hillsbourough Clergy Association
PLACE: Friday, June 23, 1995, 12:00 p. m.,'
Jefferson High School, 4401 West Cypress Street,
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,
* 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
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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