The Affiliation of Church and State in North Texas

My son will be a seventh grader this year. Next week he starts school.  two weeks ago there was a Transition Seminar for parents and students.  The Seminar would be for parents and students from four local ISD’s or Independent School Districts.  Great Idea.  The move from grade school to junior high can be rough on parents as well as their children.  One problem.  The seminar was held at the Richland Hills Church of Christ.  There was no explanation about why.  Would any part of the seminar be about Jesus?  Would the seminar by theologically neutral?  It was possible, but here’s the statement of faith of the Richland Hills Church of Christ.  That’s a very conservative Christian, Biblically literalist church.  Would that attitude be included or assumed in the Transition Seminar? Does my son’s school district even recognize the separation of church and state? I don’t know. The seminar was held on the heels of our family returning from our own church event in Oklahoma. But we didn’t require anyone else to be there if they weren’t Unitarian Universalists.

This past week my wife’s school had a convocation for a faculty, not an unusual event for school, although neither of us are quite familiar with these events being held or being called that for elementary school faculty.  The event was not held in her school building, nor was it held in any building in the school district, but in a local church and the faculty was addressed by the minister of the church who made it clear the church building was available to the school at any time.  He did not pray, but a church being open to any public school in such a way is promoting that church and its religion over others.

I’m a minister. It’s Texas.  Church is part of the culture of life here, but not everyone’s culture. What about Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Atheist kids? It’s possible the church was just a location with both of these events, a site with easy access to four school districts for the Transition Seminar and that religion was not part of the program, or an easy off campus location for my wife’s faculty with adult size seats, but in this geographic location, you can’t be sure.

The Richland Hills Church of Christ is not my religious cup of tea, but they do run one of the largest food banks in the area and my UU congregation has made sizeable donations to this good work.  Yet, it’s just plain wrong to hold a public school transition seminar, even in partnership with other schools or districts in a church.  Our ISD owns buildings big enough to hold the event, I am assuming the other three ISDs involved must also. It’s also wrong for my wife to be forced to attend the religious meeting place of another religion at work. We can’t teach our children separation of church and state if we don’t model it and if we don’t model it, it means we really don’t believe in it.  My son and our family didn’t feel welcome at the event due to the location.  My wife was certainly unable in our climate to voice her discomfort at work.  I’m debating whether or not it’s worth contacting the Superintendent? The ACLU?  Let it slide?

4 thoughts on “The Affiliation of Church and State in North Texas

  1. “Let it slide?”

    Oh, this is such a hard question in Texas. With 4 kids, three in public school, I struggle with it. When I go to the afterhours meeting held at the school, that begins with a “In Jesus’ name we pray” invocation. On See You At the Pole day ( which is ostensibly legal because it is child-led, and yet an adult shows up with a loudspeaker system and leads the prayer. When my child isn’t allowed to bring the most innocuous Halloween book to school, but another parent hands out candy canes at Christmas with a little story about how the red stripes symbolize Christ’s blood …

    Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. The price for my children is high, so much of the time, I don’t. But when it is egregious enough, I do.

    And there might be a need this year:

  2. If tolerant UUs are feeling queasy ~ imagine how folks of other or no faith traditions might react… have you shared your concerns with any parents?

    We do have a UU resource for these kind of questions. You can ask Bill Lakin ( his thoughts, and mention my name.

  3. I am wondering if this was a school district event or PTA. It could make a difference. We even had some trouble getting school facilities for Girl/Boy Scout events. If it was parents running this they may have run into the same thing. The only time I experience something similar was when my daughter’s band played at a church and that was a parent initiative.

  4. Buddhafrog is correct that it makes a difference whether the event was actually sponsored by the school districts themselves or by the PTA. The public often doesn’t realize the difference, because in general conversation the PTA gets conflated with the schools themselves.

    If the PTA was the sponsor then — since it’s a member organization — it has the right to meet wherever it wants. In my community, the religious organizations charge everyone something for the use of building space, at least enough to cover the cost of the sexton. The schools would always be free to the PTA. The church in question may have made a policy decision to be free to the PTA, so it can’t be accused of wasting (or overspending) members’ money.

    Especially since the schools have among them a space big enough for the meeting, if the districts jointly sponsored the meeting, then you’ve got a complaint. If the schools do not have a place big enough for the meeting, my next question would be: why do four school districts have to have one meeting of all four school families instead of individually? Surely they could each handle that. I can’t imagine that a court would see the need for all-four-school gatherings as so compellingly great that it would outweigh church-and-state considerations.

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