No More ‘Belief in God’ In School District’s Value Statement June 23, 2011

No More ‘Belief in God’ In School District’s Value Statement

Lake Local Schools in Stark County, Ohio used to have the following values statement:

Mission: Providing education to achieve success.

Vision: To be the best organization for learning.

We Value: Responsibility, honesty, respect, integrity, commitment, belief in God and religious freedom, our community, our partnerships, and every person as a unique individual with the ability to acquire and apply knowledge.

Why is a public school board suggesting that belief in god is something of value? If I’m a student of staff member in the district and I don’t believe in god, am I not valued? Who knows. The Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote them a stern letter requesting the phrase’s removal — a lawsuit could have followed. That was a couple years ago.

As of Monday, that value statement has changed for the better because a god no longer appears in it. It now reads:

We Value: Responsibility, honesty, respect, integrity, citizenship, commitment, our community, our partnerships and every person as a unique individual with the ability to acquire and apply knowledge.

Now those are things worth valuing.

It’s like god was never in there to begin with, just as it should be.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation welcomed the revision of the values statement.

“We think that’s great,” said Rebecca Markert, an attorney for the Foundation. “We’re very pleased with that development.”

No lawsuits needed, either. It just took the school board a couple years to finally make the correct decision. Whoever wrote the original values statement could’ve saved everyone all this hassle by simply leaving “belief in god” up to parents and their children.

The same newspaper once ran this image to go along with their coverage of this story:

Let’s assume those kids actually believe that and their parents didn’t put them up to it. They wore those shirts in defense of the old Values statement. But I remember seeing that picture and thinking, “YES! That’s fine! No one’s trying to take away your right to believe in a god!” The students have that right. The school board members have that right. The school district does not, and that’s what we’re fighting over. It’s amazing how many Christians don’t understand that.

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  • vltava

    I disagree with the fact that they removed “religious freedom”. That shows that they don’t quite get it – in fact, they got the whole issue exactly wrong.

  • Hemant…when have xians EVER understood these things? So, its not really an amazement more so of a total facepalm that they’re opening their mouths and inserting their feet again (not just one but both)

  • Rich Samuels

    Wasn’t “belief in God and religious freedom” a bit of an oxymoron? Freedom to believe what Christians believe would seem to be the message there.

    However, by removing any mention of “religious freedom” they’ve kind of missed the point like vltava said above me.

  • Brice Gilbert

    While having religious freedom as one of the things they value is totally cool it seems a little out of place to have it there among stuff like honesty, integrity etc. Religious freedom should be accompanied by freedom of speech and other rights.

  • Why did they remove religious freedom as well? I think that this is a positive value that shows that the school welcomes diverse religious opinions and doesn’t discriminate in favour of a particular view.

    Oh, I get why they removed it now.

  • Erin

    @ vltava – But why was “religious freedom” in their mission statement to begin with? I mean, yeah, that’s a great thing to “value”, but it’s just weird that it was in a school district’s mission statement to begin with (not to mention the irony of it being listed right after “belief in god”.) They didn’t list any other freedoms; why that one? It was almost as if it was put there purposely, as a jab, in the way believers say their “religious freedom” is being trampled by not being “allowed” to believe in god. I’d bet dollars to donuts that’s what the kids wearing those shirts would argue.

    They added citizenship, though, which includes all the rights and responsibilities given to US citizens in the Constitution. Much better. WTG FFR!

  • Mike aka MonolithTMA

    The way I try to explain the issue to some Christians is this:

    Say 20 years from now a group is in charge that is formed predominantly of people who practice a religion you don’t believe in. Now do you want to set a legal precedent that allows them to force their religion where it doesn’t belong?

    Some of them get it, and I do know several progressive Christians who fully embrace separation of church and state.

  • Marguerite

    “Wasn’t “belief in God and religious freedom” a bit of an oxymoron?”

    This is the first thing that struck me as well. It’s like they were saying, “We believe in religious freedom, as long as you believe in the same God we do.” Glad they struck that.

    And yes, those t-shirts have it right, even if they meant it as a support of the mission statement. No one’s trying to say that people have no right to believe in God. They’re just saying it shouldn’t be part of a public school’s mission statement. It really isn’t hard to understand the difference.

  • I think that we should print up some t-shirts that say something along the lines of:

    “I believe in Zombies because I have faith.”

    “I believe in Unicorns because I have faith.”

    “I believe in Elves because I have faith.”

    But my guess would be that religious people just wouldn’t understand because their faith is always so much more special than the faith of others and never see the fundamental irony with that sort of thinking.

  • JD

    Religious freedom is a founding principle, which is exactly why the “belief in God” had to be removed as a mission statement, because a government pushing religion in any way *infringes* on religious freedom.

    I would agree that the mention of religious freedom should have stayed. I can’t help but think that is exactly what the board wanted, to cement the idea that outsiders want to take their religious freedoms away.

  • Dmitri

    “It’s amazing how many Christians don’t understand that.”

    Unfortunately, it’s not just Christians. I was shocked how many members of the Pagan group I used to be part of didn’t get it. Especially since you know… Modern Paganism is a minority religion and would presumably benefit “more” from church-state separation, and since most intrusions obviously come from the side of the Christian majority. It’s not like everything says “Hail Herne and Aradia!” or something that I could understand them being more easily blind to. People are weird.

  • Alex

    “It’s amazing how many Christians don’t understand that.”

    I think what they understand is they are right and everyone else is wrong. I think the “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It” bumpersticker pretty much sums it up for them.

  • Atlanta Steve

    @Summer Seale,

    While I applaud the t-shirt idea as being hilarious and cogent, let’s be honest. If we did print and wear such t-shirts, we’d soon hear Christians saying “Did you know atheists believe in Elves and Unicorns, but not God?”

    Sometimes they’re not so great at the whole “getting satire” thing. 😉

  • @Atlanta

    I know, I know, it would have that side-effect…but it would result in making them look even more stupid than they already do to more rationally-minded people.

    After all, they already think we’re baby-eating killers who worship the devil “and other pagan and evil stuff”. My concern isn’t so much to point out the stupidity in such beliefs in their own community because, let’s be honest, most of them are completely beyond all hope, but instead to point out the insanity of their beliefs to other people whom we could more easily reach and convince. 🙂

    I mean, have you ever *listened* to most of the Christians who call into The Atheist Experience? They probably do more to convince more intelligent fence-sitters than Atheists can otherwise convince on their own… 🙂

  • Matt H

    I’m with everyone else who is wondering why “religious freedom” was removed. The school definitely did miss the whole point.

    Then again, you know how the fanatics love playing the victim card. If we don’t support their religion, then “obviously” we have no respect for religious freedom.

  • Daniel Dorfman

    I always make a david silverman face when i see “ belief in God” (with a capital G) and religious freedom in the same sentence. The attempts at passing “God” off as universally religious keyword is a farce that no one actually believes. It’s made to placate just enough people that protesting it is difficult.

  • Matt H

    Maybe if we fed a few Christians to some zoo lions the whole “victim experience” would feel more real for them. 😛

  • Nakor

    I was going to point out the “belief in God and religious freedom” bit too. Did the person who stuck that in have an incredible sense of irony or something?

  • Rich Wilson

    Some Americans think the establishment clause guarantees freedom OF (christian) religion. Not freedom FROM religion.

  • Angel

    I actually have no doubt that these kids chose to wear those shirts. Having been a member of a youth group at a church, I know full well what years of indoctrination and brainwashing can do, and all of it can be channeled into passive-aggressive and missing-the-point slogans on t-shirts.

  • Trace

    The comments in the article are predictable

    One particular, and prolific, commenter keeps hyphenating atheists to “Marxit” so sometimes we are Marxist-Atheists and sometime Atheist-Marxist.

    eg. “Outsider Marxist-Atheists trying to tell Ohioans what to do?

  • I used to go to school in that district! Never had any idea about the statement, but then, I was in fifth grade and vaguely Christian at the time.

    Nice to see that things have improved.

  • Vystrix Nexoth

    Those shirts speak louder than a generic mission statement could. This is because they’re speaking for themselves rather than letting someone else speak on their behalf; they’re going out of their way to say something; that they hold this belief in their own right, regardless of what official policy is.

    That makes it more meaningful.

    If every student wore one of those shirts, then “we value belief in God” would be a descriptive statement (truth) rather than prescriptive (potential truth), and therefore be more meaningful.

  • Stark County, Ohio…why does that sound so incredibly familiar when I’ve never been there? Oh yeah, Stark County was the scene of the greatest political speech ever given.

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