When Subtracting Prayer from School means Multiplication

It has been quite a month. As I walked down the hall as the FCA(Fellowship of Christian Athletes) huddle leader of a local middle school in Grand Rapids, MI, I felt angry, cheated, hatred, but mostly dejected.

This was the last time I would walk down this hall.

For almost five years, every lunch time on Wednesday afternoons, I was able to spend time in one of the unused class rooms, or if it was nice outside, the students and I would sit in the courtyard. I was given the greatest opportunity ever; I was able to sit and talk with students (mostly athletes) about their faith, and what it means to be a Christian Student Athlete.

That was until early March, when I was asked to stop leading the FCA/CYC (Claim Your Campus) groups I was leading.

One group was in disagreement with this type of religious activity.  They wanted prayer to be subtracted from this school.

U.S. Department of Education guidelines states,

School officials may not mandate or organize religious ceremonies or activities. However, if a school makes its facilities and related services available to other private groups, it must make its facilities and services available on the same terms to organizers of privately sponsored religious ceremonies. In addition, a school may disclaim official endorsement of events sponsored by private groups, provided it does so in a manner that neither favors nor disfavors groups that meet to engage in prayer or religious speech.”

The law is clear.  But those in opposition never are.

Our meetings were all conducted within the laws. The school neither sponsored us nor supported us financially. I knew my parameters and made sure I kept operating within them. I never “recruited” students, the students recruited other students. I never spoke in the hallways, only within our group, in our designated classroom.

Unfortunately, again, those in opposition wanted to stop the movement of the students because of this activity.

This local middle school was open to other organizations and their programs as long as they operated within the same parameters we were functioning within. This wasn’t on the agenda of this group of activists.  They didn’t want to start their own group, they just wanted us to stop with ours.

They claimed no outside groups like FCA or CYC can lead a religious activity during the school hours. The law actually states, this cannot happen during learning hours (so lunchtime/break time is OK).  The “gray” the opposition created made it appear they were operating in the black and white of the law.  But, it was still gray.

Even though we were in total compliance with the law, the school asked me to move our start time to either before school or after school.  The school felt the time spent on challenging the group in opposition could be better spent elsewhere.

I was fine with this decision, but I understood middle schoolers cannot drive. They are totally reliant on their parents at this particular school for their transportation to and from school, so the odds were against the FCA/CYC groups to continue with all the same students participating, so after 4 ¾ years, our program, as it was, was cancelled.

So back to our official last day of gathering to pray. As I walked into the classroom, the students had no idea what was about to happen, but obviously, something was different as the principal and the other adult leader that lead the group on a different day also came in with me.

As the principal explained to the students why this was happening, I felt such a peace. I was the last to speak and as I walked to the front of the class, I still didn’t know what I was going to say, in my head, I told God to take over, and He did.

We made it clear that anything student led is 100%, totally allowed and legal, and those rights are still in place. We encouraged, actually, I told them I expected them to keep the group moving forward, and they did more than that.

We typically averaged 20 students on a given day. The last month, the group has averaged approximately 50 students, all student-led praying and reading Scripture in their school. Actually, the day after we challenged them, almost 75 students (7-8 graders) stood in prayer at their school.

By the way, this middle school is a smaller one of approximately 125 (7-8 graders).  So 60% of the class met to pray.

As adult leaders we need to know what is and what isn’t allowed by law in a school when it comes to any religious activity.

First, anything totally student led is legal.

When adults get involved there are some more parameters.

  1. Before or after school, off campus, non-school sponsored is always allowed.
  2. Before or after school, on campus, is allowed, but you should always get the support of the principal to see what his/her parameters may be. He/she has every right to ask you not to run the program on campus.
  3. During school, non-religious activities are usually encouraged by the school system. Just hang out at lunch with students, developing relationships is usually ok.
  4. During school, religious activities are allowed during non-learning hours if the principal allows it. The group cannot always meet in the “open” so they typically meet in an unused class room. As the adult, we are not permitted to recruit students in the hallways to attend the group. And, again, the principal can determine other parameters and can discontinue program if they feel appropriate.  So, you will need to check with the principal of each school you attend.

The toughest thing for me to determine was whether or not I was willing to fight for this program to remain active during the school day. After much prayer and listening, I felt released from the program, especially after seeing how the students reacted.

As adult leaders, we need to keep praying for our students. School today is tough. There is so much pressure for good grades, excelling in sports, being the lead in the school play, sitting in the number one seat in the school band, scoring very high on the ACT, all to prepare for college, on top of having as many friends as possible. THEN, we ask students not to worry or stress out about anything.

I know this post goes back and forth between good feelings and not so good feelings. Here is where I have landed, the story will end on a good note. One reason is because we deal with students and they always seem to rise to the occasion (even without us pushing). The second reason, the church will also rise. The church has been through many persecutions and always wins. This one is no different.

Unfortunately for the opposition, they rejuvenated this group of students.  Where we may see subtraction, God is multiplying.

Steve Anderson
Never The Same/Claim Your Campus volunteer
Guest Post


© Never The Same, 2015