By / Aug 3

A survey by Pew Research taken in 2019 found the vast majority of Christian teenagers (86%) attend public schools. Even among evangelicals, the Christian group with the most children being homeschooled or in private school, the rate is more than 3 in 4 (82%). Yet while most teens (68%) report seeing at least one type of religious expression or activities in their public schools often or sometimes, fewer than half (41%) say they commonly see more than one of the most common religious behaviors, such as praying at lunch or inviting a classmate to church.

The reason for the lack of expression may be because students have misperceptions of what is allowed in public schools. Many students and parents are aware that the U.S. Constitution, through the First Amendment, guarantees the right of freedom of religion and expression for every citizen. But they might not know that these rights don’t end when students step onto school grounds or when parents interact with public educational institutions.

Here’s an overview of these rights and how they apply to Christian parents and students in public schools:

The right to pray — While mandatory prayer orchestrated by schools is unconstitutional, students have the right to pray voluntarily. This means Christian students can pray before meals, before tests, or during any free moments. They can do so individually or in groups, as long as it’s not disruptive. Additionally, schools cannot interfere with or discourage these private prayers.

The right to express religious beliefs — Students have the right to express their beliefs in assignments, artwork, or other school activities unless it disrupts the educational process. For instance, if a student decides to write an essay on Jesus as their hero, they should be graded based on the quality of their work, not penalized because of the religious content.

The right to form religious clubs — Under the Equal Access Act, if a school allows non-curricular clubs, it cannot deny students the right to form religious clubs, including Christian clubs or pro-life clubs. These clubs should have the same access to facilities and announcement systems as other clubs.

The right to wear religious symbols — In general, Christian students have the right to wear religious symbols. However, any restrictions should be consistent and apply to all type of belief or non-belief. For instance, if a school bans all necklaces for safety reasons, then this would apply to religious symbols as well.

Opting out of assignments or activities — Christian parents have the right to request that their child be exempt from an activity or assignment that conflicts with their religious beliefs. Schools usually handle this on a case-by-case basis, but generally, an alternative assignment or activity will be provided.

Access to religious materials — Just as students can access non-religious materials in school libraries, they should be able to access Bibles or other Christian literature. Schools cannot prevent students from reading religious materials during free reading times.

Celebrating religious holidays — While public schools can’t endorse or promote a particular religious holiday, they can teach about them. Students are also allowed to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter” and share their personal beliefs about these holidays.

Distribution of religious material — While schools can set limits on where and when materials are distributed to prevent disruption, they can’t single out religious materials for special restrictions. If a student wants to hand out Christian flyers or invitations to a church event, they have that right, given that they follow the same rules applied to non-religious materials.

The right to involve legal authorities or counsel — If Christian parents or students believe their rights are being violated, they have every right to seek legal advice or involve authorities to ensure their rights are upheld.

It’s important to note that while Christian students and parents have these rights, we also have the responsibility to exercise our liberty in a respectful manner and in a way that doesn’t infringe on the rights of others (Romans 12:18). Mutual respect and understanding are key to coexisting harmoniously in an educational setting where there is a diversity of religions and belief systems.

Public schools serve a diverse population, and while they are secular institutions, they should respect and accommodate the religious freedoms of all students and parents, including Christians. Awareness of these rights ensures that Christian parents and students can confidently navigate the public school system while upholding our religious beliefs and expressions.

By / Jun 2

Who should decide whether a child should be allowed to identify as transgender? 

In numerous locations across the country, school administrators are saying that they should be the ones to decide—and that they can keep such information from parents. That’s why over the past year, the ERLC has signed onto three different amicus briefs relating to issues of parental rights, transgenderism, and radical gender ideology in schools. 

Two of the cases are currently in federal appeals courts while one is being heard by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In all three cases—

the school districts violated parental rights by allowing students to use names and pronouns at school different from those they were assigned at birth, without providing parental notification absent a student’s consent.

Amicus briefs

The ERLC is joining with other groups in contending that such policies violate the rights of parents in two principal ways.

  1. First, their fundamental right to direct the care and education of their children includes the right to decide where the child will attend school, but the school policy improperly denied them critical information to inform that decision.  
  2. Second, by withholding such sensitive information when school officials, in their judgment, suspect parents might be insufficiently supportive, the school effectively labels those parents as abusive of their children, without affording them any due process protections as provided by both statutory and constitutional law.   

The amicus brief is a way to introduce concerns ensuring that the possibly broad legal effects of a court decision will not depend solely on the parties directly involved in the case. An amicus brief is a learned treatise submitted by an amicus curiae (Latin for “friend of the court”), that is, someone who is not a party to a case who offers information that bears on the case but that has not been solicited by any of the parties to assist a court. 

While it’s impossible to know how any particular amicus brief influences a justice or their decisions, such briefs are frequently cited in court rulings, showing that they can have an effect on legal outcomes. 

Joining with state conventions

In two of the cases, the ERLC is joining the amicus with, among other groups, the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention.

In the third case, we are joining with the Baptist Convention of Iowa.

When appropriate, the ERLC wants to come alongside our state conventions and bolster their work promoting sound public policy and pushing back on policies that are harmful to our communities. What happens in these three cases can have national implications, so we want to advocate on an issue—transgenderism—where the SBC has clearly spoken.

How the SBC has spoken

In 2014, messengers of the SBC passed a resolution on transgenderism. That resolution

  • noted that “Some public schools are encouraging parents and teachers to affirm the feelings of children whose self-perception of their own gender is at variance with their biological sex”;
  • expressed the SBC’s opposition to efforts to alter one’s bodily identity (e.g., cross-sex hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery) to refashion it to conform with one’s perceived gender identity;
  • and stated the SBC’s opposition to “all efforts by any governing official or body to validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy (Isaiah 5:20).” 

The position was taken out of love of neighbor and a concern for human dignity. As the resolution states, “we love our transgender neighbors, seek their good always, welcome them to our churches and, as they repent and believe in Christ, receive them into church membership (2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Galatians 5:14)” and “we regard our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.”

While all children, including those struggling with gender dysmorphia, should be treated compassionately, parents should be providing that counsel and care—not school administrators. Unfortunately, radical gender ideology is often being furthered in schools without the consent or in conflict with the wishes of parents. We believe that parents should have the right to know what is being taught to their children and any decisions that their child is making in regards to gender and sexuality.

By / Jan 17

Every semester thousands of students fill college campuses across America with dreams and aspirations of a bright future. While many go on to the career they’ve worked hard for, there are young women experiencing unplanned pregnancies and expect that their dream will never become a reality. A variety of factors such as costs, time, and relational support may prevent many young women from completing—or even starting—a college education. The MOMentum Network is an organization that exists to help single moms as they work toward their education. Below, Cara Hicks, founder and CEO, discusses the ways that they are living out a pro-life ethic and serving single moms.

Kadin Christian: What is the story behind The MOMentum Network, and what is its purpose?

Cara Hicks: Having experienced an unplanned pregnancy just before graduating high school, I realized the tremendous pressure to choose abortion. I hate to admit it, but I had heard people of faith respond unkindly to single moms and unmarried girls with unexpected pregnancies, and I was afraid of being judged too. I was scared and went to a women’s center out of town expecting to hear my options anonymously, but that center turned out to only focus on abortion.

They asked probing questions to understand my fears, then shared scary statistics that supported abortion only. “Less than 2% of teen moms graduate from college . . . growing up in poverty leads to the worst outcomes.” But I recalled the verse I had memorized for cheerleading that year, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Right before I was handed a pill that was promised to take my problems away, I felt like the Lord lifted me out of that place. I asked for my money back since they didn’t provide an abortion, but they refused. I realized it was never about empowering a woman; it was about profit only.

I never wanted another girl to feel pressured into having an abortion again.

I went on to shatter the statistics by completing college, thanks to the resources available by my college (campus housing & Pell grant for low-income students on top of my merit-based scholarships that I didn’t lose by continuing as planned), my campus ministry, my strong community of friends, and Christ—who was faithful—even when I stepped away from my faith for a season.

I later read from Guttmacher that when a woman decides on an abortion, “the reasons most frequently cited were that having a child would interfere with a woman’s education, work or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%); and that she did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48%)”. However, I knew that there were resources available and that having a child helped me develop resilience and selflessness that I may not have had without a child to care for beyond myself.

Being a single mom doesn’t have to define us, but it can refine us and help us to be better. A woman shouldn’t be pressured to choose between a child and an education—she CAN choose BOTH. But no woman can do it alone. None of us can or should raise a child on our own. It takes a village. So that’s why we formed The MOMentum Network—to be a resource with relational and now residential community of support. 

KC: What are the benefits of a single mom obtaining an education? What are some factors or obstacles that can hinder a single mom from getting an education?

CH: Institute for Women’s Policy Research has done some great research on the benefits of a woman’s education—including more earning potential for her and her child—as children of college graduates are more likely to complete higher education. They spiral up.

I believe the most prevalent deterrent is the lack of awareness of abundant resources that can help moms make a strong choice for life, especially on college campuses. Campuses tend to be very aware of abortion providers, but not necessarily open to referring to agencies that can empower a woman to continue her pregnancy while progressing through her classes. There are resources available, but more people need to know more about them. That’s where the MOMentum Network can help. 

I can’t speak for all states, but Tennessee does have a multitude of resources to help women reach their goals, from public assistance that covers a large portion of childcare costs to Tennessee Promise and Reconnect that ensures a two-year degree can be attained tuition free. Insurance is available for pregnant women and their children. Temporary assistance for needy families even covers some transportation assistance and gives grace periods for their work requirements for up to one year. Additional funding has become available during the pandemic as well. Colleges also provide some wrap-around services that address issues specifically related to the challenges of being a single mom including counseling, food pantries on campus, and accommodations (through Title IX). 

Admittedly, the systems aren’t perfect, but that’s where the church can step up and shine. We’ve had needs met by people in our community in amazing ways. In collaboration with our local pregnancy resource center, necessary and even extra material needs are almost always covered. And when they’re not, we’ve seen organizations like Abby Johnson’s LoveLine cover costs no one else would cover. We’ve been fortunate as an organization to have both pro-life and pro-choice supporters see the value in supporting women and children as our Scholar Mamas are pursuing their education. It’s something that we can all agree is a proven pathway forward. 

And still, obstacles do exist. We need more childcare, and the biggest challenge with that right now is staffing. And we need more social support that goes beyond one-and-done gift giving. We need mentors who are willing to walk with these women long term. It can be messy; often life is chaotic before an unplanned pregnancy, so it doesn’t automatically get cute and comfortable. When I was close to giving birth, my car was stolen, my dad was murdered, and my life was extremely overwhelming. There was no easy fix. It was ugly before it was better. But I was fortunate to have a peer and a mentor who continued to meet me where I was. That made such a difference. 

KC: What are the specific services that The MOMentum Network provides? How many women and children do you typically serve at a time?

CH: We are a network at heart, serving as a connector between any motivated single parent who is interested in completing college (including those who aren’t currently enrolled) and collaborative organizations by keeping track of the complex systems and resources to help clients see a way forward.

We served over 244 women and children in this way last year. We go more in-depth with moms who are willing to commit to a deeper level of transparency and accountability; we call these participants scholars because they are willing to learn, grow, and commit to at least a semester of individual and group coaching.

When a mom comes to us, we look at her whole life, first recognizing her value and the assets she has and connecting her to the resources she needs, until she achieves her dream of graduating college. Our scholars who commit to the highest level of engagement live on campus as residents. We currently have six residential spots and six “fellows” or off-campus spots. We are eager to increase the residential capacity to help more moms but would need more mentors and space to make this possible. 

KC: Is The MOMentum Network a faith-based organization? If so, how has faith shaped its culture and operations?

CH: Yes, we are a faith-based organization. While there are a lot of organizations that do wonderful work in the same field, I’ve seen the power of the gospel make a hopeless situation seem possible. God really is a good Father, and his Word calls us to care for the fatherless. Christians have an opportunity to meet families in this time of need, and we have solutions that the world cannot provide.

Our staff and board are all Christians, however, we do NOT require participants to engage in religious activities if they do not want to. We ask about faith and honor their preferences. The MOMentum Network has seen the love of Christ work in the lives of women who are exploring their faith, largely because college is such a time of exploration. We encourage our non-believers to ask us any questions they have because walking with emerging adults is an adventure already. When they have a child to care for, their world opens up. While it’s not prescriptive to have a child while in college, it can certainly change their perspective—their world shifts to something beyond themselves, to something much bigger. 

KC: How can individual Christians and local churches help support the work of places like The Momentum Network?

CH: Commit to a long game. We are really good at giving gifts, but what our moms and these babies need more than anything is a committed presence. Someone who is willing to get to know them and go beyond transactional relationships. When we commit to coming alongside moms for life, we get to be a part of multi-generational transformation. 

KC: After the historic Dobbs decision, has The MOMentum Network been affected, negatively or positively? Do you anticipate any short-term or long-term effects from the decision?

CH: Yes, both positive and negative.

The negative: Women are making quicker and quieter decisions. The abortion industry has saturated the internet and college community. Pills are being shipped and abortions are happening in secret, no matter how dangerous that is. The pro-choice advocates united and poured so many resources into removing barriers to abortion. If the pro-life community united in the same way, two generations could be the catalyst for change. But I think a lot of pro-lifers have stepped back after the decision thinking that it’s over. It’s absolutely not over. 

The positive: I do hope that more lives are being saved. We haven’t seen a huge increase in moms needing assistance yet (which concerns us that quick, quiet abortions are happening), but we’re working hard to pull together more support to be ready for it. 

I pray that more Christians rise up and help us meet this challenge. 

By / Oct 5

College campuses are places full of big dreams for the future. Young men and women often go to university expectant of what doors their education will open for them. Yet, some of those women become pregnant and find themselves facing uncertainty and fear about what’s ahead. They feel as if they have to choose between life for their child or a completed college degree. That’s where Baby Steps, an organization serving pregnant women on Auburn University’s campus, enters in and enables them to parent and finish their degrees. While Baby Steps isn’t faith based, they welcome people of faith as volunteers, among others, and are an example of those whose work Christians recognize as being consistent with a biblical ethic of human dignity. A member of Baby Steps’ staff answers questions below about this unique organization that’s doing incredible work with moms and their children. 

Kadin Christian: Baby Steps is an organization with an incredible idea—serve pregnant moms on a college campus. What is the story behind how Baby Steps began? And what does the organization hope to accomplish?

Baby Steps Staff: Baby Steps was founded by Michelle Schultz (now the Executive Director) and opened our doors on Auburn’s Campus in 2017. Michelle found herself in an unplanned pregnancy her junior year at Auburn University. In a moment of uncertainty and fear that “her world had ended,” she chose to terminate her pregnancy. She thought there was no way she could be pregnant and finish school. That decision affected her life greatly for many years, and she began recognizing there was an overlooked, isolated population of people in desperate need of support. There was a need to help college women in unplanned pregnancies that wasn’t being met at Auburn University or on other campuses around the country. 

Her first of many affirmations that Baby Steps was needed at Auburn was when she met Kaitlyn Willing, now Director of Operations, in the spring of 2013. In a moment of doubt that Baby Steps was really what Michelle was being called to do, Kaitlyn came into her life. Kaitlyn discovered that she was unexpectedly pregnant in August 2011, also as a junior at Auburn University. She shared the same fear Michelle had experienced almost 30 years ago—the fear that her life was over. While Kaitlyn decided to parent her child and finish her degree, the lack of support at Auburn University made graduating almost impossible.

Once she was presented with the idea of helping build Baby Steps, those past experiences lit a fire within her to see to it that no woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy on Auburn’s campus did it alone. She did not have the support that Baby Steps currently provides student-moms and confidently claims, “I couldn’t think of anything else I could’ve possibly needed or wanted more than Baby Steps.” 

Although very different, Kaitlyn’s and Michelle’s journeys continue to be the inspiration that fuels Baby Steps’ desire to create a place where young women can thrive, having their baby and their education.

KC: Is your organization considered a pregnancy resource center? If not, what are the differences? 

BSS: Baby Steps is not a pregnancy resource center. PRCs offer women pregnancy confirmation and resources on their options. Baby Steps does not provide any medical care or pregnancy decision counseling. Student-moms that reach out to us have typically already decided they want to parent their baby and stay in school, and they need our help in order to succeed in that.

KC: What are some of the unique aspects of serving college women and a specific university campus? Do you have any insights between the correlation of unplanned pregnancy and completing a college degree? 

BSS: Twelve percent of college students report either experiencing or being involved in an unplanned pregnancy. Some experts say that this number may be closer to 23%. According to these statistics, it should be much more common to see pregnant students walking their campus halls and concourses. Why is this not the case? Judgment and stigma leave them feeling isolated and unsupported with no safe place to turn. They do not believe they can have both their baby and their education. We are here to change that culture on college campuses. Baby Steps is the safe place where student-moms are not defined by their circumstances but are empowered to thrive in all areas of their lives, especially as students and mothers.

KC: What are the specific services that Baby Steps provides? And how many women and children are you typically serving at any given time?

BSS: Baby Steps serves two types of student-moms. Some of them actually live on Baby Steps’ property, and others are just a part of our social community.

Resident student-moms:

Baby Steps provides the following for pregnant and parenting college women living in the Baby Steps home at no cost to them

  • Housing & utilities
  • Childcare
  • Groceries & meals
  • Immediate and personal access to medical professionals (including, but not limited to, an OB-GYN and pediatrician)
  • Professional counseling
  • 24/7 access to staff support
  • Weekly & monthly gatherings 
  • Academic advising & tutoring
  • Resources for education grants & scholarships
  • Access to The Baby Steps Boutique (supplies including, but not limited to: diapers, wipes, car seats, bassinets, and baby clothing)  
  • Education on relevant topics including, but not limited to, childbirth, child development, sleep training, nutrition, mental health, financial planning, and many other pertinent life skills
  • Support and community that instill confidence to persevere and excel as Student-Moms and future graduates.

Community student-moms:

Baby Steps provides the following for pregnant and parenting college women not living in the Baby Steps home at no cost to them

  • Weekly & monthly gatherings which include meals
  • Academic advising & tutoring
  • Resources for education grants & scholarships
  • Access to The Baby Steps Boutique
  • Education on relevant topics including, but not limited to, childbirth, child development, sleep training, nutrition, mental health, financial planning, and many other pertinent life skills
  • Support and community that instill confidence to persevere and excel as student-moms and future graduates.

We typically serve anywhere from 8-15 student-moms and their “Tiny Tigers” at a time.

KC: With the historic overturning of Roe and the question of abortion returning to each individual state, how do you anticipate organizations like yours will be affected? And how do you expect the women and children you serve to be affected? 

BSS: Baby Steps is a non faith-based 501C3 nonprofit that is not affiliated with any religious or political agenda, so for us what we do is not political. Our mission is strictly to serve the student-mom and baby that is in front of us, giving her all the tools necessary to graduate from college and succeed in life. Our goal is to change the culture of our response as a society to unplanned pregnancies on college campuses. 

In this day in time, politics and religion can be seen as very divisive. We don’t want to add to that division in any way, so Baby Steps steers clear of putting ourselves in any boxes that might cause people to think we have intentions other than empowering student-moms to have their education and their babies. We’re proud to be an organization that can bring people together who while potentially having many different opinions and views, can say as a collective voice, “We stand behind student-moms pursuing their education.”

Our doors are open wide to students experiencing unplanned pregnancies, no matter what their background or personal views are. 

KC: Has Baby Steps been negatively affected or targeted since the Dobbs decision? And has it changed how you go about providing your services? 

BSS: Since the Dobbs decision, Baby Steps has seen an increase of involvement on both sides of the political spectrum, wanting to support what Baby Steps does, not only locally on Auburn’s campus but on future campuses around the nation. This momentum has been key to helping us launch our National Initiative that is working on bringing Baby Steps to as many college campuses as possible. We are excited to announce our next campus will be Baby Steps at University of Central Florida.

KC: Christians, who we represent, are known as a pro-life people who value all of life because we believe God created us in his image. How can individual Christians and local churches help support the work of places like Baby Steps?

BSS: One of the most beautiful parts of Baby Steps is our wide array of supporters. Our mission and vision clearly align with many different views and backgrounds people possess. There is such beauty in being a part of a movement that is supported by groups of people that may not have the same beliefs but can find solace in supporting student-moms and their babies. If our mission aligns with your views, we would love you to join us in changing history! Please visit our website babysteps.org to find ways you can get plugged in, or simply stay in touch with our movement on social media “Baby Steps at Auburn University”.

By / Oct 4

A charge against the medieval scholastics was that they were concerned with useless topics like “How many angels can dance on the head of the pin?” (even if this was never a real topic of study). The charge made by their opponents was that this was an arcane and useless topic of study, evidence of a wrong understanding of the purpose of learning and education. While wrong about the arcane nature of Scholastic inquiry, both the Scholastics and their critics understood something that modern audiences often forget: education is not value neutral. It is molding you into a particular type of person with a particular type of character. 

In most people’s expectation, education is purely mercenary and utilitarian. I go to school to get good grades to get into a good college where I learn a skill that is easily transferrable to a job with a paycheck. Education serves the end of ensuring that I have food on the table and a roof over my head. This “job in a degree” approach works quite well for nurses, teachers, engineers, and others. But even education programs built around the liberal arts and humanities are structured to provide employment at the end. Given the rise of college debt, and rising cost of everything, this desire to support oneself and justify the investment of all those tuition dollars is a good and understandable goal. 

At the same time, the perspective that sees education only as skills training or only as the transmission of facts and figures ignores the reality that we are not just a brain receiving information. We are a soul that needs cultivation as well. Good education helps us to consider not only what we are learning, but what we are becoming.

The purpose of education for Christians

Now, if you’re reading this, you may expect me to make the pitch that everyone should suddenly become an English or Philosophy major (As someone who majored in both, I would absolutely recommend this to all of you). But simply studying a set of texts or asking a set of questions is not enough. And our need for growth does not end with college. Further, some of the best time I had for reflection on what kind of person my education could turn me into was in my introductory course on civil engineering. The professor asked us to think through the ethics of what we were doing, noting that engineers tend to be strict rule followers. They don’t often rise to the higher consideration of questions of beauty and flourishing. He encouraged us repeatedly to do this and to consider how our education might turn us just into rule followers, concerned only with numbers, procedures, and the fine print. So this process of reflection is not confined to the humanities, even if those subjects are traditionally thought of as the place where it can happen most easily. 

Education—whether formal in a school or just through personal curiosity—is oriented toward a particular end. The process of sitting down each day to do your math homework trains your brain to think in a particular way. In my own study as an English major, I often lamented that after my coursework I had to “unlearn” some of the ways that I had been taught to read fiction. My classes had taught me to dissect the book, rather than experience it. The process of education is always oriented toward a specific end, and we ignore that at our peril. 

As Christians, that end ought to be to grow in love of God and neighbor. And it should make us the kind of people who are moved to worship and service. At its heart, education is not just the transmission of facts, but a process of discipleship.

When properly channeled and guided, the pursuit of knowledge can lead to new advances in technology, art that is beautiful, and treatises that plumb the human soul. Education need not be immediately utilitarian, but it should not be useless. If it causes us to twist inward, it only serves to amplify the worst parts of us. Rather, education that conforms to standards of goodness and beauty and truth, is an act of worship of God and stewardship of the mind given to us (Mark 12:30). 

One of the most haunting descriptions in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is not a massive battle or a fire demon haunting the mines of Moria, but when Gandalf tells Frodo what happened to the creature who became Gollum. Gollum was originally “the most inquisitive and curious-minded” kind of person, interested in “roots and beginnings.” However, it was this burrowing that drove him deeper underground, even before he took the ring, to the point that “he ceased to look up at the hilltops, or the leaves on trees, or the flowers opening in the air: his head and his eyes were downward.” He was more interested in the dark and decaying world of the dirt and rot, than the beauty and fresh air around him. His curiosity and pursuit of knowledge, unstructured and devoid of a moral compass, ultimately twisted his soul inward on itself, to the point he could murder his friend. Under the influence of the magic ring which amplified those dark desires, he became twisted in both body and soul. 

Christians should be as concerned with who they are becoming in their education as what they are studying. We are not collectors of facts, like so many curiosities for our cabinet of wonders. We ought to remember that pursuit of knowledge divorced from moral principles can cause us to treat others as mere tools to an end, much like the scientists of the Tuskegee Experiment. Rather, we should devote ourselves to those subjects that reflect and further goodness, beauty, and truth. A failure to do so could lead to a worse end than living alone in a cave, contemplating murder, and spinning riddles in the dark: We may actually come to believe that is a good place to be.

By / Sep 22

We’re celebrating our bicentennial at Union. For 200 years, Union University has stood as a model of excellence in Christian higher education. A place where learning is integrated with our faith in Christ, where it is infused with the hope of Christ, and where it is transformed by the love of Christ.

Remembering the past 

From a small-town academy to one of the nation’s premier Christian universities —the story of Union University is one of faith, Christian commitment, and dedication to excellence. And, it is the story of how faithful people in faithful churches help sustain God’s ongoing work of educating our young people.

Union stands as a testimony to God’s faithfulness, and we remain committed to our mission of providing Christ-centered education that promotes excellence and character development in service to Church and society. That’s what Union University has been about for 200 years. Many schools have come and gone. Other schools have lost their biblical bearings and drifted to the siren’s song of the wisdom of the age.

But Union remains as resolute and committed to its biblical foundation as ever. At Union, we believe God has spoken to us through the Scriptures. We believe the Bible is trustworthy, reliable, and true. We believe Jesus Christ is our only hope for salvation. And we believe that pursuing him and loving him with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength is what God has called us to do. 

Union traces its origins to Jackson Male Academy, the forerunner of West Tennessee College, which opened on Feb. 3, 1823. Madison County had been chartered by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1821, and its county seat, Jackson, was created in 1822. As with other frontier communities, its people immediately began to establish the types of institutions that they had left. The good people of Jackson wanted the best education possible for their children. To obtain that objective, they established “a College of high standing and extensive usefulness,” relying on the “cooperation and patronage of the citizens of West Tennessee.”

The story of Union is the story of how two institutions—West Tennessee College and Union University at Murfreesboro—merged into one college, Southwestern Baptist University, and then Southwestern Baptist University changed its name to Union University and incorporated a third college, Hall-Moody Junior College of Martin, Tennessee.

God has proven himself faithful to Union University, time and time again. Through war and peace. Through fire and storm. Through prosperity and want. Through blessing and trial.

Looking forward to the future

As we celebrate our bicentennial this academic year, Union University stands on the brink of its third century. At the same time, we find ourselves in an increasingly secular, post-Christian society that disdains many of the beliefs and convictions Union holds dear. The higher education environment has never been more competitive, and institutions like Union must be equipped with the resources necessary to successfully navigate the cultural waters in which we sail.

Despite the challenges before us, we are confident that God has great things in store for Union. As we look to the future, we see the ways God has used the university over the past 200 years, and we dream of what he will do in the days ahead.

We dream of a campus that continues to attract students from all over the world—students who come to be taught and mentored by world-class professors who are skilled at instructing their students in how to think about their subject matter through a biblical lens. We dream of providing students with state-of-the-art facilities that will equip them to be excellent in their fields. We dream of being a campus, based in West Tennessee, that is a beacon to the world and that showcases the glory and the beauty of Christ.

We dream of Union alumni who will be the hands and feet of Jesus in every context imaginable: pastors, nurses, teachers, business owners, doctors, social workers, scientists, parents, community leaders, missionaries, musicians, engineers, coaches, accountants, artists, church members, and on and on the list goes. They will join the Union alumni around the world—now 21,000 strong—who are serving the Church and society and making a difference for the kingdom of God.

Ultimately, we dream of how God will use Union University to send out an army of alumni to be salt and light to a lost and dying world—alumni who will take the gospel with them to every tongue, tribe, people, and nation.

Let us never say that we failed to dream big about what God can do through Union. Let us never say that we doubted the urgency or the importance of our mission. From now until Christ’s return, the mission of Union University will be vital and necessary in making disciples, in equipping students to serve, in supporting churches, and in reflecting and proclaiming the glory of the Lord to the world around us.

As we celebrate, we look back to what God has done in Union’s past, and we look forward with anticipation to what he will do in Union’s future.

Psalm 16:6 says, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Union University does indeed have a beautiful inheritance. The Lord in his kindness has richly poured out blessing after blessing upon Union over the last two centuries. As we reflect upon God’s goodness to us, and as we dream about what God can and will do through Union in the days ahead, we pray that he will move the hearts of people during this pivotal moment in Union’s history to pray for us, to partner with us, and to help us sustain the mission of Union in the days to come.

In December 1874, a committee of Tennessee Baptists reported, “Thus far the School has more than realized our highest expectations and the future is hopeful.” Almost 150 years after that report and 200 years since our founding, we can say the same.

The minutes from that meeting go on to say something important to emphasize today, “but let us not forget that in building up the University we are laboring not for our own selves alone but for the whole Baptist denomination . . . and let us hope that we are laying the foundation of an institution which we hope by the blessings of God to continue for the ages to come.”

May we never forget how important it is to continue to build up this institution for the glory of God and the good of mankind.

By / Sep 21

America’s education system has been at the center of public debate for decades, if not centuries, but the nation’s current cultural and political climate has brought pressures unlike the past for many of our country’s public school teachers. From national teacher shortages to contentious school board meetings to the learning loss created by COVID-19, the challenges facing America’s teachers are immense. As a parent of three children in public schools and a friend of many public school teachers, I have witnessed these things firsthand and prayed along with friends for the realities they face.

Though numbers are hard to measure, many faithful Christians teach and lead within the public school system. While expressions of their faith are limited, the Supreme Court recently confirmed once again the religious liberty rights of teachers and school officials. As the school year is now underway, it is important to hear from Christian teachers in our public schools about their different experiences and how and why they engage in their communities through teaching. 

We have chosen to keep their names anonymous. The following are answers from “Beth,” a kindergarten teacher in her 8th year; “John,” a middle school teacher in his 20th year; and “Jason,” a high school teacher in his 15th year. Their answers have been edited for clarity and brevity. We understand experiences vary across the nation and various districts, but hope that their stories will encourage you to consider how you might support individuals like them, as well as the students they serve, in your community. 

Jill Waggoner: Why do you teach in the public school system? Why do you think it is important for believers to be in these environments?

Beth: I teach public school because they need me here. As a believer, although I can’t explicitly share about Jesus or God’s Word with my kids, I share the Spirit with them because he is with me in our classroom. I try to view them as our Father does and love them in spite of their home lives, income, personalities, beliefs, etc. 

John: It is my belief that the public school system is one of the biggest mission fields in the United States. I teach in order to impact students in a positive light to follow their dreams. The opportunity to inspire, motivate, and challenge young people is a privilege and honor. The value of believers being in these environments is evident on a daily basis. Students learn so much by simply observing their surroundings and the actions of other people. Being able to witness positive examples of respect and honor displayed to people from all walks of life is a tremendous testimony.

Jason: I grew up in the public school system, so it is all I know. I had a great experience growing up in it. I never thought about not teaching in the public system. I think it is good to have stable people who will hold you accountable. In a world where it is easy to pass blame, students need to learn to take ownership of their learning and the choices they make. I also think it is important that Christians show that there’s hope in the world. 

JW: What cultural pressures have you seen creep into the classroom since you began teaching?

Beth: I have encountered lots of different lifestyles including same-sex marriages, home cultures where drug use is considered normal, abuse situations, parents in prison/jail, and the use of language that is deemed appropriate in front of and out of the mouths of children. Recently, I have encountered my first experience with gender identity issues, as well. 

John: Pressures from the culture we live in have filtered in at an increasing rate over the years in education. Change is clearly inevitable in students and education. And with the dependence on technology becoming more mainstream, the pressures have increased in frequency the past few years. Students have constant access to opinions and beliefs from a variety of sources. This rarely allows them to experience a break from the pressures that accompany growing up. 

Jason: I think apathy is more widespread than what I remember as a teenager. There’s definitely more of a LGBTQ movement amongst teenagers. Kids talk like they have everything figured out and regurgitate what they have seen and heard on social media. Kids have more excuses made for them. Honestly, I think we have made education easier for them now, yet the students do not feel that way.

JW: How do you hope to influence your students?

Beth: More than anything, I want them to know that they are valued. They are more than the world, or maybe even their caretakers, tell them that they are. They are loved, not because of what they can offer, but loved simply because they were created by the Lover of the World, in his image. I want them to remember that at least one person thinks they are smart and capable, even when things are hard. We have certain phrases we are not allowed to say in our classroom. We don’t say: “I can’t do this,” or, “This is too hard.” We are allowed to say, “This is hard,” and, “I need help.” I’m hopeful that these principles will carry them on throughout their lives when things inevitably get hard and they need to persevere. And hopefully they will turn to their Creator for guidance. 

John: It is my hope that the students experience an inspirational leader that encourages them to influence others also. The ability to teach and then see others pay it forward is an amazing gift. The legacy left by teachers is immeasurable and has the power to affect others for many years to come.

Jason: I am a math teacher. I hope that I can show them that they can face adversity because they will face a lot of it in Algebra 2. Adversity is not necessarily a bad thing if you allow yourself to grow from it. I do not expect everyone to like me, but I do hope they feel I tried my best to educate them and help them learn to think for themselves. I want them to be overcomers and problem solvers, and stop thinking everything has to be catered for you. 

JW: What do you think are the challenges for Christians who work in the public school system?

Beth: We are definitely in the minority. We see more than data and numbers; we see souls. We don’t see an individual; we see families. We see what purposes God may have in store and simultaneously see the evil trying to interfere with those purposes. It is a battlefield in our classrooms every day. And on top of all of that, there’s a curriculum of course! 

John: A specific challenge seen is maintaining a consistent focus. In public education there are many distractions and demands that can easily move the spotlight from the main purpose of teaching children. The ability to keep the main goal as the emphasis is a gift that the best educators truly have to work at constantly. 

Jason: Again, my job is to teach math. I do not dive into social conflicts or those type of matters in my classroom. If a student asks a question about a social issue in class in a whole group setting, I deflect. If a student wants to speak one on one, I will entertain that some, but my job is to teach. I do pray with my teams that I coach. It is easy for one’s words to be used out of context, so I never want to be the topic of a social media post. There’s always this fear that I could shed a negative light on my wonderful Savior. I think one thing that has changed in my new district where I have been for over two years is that I now have more co-workers that are not Christian or “religious.” I think that has shaken me more.

One memory I have where I did feel that my beliefs were being challenged was when there was an email sent to the whole school asking if we wanted “Safe Space” stickers with the pride flag on it. I felt it would single out the teachers that did not want to condone homosexuality, but still wanted to be a trustworthy person for students who want to talk in times of difficulty. It has not been an issue that my door does not have the safe space sticker on it, and I did have to have some conversations with people around my school about it. 

JW: How regularly do you interact with students who are struggling with issues of sexuality and gender identity?

Beth: Gender identity has not been as prevalent for me (as a kindergarten teacher). However, I do have students who already show signs of sexuality issues, especially in terms of already being “over-sexualized.” 

John: Interactions relating to these issues in the public education system are quite often. The frequency of these struggles that students experience often fluctuates, but I have seen an increase over the past few years.

Jason: My first two years in this new district, I have averaged about a student per class that was transgender. I try to use wisdom in how I handle each of these situations. 

JW: How can Christians pray for public school teachers? How can we be involved in our communities’ schools?

Beth: Pray for our minds and hearts to stay focused on the “big picture.” Pray that the Holy Spirit stays ever near us throughout our days. There is a lot thrown at us from all directions, and it’s easy to get “jaded” and to see these children as products of their parents and environments, rather than those made in God’s image. You can become involved by volunteering time to work in the copy rooms and such, bring in goodies for teachers, and ask if your local school needs food for weekend bags that are sent home. 

John: Volunteering in a variety of ways is meaningful to both students and educators. Additionally, collaborating with leaders in the community to create volunteer ideas to support students is a growing need in education. Educators are grateful for the support from volunteers, and simple commitments can reap great rewards for the students.

Jason: Pray for strength. There is already pressure to try to hit education standards that districts and governments set. Now these social issues bring a whole wave of things. Sometimes you can feel like you are walking on eggshells. Pray that we continue to see these students, parents, and co-workers as God sees them and understand that we are placed in this space for a reason. Pray that we make the most of the opportunity to represent Jesus. 

Teachers love food. Churches can volunteer in and around the school as much is allowed. Be at events. Amazon gift cards, care packages, or something that a teacher can use to buy more school supplies help so much. Morale is often low, so personally, even a nice note can go a long way, especially if it is from a student. 

JW: Is there anything else you’d like to add or say to our readers?

Beth: Just continue to pray, pray, pray. We are on the front lines, quite literally, and it is hard and draining. But don’t just pray for us while we’re at school. I ask that you pray for all aspects of our lives because so many of us are leaving here and going home to our families, sometimes with what we feel is not much left to give. Pray for our days to be extended and that grace fill our homes. And thank you, God’s people, for your willingness to do so. We feel each and every prayer! 

Jason: I often tell people that one of the biggest differences that I notice from when I was in school, nearly 20 years ago, is perspective. The only world I knew was my high school and maybe the city that was nearby. Students today are exposed to a much bigger world now from the time they wake up till they go to bed. They are still teenagers—kids that are looking for something to cling to and for someone to pour into them. 

We, as Christians, still have the opportunity to be a light for these kids. We cannot expect them to just show up or to come to us like they did 20 years ago. You have to be intentional and sincere with them. I know there are extremes on social media that have people thinking schools are the worst place right now, but I do not see those extremes where I have worked (though there are some teachers that share their beliefs on social issues). I still see high school as an opportunity to have an influence on the future. It is a bit tougher than when I started, but it is awesome when you have a breakthrough. I am still seeing where positive influencers are making a difference in the classroom and sport fields.

By / Sep 19

On July 12, the Department of Education (DOE) issued a proposed rule under Title IX discrimination laws that would expand the definition of “sex” to include sex stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Following the announcement, the DOE allowed 60 days for organizations and individuals to comment with concerns. As that comment period closed Monday, the DOE is obligated to respond to each of these comments before putting forward a finalized rule.

What is Title IX?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex-based discrimination in education, stating: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Title IX law is intended to provide equal opportunities for both men and women seeking to participate in educational institutions and extracurricular activities that receive federal funding.

How would this proposed rule change Title IX laws? 

This proposed rule would reinterpret Title IX’s prohibition against sex-based discrimination to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy. Section 106.10 of Title IX will “articulate the Department’s understanding that sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of sex stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation, and gender identity.” Under this new rule, preventing individuals from participating in school programs consistent with their self-identified “gender identity” would constitute discrimination. In order to receive federal funding, religious schools and organizations may be compelled to allow transgender students to live in opposite sex dorms, use restrooms reserved for the opposite sex, or participate on sports teams with their chosen gender identity. 

This proposed rule is another attempt by the executive branch to extend the bureaucratic application of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County (2020). In Bostock, the court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender employees against unlawful discriminiation — logic that various executive agencies including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Agriculture, and now the DOE have applied to Title IX.

 The DOE’s proposed rule explicitly relies on Bostock’s reasoning because of similarities in the text of Title VII and Title IX and other comparable applications by federal courts. But a federal judge temporarily blocked similar guidance previously issued by the DOE, aiming his sights at the “improper expansion” of Bostock‘s reasoning to Title IX. This new rule, then, is likely vulnerable to similar litigation that could severely limit its applicability and effectiveness.

Why is the rule problematic?

The DOE’s proposed change would have sweeping effects that would significantly undermine the original intent and purpose of Title IX. The new language that expands the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) would penalize institutions that did not expand the definition of sex to include SOGI. Organizations and schools under the jurisdiction of Title IX would no longer be able to define sex as a person’s biological sex from birth, but instead would be forced to adopt gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of Title IX and its implementing regulations.

In athletics, a refusal to account for biological, sex-dependent differences will legally enshrine inequality in sports by changing the very law that sought to achieve the equality in the first place. In addition to being unfair, it is insulting and demeaning to females for our nation’s policies to proceed as if biological males are the standard by which they ought to evaluate themselves. If the proposed change is accepted, the law created to protect them from discrimination and provide them equality would discriminate against them and make them more unequal than ever before. Not only would this proposal completely blur the distinctions between men and women and the corresponding team sports they participate in and facilities they utilize, it will have the effect of rolling back all the good that has been done to ensure men and women have the same opportunity to participate in educational institutions and activities.

Additionally, though Title IX has a robust religious exemption, it does not include protections for people of faith at nonreligious institutions, and the DOE has indicated that they may take further action limiting the religious exemption in the future.

How has the ERLC responded? 

The ERLC has submitted public comments laying out our concerns with the proposed rule and urging them to reconsider making these changes. Title IX directly affects a host of other regulations across agencies making the effects of this change sweeping. The ERLC will continue to monitor these changes and look for additional opportunities to raise our concerns and advocate for the recognition of God’s good design for biological sex and for the protection of religious liberty.

By / Sep 19

Should parents be able to dictate what schools teach their children? Should schools be able to hide information about a student from their parents? What rights and responsibilities do parents have when it comes to engaging the public schools in their area? These are not new questions for Christian parents, but the frequency with which they are being asked seems to have grown significantly in recent years.

Three years ago, our family moved to a new ministry assignment in a familiar location. We moved to my wife’s hometown to work at our alma mater, but nearly 20 years had passed since either one of us had lived there. We weren’t the same people moving back either. When we left, we both had just earned college degrees and had not yet married. When we arrived back two decades later, we had married, lived in two other states, and had four children—all of whom were about to enroll in a different school for the first time. What lay before us was the monumental responsibility of choosing what the next stage of our children’s education would look like.

We are not alone in making these types of decisions. And our choice to enroll our children in the local public school system (a first for us) did not come without some fear in light of the unknown. For us the decision has been a good one. Our children have benefited from excellent academic and extracurricular opportunities. In addition, they have learned what it looks like to live out their faith in a environment that is not exclusively Christian. Even with these benefits, the most important part of our decision is that it came with intentional choices on our part to be involved parents.

So how should we exercise our rights as parents and engage our local school systems without burning bridges to these core institutions in our communities? Let me share a few lessons we have learned in the last three years as we have engaged a new school system.

Get to know your school’s leaders. When we moved back to my wife’s hometown, there was a sense that we would know everyone. In fact, our kids constantly rolled their eyes as we would walk into the grocery store or a local restaurant and run into people that we knew from college or that my wife knew from growing up. But we also quickly realized that so much had changed. From the beginning, we made an effort to get to know leaders at every level of our schools. I had a phone call with the varsity girls’ soccer coach within days of moving here. We went to “meet the teacher” events. We eventually got to know the administrators at the various schools in town and even built relationships with some of the school board members. Today, if I had a concern with something at one of our schools, there is a teacher, a principal, a coach, or a school board member that I can call because I have a relationship with them.

Ask questions. This can happen at any level of the school system. I’ve asked questions of teachers, coaches, office personnel, principals, and school board members. Sometimes I get responses right away. Sometimes they say they need to get back with me. Because I have built relationships with them (see #1), I am confident they will reply with honest answers. These relationships mean that I have built a trust with them and they with me, so that these questions are received in good faith, not as hostile or accusatory, but aimed at what is best for my children.

Be constructive in your criticism. At the beginning of this semester one of our children brought home a form to be signed that listed potential books that would be read in class for the year. In reviewing the list with my wife, we came to the conclusion that a couple were not our preference, but one was certainly problematic. Rather than firing off a critical email to the teacher and talking about how this teacher could be corrupting the children in the classroom, my wife sent an email expressing our concern with the book in question and offering a few alternative options for our child that could stand in place of that particular book. The next day she received a kind response explaining that the teacher had decided not to assign that book to the class and that they would be reading something else that did not undermine our convictions. The teacher even thanked my wife for expressing her concern.

Stand up for your children. The previous three lessons all point to this one as the culmination. Building relationships, asking questions, and constructive criticism all serve the purpose of standing up for your children. There is a time and place for various actions to meet this goal. This can mean making a public statement in a school board meeting. It could involve scheduling a meeting with a teacher. It could even reach the point of changing the educational option for your children. At the end of the day, these are your children whom God has entrusted into your care.

As we are experiencing with a senior in high school this year, we only have our children under our roof for a limited time before we launch them out as arrows into the world (Psalm 127:4). What they likely encounter in their schools and our neighborhoods and what they will face in the world requires that we diligently and prayerfully disciple and equip them with a biblical worldview to the best of our ability. We owe it to them and to our communities, and ultimately to the Lord, to engage the process of their education. And we can do so in such a way that prepares them for a life of worship — loving God and loving our neighbors — and demonstrates a healthy and biblical civic engagement at the same time.

By / Aug 18

On May 5, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) issued new guidance involving sexual orientation and gender identity language requirements. It stated that “it will interpret the prohibition on discrimination based on sex found in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and in the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, as amended, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp Program (7 USC § 2011 et seq.), to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” FNS is responsible for administering the USDA food assistance programs, including those related to schools, such as the School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). 

This interpretation comes as a result of President Biden’s Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation and is believed by FNS to be an outworking of the Supreme Court’s 2020 Bostock decision that found the prohibition of “sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Though the Bostock case dealt with Title VII, which involves employment discrimination, FNS believes that this same interpretation of “sex” also applies to Title IX, which deals with educational activities.

This means that these FNS school meal programs, which are subject to Title IX civil rights law preventing discrimination on the basis of sex, now also ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In order to receive funding for meal programs operated by USDA’s FNS, state and local agencies, schools, lunch program operators, and sponsors now must update their non-discrimination policies and signage to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Why is this problematic?

While it is troubling to see continued efforts to push gender ideology in ways that contradict a biblical view of human sexuality, this new guidance was particularly problematic in that it did not provide a robust exemption for religious schools or other faith-based programs that participate in FNS-funded meal programs. Title IX’s religious exemption is automatically granted to religious schools without any type of action required from either the school or government. Recently, this interpretation of the exemption was affirmed in a case involving Fuller Theological Seminary.

Despite Title IX’s strong protection for religious schools and faith based organizations, the USDA insisted that religious schools that object to this guidance must submit a written declaration to the secretary of agriculture identifying the provisions within the rule that conflict with a specific tenet of the religious organization. Additionally, it was unclear whether these schools would face penalties if they did not comply while their exemption letter was being considered. 

In 2019, the NSLP provided free or reduced price lunches to 29.6 million children every day. A significant number of those children attend religious schools that maintain deeply-held religious beliefs in contradiction to this understanding of sex and gender. Many of these schools were beginning their academic years with great uncertainty as they faced difficult decisions: will they violate their deeply-held religious beliefs or risk the loss of funding for some of the most vulnerable children enrolled in their schools. Already, one religious school, represented by our partners at Alliance Defending Freedom, was forced to sue in order to be granted their exemption.

Additionally, more than 20 state attorneys general have filed a lawsuit against USDA, contending that the department’s interpretation of Title IX would cause the plaintiff states to lose federal funding for the National School Lunch Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The lawsuit accuses Biden of asking federal agencies to rewrite federal law, and the attorneys general allege that the USDA ignored procedural requirements and misconstrued federal code in issuing its directives.

What changed?

On Friday, Aug. 12, the USDA issued a clarification stating that it would reinstate the broad Title IX religious exemption that automatically applies to religious schools and faith-based institutions without the step of a written request. This clarification comes after months of work from religious liberty advocates and is a substantial victory for religious institutions and people of faith who do not want to compromise their most fundamental beliefs as they work to serve their neighbors in the public square.

Religious schools are on the front lines of caring for some of the most vulnerable children across the country, and the ERLC will continue to advocate for their ability to faithfully fulfill their mission without risking the welfare of the most vulnerable children enrolled in their schools or sacrificing their deeply-held beliefs on issues of gender and sexuality.