By / Nov 30

On our previous episode in our series on gender and sexuality, we looked at the family and how parents can approach these important topics with their children. Today, we’re turning our attention to an issue that has caused anxiety for some parents: gender and sexuality in schools and how to direct our children as they are confronted with teaching and examples that contradict what the Bible says. 

As we discuss these important topics, you might have additional questions. We’d love to hear from you. Please e-mail us at [email protected] and let us know how you’re processing this conversation. 

Joining us on today’s episode is Shaka Mitchell. Shaka serves as a Senior Fellow for the American Federation for Children. He is also an elder at his local church.  He has previously served as Associate Director of Policy and Planning at the D.C.-based Center for Education Reform and led outreach efforts at the Institute for Justice, a constitutional law firm based in Arlington, Virgina. He is an alumnus of Belmont University where he teaches as an adjunct faculty member. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the Wake Forest University School of Law. Shaka and his wife live in Nashville with their children and are active in several non-profit organizations.

The ERLC podcast is a production of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It is produced by Jill Waggoner, Lindsay Nicolet, and Elizabeth Bristow. Technical production is provided by Owens Productions. It is edited and mixed by Mark Owens.

By / Sep 8

Do parents have a right to know if their child is socially transitioning to a transgender identity in school? The issue of gender identity policies in schools has become increasingly contentious, with parents correctly feeling they have a right to know when their child socially transitions at school, and many public schools arguing that schools have a responsibility to “protect” students by keeping that information from parents.

Social transition describes the process by which children or adolescents adopt the name, pronouns, and gender expression, such as clothing and haircuts, that aligns with a transgender identity. 

Social transition in school districts

Increasingly, school districts across the country are attempting to keep parents from discovering when such social transitioning is occurring at school—and they’re being supported by the federal courts. 

Maryland: In August 2023, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled 2-1 that three parents in Montgomery County, Maryland, lacked standing to challenge the school’s gender identity policy because they had not alleged their children were transgender in the first place.

The policy, which the Montgomery County Board of Education adopted for the 2020-2021 school year: 

  • permitted schools to develop gender support plans for students to ensure they “feel comfortable expressing their gender identity”; 
  • directs school personnel to help transgender and gender nonconforming students create a plan that addresses their preferred pronouns, names, and bathrooms; 
  • and bars staff from informing parents of those plans without a student’s consent. 

Lawsuits are pending challenging similar policies in other states. 

California: In July, a federal court dismissed a similar case brought against a California school district by a parent who alleged the district had violated her constitutional rights by failing to tell her that her child had asked to use a different gender pronoun. U.S. District Court Judge John Mendez said in his ruling: 

“The issue before this court is not whether it is a good idea for school districts to notify parents of a minor’s gender identity and receive consent before using alternative names and pronouns, but whether the United States Constitution mandates such parental authority. This Court holds that it does not.”

The states that do—and do not—require parental notification

School gender identity policies on informing parents about students who are transgender or social transitioning vary widely among school districts and states. Here are some states that have issued guidance on this issue:

  • Alabama: State law requires that no school staff shall “withhold from a minor’s parent or legal guardian information related to a minor’s perception that his or her gender or sex is inconsistent with his or her sex.” 
  • Arizona: State law promotes parental involvement, though does not require school staff to notify parents. 
  • California:  While policies vary by school district, the state issued legal guidance issued by the California Department of Education, which expressly states schools may not disclose a student’s gender identity without the student’s permission. The California legislature also passed a law which makes the state of California a “safe haven” for minors to receive irreversible, sterilizing surgeries and treatments. The bill allows minors to act against their parents’ wishes and travel out of state for these procedures without parental consent.
  • Florida: State law promotes parental involvement, though does not require school staff to notify parents. 
  • Idaho: State law promotes parental involvement, though does not require school staff to notify parents. 
  • Indiana: State law requires schools to notify parents if the child changes their gender identity. 
  • Iowa: State law requires schools to notify parents if the child changes their gender identity. 
  • Kentucky: State law promotes parental involvement, though does not require school staff to notify parents. 
  • Montana: State law promotes parental involvement, though does not require school staff to notify parents.
  • North Carolina: State law requires schools to notify parents if the child changes their gender identity. 
  • Utah: State law promotes parental involvement, though does not require school staff to notify parents.

In states not listed, there is no state-level requirement to notify parents. 

What every concerned parent can do

Even in states that require notification, concerned parents should make a direct effort to determine whether their child secretly identifies as transgender at school. A simple way to do this is to access the student’s records and see if the child is using a different name or pronoun. Two federal regulations—the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment—require schools to provide parents with access to student records and federally funded instructional material until a child turns 18. 

Unfortunately, this is one of the few options available to all parents in the U.S. As Ryan Womack of Alliance Defending Freedom observes, “Parental rights are not always protected in every state or federal court as carefully as are other fundamental rights.” 

Eventually, the Supreme Court will have to determine whether public schools will be required to respect parental rights. 

Christian parents, in particular, ought to be vigilant and take the initiative to directly protect their children from the confusing and harmful gender ideology touted by the prevailing culture. The Bible is clear that parents should be the ones primarily responsible for instructing their children in the Word of God (Deut. 6), and this includes what Scripture teaches about sexuality. As Christian parents help their children walk in the way of wisdom, they point to the goodness of God’s design and encourage the flourishing of their families and communities. 

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 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

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. 

By / Aug 8

A new school year brings an array of feelings for kids returning to the school building. While some kids look with excitement toward a new year, others kids may feel nervous or anxious. There are a variety of reasons that kids may be hesitant to return to school; bullying, school shootings, learning disabilities, negative school experiences, being a new student, or simply fear of missing mom and dad. For these reasons and others, the start of school may weigh heavy on your child. What can parents do to help their children reduce school nerves? Here are a few pointers: 

1. Have appropriate expectations.

Parents may find themselves feeling frustrated when their child is anxious. Why? Because anxious kids often think illogically and have meltdowns or negative behaviors. Parents must recognize and prepare themselves for their child’s first day of school. Expect that your child may cry, whine, or not be as happy and easy going when he feels nervous. Expect that it may take a couple days or weeks for your child to feel comfortable in the new school year. Anxious feelings don’t always pass quickly. Understanding your child’s behavior can help reduce a parent’s own frustration.

2. Identify and discuss feelings.

One simple action for parents is to help their children identify and learn about feelings. Help your child identify a feeling by giving them the language for how they feel (i.e., angry, frustrated, mad), and help them describe what they are experiencing (i.e., being nervous feels like my tummy has butterflies). Talk about feelings and provide examples of times that you, as the parent, have felt the same way. 

Another great way to help kids identify feelings and problem solve is through reading age-appropriate books. Utilize books that discuss feelings or place characters in situations that provoke similar feelings that your child is experiencing. As you read, ask questions such as, “How do you think that person feels?” “What could the person do in that situation?” “What would you do in that situation?” or “Tell me a time that you have felt that same way.” It’s easier for kids to talk about tough feelings when 1) There are elements of play involved (i.e., reading), 2) When they are talking about the feelings of someone else, and 3) When there is ample time to process their thoughts.

Here are a few book suggestions for preschool and elementary school kids that will help them express how they feel:

  • Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
  • Zoe’s Hiding Place by David Powlison
  • Everyone Feels Anxious at Times by Dr. Daniela Owen
  • What Am I Feeling? By Dr. Josh Straub
  • What Do I Do With Worry? by Dr. Josh Straub

3. Make a worry list.

Ask your child to identify her worries. Also ask if you can write them down. Listen as your child speaks. Once the list is completed, you and your child can tackle one worry at a time. Stick with open-ended questions, like “Tell me about a time when you were worried about this,” and, “Help me understand what happens right before and after you have that worry.” Lastly, discuss with your child the likelihood of those events occurring, and have your child problem solve what she can do if that situation occurs. These actions help your child feel understood, while also helping your child recognize her ability to handle these tough situations and worries.

4. Prepare for the first day.

Help your child reduce her worries by talking about the first day and by planning ahead.  Preparing ahead of time can help reduce nerves or stress associated with the morning routine. Make sure your child goes to bed on time, eats a healthy breakfast, and lays out his school items and outfit the night before. Anxious feelings can also arise when a child doesn’t know what to expect. Eliminate some of those feelings by detailing the first day of school so your child knows what to expect: Start with waking up, the car ride there, the school schedule, pickup times, and what he can look forward to after the school day ends. Providing predictability can reduce anxious feelings.

5. Practice coping skills. 

When kids feel anxious or stressed, they can retreat into fight, flight, or freeze mode. Their behavior looks defiant when it is actually a reaction to being scared. Talk openly with your child about their reactions and healthy coping skills. Practice deep breathing, journaling, looking around for a favorite color, reciting Bible verses, or any other helpful coping strategies. Have your child practice the skills in preparation for moments she will need them. 

6. Use examples from Scripture.

Scripture is packed with examples of anxiety-provoking situations, fearful individuals, and a faithful God that provides for his people. Utilize biblical examples to point your kids to God’s faithfulness, provision, and grace. Some of my favorite stories include: Peter walking on water, Jesus’ disciples hiding after the crucifixion, Moses not wanting to go to Pharaoh, and Joseph in prison.

7. Memorize Scripture.

There are over 360 verses in Scripture that deal with anxiety or fear. Help your child memorize some of the verses, so he can recall them during times of worry. Remembering Scripture also helps your child fight worried thoughts with truth. I would encourage you to do this yourself so that you can quote the verses together in preparation for the school day. Model this priority in your own life, and share with your children when you have quoted these affirmations to yourself in times of anxiety.

8. Pray. 

Utilize the opportunity to teach your child about praying for their worries. Kids’s prayers can sometimes sound rehearsed or repetitive, and that’s OK. But praying in the midst of a struggle can help them talk to God more candidly. Pray with your children, and pray for your children.

While most children experience jitters on the first day of school, other kids experience more than that. They experience anxiety.  If your child’s anxiety is negatively impacting his life, don’t hesitate to seek help from a qualified counselor. God has gifted some believers in the body of Christ to counsel others. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of wisdom. Not sure where to start? Often insurance plans cover some mental health benefits, so check with your plan. I would also recommend these sites: 

As you navigate school worries with your children, remember God himself is available to and present with your children, and he has given them you to support and encourage them. Don’t negate the special role you play in helping your children in the midst of their struggles, and ask the Lord to help you in the journey.

By / Aug 3

The countdown to a new school year has begun. Summer has flown by, as it usually does, and families everywhere are preparing to get back to the routine that the start of classes brings. But not everyone will go to the same kind of school. Many of us in our country are blessed with choices regarding how we will educate our children. And many school choices have turned upside down after COVID-19. According to the Census Bureau, during the pandemic, nearly 93% of families with school-aged children reported some level of “distance-learning” from home. This, in conjunction with a more progressive push in public education, has led Christian parents, in particular, to weigh the best options for their family. But what measure will help us determine the best school option for our children?

A rubric for families

In education, teachers use rubrics as scoring tools to measure student performance based on established criteria. Students are expected to meet certain goals in order to achieve mastery of a particular skill or standard. A score is given based on how the student met or failed to meet the expectations of the assignment. What if there was a rubric for families to use to gauge school options for their children? What standards would they use to measure those options? To design such a rubric, there are some essential questions parents should ask in order to guide their thinking.

What is the cultural climate of our school district? No two school districts are the same. Some schools are in districts that lean more progressive, while other schools are in districts that lean more conservative. This is important to understand, because many of the decisions that are made about school policy, curriculum, and instructional practice arise from the political and cultural climate of school districts. Administrators in each individual school also have choices regarding what is emphasized each year. Families must ask, “What is the climate of our school district, and can we navigate its waters as we send our children to its schools?” 

What are our current family dynamics? Family dynamics place a large role in education choice. Some parents may have the time and resources to educate their children at home. Other families see benefits from sending their kids to the local public school. Or, a family may prefer the environment and curriculum that a private education offers. The family’s schedule, taken as a whole from its various members, should also be considered. Whether it’s marital status, budget, health, or some other factor, what is feasible and preferred varies from one family to another. 

Families require flexibility as children grow and needs change. And along with that, every family is unique with various strengths and challenges. Parents will have to decide what educational option fits them best for right now considering their current family structure, demands, and resources. 

How involved are we in our local church? There is no substitute for the local church. School, travel ball, scouts, homeschool co-ops, and other subgroups should not replace the fellowship families have with other believers in their home church. Before families seek out the best schooling option for their children, they must first seek out a local church that is gospel-centered, proclaims the Word soundly and emphasizes obedience to its commands and ideally has a strong discipleship focus that applies to various ages. Find a church. Get involved by committing to weekly attendance, service, and fellowship. There is no school option that can or should replace the local church.

A simple rubric like this can assist parents as they are trying to decide what school option is best for their kids. Essentially, families should ask, “What are non-negotiables for us? What are the non-essentials? What are our goals for our children? Will this help us disciple them in that direction?” 

3 action steps

As parents evaluate the above questions, it can still be intimidating to make a choice. Here are a few action steps to help you along the way: 

Pray for wisdom. Seek the Lord’s will as parents who desire to please him with the kids he has entrusted to you. Our children belong to Jesus first and foremost. Trust him, and let him guide you as you prayerfully consider how he is guiding you. Pray for your kids before they enter school age, while they are in school, and after graduation. We are all in formation throughout our lives and need the Lord’s grace to shape and sustain us.

Get equipped. Whatever choice you make for your children’s education, continue to be involved in their learning. If you choose to homeschool, you will have a front row seat in your children’s school as both a teacher and as a parent. Look for other homeschool families to come alongside you on the journey, and find resources to support your role as a homeschool parent. If you choose to send your child to public school, ask about opportunities to volunteer,  join the school’s parent organization, or attend your school district’s committee meetings. Invite their school friends to your home and get to know their families, as well.

Get equipped in knowing your kids in whatever school context they face. Check their homework, ask about their lessons, and look for natural opportunities to extend their learning with a biblical worldview. Lastly, read or watch the news in small measures. Get informed and seek to understand the culture in which we live and in which our kids live on campus every day. Strive to eat most of your meals together around the dinner table weekly and engage your kids in thoughtful discussions asking about their day, their interests, their friends, etc. Look for ways to have conversations about current events and issues and how God’s Word addresses them. 

Keep an open-hands mentality.  I used to homeschool my oldest two kids, but now all of my kids go to the school where I teach. Even though my methods have changed as a parent, my convictions have not. My husband and I still have the same goals and aspirations now as we did when our children were younger. For now, the Lord has led our family in a different direction, and he may lead us elsewhere in the months and years to come. Be open to how the Lord may lead your family in educating your children year by year.

The fact of the matter is there is no perfect school option. Every system is broken, and until Jesus returns, no matter what educational choice we make, we will be disappointed along the way. We can have confidence that God, in his grace, will use various people and methods to accomplish his purpose for us (Acts 17:26, CSB). In wisdom, choose the option that fits you and your family best, as the Lord leads. Turn off social media and all the voices clamoring for our attention and allegiance. There is one choice to be made, really. Choose to follow and serve Christ in whatever place you find yourself. Let Deuteronomy 6:4-7 be your family decree: 

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

Keep the conversation going and the relationship with your children strong as you continually point them to Jesus. If you are homeschoolers, private schoolers, public schoolers, or somewhere in between, the most important education we can give our children is teaching them who our God is and living a life following him as our King. In the kitchen, at the ball field, during homework, in the car, or in the yard, we will teach our children to love the LORD with all that they are. There is no better choice than this.

By / Jun 27

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 27, 2022— The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention applauds the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision to protect the “Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment” in the case, Kennedy vs. Bremerton School District

This decision is a religious expression victory for teachers and coaches to privately express their deeply-held beliefs while working for schools. 

Brent Leatherwood, ERLC’s acting president, said the Supreme Court’s decision was “rightly determined.”

“As any Christian knows, our faith is deeply personal and rightly shapes every aspect of our lives. We live out our faith in any number of ways, both privately and publicly. Today’s case centered on the latter and the Supreme Court rightly determined that an individual employed by a school does not forfeit his or her constitutional right to free expression simply by entering ‘the schoolhouse gate’ or, as it were in this case, the field of play.

“Moreover, today’s decision reaffirms another aspect of constitutional law: our First Amendment rights travel together. We, and many others, have long held that religious liberty is our nation’s first freedom and that it bolsters and strengthens other foundational rights. The Court today strengthened this perspective by writing that the clauses of free expression, establishment and free speech are all complementary. If it were not already clear enough, this Court views religious liberty as a bedrock right in our free republic.”

The ERLC was involved with briefs at the petition for certiorari stage and before the Supreme Court on the merits, in support of a Washington state high school football coach who was suspended for kneeling and praying on the field after games. The brief urged the high court to accept the case and reverse the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that Joseph Kennedy’s act of praying – ultimately joined by some players — constituted a government establishment of religion.

In 2018, ERLC joined eight other groups in a brief that called for Supreme Court review and repudiation of the Ninth Circuit in the case, but the justices declined to grant the request at the time. The case returned to federal court and has successfully worked its way back through the judicial system.

By / May 27

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss the finding from  Sexual Abuse Task Force report on the sexual abuse cover-up in the SBC Executive Committee. They also lament the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. 

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  • Dobbs Resource Page Prayer Guide | Right now, the Supreme Court is considering a major Mississippi abortion case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The ERLC and other pro-life organizations filed an amicus brief in this case urging the Supreme Court to overturn the disatrous Roe v. Wade decision. Members of our team also joined pro-life advocates on the steps of the Supreme Court when oral arguments were heard last December. As we approach the Supreme Court’s final decision in June of this year, it’s important for Christians to pray for this landmark case and begin preparing our churches to serve vulnerable women and children in a potential post-Roe world. Download our free prayer guide at ERLC.com/Dobbs.
  • Dobbs Resource Page | Many Christians are aware that an important case about abortion is being decided at the Supreme Court this June. But for many, this case is confusing and wrapped in a lot of legal jargon. The ERLC wants to help with that, so we’ve created a resource page that will help you and your church understand what this case means, what could happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and how your church can prepare to serve vulnerable women and children in the aftermath. To learn more about the Dobbs case and how you can pray, visit ERLC.com/Dobbs.