When Bible Study Is Controversial

The recent battle to try to remove "God" from the Pledge of Allegiance highlighted the perpetual struggle between those who want "God" banned from public schools altogether, and those who don't. CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson notes that one controversial mix of religion and public schools is student Bible clubs, which are said to be growing in popularity.

Attkisson spoke with 16-year old Kara Meeks of Salisbury, Maryland. She leads a teen Bible study group.

During the school year, the group meets on the public high school campus, once a week for about an hour. It meets elsewhere during the summer.

School Bible Clubs face constant court challenges, but they're perfectly legal - as long as they follow strict rules to maintain the constitutional separation between church and state, as Kara's group does.

Though the Bible study is held on school grounds, it's held after school hours, it's student-organized, and no one is pressure to attend, so the school believes it doesn't cross any lines, Attkisson points out.

But Annie Laurie Gaylor, who leads the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national group of atheists and agnostics, insists school Bible clubs are divisive and inappropriate.

"We get complaints constantly by high schoolers who feel it creates a hostile environment where they feel aggressively prothetized, where the children and the students who belong to Bible clubs are being treated as better," Gaylor says.

Others also object to any hint of religion at school - like the California Dad who recently lost his fight to take "Under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance, Attkisson says.

Not surprisingly, Kara and her friends defend the phrasing.

"It's not like you're being forced. ...People don't have to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and it's not like by saying 'Under God,' we're forcing a religion on them. So I don't see the point in taking it out," says club member Jennifer Files.

Polls shows up to nine in ten Americans agree that "Under God" belongs in the Pledge. Ninety percent of Americans also say they believe in God.

And religion in the school setting may be gaining ground nationally. Analysts say there's been a dramatic rise in the number of students forming religious clubs - and not just Christian clubs.

Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center observes that, "More recently, Muslim students and others have been asking to form clubs. This of course causes some controversy and tension in school districts, particularly where they are not used to other religius groups forming clubs, but that's the trend.

Kara Meeks says she doesn't think it's controversial to be doing Bible study at school. She strongly believes God shouldn't be locked out when the bell rings.

But, adds Attkisson, in the minds of others, any mix of religion and public school is bound to remain controversial.
  • Brian Dakss

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