In February of 2001, when I was in fourth grade, we first started learning about the
Bill of Rights and the Constitution. The first amendment really caught my attention, although it may have been because
it is one of the basics, and the central point of our lessons
I created a few small early Valentine's cards as a last minute idea before I left for
school on the day of a delayed opening, and once I arrived, I casually handed one to each of my three closest friends. The
cards were not really considered Valentine's Day cards originally. I just selected a short and simple Bible verse: "God is
Love. 1 John 4:8", and put them on construction paper squares I cut out.
However, one of my friends showed it to my teacher. When I got home, I found out that
they were considering suspending me from school.
Fortunately, they did not.
Freedom of Religion. We all know it as the freedom to believe, or not to believe, in
the god or gods that we want to believe or not to believe, in. Believing is easy. Anyone can do that. It is internal, and
there is no way anybody can stop someone's beliefs. Even you cannot stop your own beliefs.
comes when you are to demonstrate these freedoms. The action.
The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…"
Separation of church and state does not mean that we cannot recognize God in public places.
It means the government can not force you to be one religion or another. They cannot force you to be Protestant,
or Catholic or Jewish or throw you in jail if you refuse. It means there is no official state religion and you get to choose
which religion, if any, you will follow.
It does not mean, though that the government cannot acknowledge God's presence.
It does not mean a teacher can't lead a prayer in her classroom with students who ask her to. It does not mean that the Ten
Commandments can't hang in schools. It doesn't mean Godly people who work in public jobs or go to public schools can't
acknowledge their belief in God awhile at work or school.
So why is it that I was punished for using my God-given rights as an American? It
seemed to me that because I was only a child, I was denied my rights.
However, I found that was not the case. While I believed that I was unable to even express
my beliefs, in truth, I had been doing it the entire time.
Even after the incident with the Valentine's Day cards, I still went to school wearing
cross necklaces, and T-shirts with Bible verses written on them. Much to my surprise, I did not get in any trouble for it.
The biggest step I took in demonstrating my freedom publicly was in sixth grade. My science
teacher, Mr. Newsome, and I would meet together during lunch periods, and at the after school program, Power Up, for Bible
studies. We would often just talk about our church happenings, and occasionally, although it was rare, another student would
That year, our school had its first annual talent show. One of my closest friends, Tish,
who was twelve and in the seventh grade at the time, and I decided to participate by singing.
The first song we selected was entitled, "Promise to Jesus". Unfortunately, due to circumstances
beyond our control two nights before the talent show, we had to change our song.
That song "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever", which we sung a cappella, did not mention
God openly, but before we began, Tish recited a Bible verse. She finished reciting, and I prepared for my solo, but I could
not sing over the round of applause, and people in the audience shouting, "Amen!" and "Praise the Lord!"
I do not know if that impacted anyone or not, but that is not the point. The point is
that I was able to express my beliefs in a secular situation, and unlike a few years prior, I was not punished, but actually
praised for doing so.
I came to the conclusion that I was not wrong for the Valentine's cards, but for listening
to the teachers, and not standing up for my beliefs. Sure, I was only nine at the time, but does that mean my voice would
not have been heard if I decided to take that stand for my beliefs? Would I have been like a candle lit in the midst of the
darkness; my light piercing through, or would my flame have been covered? I will never know.
I do know one thing, however. If I am ever told that I cannot follow
my beliefs again, I will stand up. I will not be pushed around. I will fight back. I do not care what happens. Even if the
world is against me, I will never back down. I cannot. After what happened nearly five years ago, I know that I will never
be able to live with myself if make that same mistake again.
Barlow Girl, the Christian Girl Band popular among my friends at church, has a phrase
that is known well by their fans: "Be a voice, not an echo." I will not echo what the world wants me to do, but I will be
my own voice.