School newspaper’s blank front page a tragedy

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Last week, I received a phone call that really upset me. In fact, it brought me to tears. The phone call was from Airline High School in regard to our printing their  December school newspaper. The phone call was for us  to “stop the presses” because Page 1 may have have to be replaced. The problem? Well, the students designed a front page with a photo showing Airline students placing snowflake shaped ornaments on a Christmas tree. The snowflake ornaments had the students’ written expressions of what Christmas means to them. One of these ornaments had “I Love Jesus” written on it. 

My first thought was, “Are you kidding me?” That’s what Christmas is all about. Though we were already preparing to print, we did as asked by our client. The teacher/advisor for the newspaper staff was in tears as she painfully explained to me how this situation ensued. She said that her principal was also really struggling with this issue, but in view of what has happened in our Bossier Parish school system over these last few years, he felt the decision as to whether or not to run the front page as originally submitted needed to be made by the superintendent’s office/school board attorney. The decision was that Page 1 had to be replaced. In fact, a statement was made by running a blank front page. 

I don’t think anyone involved with this decision actually agreed with it, but I don’t think there was any other choice under the circumstances.     

That is because of a lawsuit settlement that put a spotlight on Christianity in Bossier schools. Before that, there was also forced removal of the prayer boxes from the hallways at Airline High School. Around Bossier Parish in recent years, there has also been objection to prayer rallies and prayer at school events. And, there’s the situation at the Benton High School football field whereby the Christ Fit Gym logo was removed from the field. 

Randy Brown, publisher of the Bossier Press-Tribune

Prayer or anything remotely tied to Christianity has to now be student-led. School faculty and administration can have nothing to do with it. What a fine line to have to walk.

All of that is what led to  the situation with the Airline school newspaper. However, I love their decision. What a great statement this makes. Is what happened to the students censorship? Yes. But again, it is obvious to me that under the circumstances, the Bossier Parish school system had no choice. 

As the First Amendment to the Constitution of our United States of America states in its very first sentence “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Does this say that there is to be absolutely no religion whatsoever in any public institution or domain? No, I don’t see that in what I read. Separation of church and state has been twisted and mangled from its original intent. To me, it was intended to recognize all religious denominations. And, it means that no one can tell us exactly which religion we must be. Instead, it now means that there is no religion period in any places of public domain. How can this be when our founding fathers organized and built this nation upon religious principles? 

In the Airline school newspaper situation, the bottom line is that while someone else’s First Amendment rights were upheld, the rights of the majority of the students were violated. In this case, the voice of Christianity was silenced. What a tragedy!         

By definition, censorship is “the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.” Isn’t it a shame and an unspeakable tragedy that in today’s United States of America, a student  expressing “I Love Jesus” on the front page of a school newspaper is seen as unacceptable. 

Folks, we have to stand up. Christianity is under attack. We must stand strong together as one in all Christian faiths. As one of my favorite pastors and good friends prayed at an event that I attended a few weeks ago, it is time for the denominational walls to come down and for us to stand together as Christians. Well said, my friend, well said.     

As we enter into this Christmas season, a season that means so very much to so many of us, let us not forget and remain focused upon the “reason for the season.”  I strongly urge you to pray for the situation above and that one day, situations like this will cease in our beloved United States of America. Is this a tall order? Yes. Will it end any time soon? No. But with the Jesus we serve, anything and everything is always possible. 

Randy Brown is publisher of the Bossier Press-Tribune. He can be reached at rbrown@bossierpress.com