How parents can help protect religious freedom in public schools

PROVO, UTAH — Parents can find joy as they discover common ground with other moms and dads who share a commitment to protecting religious freedom in public schools.

Always “seek to understand the other person’s ground” while remaining true to one’s own beliefs and commitments, said moderator Erin Cranor at the beginning of a workshop entitled “How Parents Can Help Protect Religious Freedom in the Public Schools” at the recent Religious Freedom Annual Review at Brigham Young University.

“We need to understand somebody well enough that we can stand up for them,” said Cranor — a civic leader, mother and law student.

Also, in the world of religious freedom advocacy, many battles are won by simply “showing up.” Be prepared and do all that can be done to understand the issues regarding religious freedom at one’s school and community. With time, a well-prepared parent can become a resource and influencer for elected officials and others.

And never forget to say “thanks” to decision-makers. Don’t forget they are people, and they appreciate and respond to messages of support.

Panelist Heidi Wixom — the founding president of Power2Parent, a Nevada organization championing the protection of parental rights — said both education and religious freedom “are to be treasured.” They are worth defending.

Attendees applaud after Elder Patrick Kearon, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Quorums of the Seventy, gave the keynote address at the Religious Freedom Annual Review at the BYU Conference Center in Provo on Wednesday, June 19, 2019.
Attendees applaud after Elder Patrick Kearon, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorums of the Seventy, gave the keynote address at the Religious Freedom Annual Review at the BYU Conference Center in Provo on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, Deseret News

“Being a watchman is vital,” she said. “In fact, there is no other way to ascertain the information that you need” to be aware of what’s happening.

Make a habit of keeping an eye on school board agendas (including traditional public schools and charter schools), along with state legislature bill proposals, pending litigation and curriculum committees and proposed curriculum changes.

In 2014, Wixom was contacted by a fellow Las Vegas parent who attended a gathering that included a local school board member and did not comply with open meeting rules. The informant was concerned that there was a lack of parental involvement in a meeting that involved discussion of key curriculum matters on sex education.

Wixom and others organized to strengthen their participatory voice. The stakes were high — and parental awareness and participation were essential.

Again, finding common ground is not always possible. But keep striving. Opposing forces may try to utilize shame as a tactic, distorting facts that might infringe on religious freedoms.

“But keep pushing forward,” said Wixom. “Do not be afraid. Fear and faith cannot coexist. Have the faith that you are doing the right thing … and continually pray for guidance.”

D. Gordon Smith, Brigham Young University's J. Reuben Clark Law School dean and Glen. L. Farr Professor of Law, speaks during the Religious Freedom Annual Review at the BYU Conference Center in Provo on Wednesday, June 19, 2019.
D. Gordon Smith, Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School dean and Glen. L. Farr Professor of Law, speaks during the Religious Freedom Annual Review at the BYU Conference Center in Provo on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, Deseret News

Individual and seemingly small efforts to defend religious freedom in public schools, she added, “will be magnified by the Lord.”

Panelist Renee Porter, a religious freedom community advocate and a mother, said all parents share an inherent duty to defend religious freedom in public schools.

“As parents, we have primary responsibility to educate our children.”

As an educator to her children, Porter said she focuses her curricula on lessons of integrity, “sticking up for the underdog” and teaching her children how they can become advocates for themselves and others at school — including those who don’t “think the same way.”

Stay informed, stay involved and always be aware of what’s happening with local school boards, said Porter — echoing Wixom’s counsel.

Porter has young children who require her attention. She doesn’t have the time to dedicate several hours each week to school happenings. But she stays involved by being informed and aware of what’s going on in her own educational community.