Candi Cushman, Director of Education Issues at Focus on the Family, discusses Focus on the Family’s “Bring You Bible To School Day,” a nationwide religious freedom initiative for students of all ages.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thank you for joining us today for Family Policy Matters. On October 4th, many students across our state and nation will take a bold stand for their faith, celebrate their religious freedom, and share the love of Jesus Christ through a simple act: bringing their Bibles to school. Our guest today is Candi Cushman, founder and facilitator of Focus on the Family’s Bring Your Bible To School Day, which has grown from 8,000 participants just a few years ago to more than half a million expected participants this year. We’re delighted to talk with Candi today about Bring Your Bible to School and how students across our state and nation can participate in this exciting and meaningful event on October 4th. Candi, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you on the show.
CANDI CUSHMAN: Thanks John, it’s an honor to be with you.
JOHN RUSTIN: As we begin our conversation, tell us about Bring Your Bible To School Day. What is the purpose of this event?
CANDI CUSHMAN: Bring Your Bible To School Day is a nationwide religious freedom initiative that Focus on the Family sponsors for students all the way from kindergarten level to college level, so there’s lots of different grade levels and ages participating. And the whole purpose of the event is to have this one day when students can have an educational way to be reminded of their most basic rights and they can know they’re not alone in expressing their faith in a really simple way: taking their Bible to school and talking about it with friends. The reason we decided to do this: A few years back, we were getting contacts from students and their families that they were being told that they couldn’t do a simple thing like have their Bible out on their desk during free time and eating. Kids were having these experiences where they’re walking through the hallways with their Bible and a school official saying, “I’m not really sure you’re allowed to have that. Put that in your locker. It might offend someone,” which is just totally wrong. Students have basic First Amendment rights to freely live out their faith. They don’t have to leave their faith behind at the door when they walk into that school. And that has been backed up through multiple court decisions all the way up to the [U.S.] Supreme Court. So we just wanted a fun, celebratory way to remind kids and their families of what their religious freedom rights are in their schools.
JOHN RUSTIN: Candi, what are the legal guidelines or boundaries that students, parents, teachers, and school administrators need to be aware of as it relates to Bring Your Bible To School Day, particularly in our public schools?
CANDI CUSHMAN: On a basic level, kids have the right to bring their personal Bible to school, read it during free time, talk about it with friends, as long as they are not disrupting formal classroom teaching. The thing to understand, in general, when we’re talking about kids being free to express their faith, is that the kids’ expressions, students’ expressions are regarded as private speech. You hear a lot of these phrases, “separation of church and state” thrown around and “establishment clause.” Well, that applies mostly to adults who are representing the government in a public school. That does not apply to students’ private speech. So, they have the right to do things like: say a little prayer before lunch; talk about the Bible during periods, like recess or lunch period; have before or after school Bible studies that are not part of the formal class day; and, like I said, to read their Bible during free time, as long as these activities are not disrupting formal classroom instruction.
JOHN RUSTIN: So from a student’s perspective, what does it look like to participate in Bring Your Bible To School Day? Do they simply carry around their Bible with them throughout the day? Or are there other suggested activities and forms of engagement?
CANDI CUSHMAN: This can look like as involved as they want it to be, or as simple as they want it to be. So, it’s really up to the students. We provide resources on the website, bringyourbible.org, so that they can make this as involved as they would like. But, just as an example: It can be as simple as a student who’s doing it for the first time just to stick that Bible in the backpack and maybe have some verses underlined in case someone asks them about their favorite verse or something. It can be simple as: They take their Bible to school; they take a selfie with it, and post their picture with the hashtag #bringyourbible, because that’s still an easy way to represent and be part of letting all these thousands—hundreds of thousands—of kids know they’re not alone. […] Maybe having a conversation with another friend, if God brings that opportunity.
Other students choose to make an event out of it. So they will use the free downloadable posters that we have online and they will put the posters up a few weeks in advance. They will pass out conversation cards that explain why they’re doing the event and it helps them initiate conversations. For example, the conversation cards that are available online at bringyourbible.org, they just help the students ask basic questions like: “What if there is a God that cares about us and he does have a personal message of hope and love for us in his word? How would that change your life?” So it provides basic conversation tools to help them get a dialogue started. There are things like t-shirt designs and stickers that they can print out if they want to make it a full-fledged event as well.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s great. And it’s great that those resources are available. So how can students find out if there are plans for Bring Your Bible To School Day at their school? Or even if […] there may not be plans yet, take on a leadership role to do so at their own school.
CANDI CUSHMAN: If they go to the website, they can find easy tools to start spreading the word on social media so they can rally their own classmates. Or I would suggest that they get in touch with a Christian club in their school. Or, if they don’t have those resources, I think a great idea is to meet with their church, their youth group, their children’s group, and just get some prayer the night before the event. The event is on Thursday, October 4th, so it makes it easy for churches to meet with kids the day before, Wednesday night, during the Wednesday night services. And I suggest that they just get some support at their churches, with the youth there, and pray together over what’s happening to various schools. Even if you’re the only one doing it at your school, you know there are other kids doing it at other schools around you. So that’d probably be the easiest way to get word out, and find out about other students is via social media. A lot of people will create Bring Your Bible events on their own. As far as our part, we are trying to emphasize this being a student-led event. So while we’re making available the free resources—we do encourage people to sign up to be counted so we have a good estimate of the number of kids doing this across the nation, it’s really up to them to lead and organize it in their particular school.
JOHN RUSTIN: Candi, from your perspective, where does Bring Your Bible To School Day fit into our national conversation about religious liberty and academic freedom? It seems like there’s a lot happening in this arena and there are a lot of misunderstandings, frankly, about what is permissible, and what’s not permissible, especially in the academic arena.
CANDI CUSHMAN: What’s amazing is that the courts keep backing the students’ free speech and religious freedom rights. Every year, we have new cases where the courts have backed us. In fact, I just found out about one of the first legal wins for a Bring Your Bible To School Day participant, and this was out of Rhode Island. It was a little first grader that brought some of the Bring Your Bible To School Day coloring sheets to school and wanted to give a Bible to her friend, Mary. She actually had those things confiscated and was told to go to the principle’s office. So, it was really over the top. But five months later, they have finally acknowledged: Okay, yeah, we can’t do that. She does have a right to give a Bible to a friend or use your coloring sheets during free time. But the cool thing about that is that her small action has now set a precedent for every student in her school. So, every time a student is bold like this and a family is bold, it paves the way for thousands of other kids to have their religious freedom rights respected and to express what they believe about God with their friends. So it’s interesting. We see these cases happening every year, whether it’s a student graduating that’s told they can’t say the name of Jesus or mention God in their graduation speech. So, we keep having it made clear that when kids want to express a Bible verse or a simple expression of faith, schools cannot censor that without a really high bar for doing that, like that there’s going to be huge protests, which is rarely the case.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s just a great encouragement. The stories of children and students who express their faith throughout the day, and they may be challenged by the teacher, by those in the school administration. But I think you would probably agree—and what we’ve seen more often than not is if and when those challenges come, and then those teachers or school administrators are informed of the law, that they will change their tune fairly quickly and realize that: Hey, students do have a lot of rights when it comes to living out their faith.
CANDI CUSHMAN: It definitely is a powerful way of shining the light in our schools because what happens is, if people don’t exercise those rights, then you have increased censorship and this increased environment of: The Bible is banned and your faith is something to be ashamed of. But when you take small steps to be bold in expressing your faith, like you said, usually it’s a quick turnaround. I don’t know of any student that has participated in this event that has lost their right or lost the case with their right […] to bring your Bible to school or express their faith. I know of zero losses in that area. It’s rare even, that there’s a longer battle, but even when there is, it’s always been a victory.
JOHN RUSTIN: Candi, it’s exciting to hear about this—the first grader and the impact that she has had. But I know that since Bring Your Bible To School Day has been going on for a number of years, that there are many stories of that type of thing. What are some of your favorite stories from Bring Your Bible To School Day?
CANDI CUSHMAN: One of my favorite stories is Carson, who has done the event multiple years in a row now. But the first time he did it, his mom shared with me that there was this school bully who was actually making fun of the Christian kid. That was happening before the Bring Your Bible To School Day, and he was saying things to the kids like: What you believe is stupid. How can you believe something so silly? And so when Carson decided to participate in Bring Your Bible To School Day, he had all these little Bibles that he was going to distribute and got on the school bus with them and he was sort of geared up for his first encounter with the school bully. And then it turns out, as God would have it, this kid walked up and was the first kid to ask for a Bible, he said I want to have one of those. And then after that, he and Carson were actually reading it together and talking about it together. And he stopped bullying the kids after that, for having their Christian faith. I don’t know what God was doing in that kid’s heart, but it was an amazing experience for Carson. So the next year, he went even more full steam and did a big fundraiser. They had a little booth out like a bakery, a bake sale, and they raised enough dollars to buy 600 Bibles and distribute them in four grade levels. So, some of these kids—I think they’re going to be running for president someday. It’s amazing the initiative they show. So that’d be one of my favorites stories.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s so cool. Candi, I know as you’ve just shared, the intent of Bring Your Bible To School Day is not to have just a one-day event, but to do something that has a long-lasting impact. So once October 4th passes, what can students do to build on the momentum that’s created during Bring Your Bible To School Day, and then keep the conversation going about living out their faith and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ at school.
CANDI CUSHMAN: On the website, we do have tips for kids that want to keep the conversation going, kind of pay it forward challenges, type of thing. But a lot of kids do start an afterschool Bible study as a result of this event. I’m thinking of one student. She’s got a video on the website that people can watch to hear her story. But she started a Bible study and actually, one of the first things that happened was that one of her classmates gave her life to the Lord, gave her life to Jesus as a result of conversations happening in that after school Bible study. And in fact, when we did a survey after the event, we found that hundreds of kids were reporting that experience, that their friends were4 deciding to follow Jesus [as a result] of conversations following this event. So you know, the Bible study is just one way. I would refer them to the website, bringyourbible.org for a list of a ton of other fun activities. They can do everything from doing a Bible Celebration Sunday at their church, to giving a Bible from the family to the school bus driver. There [are] lots of fun activities and ideas as a way to keep it moving forward.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thank you for sharing that Candi. I want to share that website one more time, Focus on the Family’s Bring Your Bible To School Day, which is bringyourbible.org. With that, Candi Cushman, I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters, and for your incredibly important work at Focus on the Family, to encourage students, parents, teachers, and all of us for that matter, to live out our faith in our schools and in our communities.
CANDI CUSHMAN: Thank you so much. And I should mention just one more thing to encourage students and their parents, and that is that every individual who signs up for Bring Your Bible To School Day this year has a chance to win a trip for a family for four to meet Sadie Robertson in person. She has a real heart for things like this and for kids, you know, feeling the freedom to express their faith. So she’s a partner with us in this and that’s her way of helping to encourage us as well.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well that’s awesome. Candi, thanks so much for being with us and God bless you and all your efforts.
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