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Students’ prayer not just symbolic

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–I expect a great number of high school students will be setting their alarms to awaken them earlier than usual Wednesday morning.

These faithful students will be more than usually eager to get to school Sept. 26, just so they can gather with their friends around their school’s flagpole before the official school day begins.

Seventeen years after a small group of young Texans in the Fort Worth suburb of Burleson were moved by God to pray for their fellow students, teenagers across the U.S. and around the world will join their hearts in prayer in the annual See You at the Pole (www.syatp.com) event.

The student-initiated and student-led movement will see more than three million teenagers interceding for their friends, their schools and their families in asking God to bring “moral and spiritual awakening” to their campuses and to their countries.

Students in more than 20 nations, including Canada, Guam, Korea, Japan, Turkey and the Ivory Coast, will be gathering and praying around the See You at the Pole theme this year: “Gather. Unite. Pray. Come Together” (John 17:20-23).

In John 17:23, Jesus prays that those who choose to follow Him will by their actions make Him known: “I am in them and You are in Me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.”

These students’ courageous obedience to Jesus’ call for us to proclaim publicly His name brings glory to God and testifies of His redeeming love to those who do not know Him. There is no question that other students, watching those who gather to pray, will be drawn to these faithful witnesses, if only to inquire about what makes them different.

While some may question the legality of students gathering to pray on school property, it is certainly a constitutionally protected activity. Students do not leave their rights of religious expression at home.

In fact, guidelines released by the U.S. Department of Education in 1998 state that not only do “students have the same right to engage in individual or group prayer and religious discussion during the school day as they do to engage in other comparable activity,” but students in public schools “may also speak to, and attempt to persuade, their peers about religious topics just as they do with regard to political topics.”

Faith-centered speech and activities must not be disruptive, nor may a student harass or coerce another student over this or any other issue.

While school administrators and teachers cannot discourage or encourage participation in faith-centered events, such as See You at the Pole, “students may participate in before or after school events with religious content … on the same terms as they may participate in other noncurriculum activities on school premises,” U.S. Department of Education guidelines say.

Students can read their Bibles or other religious material at school; and they can pray before meals, and even before exams, as long as their behavior does not disrupt classroom activities.

Whether they realize it or not, when students gather for this year’s See You at the Pole event, they will be beneficiaries of the wisdom of our forefathers who inserted provisions into our founding documents to insure this nation’s citizens will always be free to exercise their God-given rights of free speech and assembly, as well as freedom of religious conscience.

While we have the liberty to practice our faith in America, too often our worship is shallow, our faith fleeting and our lives reflective of spiritual anemia.

America desperately needs the repentant spirit that always precedes revival, a heaven-sent, Spirit-led burning in the hearts of God’s people that flames into an awakening that will shake our culture to its core.

That revival will not flow out of Congress, the White House or the Supreme Court, but will find its origin in the prayer closets and church pews of dedicated saints of God, in the living rooms and at the dinner tables of families, and perhaps, at the flagpoles in front of our nation’s schools.

Throughout the church’s history, revival has more often than not been fueled by the spiritual zeal and energy of young people. May it be so yet again. See you at the pole!
Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

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  • Richard Land