In a discussion based on their book Navigating Public Schools, Stephen Williams and his wife, Sarah, offer parents practical advice for helping their children stand strong for their Christian beliefs in public school. The couple addresses topics like knowing your religious rights, speaking the truth with love, preparing kids for classes that promote a secular worldview, and more. (Part 2 of 2)
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Stephen Williams: And so they started to systematically censor - they said, you can’t hand out William Penn’s “Frame of Government,” you can’t hand out Samuel Adams’ the “Rights of the Colonists as Christians,” and they even said that the religious parts of the Declaration of Independence were too religious, and it violated the separation of church and state.
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John Fuller: Stephen Williams is a former public school teacher who followed California education standards in his classroom, and he was allowed to teach his fifth grade history class about Ramadan and Hanukkah and other holy days. But he was told not to discuss the Christian celebration of Easter. Stephen and his wife, Sarah, are back with us on Focus on the Family to tell more of their story and to help you and your kids understand and protect your religious freedoms in the school system. Your host is Focus president Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, what a great conversation last time with Stephen and Sarah. And I really enjoyed their stories of how they both came from homes of atheists. I mean, their parents are educators in Stephen’s case. And you know, they’re coming from a fact-based, logic-based kind of science-based orientation. I can relate to that. That’s what I was looking for after high school and in college. What are the facts of Jesus? Is He a myth, or was He real? I had a philosophy teacher - I had a 400-level class my freshman year, my first semester in college - way out of my depth. And I remember the first day I showed up, and the teacher asked me after taking roll, “Mr. Daly, what does Plato mean by virtue?” And I went “Uh...” He goes, “You did read the content, right?”
John: Of course.
Jim: It’s the first day! I said, “Well, I thought you were gonna hand the syllabus out today.” And he said, “Oh, we go to the library ahead of time in college.” And that’s how it started. And then the next class, he was mentioning, you know, what Homer had said, what Aristotle said. And I innocently put my hand up. And I was not doing this out of conviction of my Christian understanding. It was more a question - a real innocent one. I said, “Well, what about the words of Jesus? Do they matter?” And he said “That’s a fairy tale. That’s a myth. We don’t even know if Jesus actually was a living character.” And he just attacked me. By the third class, he said, “Listen, you better drop my class, because I’m gonna fail you...”
Jim: “...no matter what you do” - total intimidation. So, I had that. And that - the irony of that is that really sparked in me to get deeper. I had a superficial belief in Christ, and that pushed me, ironically, again - that professor doesn’t know what good he did for me. Because then I had to go prove the historicity of Christ, the antiquity of the Scripture, and the reliability of the Scripture. And by every measure, nothing comes close. The New Testament is one of the - it’s the most well-documented books of all of human history. Check it out for yourself. Don’t believe me. And today, we’re gonna talk more about that with Stephen and his wife, Sarah Williams, who have written this great book,.
Folks, it’s not alarmist to say that there is a clash of worldviews in the public school system. Look at the university system. It’s okay to push back. But when you do it, as we talked about last time, do it in the fruit of the spirit, with kindness, with mercy, knowing that we’re really dealing with spiritual POWs. People have been captivated by the enemy. So Stephen and Sarah, welcome back to Focus.
Stephen: And it’s great to be back.
Sarah Williams: Great to be here.
Jim: I don’t know if that charges you. You could see the enthusiasm I have for this topic. I’m, you know, grateful but sorrowful that you had to live through that story. For our listeners, if you missed what happened, I mean, Stephen was a public school teacher for 10 years in Cupertino School District, there in California. He was simply teaching History Day. And they came after him with a vengeance. Stephen, you contacted Alliance Defending Freedom, and they were representing you in a federal court case. And when a judge agreed that you had grounds for a case, the two sides got together and filed a settlement that allowed for primary source documents to be taught, even if they contained Christian references. So you were able to settle out of court in a very positive way. We covered this last time. So again, if the listeners missed it, download it, you know, contact us, we’ll get it in your hands. But we’ll recap it here quickly. The school district came at you, because you were teaching Ramadan and Hanukkah, but you thought, “Okay, I’m gonna teach a little bit about the Christian...
Jim: ...Easter history, and what happened?
Stephen: They hammered me, yeah.
It’s just the double standard, you know, flared up. That whole misapplication of that “separation of church and state” phrase, you know, just came down with authority. And we find that - you know, when I’m doing talks around the nation on this topic - navigating public schools - and whether it’s - you know, the book’s written for parents and kids. But really for teachers, administrators, Good News Club volunteers, they really have that fear. And there’s this adversarial thing that people can run into. So that’s our heart is with this book - it’s really hopefully breathe a breath of fresh air for believers affiliated in any way in the public schools. How can they live out their faith appropriately?
Jim: You know, there are a lot of Christian schoolteachers. And even from the - yesterday and today, we’re gonna hear from them, because they’re gonna say, “You know, you didn’t represent teachers in the best way.” And I don’t want to make that error. I know teachers go into the profession to teach our kids. And I think what we’re saying is that’s great. But the bottom line is prejudice and bigotry should not be allowed. That’s...
Jim: ...what this is.
Jim: And even though, you know, this Christian faith that we possess is something that is historically connected to the American experience, it’s no reason for those that don’t believe in God to turn and to try to wash away that fact - that historical fact.
Sarah: Well, and the Supreme Court talks about a religion of secularism. And I think what we have come across is there’s definitely a bias against Christianity. And so people don’t realize that what is happening is a religion of secularism - is really kind of taking over...
Stephen: It’s being established.
Sarah: ...and being established. And I think that that’s a good distinction for people to understand - teachers and parents alike. It’s not trying to push Christianity in schools. We’re trying to simply educate people about what their rights are, and so that Christian students, especially, are not ashamed of their faith. What’s happening now is a lot of students...
Sarah: ...become ashamed of their faith.
Sarah: And it’s very sad to see. And it can be very - they can be disillusioned.
Jim: Let me ask you this question - in terms of being an educator - of course, Sarah, you went to Stanford - when you look at the ills of our culture today, you look at gang violence, drug abuse, the opioid epidemic, and you think of what tools do human beings need to fight against these seductive, destructive behaviors? And I think we, as Christians, would say, “Surely an encounter with Christ gives you purpose and meaning far beyond these addictions and these things that you do that destroy your life.” Why do people fear people coming to acknowledge God in their life, and hopefully allowing them to have a life that’s better than what they might have, with all of the sins and failings of humanity? Why is this such a big deal to the left and to the humanists?
Stephen: Yeah, I mean, I think going back to the garden, Satan said, “Did God really say?” and I think it’s deception. And I think in our culture, with some in the media, some in academic institutions, some come at this bias in such a negative way towards evangelical, Bible-believing Christianity that they then take on that, “Oh, yeah, all those Christians. When Christians are in charge, people die: the Salem witch trials, the Inquisition, the Crusades, you don’t want Christians impacting government. People die.” And then it completely discounts the amazing truth throughout the history of the world that, truly, when the Gospel of Jesus Christ has touched cultures, it has elevated humanity, it’s elevated women’s rights, it’s elevated minorities’ rights, it’s brought equality and fairness and goodness to cultures. That’s the vast story of where the Gospel of Jesus Christ has touched cultures. And so that’s lost many times in culture today.
Jim: It’s so true. I mean, just think of this, think of the hospital system.
Jim: There’s probably...
Sarah: Good example.
Jim: ...A Christian hospital in your town, the listener, Presbyterian hospital, Catholic hospital. I mean, there are just manifestations of the influence of Christ throughout this culture. And it’s sad that people are pulling back and ridiculing it. There’s always going to be shortcomings. There’s going to be people that use the label and misappropriate it. Let me get back, I shot a note to my sophomore, now, Troy, saying you’ve got to read chapter 5, it’s that separation of church and state, because I want my kids to graduate from high school understanding these things. Let’s get back engaged with the separation of church and state issue. We touched on it last time. But why is the understanding of this so critical for high school students, or even junior high students?
Stephen: Well, the late Justice William Rehnquist said that the separation of church and state is a misleading metaphor, which has proved useless as a guide to judging. And yet, we’ve all heard the separation of church and state, ad nauseam. And like Sarah and I talked about last time, you know, people need to be educated on, “Well, what is the actual Establishment Clause? What is the freedom of religion, you know, clause in that First Amendment?” And it’s not by chance that it’s the First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.” And so, in that - yeah - in the book, chapter 5, we talk about that, how we got to it break down, how that separation of church and state and how the secularization of our culture really happened, and very importantly, how then can we engage at all levels?
Sarah: And I just want to add that I think it really impacts how we are involved in the school system. And for example, campus Christian groups, moms praying together at their schools. Many moms might not think that they have the right to do so. And yet, there’s a movement across the nation - a good friend of mine, after we had a talk on the book, she got a bunch of friends together, and she was inspired to start a moms and prayer group and to be praying for students at her school. Out of that prayer group, two or three other moms’ prayer groups birthed from that group. So, out of just a small group, understanding what their rights are in public schools, they then created a powerful force of prayer in the schools.
Stephen: We talk about this in the book. There’s 65 million Bible-believing Christians in America today. If all of us would just say, “Lord, where do you want to use me?” If it’s the public school system, you know, not just parents, students, but teachers, administrators, Moms in Prayer groups, Good News Club volunteers, if it’s there, there’s an amazing untapped mission field in our own backyards, and that’s one of our prayers that hopefully they’ll get fired up.
Jim: And I appreciate that. And I hope people will want to get a copy of this, because that is really necessary, this idea that you have to get beyond your apprehensions and your fear, that it’s okay to have a discussion. Just don’t go ugly, because then you’re on your own, you’re not rooted in the spirit of God at that point, the fruit of the Spirit. And I love that aspect of your story, Stephen, that you were able to maintain that relationship. You were calm in the face of danger, in the face of, you know, horrible insults being hurled your way.
Stephen: By God’s grace.
Jim: What word do you have for us, especially those of us that are encountering the culture in a very direct way, what’s your wisdom to say, “Okay, here’s what you can do - right before you get the insult - here’s what you should think about, here’s how you should respond?”
Stephen: Yeah, I think fear - fear is deeply central to how people are responding, or not responding, you know, cowering, really, disengaging. So we talked a little bit about the crazy media frenzy. Well, so there was a group in Cupertino that they put together - the Yahoo group - called We the Parents, and their stated goal was, “Well, Alliance Defending Freedom and Stephen are saying these lies about the Cupertino School District,” and they literally said, “It’s bringing down our property values. We need to like, start a contrary publicity campaign to get Stephen labelled as this crazy Christian and get him out of our district.” So Alliance Defending Freedom, being wise, you know, joined this group. Well, about four weeks or so into the court case, I get a call in my classroom right after the kids left. And you know, it was my attorney. And they said, “Hey, we’ve gotten a very disturbing thread of communication and it goes like this: “They’re saying lies. What happens if we found someone to say that Stephen touched me inappropriately or punched me or did - we can get him put in jail and fired.” And can I say, when they said that, literally I felt fear, like, grip my heart...
Jim: Well, that’s reasonable.
Stephen: ...And I - exactly. I saw the hatred in their - so I said, “This is actually not just fantasy, they could do this.” I went home and told Sarah that, and we literally cried out to God. I mean, I’m sitting here bawling and...
Sarah: We prayed together for a long time that night.
Stephen: ...She’s - Maggie was an infant. She was pregnant with Elizabeth. And so, she like, you know, went to bed. And I literally didn’t sleep much that whole night. I come back to school the next day, and this room mom who vowed never to be a room mom again, because she had four boys, the oldest in my class, I always saw her on campus with, like, one boy holding, and another, you know, in tow. So, she said, “Stephen, my mom has got all these Scriptures for you.” And so now I know why the Lord stirred her to be a room mom. So I said, “Okay, great, I need something, because I am not good right now.” So, next morning she brings in – so, I started reading these Scriptures. And it was all out of Isaiah 41. She took pieces of the verse, and I went back and counter referenced. It was all the Word of God. So I start reading Scriptures like this: “You are my servant. I have chosen you and not cast you off, fear not for I am with you. Do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties. Yes, I will hold you up and retain you with my victorious right hand of rightness and justice.” And I just start to weep, because I said, “This is from the Lord; this is a word of knowledge.” And literally, in that moment, fear left me. And I said, “God’s got my back.” I don’t need to worry about who’s in my room. And I went home and told Sarah this and showed her the letter, the exact same time, Sarah shows me this Psalm. And it was “don’t fear man...”
Sarah: Yeah, it was all about - I was pointing out Psalms for him about not fearing man at that very same time.
Stephen: ...The point being, whatever God’s calling, maybe a listener here, too, maybe just start a Moms In Prayer group, maybe just start a - maybe to announce the Bring Your Bible To School Day, you know, partner with Focus on the Family. Whatever it is, if God’s got our back, He’s going to carry it through. We don’t have to fear what other people are gonna do to us.
Jim: That is good.
Sarah: Or even approaching a teacher. I have a lot of, you know, friends who are moms, who something comes up in their child’s classroom, and they’re just afraid to bring it up with a teacher. And I’ve tried to encourage them, “If you bring it up in love, you don’t have to fear. You know, God will cover it.” And it’s amazing how - how when we pray, and we seek God’s guidance, that He’ll walk us through.
Jim: Yeah, and being bold doesn’t mean being mean-spirited or ugly. You can be bold and loving.
John: So know your faith and know that God has your back, as Stephen put it, and know your rights and exercise those in love, as you just said, Jim. This is Focus on the Family. We still have more from Stephen and Sarah Williams as we continue our program. But let me just say, Bring Your Bible to School Day - that’s on October 4th, and we’re going to have hundreds of thousands of kids taking their Bibles to school in a show of solidarity to say, we can do this. We’re allowed to do this by the Constitution of the United States. Details about Bring Your Bible to School and the great book by Stephen and Sarah,, available at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 1-800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Okay, Stephen, so what happened, then? I mean, did that threat go away? What, I mean...
Jim: It was probably constant - wasn’t it? The daily threats?
Stephen: It was constant. And the attacks, the hostility, the shaming - really the bullying, you know, was going on a lot. But it’s weird; I totally just all of a sudden had a supernatural peace that transcends all understanding. And you know, we’re reading through Philippians, and I’m like, yes, and I just - so I knew the Lord, and so never was an issue.
Jim: You know, I think we sometimes fail to remember as Christians right there in the New Testament where Jesus is saying, “The world will hate you because of me, but be of good cheer...”
“...For I have overcome the world.” I mean, it’s easy to get, you know, kind of wrapped up in the first comment. “You’re right, Lord, the world hates me.” And then you start striking back, or you don’t have those bold conversations. But He’s saying, “Be of good cheer, I’ve overcome the world.” The battle is done.
Sarah: And ultimately, we want people to listen to us. And they don’t listen when we’re angry and hostile. They listen better when we are rooted in kindness and the fruits the spirit.
Jim: You have four daughters, and...
Jim: ...They’re school-age kids.
Jim: So let’s get to some practical application with moms and dads. So what do you have in the book when it comes to evaluating all the different school choices that we have? I know this is dangerous ground, but you were the schoolteacher. What do we, as parents, need to be mindful of when we look at all the options?
Stephen: Yeah. In the introduction, we talk about, we’re not saying you need to have your kids in public schools, but we’re also not saying that you have to get them out. As you guys probably know, there’s ministries saying, “Oh, all the government schools are of the devil.” Look, I know Christian teachers. I know Christian superintendents, where the entire school district in the public school system is presenting a very balanced and reasonable curriculum. It’s not totally hostile to a Christian faith. So I think what we need to do as parents, is just to pray and seek the Lord and say, “Where do you want me to educate these kids?” Whether it’s home-school, Christian school, public school - you know, seek the Lord. If it’s public schools, there are potentially a lot of challenges. And then, just get equipped with, you know, whether it’s our book or other resources. Eric Buehrer is a great resource - a great ministry called Gateways to a Better Education. You know, there’s ADF. There’s so many great - Focus on the Family. There’s so many great - we have this whole chapter: “Join the Armada.” You know, join with the Christians - the 65 million Bible-believing Christians to help walk that out.
Sarah: And I think one of the most important things is to connect with other Christian parents and encourage your students to connect with other Christian students - because it can be very lonely as a Christian student. And sometimes they need a little help to - I loved your story about - about your son having a Bible study. I listened to that on one of the shows. I listen to “Focus on the Family” frequently. I have for many years. And it has...
Jim: We appreciate that.
Sarah: ...so many tools in parenting. It’s just been...
John: And the preceding is not a paid endorsement.
Sarah: It’s been...
John: We appreciate that.
Sarah: ...invaluable, truly.
John: Thank you.
Sarah: I tell all my friends...
Stephen: Yeah, invaluable.
Sarah: ...about it. So I - I feel like parents need to connect with other parents...
Sarah: ...Because it can be lonely. They need help. We need encouragement. We need accountability. And we can just do more together.
Sarah: And so I think we need to talk to other moms. We had a - a case just recently, where I was thinking about having my kids be involved with Battle of the Books, next year.
Sarah: And I was talking to another Christian mom, because I really try to network, you know, within the Christian community. And she was saying there’s a book that’s in the list next year, and it’s about a - a young boy who wants to get a sex-change operation. And this is for third through fifth graders.
Stephen: It’s, by the author...
Sarah: It’s a...
Stephen: ...Alex Gino, who’s a...
Sarah: It’s a book...
Sarah: ...Called,. And it just brings up some very difficult topics - pornography, searching the internet and hiding it from your parents - some topics that, from my perspective, I really feel like the parents should be presenting those topics...
Sarah: ...to the kids...
Sarah: ...Not the school district.
Stephen: It’s teaching...
Sarah: It - I don’t...
Stephen: ...Sexuality - immoral sexual...
Sarah: From a very young age.
Sarah: And I just don’t think that that should be the school’s role. Through networking with other moms, I found that information, and then I’m able to make a decision for my students, you know, about what they’re going to be involved with next year.
Sarah: We need to be talking to each other.
Stephen: Yeah, Sarah took the charge. So we’re in the, you know, public charter school there. And so they’re not gonna do Battle of the Books, because Sarah got in there and said, “Wait, this has some really hostile stuff, and so there are some alternatives to that.”
Jim: Well, and it’s wonderful to open their eyes to that idea. I think, again, they get down into the dogma. They don’t understand. They get in an echo chamber. I’m meaning those that would support that content. And they don’t realize this is invasive - that each home has an approach to teaching their child about human sexuality. It’s not the role of public schools.
Sarah: And it’s...
Sarah: ...becoming - the schools are really taking on that role...
Sarah: ...more and more, or trying to. And so we do need to be conscious, as parents, how do we deal with that? And I think it’s very important for us to protect their worldview. And at the same time, we want to offer hope.
Sarah: So we don’t want to just form the “Holy Huddle”. We also want to be looking for ways that we can be light. And there is such hopelessness nowadays. And you hear of teen suicides. It’s a huge problem. And we want to be able to be light. And that looks different in different - for different parents...
Jim: It’s true.
Sarah: ...in different school systems.
Jim: And I think part of that is - what I like to say is it’s an inoculation. I mean, you’ve got to - your kids have to be ready to go at 18. That’s our whole goal, right?
Jim: Is to get them ready to be productive spiritual leaders...
Jim: ...in their homes, in themselves, obviously, and in their community. And they’ve got to know the world and how it operates, and good and evil, and all those good things. So I think that this is right at the crosshairs of the battle, so to speak, when it comes to spiritual issues. Let me mention a couple of things right at the end here. And we’ll post this on the website. But I believe it was the Bush administration - U.S. Secretary of Education at the time - that offered written guidance on religious expression in public schools. Here’s some of the things that they highlighted. And, again, you point this out in the book. This is just one of the many good things. And I’m telling you the book is chock full of ideas and thoughts and things you need to know about as a parent of a school-age child. But here’s - I’ll just hit a few. Students have the right to engage in individual or group prayer and have religious discussion during the school day. They may read their Bibles and pray before meals and before tests, or whenever they feel prayer is needed. That’s their decision. As long as it doesn’t disrupt instruction. Schools may teach about religion, including the Bible, as literature and the role of religion in American history and other nations,” like you encountered there, Stephen. Students can express their beliefs in homework and artwork, which should be judged based on academic standards. So if they put a cross in a painting they’re doing, that’s okay. The teacher can’t say, “That’s illegal.” That’s illegal to say it’s illegal.
Jim: I mean, that’s the irony of it. A couple more - student religious groups in secondary schools are allowed equal access to school facilities, comparable to other student groups. This is all legal. And we’ll post the others that are on there...
Jim: ...John, at the website. Ah, Stephen and Sarah, thank you so much for pouring into this book,. What a wonderful resource. And I’m telling you, you just wrote it a few years late for Jean and I...
...Because we’re already at the end of it. But it’s not too late. We still have university and college ahead of us. So...
Jim: ...We will take this home and devour it to show the way for our kids. I’m sorry you had to go through what you went through, but the Lord knew that before the framing of the universe, Stephen...
Jim: ...That you were gonna be the ones...
Jim: ...You and Sarah...
Jim: ...to go through that court case. Thank you for prevailing and for seeking God in it. Thank you for responding in such a way that exhibited the heart of God for those that were in your face, and even that great story last time of the one teacher who came and apologized for how they dealt with you.
Jim: That is the right way to do this.
Stephen: Well, and thank you for Focus on the Family. During the court case, you all reached out to me and like, said, “How can we be praying for you?” And then you ended up doing a piece in Citizen Magazine. So, I just praise the Lord for ministries like Focus on the Family that’s out there to help pray for people, to encourage one another going through whatever they’re going through.
Jim: Well, I appreciate that. And, again, thanks for being with us.
Sarah: Thanks for having us.
Stephen: Thank you.
John: And Stephen referenced, you know, we do reach out to people. And we ask them how we can pray for them, and it’s a privilege for us and our staff to be praying for you and your family as well.
Jim: And part of our service to others, John, is helping parents to train their children to stand firmly in their Christian worldview. But that’s only made possible because of your generous and sacrificial gifts that you send to the ministry. And that makes you part of the whole team. I know you’re probably not thinking about the fact that Focus on the Family closes out another year of ministry today. This is the end of our fiscal year. And your giving today can have a big impact on our outreach for the coming fiscal year. It helps us to plan the budget, so I want to boldly, but gently, of course, ask you to pray about what God is leading you to do and then give us a call and let us know. Your support is vital to helping families thrive in Christ.
John: Yeah and today really is important for us moving ahead into the coming fiscal year. So thank you for calling 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459. Or you can visit and donate at focusonthefamily.com/radio. Be sure to get Stephen and Sarah’s book,. In fact, we’ll send a copy of that to you - a thank you gift for your donation of any amount today. And of course, we have other resources like Citizen Magazine to help you stay informed about important issues in the culture.
And I do want to remind you that Bring Your Bible to School Day is October 4th. It’s just around the corner, and students across the country are going to be sharing God’s hope in bringing their Bibles to school and talking with friends about the truth of the Word. Learn more about that, donate, and get a copy of that book, all at focusonthefamily.com/radio, or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Well on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back next time as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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