By Meg Jalsevac
BURLINGTON, NJ, April 3, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On Thursday, March 22, officials at Burlington Township High School enlisted the help of two local policemen to carry out a mock ‘hostage situation’ drill at their school. The drill invoked disapproval from Christian students as the student body was told that the alleged gunmen were “members of a right-wing fundamentalist group called the ‘New Crusaders’ who don’t believe in separation of church and state.”
According to a report in the local paper, The Burlington County Times, the mock gunmen pretended to gun down several students in the hallways before taking 10 students hostage in the school’s media center. Given that the drill was intended to test the disaster response of students, faculty and local emergency personnel, county officers were dispatched during the drill to realistically execute an emergency evacuation of the building.
The drill organizers explained that the supposedly Christian gunmen “went to the school seeking justice because the daughter of one had been expelled for praying before class.”
School Superintendent Chris Manno praised the drill beforehand explaining that “You perform as you practice. We need to practice under conditions as real as possible in order to evaluate our procedures and plans so that they’re as effective as possible.”
Bob Pawson, National Coordinator of the Scriptures in School Project, denied that the drill portrayed a possible reality and instead asserted that the drill was used as an excuse to denigrate Christians. “So what allegedly real condition was imagineered? A grotesque scenario saturated with Christian-bashing prejudice and bigotry; a scenario which could never possibly occur.”
Pawson explained that the scenario created by the Burlington school officials could never realistically happen. “Why could it never happen? Because, as all Burlington school officials know full well: It is perfectly legal for any student or staff member to pray in a public school. They know that no student can ever be expelled for praying before class. Hence, the contrived reason for the mock attack is bogus.”
Prayer in school has been a contentious issue for schools in the past despite a 1969 Supreme Court ruling that stated that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
The US Department of Education explicitly affirms the high court ruling and the national No Child Left Behind educational program penalizes any school that does not allow for constitutionally protected religious speech which includes public prayer.
While county officials praised the drill saying that it was the first live test of its sort Pawson explained that he thought the drill was a test of another sort. “This denigrating drill is also a test of the reactions and responses of New Jersey ‘s Christians, along with all other fair-minded citizens of any faith, to such a blatant example of anti-Christian animosity.”
"A public apology is in order. The citizens of Burlington County could rightly demand the resignation or termination of school officials who dreamed up and approved this reprehensible scenario."
The County Times reported that the drill was observed by law enforcement, school administrators and state and county officials from the Office of Emergency Management.
To respectfully contact:
Mayor Steven M. George
851 Old York Road,
Burlington Township, NJ 08016
Education superintendents, supervisors
Board of Education Member names also listed above but no email. Address would be same as mayor.
Mrs. Marie Phillips
Burlington Township High School
610 Fountain Avenue
Burlington, NJ 08016