They may look like your friends and neighbors, but to the ACLU, they're some of...The Most Dangerous People in America
The Most Dangerous People in America
Jennifer Walker is one of those people who picked up a phone one morning and listened to her world change forever.
"Are you sitting down?" asked a familiar voice.
Jennifer recognized it as that of Mr. Marlowe, the principal at Lakeview Elementary, in the Mount Juliet suburb of Nashville, where her children, Jack and Halee, went to school.
"Our school has just been sued by the ACLU," he said. "And your name is in the lawsuit."
"To me, that was my 9/11 moment," Jennifer says. "I remember what I was wearing, what I was doing, and what was going through my mind. That moment changed our lives. It really did."
The lawsuit had been filed on behalf of "Jane Doe," the mother of another Lakeview student. It alleged that the Wilson County School System was endorsing and promoting religious activities, in violation of the First Amendment.
While the suit made a number of specific allegations, most of them seemed to focus on the school's tolerance of a small group called "the Praying Parents," who, led by Jennifer, her husband, James, and another couple, Doug and Christy Gold, met at the start of the school day on the first Friday of every month in the school cafeteria to pray for students, teachers, and their families. The suit also referenced two annual events organized by the Praying Parents, supporting the National Day of Prayer and "See You At The Pole" (which encourages students to gather around their school's flagpole to pray). Both events took place before school.
The lawsuit blindsided all of the Parents.
"I was shocked," Christy Gold says. "I didn't know of anyone who'd be against what was going on. My daughter asked, 'Mommy, who would sue the school over prayer
The answer came as an even bigger shock, for most of the parents knew "Jane Doe" fairly well.
"I had no idea –
no one did," says Stacey Joyce, whose son was in the same class as Jane Doe's. The two boys were friends, and the year before both moms has served as "room parents" in their sons' classroom. Yet Jane Doe had never mentioned any concerns to Stacey...even when she had covered for her, once a month, so Stacey could meet with the Praying Parents.
"We talked about many things," Stacey says. "I was really surprised that she didn't call to say something."
The Praying Parents have been meeting for 10 years, and though the makeup of the group has frequently changed, it's always involved a handful of parents in a quiet corner of the school cafeteria, early in the morning, while students are in class.
"Our teachers would send prayer requests and say, 'I'm having a really hard time right now, would you pray for me?'" Jennifer says. "We have prayed for teachers whose children have been in Iraq...for broken marriages...for whatever those teachers asked."
Once the lawsuit was filed, the principal called an after-school meeting for all the teachers, inviting the Walkers and other Praying Parents to attend.
"He said, 'Look, this is what the lawsuit says,'" Jennifer remembers. "'This is not right. You know this is not what these people have been doing.'
"And that was so wonderful," she says, "because as the teachers filed out every single one of them stopped and hugged my neck and said, 'We love you. You all have been a blessing to this school, and such an inspiration to us, such an encouragement. Don't you worry about this. We are behind you all the way.' And we got that from teachers that I had not really even ever talked to before."
The Walkers discovered that many other were behind them, too –
people not even related to the school.
"Our community was so supportive," Jennifer says. "Before the week was over, our community commissioners organized a prayer rally in support of the school and of what we were doing...and around a thousand people came. People came in busloads from churches and even other states...to show their support, that we were not going to roll over when the ACLU came into town. It has been amazing."
Even with all that support, though, the Walker realized they needed legal help. "I knew the school board would defend our principal, "Jennifer says, "but so much of [the suit] was about what we
did, and we didn't have a voice. We didn't have a way to come back and say, 'This is not right, this is not our purpose, this is not what we did.'"
Someone suggested the Alliance Defense Fund. The Walkers spoke with ADF attorney Nate Kellum, who explained that, although Jennifer Walker was mentioned in the suit, neither she nor the other Parents were officially defendants. "So we asked to become
defendants," Jennifer says, "so our voice could be heard."
Despite the emotional support the Parents received from so many in the local education community, Kellum says that school district wasn't eager to make a stand against the ACLU. "In fact, it looked like they were willing to roll over. But what this lawsuit pertained to was not actions of the school, but actions of Christian parents, their right to have the same rights as anybody. That's why it became imperative that the Walkers and Golds get involved."
"I just felt the Lord come around us and say, 'Go forth. This is not your battle. This is my battle, and I will fight this for you."
"The Alliance Defense Fund has just been incredible," Jennifer says. "I had prayed for ADF before...I would hear about cases and pray for them, not having any idea that I would be intricately involved in it like this. But even as Nate was telling me our options, I knew, I knew
, that we were supposed to partner with ADF and let them guide us.
"We could not have afforded to pay for the excellent legal counsel that we received. We would be years and years paying this back...and it was given to us because of the generous donations of other people who have given to the Alliance Defense Fund.
"We has the best defense at the trial –
we truly, truly did. Nate has been compassionate, kind, and he has listened through the tears, and he has helped me see things straight."
It helps, her husband, James, says, "knowing that you have somebody on your side that has the same beliefs and the same standards about what you want to communicate."
Unfortunately, those standards and beliefs weren't shared by many in the local media, who made life very difficult for the Walkers over the next two years, as the lawsuit worked its way to trial.
"Our children, bless them, didn't know what was going on," Jennifer says. "We sort of just felt our way through it. It took months for our family to be able to sit back and be a normal family again. This was something like having another child...something we picked up every morning when we woke up and had to take care of all day long. We put it to bed with us at night, we woke up in the night with it –
it was like having another baby.
"Just preparing mentally was very challenging, knowing we were going before a federal judge. We spent a lot of time in prayer. But when we got to the trial and walked into the Federal Building, half of me was filled with fear and dread and the other half...I just felt the Lord come around us and say, 'Go forth. This is not your battle. This is My
battle, and I will fight this for you.'"
"The ACLU were seeking to do five things in this lawsuit," Kellum says. "One: to get rid of the National Day of Prayer. Two: to disallow 'See You At The Pole" from ever happening on the school grounds. Three: to keep the Praying Parents from ever meeting on the school campus.Four: to change Thanksgiving completely –
you could teach on Thanksgiving, but in your teaching you could never mention God or prayer, which of course is critical to the whole historical meaning of Thanksgiving. Five: as far as a Christmas program, it had to be entirely secular –
no Christian reference whatsoever.
"On each of these counts the ACLU lost. From a legal perspective, it could not have turned out any better."
"There were some very, very hard days in there for us," Jennifer remembers. "For almost two years...days that caused us to cling to the Lord just to be able to breathe it seemed. But it was worth it."
worth it," James says. Everything we have done, everything we have gone through –
it was definitely worth it. It is not enough to sit back and complain about what is going on. You have to be involved...and sometimes involvement will cost you."
"And if we had to do it again tomorrow, we would, "Jennifer says. "We are so thankful that we were able to go through this fight. It is only by God's mercy and grace, and people's prayers, that we have had the grace to stand. It is not because we are some super Christian couple; it is because the Lord led us to this and said, 'Do this,'
and out of obedience, we did –
blindly, we did."
"The Walker and the Golds are the epitome of Christians being 'salt and light,'" Kellum says. "That is what they were in this lawsuit. The problem, though, in being light and pushing back darkness, is that the darkness can push back. They have felt the impact of that, but they have persevered and because of that, you have a very different outcome that otherwise would have happened."
"The ACLU wants to remove anything having to do with God from everything in this country," Jennifer says. "They are going at every angle they can find a way in. They are using fear, they are using misinformation, they are filing these lawsuits that are not full of truth. But it is getting the message out –
the wrong message. People do not want to find themselves in a lawsuit. School systems don't want to have to pay money to even defend these false truths filed against them."
"The ACLU is probably targeting elementary schools because that is where the parents are most involved," James says, and "that where the children have the least number of rights to do things on their own. If [the ACLU] can get some things instituted there, they are shaping a generation to come with their thoughts about how religion should be presented, how sexual orientations and different things should be presented out there in the culture. It is going to have a lasting effect for generations."
"“One of these days our children and their generation are going to be called to take a bigger stand than what we took, without the support that we have had.”
"I truly think this was a practice run," Jennifer says, "and that one of these days our children and their generation are going to be called to take a bigger stand than what we took, without the support that we have had. I think that is where our world is headed.
"I feel like that is part of why the Lord chose us to do this...because our children needed to see us be able to stand when everything around us what telling us to sit, sit, sit, and just wait it out. We have learned a whole new level of trust in the Lord, and when I see things in Psalms and even in the battles in the Old Testament and how the Lord would say, 'I am sending you out in this battle, but you are not going to be alone'...that is what He has done here."
"There is going to be a time where our children are going to have to remember back to what our family went through now...and it is going to make it easier on them."