by Max Brantley
I've reported periodically on a topic of current controversy in Conway Public Schools. Superintendent Greg Murry temporarily halted campus visits by local church groups after a complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation that visitors were using the visits for open evangelizing. Several of the groups disputed that.
Murry ignored his original advice from Arkansas lawyers and brought in to advise him a Texas group, the Liberty Institute, which fights to advance the cause of religion in the public arena.
The Liberty Institute has now filed its report and a recommended visitation policy for Murry to present to the Conway School Board (which has been supportive of religious visitation.)
* THE PROPOSED RULES: Read them here. Visitors would be allowed for approved visitors on a list and, at the middle and high school levels, schools officials would attempt to the extent possible to segregate visitors from the general student body.
* THE LIBERTY INSTITUTE REPORT: It concludes the existing Conway open access visitor policy is constitutional, that the Freedom from Religion Foundation had been misinformed about open religious activities at the Carl Stuart Middle School and that religious groups had not been given unique access, as the complaint said. Nonetheless, it recommended a small change in the visitor policy "to ensure that any confusion as to the nature of the policy is avoided and that the policy cannot be exploited in an unconstitutional manner."
Got it. Nothing to see here. Move along. There is the matter of mothers who've told me — but feared being identified in public — that direct religious proselytizing HAS occurred before their children in the Conway schools. Perhaps the attention to the issue and a restatement of guidelines that are neither hostile to nor establishing of religion will quell the fear I've heard from them. Given Conway's history and the influence of megachurches, that might be a touch optimistic.