Constitutional lawyer John Whitehead talks about legal strategy and civil disobedience. Which really put the padlock on the church

Pastor everett sileven has served two jail sentences and has had his church in Louisville, Nebraska, padlocked (and his church school closed down) because he refused to follow the law of his state. Nebraska law requires that all schools, including church schools, be licensed by the state and retain teachers certified by the state. Such schools must also teach a state-approved curriculum.

Sileven has said that he refused to follow any of these requirements because of religious beliefs he claims are rooted in the Bible and protected by the United States Constitution. Thus, two basic issues are raised by the Sileven situation: theological and constitutional.

Intimately related to Sileven’s defiance is the question of the state’s authority over what Sileven refers to as the “educational ministry” of Faith Baptist Church. Most Americans do not have problems with the church itself being free from government control. The questions and the legal issues arise when churches operate schools, claiming they are ministries of the church on the same level as other ministries (such as Sunday schools).

Biblically, can a church make the claim that its church school, which teaches such subjects as science and math, is a legitimate ministry and function of the local church? The fundamentalists answer in the affirmative, based on verses like 1 Timothy 3:15, which states that the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth.”

The fundamentalists take this to mean that the church can operate a school as one of its functions. But it is not as simple as that. Although the Old Testament Levites operated educational institutions, ...

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