Faith and freedom in the classroom
Joy Lucius
AFA Journal staff writer

August 2019 – Over recent decades, Freedom From Religion Foundation and other liberal entities have snapped their fingers and public school administrators have quickly jumped into lockstep formation with a “progressive” culture that demands schools expel God, revise U.S. history, and undermine the moral values that made this nation great.

What’s a Christian teacher to do?
“I used to be very scared when my students brought up things about faith or Christianity,” said Heather Kohnen. “I didn’t really know what to say and was unsure of my rights or the rights of my students under the First Amendment.”

An elementary language arts teacher in Minnesota, Kohnen is a dedicated Christian. But after two decades in the public school classroom, she told AFA Journal that she was searching for a way to teach intentionally as a Christian educator.

“Not long after joining Christian Educators Association International, I was invited to a Daniel Weekend that CEAI sponsored in my area,” Kohnen explained. “It’s a weekend that brings educators together to provide community and encouragement, and to inform teachers how to live out their faith legally [in the classroom].”

After attending CEAI’s Daniel Weekend, Kohnen said her teaching took on a new dimension. “I realized that being a teacher and being a Christian actually go hand in hand,” she said. “From that weekend on, I saw myself as a public school missionary.”

She and other colleagues who had attended the Daniel Weekend began prayer groups. Those groups now intersect across her district to include over 200 teachers. Kohnen has seen needs met and lives changed through their unified, intentional prayers, even with kids in her own classes.

Providing legal protection
Founded in 1953, CEAI does much more for teachers than sponsor Daniel Weekends. In fact, David Schmus, executive director of CEAI, categorized their various efforts on behalf of teachers into two main areas: protection and ministry.

“Under CEAI’s protection wing,” said Schmus, “educators are offered a legal means to guard themselves as professionals without joining an organized labor union.”

Schmus told AFAJ that in years past, public school educators had few options other than joining such unions. But as of 2018, in Janus v. AFSCME, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that labor unions such as the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees could not collect fees from non-union members.

Now, barely a year after that ruling, more and more Christian teachers are considering alternative national teacher organizations with legal protections such as those provided by CEAI.

CEAI also offers online resources for teachers who are hesitant to leave their current union because of pressure within their school system. On the CEAI website, prospective members can access articles and interviews addressing the issues surrounding labor unions.

One particular concern for Christian educators involves how labor union money is spent.

“Sometimes teachers want to leave their unions because they don’t want to give money to causes in direct opposition to their Christian beliefs,” said Schmus. “For example, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers gave nearly $3 million to Planned Parenthood in 2016. CEAI offers educators a safe and morally sound alternative.”

CEAI membership dues ($239 annually) are a financially sound alternative as well. Since labor union dues can be more than four times that amount, newly licensed educators find such savings especially appealing.

Dues include unlimited consultation with CEAI’s legal counsel and educational support professionals. Plus, CEAI protects each member with up to $2 million for any damages that might arise due to professional liability lawsuits.

Meeting spiritual needs
Though potential legal ramifications present a real fear for Christian teachers today, protecting educators is only half of CEAI’s organizational efforts. Three major ministry tools are also offered to CEAI members: Teach with Faith (Not Fear), LIFT America, and the Daniel Project.

Schmus briefly described how Teach with Faith offers free webinars to help members walk out their faith legally in the public school setting. Conducted by knowledgeable professionals, the webinars cover relevant topics and give participants instant encouragement and help to navigate the legalities and problems arising in public school classrooms.

Both Schmus and Kohnen admitted that teaching can be a lonely profession for Christians. CEAI’s Teach with Faith webinars help Christian teachers see they are not alone in their mission to teach intentionally and with purpose.

In a larger group setting, LIFT America brings educators together within a local town or city through the organizational efforts of local members. Area churches and Christian businesses can partner with CEAI by helping host and fund LIFT gatherings for local educators.

At each LIFT gathering, teachers worship, pray, and fellowship together. Through LIFT America events, CEAI seeks to help members realize and experience the strength and inspiration they share in Jesus Christ.

To date, 36 LIFT America gatherings in over 20 cities have impacted more than 5,000 educators and their students. As an added resource, members can find a list of upcoming LIFT events on CEAI’s website.

Daniel Weekends are more intensive and intimate than LIFT gatherings. Attendees, such as Heather Kohnen, are nominated, selected, and funded to participate in the three-day workshops in order to rekindle their passion, calling, and courage to positively impact and influence their schools for Christ.

Some teachers follow up that weekend with further training in CEAI’s Daniel Leadership Institute, a second component of the Daniel Project. CEAI offers both the weekends and the institute through a partnership with Tentmakers, another well-respected Christian leadership ministry.

Accessing total transformation
Within their ministry and protection efforts, CEAI presents members a host of other benefits. Daily devotionals, a prayer request site, inspirational radio spots, and available coaching for technology, education, or legal issues are a few of their online offerings.

Members can also access CEAI’s Around the Word in 180 Days podcast, designed specifically for each calendar school year. Their 1:16 PM Prayer Initiative is based on Romans 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel… (NASB).” It calls all CEAI educators for unified prayer through prayer prompts via texts. The CEAI Mobile APP ties all of these services and other resources together in one easily accessible place.

And according to Schmus, access is the key.

“God will bring the transformation,” said Schmus. “All CEAI has to do is empower, encourage, and equip these adult missionaries in our public schools.

“Whether they’re teachers, custodians, coaches, administrators, aides, or bus drivers, we want to give educators access to the resources and tools they need to reap the harvest in the rich mission fields in which they work.”   

More CEAI resources
Learn more about these and other resources at ceai.org.

▶ Teach with Faith (Not Fear).
▶ LIFT America .
▶ Daniel Project – Daniel Weekends/Daniel Leadership Institute.
▶ Around the Word in 180 Days.
▶ 1:16 PM Prayer Initiative.
▶ CEAI Mobile APP.

Call 888-798-1124 to learn how churches and Christian businesses can help sponsor local educators at these events.

CEAI members receive a complimentary subscription to Teachers of Vision magazine. Written by educators for educators, TOV contains inspiring, practical, and biblically sound resources to encourage and empower Christian educators.