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Six out of eight State Council officers of the Florida 4-H program are homeschooled students. We expected, when they were elected earlier this year, that they would be on the front lines of the fight for religious liberty. Not only have they met the challenge of standing up for their faith, the new draft of the 4-H Statement on Religious Neutrality proves that their battle has been worth it. The new statement assures that 4-H members will have complete freedom of expression in competitive events and other items.
The evidence of change was obvious at the 4-H Executive Board the first weekend in December. Blessing was given before meals and the thoughts given at "vespers" included several that were religious in nature. This was a big change from the Executive Board meeting in September, where the singing of the traditional 4-H "Blessing Song" led to a letter from the Assistant Dean for 4-H Youth Development which stated, "4-H programs must observe a separation between church and state."
At the December meeting, several 4-H agents came to tell the homeschool leaders how grateful they were that they took a stand. Paid staff were unable to stand up for religious freedom, since they received funds from the state. Florida's Constitution prohibits the expenditure of state funds on religion.
Many Florida homeschoolers have already written to express their support for religious liberty within 4-H. Given these positive changes, we encourage families that value religious liberty to write a short, courteous letter to Dr. Marilyn Norman, Assistant Dean for 4-H Youth Development, University of Florida, 4-H Youth Development Office, 3103 McCarty Hall, PO Box 110225, Gainesville, FL 32611-0225. The letter should state, "Thank you for taking steps to recognize the freedom of religious expression within 4-H." Feel free to express your gratitude for the 4-H program and the opportunities it provides for homeschooled students. You may wish to close with a sentence such as, "If students were not free to express their religious values in 4-H, our family could not participate in it. Thank you for keeping 4-H open to families like ours."
Christian parents are choosing to teach their own children in their own homes in the hope that someday these children will grow up to make a difference. In Florida, those hopes are well founded!