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Civil Rights

The mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, was addressing the final breakfast meeting of NAE’s Federal Seminar for Christian collegians. Her comments were forceful and on target. Suddenly she shifted gears: “How many Polish people...” she began. For a split second my mind raced. She wouldn’t be about to tell an ethnic joke, would she? Of course not; she’s not that kind of person, and besides, she’s too intelligent to destroy her career with that kind of humor.

Then I heard her complete the question: “How many Polish people does it take to turn the world around?” Pause. “One, if his name is Lech Walesa.” Ahhh! What a beautiful twist. The frequently maligned Polish people got a magnificent compliment. One of their shipyard workers becomes an independent trade union leader whose courage and humble effectiveness results in his country’s first free election in forty years and the installation of the first eastern bloc non-communist prime minister in decades. That one man helped change the course of Eastern European history.

But let’s move back to American politics. In the summer of 1983, a teenager by the name of Lisa Bender of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, struck a giant blow for the cause of religious liberty in the United States. As a high school student in Williamsport, Lisa wanted to begin a prayer club. When officials refused her that right, she took them to court. With the help of Sam Ericsson and the Christian Legal Society, she won. Her victory in court then prompted legislators to design and sign into law the Equal Access Act.

The lesson is simple. One high school student, faithful to her convictions, moved Congress to act. In a similar situation, Bridget Mergens of Omaha, Nebraska, ultimately forced the Supreme Court to vindicate her religious free speech rights, ruling that public high schools must treat all non-curriculum related student groups alike. Lisa and Bridget. Two high school girls. Acting one at a time.

Winning the New Civil War, Robert P. Dugan, Jr., p. 44