From left, Laney Pack, Haylea Sledge and Ellie Van Patten pose with actor Erik Estrada after a showing of the movie, 'Uncommon,' last Sunday at St. Mark's United Methodist Church. Photo by Sam Stockard
More than 30 years after the last episode of CHiPs, actor Erik Estrada is still looking out for people.
Estrada brought a message of safety and First Amendment religious freedom to St. Mark’s United Methodist Church last week where he encouraged a sanctuary filled with youth to beware of the dangers of Internet predators and to stand up for their constitutional rights to freedom of religion.
Known for his role as “Ponch,” a free-wheeling California Highway Patrolman in the 1977-83 series, Estrada is acting in movies produced by JC Films, the latest one called “Uncommon.” In it he plays a high school custodian who encourages students to stay the course in their quest to hold a Bible study and to put on a play based on the story of David and Goliath.
Despite the efforts of a teacher and principal to stop their religious-based activities, a judge rules that the students’ constitutional rights do not end “when they enter the schoolhouse gates.” The judge also determines that the students’ activities do not signal an effort by the school or board of education to establish religion and that those authorities “have no right to silence the voices of the students.”
Estrada’s character, Mark Garcia, and the students are represented by Liberty Counsel in the film, which is based on a real incident.
Following the movie in the St. Mark’s sanctuary, Estrada told the crowd of young people and adults to beware of what is happening on the Internet, especially situations in which young girls who post pictures of themselves are targeted by predatory men.
“You’re the future of the church,” Estrada said.
In speaking about the movie, Estrada explained that one Tennessee student was prohibited by her teacher from writing about God when asked to complete an essay about her hero.
Estrada, however, told the group the Constitution grants free speech of young people to express their faith at school, and that could include wearing a T-shirt that says “Jesus is cool.”
“You have the right to use your voice,” Estrada said.
Estrada told the group he visited 200 churches last year when they showed another Liberty Counsel film, “Finding Faith,” and he plans to go to another 200 this year. The movie was put on Sunday by MTSU’s Wesley Foundation and Executive Director Tyson Ferguson.
Estrada, who signed autographs and posed for pictures after the movie, told the crowd he got his big break when he was auditioning for “The Cross and the Switchblade,” a 1970 film with Pat Boone in which he portrays a street gang member whose life is changes by the ministry of Boone’s character. While trying to get the role, Estrada said, he bought a real switchblade for the tryout.
“I pulled that switchblade out and scared everybody, but I got the part,” he said.
The Liberty Counsel is a nonprofit law firm that defends “Christian religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, and the traditional family.” It is closely related to Liberty University, which was founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Liberty Counsel defended the Rutherford County Commission’s effort to post the Ten Commandments as part of a historical display in the Rutherford County Courthouse in 2002.