Religion in Public Schools

JP brought up the following questions in regards to religion in school: “How and when should we talk about ideas that are important to us – especially ideas that are controversial? Who can talk to whom? Where can these conversations take place?”

When can a student talk about religion? In our school district, a student’s right to get up in front of the entire student body and talk about god and the bible are protected. We are reminded every single school year when the district sends a hard copy notice to our homes, telling us that kids are permitted to talk about god under HB 3678, the Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination Act. Would that courtesy be extended to atheists or Muslims? Highly. Doubtful.

Let me just remind you that a student can already talk about god around school whenever and to whomever he/she wants.  HB 3678, passed in 2007, allows students to talk about their religion publicly, whether that is during morning announcements or at an assembly or at graduation. It’s like giving the religious free advertising during the Super Bowl.  Why is this necessary? Why is one (already dominant) group given so much power and privilege over the rest?

HB 3678 also “protects” (read: enables and entitles) students in other ways, too: in “religious express in class assignments,” and “freedom to organize religious groups and activities.” In a state that claims it does not want government in our lives, Texas sure passes a lot of bills to limit the rights of women and to promote special rights for certain individuals, except when those individuals are corporations.

Having been the minority voice in a predominantly Christian society, nonbelievers are used to hearing about everyone elses’ gods. And, for the most part, we’re pretty tolerant, so I’m not really too worried about the Christian kids at the moment.

But as secularism takes hold and makes religion less fashionable, how do we protect the rights of those who want to continue to integrate religion and god into their lives 24/7/365? We do, after all, want to be fair.

Naturally, there should be a zero tolerance policy for bullying anyone for their beliefs, whether that person believes in god, allah, satan or nothing. But we don’t need–and should not have– legislation and school rules to protect the rights of students to discuss religion en masse to their peers. The simplest solution is just to keep religion in the churches that we, as a society, have provided for those folks who believe. Otherwise, why have special places to worship?

Let’s step back and consider these ideas: How would Baptists feel about an atheist attending their church and giving a speech about why belief in god is bad for society? I bet that idea would not be welcome. Now imagine how we feel when we have to sit through a god commercial before a graduation ceremony. Or this: How would the religious feel about an atheist kid giving a 15-minute speech before a football game on why he thinks god is a myth? Uncomfortable, right? This is how it feels to be a nonbeliever in a believer’s world.  We are held hostage, forced to passively participate in the rites and rituals of those who believe in the existence of something we do not.

There’s also another way to look at this. One girl loves Jesus. Another loves Ryan. We would not expect the student who loves Ryan to proclaim her love for him at a student assembly–that’s her personal relationship, and there’s no need to make it public. Same for Jesus. So it seems to me the most fair way to keep the halls clear of conflict is just to keep our very personal, very subjective views to ourselves, unless, of course, students just want to discuss their love interests among friends.

There should be no place for evangelizing at school, and for kids who don’t believe, they should not be allowed to pick on religion. It’s fair to expect god to stay inside the hearts and minds of those who believe, and it’s also fair to expect skepticism about other’s beliefs be kept inside the minds of those who don’t.

One exception: Every school should offer a dedicated religion course, which would teach all religions and world views as objectively as possible. Yet even there, respect should always rule.

Now it’s your turn. How and when do you think religion should be allowed in our public schools?

About these ads

108 responses to “Religion in Public Schools

  1. I have no children in school now, thank Time! But when I did, there were constant arguments: Why in December were religious seasonal songs taught instead of things like “Winter Wonderland” or “Jingle Bells”?…that was perennial. In fact, music class in general seemed to host religious content and they looked at me as if I were speaking Ancient Greek when I questioned this.

    I think religion should be private, I don’t think discussing it has any place at school.

    • I admit that I can hear the faint ring of cognitive dissonance in my head as I’m writing this, but even as a present-day atheist I look back fondly at my grade-school choir rehearsals in which we sang Silent Night and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Since we had a jumble of Christian, Jewish, and secular songs thrown all together for our holiday concert (and this was the mid-80s too), I don’t think anyone at the time got the impression the school was pushing one belief over another.

      • Our schools did no such blend, pity that. I have a completely irrational love of Christmas music, in spite of not being Christian. But seeing the Jewish girl who sat beside my son mumble through, and get scolded FOR mumbling through the songs, seeing the little black boy who was Muslim repeatedly “get sick” as choir practice time approached….it bothered me greatly.

      • My kids’ school does a blend, and my daughter sings out loud and proud regardless of the song being Christian, Jewish, Kwanzaa-related, silly-and-playful, kind of lame…. and my son stands there and rocks back and forth and looks like he’d rather be anywhere in the world other than on stage. It has nothing to do with the message of the songs… in fact, my kids don’t really get what the lyrics are even about unless I explain it. LOL At second grade age, they just parrot.

    • @syrbal I understand your point about how religion seems prevalent in music class, and I get that it could be uncomfortable for non-believers to sing a song of worship and praise. However, it would be very difficult to separate music entirely from religion, just as it would be difficult to separate history from religion. So much of what music was in the past was influenced by religion, and some of the greatest works are religious… i.e. Handel’s Messiah. Clearly this is a religious song, but it’s also one of the most famous and influential pieces of composition in history. To ignore compositions such as Handel’s Messiah solely on the basis of religion wouldn’t do justice to the history of music.

      • Somehow, a choir at an age to perform Handel’s Messiah is not the same as making non-Christian elementary school children sing Christian hymns. To say that it is is to not do justice to common sense….or mercy.

  2. “How and when should we talk about ideas that are important to us – especially ideas that are controversial? Who can talk to whom? Where can these conversations take place?”

    I stated previously that it depends on what topics they deem “controversial”. If you want to talk about religion, there is plenty of opportunity in psychology, sociology, political science, and history classes to delve into its effects on every aspect of our society from the intensely personal subjective experiences to the course of history like the Muslim conquest of Spain and the Crusades.

    The second it hits a science classroom – and it’s not dismissed outright as unsubstantiated mythology – we have a problem. The description of scientific issues like anthropogenic climate change and evolution as “controversial” by social conservatives makes them feel as if they then have the right to shoehorn whatever alternate ideas they have about the topic, no matter how far fetched, speculative, or thoroughly debunked.

    I’ve heard of Christian youth groups “smuggling” bibles into public schools, which they then emphasize is perfectly legal so you can’t stop them! I have to take a step back and scratch my head at why the hell they’re making such a big deal out of what everyone knows is their right. As you mentioned, though, if students start evangelizing in the middle of class or otherwise disrupting the activities of the school, then it needs to be addressed, but not before.

    Personally, I think we desperately need full curricula in the field of critical thought. Start this in kindergarten and the issue of religion in public schools might solve itself.

    • Jinx! We both said “critical thought” ;) And I think that’s the differentiator. People assume that if you’re discussing religion, then you have to discuss personal belief. The teacher of the class I described below wrote up on the board, “Leave your beliefs at the door.” We were not discussing right and wrong… we were studying religious texts, the demographic of the people who followed each belief system, the rites, rituals and practices of each religion, and the historical context and impact the religious had on different parts of the world.

  3. When I was in Junior High (so we’re talking, mid-80’s) I was in what they called the “gifted” program (I hate that word). What it really was, was a course in critical thinking. We did units on free market economy, and created our own currency exchange system; we read Clan of the Cave Bear and had lengthy discussions about it; and yes, we compared and contrasted religions of the world. They took us on a field trip one day where we visited many different churches, temples, synagogues, etc. so that we might see in person the atmosphere of the religions we were studying. In part of that unit, we also discussed Atheism, and what it meant. I honestly am not sure how they pulled this off, because I lived in an extremely religious, back-water kind of area. All I could think is that it was only the progressives who had kids in that class… but I digress.

    Anyway, the point is… that class was awesome. And those units were awesome. We had no religion in my home, and my mother never educated me on what others might believe. It was really a complete non-issue. But I was affected by religious thought… I was surrounded by it. I was attacked by it on occasion! That class gave me a frame of reference. It opened a door of understanding that I’ve never shut.

    Now, would it open that same door in someone whose whole life is steeped in religious thought? Probably not. But I do think if more schools had this offering, it might pave one small path toward understanding and coexistence.

    • @Shanan, you said, “We had no religion in my home, and my mother never educated me on what others might believe. It was really a complete non-issue. But I was affected by religious thought… I was surrounded by it. I was attacked by it on occasion!”.

      Wow, you just described how religion was handled in my house, non-issue. But because of that, I was totally clueless about it. I would get those strange looks at school, especially if the conversation came around to anything bible related, which it often did. It wasn’t until I took a class on religion in college that I really began to understand, and care.

      • I was at a “youth function” at our county civic center when I was in Junior High. They held these things like once a quarter, and did an overnight lock-in. They always showed a movie in one of the rooms… one time, they were showing some movie that I know now was about the rapture… at the time, I wondered why they were showing this science-fiction film where everyone was disappearing. I was thinking it was kind of like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or maybe some lost episode of Star Trek with the wrong crew, but it wasn’t quite right. And it was pretty boring. But the other kids seemed really affected by it! I left the room and went back to roller skating. LOL

  4. Now, my answer to JP’s question: “How and when should we talk about ideas that are important to us – especially ideas that are controversial? Who can talk to whom? Where can these conversations take place?”

    If you are wanting to discuss religion, then take it to your church. It won’t be controversial there. If you want to discuss literature, mathematics, science, technology, history… then bring it to school and stick to the facts. There might be some controversy. Great! Teach the kids to research contorversial topics so thoroughly that they can argue all sides of a debate with equal fervor and knowledge. Personally, I think every single high school student should have to do a year of LD debate.

  5. I agree that critical thinking should be the first step students take in the analysis of history. Traditional texts tend to be skewed in the Christian, as well as the conquerers’, interpretations. Huge job for teachers to reconstruct an objective point of view.

  6. The law should protect Muslims, Jews, Atheists, whomever in the activities that have been described that Christian students do. If the school administration prevents non-Christians from performing those activities that are lawful, then a law suit is justified. The law cannot protect the negative (legal) responses from fellow students and parents when non-Christians perform those activities, but no one can prohibit lawfully protected activities.

    I agree, such activities are being used to evangelize Christian dogma, with adults using their children to spread the “message” to non-believers. I’ve tried to prepare my son (who is still young) for such behavior and to not engage with them since rational debates about religion cannot be had in such scenarios.

    I do agree there is a place to talk about religion in a formal class setting, but it is likely such classes would have to be done in the later grades where the students are more mature mentally (at least we hope they are). I’m not sure such discussions can be done in lower grades (e.g. elementary) in a matter that can be considered objective, especially from a young child’s perspective. Not sure any school is willing to deal with the cost of handling irate parents about a lessons that discuss religion.

    @Senator Jackson’s idea of having critical thinking starting in kindergarten would be great, but I do not know if it will ever happen. Not only will you have parents not liking the idea of their little darlings questioning their own beliefs of the world, you have the basic problem of the education system itself to deal with. Many school districts have highly centralized curriculum, so teachers lack the flexibility to promote creative, original thoughts and adapt the lessons to fit what is going on in the classroom. With the push of standardized testing, students are given little time to do any critical thinking.

    • @ewh There is another commenter here, Konsta, who lives in Finland. They have a comparative religion class for the lower grades. I think, if we wanted a course like this offered to our students, we might look to countries that are having success.

      I agree–it’s best to teach kids not to engage peers in religious debates. My son learned that from experience.

      As for the critical thinking skills, there are things we can do at home to help our kids, even if the schools can’t or won’t….As you mentioned, with standardized testing, the teachers are under a lot of pressure to teach to the tests.

      • Yep!
        The school started yesterday and the first paper we got home was sort of enrollment in which there were contact details etc. and then a multiple-choice question on what religious/ethics class the student will be attending. We talked at length about religions with our 4th-grader and she for the first time pondered whether she should choose ethics instead of religion. We asked her to speak to her teacher and then make up her mind.

        My experience is that comparative religion classes are quite strictly controlled so that there is no dogmatism or indoctrination and thus they “create” young people who are able to think critically and make up their own minds.

        If it helps put things into perspective, the fiercest battle regarding religiousity in school has been whether it is OK to sing the hymn that traditionally is only sung at the end of a school year. It is now considered that it is not forced religious attendance since there is only one mention of deity and there are decades of tradition behind it – and no-one is making anyone sing a word.

  7. Whew! For a minute there you had me thinking HB 3678 was some absurd federal law I’d never heard of. Thank goodness it’s only another absurd Texas law (sorry, nothing personal). When did everyone start getting so pissy about religion anyway? When I was young, back in the Dark Ages, mutual respect and good manners kept everybody happy. But now, with those things in increasingly short supply, we must have laws!

    As for your closing question, if I had my way, there would be no religion in public schools except perhaps for some upper level courses like comparative religion, great religions of the world, or philosophy and religion. Other than such classes, which in my experience aren’t usually offered until college, religion should stay in church.

  8. I think it’s all good until the valedictorian stands and praises Allah. Or when a student credits his or her atheism with critical thinking skills. Or when a student explains how hard they had to work to overcome childhood indoctrination in order to excel at science. What they don’t seem to understand is the rules that protect the non-believer protect them also. Demographics are rapidly changes, so I think they will learn that lesson sooner than they like.

  9. If you want to talk about art, do it in art class. If you want to talk about Jane Austen, do it in English Lit. If you want to talk about God,then do so in a comparative religion, philosophy, or even a history class.

  10. Hi Deborah,

    It sounds like HB 3678, the Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination Act, was created in response to secularism and it’s intolerance of public expression of faith — the unconstitutional notion that we should “keep religion in the churches.” (A notion you have posted here numerous times).

    In the United States, our religious civil liberties are guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble…”

    I would hope that your HB 3678 is equally available to atheists and Muslims — all should be afforded freedom of speech and the free exercise of their religious or non-religious beliefs.

    I certainly don’t know the details of HB 3678, but it’s likely that it applies only to public schools, not private schools nor other private organizations.

    I totally agree with your statement: “there should be a zero tolerance policy for bullying anyone for their beliefs, whether that person believes in god, allah, satan or nothing.”

    Steven

    • I think most atheists’ “intolerance” of the public expression of faith occurs when publicly owned buildings do things that convey an advocacy of one particular religion … such as putting monuments of the Ten Commandments on courthouses’ front lawn, public schools posting pictures of Jesus with the caption “our lord and savior” underneath, or these same schools making claims that evolution is “only a theory”, suggesting alternate ideas like Christian creationism should be given equal weight because enough people believe in it.

    • @Steven This is not correct: “…the Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination Act, was created in response to secularism and it’s intolerance of public expression of faith — the unconstitutional notion that we should “keep religion in the churches.”

      Religion should either be kept in the churches, where all taxpayers provide a place for the expression of belief, or churches and clergymen should be stripped of all special tax treatment.

      It’s like this: You have every right to smoke, but you don’t have a right to smoke around everyone else, in public spaces. The same with your religious expression. You have a right to believe and to blow your smoke in church, but don’t have a right to blow your smoke all over everyone else.

  11. I don’t live in Texas, but it indeed sounds like it was introduced in response to intolerance, students not being allowed the freedom to speak about their religious views in public school — as has been allowed students with secular views. I looked it up, here is the introduction of HB 3678:

    STUDENT EXPRESSION OF RELIGIOUS VIEWPOINTS.
    (a) A school district shall treat student expression of
    religious viewpoints in the same manner as the district treats
    student expression of secular or other viewpoints, without
    discrimination.
    (b) To assure non-discrimination against a student’s
    publicly stated voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint (if
    any), and to eliminate any actual or perceived affirmative school
    sponsorship or attribution to the school district of a student’s
    voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint (if any), a school
    district shall establish a limited public forum for student
    speakers at school events in which students are to publicly speak.

    So, getting back to Deborah’s topic, do you think Texas should be intolerant of students in public schools exercising their Constitutional freedom of speech?

    • @Steven I live in Texas and I’ve read this bill many times. I can tell you that HB 3678 was not a result of any sort of “intolerance” towards Christians. This bill was pandering to xtian voters, and this happens often (just recently with the Merry Christmas bill). Bills like this do nothing more but give one group a sense of entitlement.

    • Getting back to Deborah’s point, something like this isn’t really needed in Texas. You might assume that this was in response to some sort of legitimate act of discrimination or “intolerance” on the part of us secularists, but it’s far more likely a preventive measure to protect the predominately Christian student body if they want to yammer on incessantly about god during morning announcements, football games, or other public assemblies. Hell, they enshrined the right to say “Merry Christmas” into law a few months ago. That was most decidedly not an issue.

      (Functional elements of HB3678 were ruled unconstitutional in other states back in 2000 … Santa Fe vs. Doe determined such activities during events like inter-school football games strongly implied school sponsorship of religion. Not sure if it’s ever been challenged in Texas.)

      The bill also talks about homework assignments. It’s my hope that this doesn’t mean that these kids’ rights of religious expression will supersede rigorous academic standards as they apply to subjects like prehistory, archaeology, paleontology, geology, astronomy, biology (specifically, evolution), and earth science (i.e. anthropogenic climate change). Sure, students can express their religious views by writing about a young earth and Genesis, but they should still fail because it’s not science.

      So in the end, let’s see how this plays out. I don’t care nearly as much about students expressing their views as much as schools not teaching Christian mythology as science, history, or morality. I hope the same limited public forum applies in practice to students with other beliefs, but states in the Bible Belt have a reputation of selectively applying the law based on the will and faith of the majority.

      • @Senator Jason Yes, politicians like to pass these bills to rally their supports, to make them think that there is some sort of threat and that they will protect their interests. And, no, I don’t think an atheist or Muslim would be allowed the same privileges to speak before the student body. We certainly have not seen it here.

  12. Deborah’s topic is: “How and when do you think religion should be allowed in our public schools?” One answer to that question was addressed by the Texas legislature. For sake of discussion on this single topic, do you have a problem with this text?

    (a) A school district shall treat student expression of
    religious viewpoints in the same manner as the district treats
    student expression of secular or other viewpoints, without
    discrimination.
    (b) To assure non-discrimination against a student’s
    publicly stated voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint (if
    any), and to eliminate any actual or perceived affirmative school
    sponsorship or attribution to the school district of a student’s
    voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint (if any), a school
    district shall establish a limited public forum for student
    speakers at school events in which students are to publicly speak.

    • @Steven I have a problem with it. Legislation is not necessary. There should be no reason for a student to publicly address their fellow students regarding their religious views. They already have the freedom to talk about god. This is just makes xtians feel entitled to evangelize.

    • Not the specific block of text you extracted, but I have a problem with other elements of the bill, as well as the motivations of the people who promoted it in the first place. Read my previous comment for details.

  13. The text seems to seek equality for all, allowing “voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint (if any)…” So, freedom of speech for religious and non-religious viewpoints.

    • @Steven Ummm. No. There is no equality for all. You would not hear a muslim student speak about allah at graduation. You would not hear an atheist talk about why they don’t believe before a football game.

      Until you live here, withhold your assumptions.

      • Deborah, I’m not making any assumptions. Strictly in the context of “How and when do you think religion should be allowed in our public schools?”, what is the problem with that text? Again, I’m not asking how well it may (or may not) be heeded in schools there (nor am I trying to look at the whole bill). So, looking at just that text in a purely academic evaluation, do you have a problem with it?

        As I shared, it seems to seek equality for all — freedom of speech for religious and non-religious viewpoints.

        • Deborah Mitchell

          Hi Steven – I’m just saying that religious speech was already protected for students. It was never an issue. This law was just political posturing-as was the recent Merry Christmas Bill.

          • I’d have to say that taken in that light, I’d have issues with it from the standpoint of it being a giant waste of taxpayer dollars. Imagine if they took every dollar spent basically re-creating the First Amendment for the kids of the state of Texas, and instead, put it into the Texas education system in the form of new computers, textbooks, supplies, sports equipment, arts programs… you get the idea…

  14. Thanks for the post, and great discussion. From my perspective, I believe that public education should be neutral regarding religious thought – including atheism. By neutral, I do not intend silent. Understanding the broad context of religious practice is key to understanding a large part of human history. To be silent on the topic out of fear to offend makes it difficult to understand history and shortchanges our kids. Shannon – the religion course you took sounds fantastic. I think that kind of fair-minded exposure to other ways of thinking is important to the developing mind (and especially for those of us more set in our ways!). How else will we ever understand one another?

    Critical thought is often portrayed as the enemy of religious faith – I do not see it that way. Critical thinking is a tool that we should cultivate and develop over a lifetime. With it we can construct rational arguments, discuss ideas and draw sound conclusions. I raised the questions I did because it appears that we as a society are losing the ability to talk to one another. In the name of enhancing tolerance, our schools and workplaces have become considerably less tolerant in my view.

    • @jp I understand your points.

      I don’t have a problem with kids discussion religion on an individual basis–and I would like to see a religion course (Shanan’s or others who have mentioned this before). But I don’t think we need legislation to guarantee the rights of the religious to speak publicly. FYI, this law was also intended to allow students to say a prayer before public functions (since it was no longer acceptable for the administration to do so). Thank you for starting a thought-provoking discussion…

    • jp wrote: “Critical thought is often portrayed as the enemy of religious faith – I do not see it that way. Critical thinking is a tool that we should cultivate and develop over a lifetime. With it we can construct rational arguments, discuss ideas and draw sound conclusions.”

      I totally disagree. All monotheistic religions abhor true critical thinking. Faith cannot by definition be thought critically – otherwise it would be knowledge. Altogether the point that has been raised but not acknowledged enough IMHO is that all the attempts of “bringing equality” are done very snidely and dishonestly – xians have because of their majority status written laws and statutes that in quick glance look okayish but when really read are nothing but bolstering the majority status and pushing religion to arenas where it has not been.

      This is exactly the same MO as in the blatant hypocrisy of “Teaching the controversy” is crea/evo battle. There is no controversy, none whatsoever. The crea proponents portray themselves as the tolerant who just in goodness of their heart want children to receive wide array of education. That is so infuriating because in reality their only agenda is to promote religious worldview – I totally and completely loath the folks at DI or CMI – they are the worst our planet has to offer (next to folks like the Ohio kidnapper or Al-Qaida).

      I have no problem with kids or adults discussing their hobbies, political or spiritual views but when that is in any way or form stipulated then it is way off. Why should it be okay if a valedictorian claims that a Jewish tribal deity is responsible for the success of the student who has worked his/her a$$ off for making good grades but if a person in same position were to tell that kids got their diploma because of hard work and good teachers AND there were no deities involved, it would not be okay?

      In here if a person were to use any such platform to spread out religious agenda, they´d be…. I don´t know, that just does not take place.

  15. “How and when do you think religion should be allowed in our public schools?”
    I think the First Amendment applies to students in public schools. The First Amendment prohibits the government from making a law “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” School (especially high school) is an excellent place to learn our Constitutional principles first hand. So, I think schools should allow freedom of speech, including religious ideas and non-religious ideas. This said, with this freedom comes the responsibility to be tolerant of other’s point of view, to listen, to be sensitive and civil, and to diligently seek to understand alternate point of view. Certainly there’s appropriate occasions for expressing one’s point of view, and times when it’s not suitable. That’s just common sense.

    • @Steven Sorry to tell you, but the First Amendment does not apply to student and in schools. The Supreme Court has ruled a number of times against free speech for students and the power of in loco parentis for school administrators. School teachers and administrators have empowered to stop students from talking about any subject they deem unfit or disruptive to school proceedings.

      While Tinker v. Des Moines tends to support free speech in schools, the cases of Bethel School District v. Fraser, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, Morse v. Frederick tend to erode free speech for students by emphasizing and granting administrators broad powers to squelch speech the feel erodes the school mission. Even worse, the case of Pickering v. Board of Education always teachers to speak on any subject they deem “is within the public interest….” This is a wide door through which all sorts of bad actors have passed. There are numerous cases in almost all states where administrators are brought to court to being to censorious of students, where teachers use Pickering to bring up their own interests and override the sensibilities of students.

      This is a huge murky field where students currently are on the receiving end of the short stick. You are, of course, free to disagree with my interpretation, but this also comes from someone who is a former school teacher.

      • The way I meant to phrase that is: I think the First Amendment SHOULD apply to students in public schools. (Following with the topic “How and when do you think religion should be allowed in our public schools?”)

        • From personal experience, the First Amendment does apply to students in public schools, so long as their expression of free speech does not hinder the overall educational experience for those around them, and so long as their free speech does not cause harm (emotional or physical) to other students.

        • @ Steven If you want to go down that road, then I say all religions SHOULD be acknowledged as hoaxes perpetuated upon the masses to control them.

          Now, are you going to address the facts and reality as so eloquently described by Derrick, or are we going to keep shoud-ing on ourselves?

          • @deosullivan3 I expressed my thoughts in response to the current post topic: “How and when do you think religion should be allowed in our public schools?”

            So, it’s quite appropriate that I shared what I feel SHOULD be allowed in public schools. That said, I appreciate Derrick bringing some light to what IS, regarding court rulings, and acknowledging that “students currently are on the receiving end of the short stick.”

            • In other words, you have nothing.

              • @Deosullivan3 Now, now, Deo. Steven does have a point and it is not nothing. I happen to disagree with his starting position, but I can see where he is going. Given what he said in this specific post, I was simply adding a new perspective. I wholly agree with his point on respect.

  16. When I was a Christian I did not support prayer in schools because I was concerned about the public education system indoctrinating my boys with religious views I may not agree with. I do remember up until the end of first grade, our oldest would read passages (usually a chapter or more at time) from the Torah scriptures (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), he also had a liking for the following book Joshua, and the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He read those books as part of his own personal choice for his required reading. He usually did so at home or when he had down, quiet time at his school. He also enjoyed reading books on mythology.

    As an atheist family now, I haven’t really had issues with teachers pushing their beliefs on my children. However, I absolutely hate it when I see flyers from a Church in their notebooks and backpacks around certain holidays that stir up business for their activities. I think that the school board should not allow for this since my kids attend a public elementary school. The most difficulty I have had is with my oldest who is in the gifted program. They do special displays at a local Baptist Church and when they actually meet for large meetings at a public elementary school they are opened and closed with prayer, and are full of God poems, and scriptures.

    I can tell you that a religion class in west Tennessee would be biased. They hate Muslims here, and I have personally known Jews who were seriously told that they were going to hell by their FRIENDS.

    If I want my kids in a Christian school they would be in one, but they’re not! Yet, I have to tolerate religiosity every once in a while because of where we live. We live in a town of less than ten thousand people. My husband and I have made the decision that should it ever really bother our boys we would take ACLU type of action. Until then, we will do nothing because schooling isn’t about us, it’s about our boys. If they’re okay, then we need to be okay. However, there are times when I feel as though my silence is part of the problem.

    Around these parts if a kid wants to shout Jesus, pray or read his Bible out loud, and anyone says “no” to them, that child is being persecuted. However, I know that if a satanist, Muslim, homosexual or atheist started a club or prayed special prayers five times a day they would be heavily rebuked, threatened, and would see their homes and places of worship vandalized. I live in a part of the country that earnestly believes that Muslims and homosexuals are taking over the world. They passionately feel as though “God has been taken out of schools”. Their resolve to sex in the halls and bathrooms of the local high schools is God. If they’d just get more Jesus back into the classroom all our troubles would be over. Personally, I blame shitty parenting, over-worked and laid-off teachers, hormones, and over-crowded public high schools as the issue. They don’t want to do anything that would improve those things, they would rather pray for peace, and for “more Lord” in the schools instead.

    Yet, my kids are happy here, we love our house and yard. Our public elementary school’s pretty good. We stay busy within our immediate family, music, education, work, sports, and speech. We live in a nice neighborhood. I just have to learn to be myself and continue to teach our kids to be themselves. It’s a difficult balance, being honest and ourselves without offending others. One thing I have noticed in the few years I’ve lived here, though there are people around me who believe in God, not all of them are going to Church. Another thing I’ve experienced just this summer alone, is running into at least three people who were of the following: a very, very open minded Christian, an atheist and an agnostic. (My family has been slowly, but surely, befriending the agnostic man’s family for months now.) So, we exist, but we’re all scared shit to speak out. For us, our non belief has to be kind of private (in real life, not blog world, of course) because we know that we’re at the bottom of the food chain.

    • Re: They passionately feel as though “God has been taken out of schools”.

      Ahem, this is the very thing Deborah proposed in her post today, and similarly on numerous prior occasions:

      “The simplest solution is just to keep religion in the churches..”

      “So it seems to me the most fair way to keep the halls clear of conflict is just to keep our very personal, very subjective views to ourselves.”

      “There should be no place for evangelizing at school”

      My point today is that our First Amendment freedom of speech applies to students too, allowing them to express religious and non-religious viewpoints.

      • @Steven And my point is that, there is no reason for believers or nonbelievers to deliver prayers at school function or to talk about why they don’t believe in god. As a courtesy, we should just keep our views to ourselves. A student also has a right to get up in front of his peers and discuss all sorts of things, including why bears sh*t in the woods, what he ate for breakfast and why school is not productive.

        • 1) Regarding public schools, I guess we simply disagree. I think schools should allow freedom of speech, including religious ideas and non-religious ideas. This said, with this freedom comes the responsibility to be tolerant of other’s point of view, to listen, to be sensitive and civil, and to diligently seek to understand alternate point of view. And certainly there’s appropriate occasions for expressing one’s point of view, and times when it’s not suitable.

          2) 2) On numerous occasions you’ve posted your general view that we should “keep religion in the churches”, which is in conflict with the freedom of speech and free exercise of religion clauses of the First Amendment. But you are certainly entitled to voice your opinion about that topic. :-)

          • @Steven And you are certainly entitled to believe that you (and your students) have a right to discuss religion and/or promote your religion, regardless of whether people want to hear it or not. You also have a right to talk about things you do in the bedroom, shower and bathroom. Free speech. It really comes down to courtesy, right? You believe in myths that others do not. So do you and your kids want to continue to push your views on others, even when they say no thanks? This is starting to sound a little like a date rape conversation. Haha.

            BTW, I would never want my kids to try to talk your kids out of their beliefs. This is how I’ve raised them–to respect others views, even if they don’t make sense. Would you like to know what the nice Christians at school said to my oldest kid when they found out we’re agnostics?

            • Deborah, I’ve been super clear about the importance of courtesy and respectfulness when talking with those who have different points of view. And I’ve been equally clear about the value of being sensitive about appropriate occasions for expressing one’s point of view. So I need to call you out for your snide accusation, “So do you and your kids want to continue to push your views on others, even when they say no thanks?” I don’t push my views on anyone. And your “This is starting to sound a little like a date rape conversation.” comment is ridiculous. I expect better of you. And no, I’m not interested in judging a kid at your son’s school. It’s unfortunate and inexcusable if your son was treated poorly. I’d like to remind you (something I’ve mentioned here previously) that not everyone who says they are a Christian is actually a Christian.

              • @Steven I understand that you wish for courtesy and respectfulness, but I think you and I have two different understandings of what that would look like in school. Additionally, I’m not a child, and you don’t need to tell me that you expected better of me simply because I struck a nerve with you.

                The truth is, here where I live (in towns where many of us live), Christians DO push their views and rituals on us, as you can see by the unnecessary rules and laws regarding the “rights” of students to say prayers before public school events. My kid was called into a christian prayer group–at school–before tennis matches for three flipping years. That’s not really respectful, is it? I’m totally fine with kids praying to themselves before a match, but I think it’s pretty damn presumptuous to call all players together and ask them to pray. I also find it superficial to ask “god” to help the kids play better and to bring a win and good weather.

                So perhaps you can see why I think it’s best to just keep religion in the churches where it belongs, unless the schools offer an objective course on world religions or the history of religion.

                • Deborah, it seems that we are approaching this topic (“How and when do you think religion should be allowed in our public schools?”) in a different manner. I’m simply replying to the question in the abstract, looking at the principles at stake (Constitutional freedom AND courtesy/sensitivity), and sincerely trying to contribute something meaningful to the conversation. But I grasp that your point of view (your motivation behind this topic) is derived from your personal experience there in Texas, where people think religion is a sixth major food group. :-) Some here likely ask themselves, “Why does Deborah continue to live in Texas??” I suspect that part of the answer is that you hope to effect positive change there. Perhaps the saying “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” applies a bit — just because there are certain irritating things there, better to work at improving things rather than flush the whole situation.

                  Well, in a somewhat comparable manner, I think that it’s possible to teach kids to be respectful and have courtesy and respectfulness towards those who have different views. So, rather than “dictate” broad controlling rules about what students are permitted to speak or not speak about, I really feel it would be valuable to teach them tolerance and “learn courtesy by doing” within the structured environment of high school. It’s worth the effort to improve things there, rather than flush the whole situation.

                  If your son was compelled or pressured into attending a prayer group, I totally agree that it was inappropriate and unconstructive. That said, teenagers are “in process”, still learning. Just a thought, is it possible those kids were simply trying to be inclusive, trying to avoid making your son feel excluded?

                  In conclusion, it’s not appropriate for you to make ignorant accusations about your blog contributors. When you said to me, “So do you and your kids want to continue to push your views on others, even when they say no thanks?”, that was a snide assumption — groundless and totally lacking courtesy. Out in public, I don’t push my views on anyone. Even here, my occasional posts are in response to your invitations (“Now it’s your turn…”), stated with a great deal of care and thoughtfulness.

                  Steven

                  • @Steven I’m aware that there are readers here from all different points on the belief and nonbelief spectrum, and that’s a good thing. Differences of opinion are expected, so please don’t take offense to me as I can assure you that I don’t take anything you say personally. All this is not personal. You keep referring to a “snide assumption” but that was neither snide nor an assumption. I’m just telling you what it feels like when believers push themselves on those of us who don’t believe. Really. No matter how nicely we say “no thanks,” some continue to disregard our wishes. I see that you are in California, and perhaps things are different there.

                    Of course we can teach kids to be respectful and courteous. When I was in college in the 80’s our campus had an outreach program to teach tolerance in the middle schools. That was 20 years ago, and look how far we have *not* come. The Tea Party movement has only exacerbated the problems of intolerance. Moreover, many claim to want “tolerance” when all they really want is tolerance for their views only. I hope you’re not one of those.

                    When you suggest the kids in the prayer group were only trying to be “inclusive” you are assuming a couple of things. First, that they knew my kid was not a believer. (They did not; however, they did know about two Muslim players.) Second, that prayer groups are acceptable at school. Why even have a prayer group? What is the purpose?

                    There is plenty of room for tolerance and discussion of religion in a course dedicated specifically for this topic. But there is absolutely no reason to encourage students to say a prayer before a public event like a football game or graduation. This is not being intolerant. It’s simply being courteous to the many other students and families who are not xtian.

                    • You indeed made a personal accusation when you said “YOU” in this sentence: “So do YOU and your kids want to continue to push your views on others, even when they say no thanks?” Perhaps you meant to refer to “Christians in general” (per your experience there in Texas). Well if that’s what happened, please be a bit more careful with words. And I’d suggest not generalizing or assuming all Christian are like the ones you’ve met in Texas. Yes, things are quite different here in California.

                      Second, I did not suggest or assume that the kids in the prayer group were only trying to be “inclusive”. I ASKED you about it, saying “Is it possible…?” It was a sincere question, looking to you for a real answer. Thanks for filling me in, I appreciate it.

                      Regarding your last comment, we all grasp your point of view. Loud and clear. I totally agree with you that we (adults and students) should be sensitive and courteous, thoughtful about when and where it’s appropriate to “express” our personal point of view. How you and I differ on this topic is, I feel that people should have the freedom to be expressive individuals — as long as it’s done in the manner I’ve been describing. And this “freedom with responsibility” should be afforded to all, including religious and non-religious peoples.

                    • Steven, I beg to differ. I live in California as well, and it’s very much how Deborah describes Texas to be, at least here in Orange County.

                    • LanceThruster

                      @Lisa | August 14, 2013 at 4:42 pm |

                      There’s pockets in all of CA that might as well be a buckle on the bible belt. Certainly behind the “Orange Curtain” qualifies. I work at an institute of higher education in downtown LA that has its share of “fundies.”

                  • So christians are different in California, eh? You mean like the ones that supported Prop 8? Oh yes, that’s very un-Texas-like. .

                    • I think you grasp, my point was simply that it’s not good to generalize about people. We’re all individuals. Regarding my California comment (minor point), it’s a big state. In my own observations, I don’t think people here think religion is a sixth major food group, as Deborah describes in Texas. :-)

                    • I don’t grasp that at all.

                      I see you generalizing on a grand scale and when someone calls you out, you backpedal and say that we shouldn’t generalize.

                      On the previous post about jokes, you claim that free speech obtains in all places in America, including public schools. When Derrick points out a bunch of Supreme Court decisions that contradict that assertion, you say, well, it SHOULD be that way.

                      But that’s not an argument based in reality. Yeah, lots of things SHOULD be, and perhaps we’d agree on many, but that’s not the world/country we’re living in. (Actually, at the present time, I’m living in France and I’m having a lovely time, thank you very much.)

                      And this is precisely the problem with the religious worldview: once confronted with facts that go against religious dogma, be it in the case of heliocentrism, evolution, fossils, or whatever, the religious person has no recourse except to say, yeah, well, it SHOULD be that way because there’s a really old book in which it says god decrees yadda, yadda, yadda.

                      The people on this site and their proponents prefer deal in facts, not supposition, innuendo, hearsay, dogma, or any other non-rationalist discourse, and that includes fantasy, i.e,, what SHOULD be.

                    • @deosullivan3 I expressed my thoughts in response to Deborah’s current topic: “How and when do you think religion SHOULD be allowed in our public schools?” So, it’s quite appropriate that I shared what I feel SHOULD be allowed in public schools. Looking over the responses to Deborah’s query, the word “should” is used numerous times, such as:

                      “How and when should we talk about ideas that are important to us – especially ideas that are controversial?”

                      “The law should protect Muslims, Jews, Atheists, whomever…”

                      “Naturally, there should be a zero tolerance policy for bullying”

                      “Now it’s your turn. How and when do you think religion should be allowed in our public schools?”

                      “critical thinking should be the first step students take in the analysis of history.”

                      So, we’re just responding with our individual thoughts regarding the current topic. :-)

                    • But you have yet to respond to Derrick’s post in a satisfactory matter.

                      When Deborah posed those questions, it was within the framework of our laws in regard to school policy. etc. To assume otherwise would be utterly foolhardy.

                      You claimed the law said one thing, but Derrick proved it was otherwise.

                      Your subsequent response was to say essentially that no matter what the law says, things SHOULD be the way you think.

                      So will you admit that you were wrong or not?

                    • @deosullivan3 You wrote: “When Deborah posed those questions, it was within the framework of our laws in regard to school policy. etc.” You’re correct, she was expressing her frustration with HB 3678, which is the law of the land in Texas. My interpretation of Deborah’s invitation, “Now it’s your turn. How and when do you think religion should be allowed in our public schools?” is that she was seeking our personal opinion, rather than a clinical analysis of Constitutional law concerning students. So I shared, like many others did, what I think ideally should be allowed in our public schools.

                      Regarding Derrick’s post, he said, “While Tinker v. Des Moines tends to support free speech in schools, the cases of Bethel School District v. Fraser, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, Morse v. Frederick tend to erode free speech for students…This is a huge murky field where students currently are on the receiving end of the short stick.” Per his own comments, it’s not entirely clear. None the less, yes I’m certainly willing to accept Derrick’s point, that students rights of free speech and expression are limited. No problem. :-)

    • @Charity Thanks for sharing. You seem pretty content, and I think that’s where happiness comes from. You hit the proverbial nail on the head here: “It’s a difficult balance, being honest and ourselves without offending others.” It would be nice if everyone felt this way…

      • It is difficult, Debbie, but as you know, you just have to keep yourself busy, and not get lost in chasing rabbits. It takes great concentration when you live in the areas where you and I reside, but I’m getting better about not complaining about it. After all, not one person has threatened to kill me for my unbelief, and I have found a few non believers around here. That gives me hope. Opening up religious courses in our local schools would only be dominated by the Christian majority, and I believe, would make things worse for non-believers. However, I do believe the tide is turning as Church attendance is dropping and people are beginning to doubt the Bible.

  17. Amen, Debbie, amen.

    So tired of the Christian majority acting like a minority that needs protection. So tired of society offering that protection.

    Here’s something I wrote a while back about an annual spectacle that takes place at my kids’ school: http://www.lisamorguess.com/2012/09/27/see-you-at-the-pole-and-other-nonsense/

    • LIsa, great description of the Christian pole dance. I’ve seen it at our kids’ schools in Mississippi as well.

      Here are my thoughts as a religion teacher on your comment, “So tired of the Christian majority acting like a minority that needs protection. So tired of society offering that protection.”

      Most religions need a threat to justify their existence. Christianity fears death, Hinduism and Buddhism fear the endless suffering of life, Judaism fears being annihilated, and Islam fears a population of rogues why prey on the weak. Without that threat, believers become complacent.

      The problem is with Christianity, its hard to get people to constantly fear death. So the religion creates new enemies to fight. The average Christian sees enemies all around – on television and film, in the classroom, and in politics. As much as Christian leaders denounce their enemies, they desperately need them.

      • @Patti O’Sullivan Great summary of religions and their threats.

        I’d also like to add that this is also how politicians keep their voters engaged. By creating “enemies” and conflicts, like the war on Christmas, politicians rile their voters and keep citizens actively involved in their campaigns. It’s one way to overcome voter apathy.

  18. HB 3678 is a disingenuous and superfluous law. The Constitution already grants people the freedom of speech and the free expression of religion. That goes for all religious beliefs Wicca, Satanism, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist and Christian. The politicians in Texas are merely using it (HB 3678) to garner votes, it’s dishonest and disingenuous. Such is the consequence of living in a democratic society where people fail to think critically when voting for politicians and making sound decisions.

    I think we all can agree that, if and when religion is discussed in the public sphere, critical thinking and respect for our fellow humanity is the key to this issue.

    We probably disagree on whether or not religion should be discussed in public but I think people should not be afraid to exchange in respectful dialogue. The problem, lack of respectful dialogue, is three fold…

    1. So many people don’t know how to think critically. I think Deb hit the nail on the head when she pointed out that schools don’t teach kids to think critically because teachers are told what to teach to ensure their kids pass a test so the school gets money and funding.

    2. So many people have a lack of respect for the dignity of their fellow humans. They ridicule others who don’t believe what they do, this is wrong. I won’t go into why I believe this to be the case as I am trying hard not to be controversial.

    But most of all…

    3. So many people seem to be unable to separate the criticism of one’s ideas from the criticism of the person presenting those ideas. This, based on my reasoning, is because our consumerist culture has trained us to find the source of our dignity in our ideas and desires rather than recognize our inherent dignity as human beings.

    If we could get past these three hurdles I honestly believe that all peoples of all faiths can have a friendly relationship.

    • Re: “I think people should not be afraid to exchange in respectful dialogue.”
      I totally agree! My comment earlier today conveyed the same idea:
      “With this freedom comes the responsibility to be tolerant of other’s point of view, to listen, to be sensitive and civil, and to diligently seek to understand alternate point of view.” :-)

  19. When I was a high school student in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I wanted to have open debates about religion. Granted, I was being a surly dick about it at the time because I wanted to show them the nonsensical illogic of their religious ideas. I also went to a school where large jewish and mohammedan populations existed. In one local high school, whatever happened in the Left Bank or the occupied territories was played out the next day in the halls. As a result, we weren’t allowed to talk about religion… at all. I remember the christians throwing a huge fit over this because they believed, and perhaps rightly so, they were being unfairly punished for the actions of the other religions. They lost their argument all the time.

    I always, always, always believe in more freedom of speech rather than less. What one has to learn is that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism. This is the part I find christians cannot tolerate. They want to be able to speak without being challenged, as though their word was gospel (all puns intended). I and any student should be allowed to civilly and politely show the absurdities of religion when they start to expound on their beliefs. The problems with the law the Deborah pointed out is that it squelches the rights of other students. This is not a prima facie argument since the law appears to have broad inclusive language in it. The chilling effect comes into play when the application of the Bethel School District v. Fraser, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, Morse v. Frederick, and Pickering v. Board of Education decisions are introduced. All an administrator has to say is the dissenting student was being disruptive and/or disrespectful to squelch the rights of other students. It is then up to the student to prove otherwise. Hence, the imbalance of power comes into play here. Since administrators and teachers are authority figures, this chilling effect happens in practice and not on the surface. Thus, the law Deborah mentions seems reasonable, but it is not when viewed in practice and the tendencies of the majority at large.

    • @Derrick Yes, that’s exactly what happens. In fact, the bill was originally written so that only those students who were at the top of their class were allowed to talk. Those students, typically, play within the rules, they are responsible, and they would share the speech for approval. Our students had to read their graduation speeches aloud to their classmates several weeks before the actual graduation. Do you think they are going to give a speech that the administration doesn’t approve of? To make matters worse, our Baptist principal has been known to favor the kids from his church by allowing them to fundraise at school. These are just the things I know about. I’m sure there are others.

      I do agree that we should still have the right of free speech, of course. But when one group is in power or when it becomes a source of conflict, I certainly understand why your high school did allow talk of religion at all. They were just trying to keep the peace so that they could focus on education, which is what all schools should be doing.

      • @Deborah Mitchell The other problem with a law like this is that it will remain intact until someone stands up to challenge it. The challenge would have to be brought forward by a Texas student who can show damages from the law in order to have standing before the Supreme Court. Since our culture currently browbeats children to conform (regardless of what one sees on television, the movies, or hears in music), that is the one outstanding issue (probably more so in Texas). If such a brave and righteous person exists, I am firmly convinced they would prevail as the law would not pass constitutional muster. This law, as I stated, does not fail the prima facie test: it fails the application test.

        • @Derrick I agree that this law could and should be challenged. However, as you know, peer pressure makes it difficult for a kid to be brave at this age….

          • @Deb: Yes – there are only so many Jessica Ahlquists out there. It is nothing short of horrible to read the replies she has received from “People of the Good Book”. Grown Christians have said that they would rejoice if she was raped and/or killed…
            Some morality.

    • @Derrick Do you want me to go back and edit your original comment? I think there should be a feature to let commenter’s do that, but unfortunately, only the blog owner can at this time…

  20. Religion in public schools is tricky. In some subjects, such as music and history, it would be almost impossible (and inaccurate) to skip over the religious influences of such subjects. However, such religious discussions should be as objective and neutral as possible, obviously.

    In my experiences in both Catholic and public schools, religion was discussed in its impact to history, but in a fairly objective manner. However, in both settings, it was mostly Christianity that was discussed – I don’t recall any discussion of any other religions. Certainly there is value in teaching about all religions, but I’m not sure if that should be covered in history classes or perhaps would be better suited in some sort of religious elective class. And as tight as school budgets are today, good luck to any school (especially the small ones that probably need it the most) getting funding or qualified teachers for such electives. So, the desire for religious education classes or critical thinking classes, although excellent, is probably a pipe dream. This is where parents have to pick up the reigns at home.

    As for the religious freedom / freedom of speech discussion; also tricky. There is a lot of posturing for freedom of speech in schools, but let’s all be honest – it is fairly obvious that children at schools can’t be allowed TOTAL freedom of speech. A 12-year-old can’t get up and have a cussing rant about how much they hate their classmate and want to kill them. So, no, I don’t buy into the fact that all students should get unlimited freedom of speech. Teachers have to have the common sense and authority to know and be able to restrict speech that may be hateful, completely off-topic, or controversial. But yes, I realize, here is where the slope get slippery. Is preaching about Christianity controversial? In Texas, apparently not. Is preaching about Islam controversial? In Texas, probably so. Clearly what applies to one must apply to the other, but no law can change that… that will just take time and evolution.

    Also re the complaints of “God talk” from an individual student such as a valedictorian or football captain who may stand up at a graduation ceremony or pep assembly to deliver a speech, there is really nothing that can be done about that, in my opinion. The teachers, principal, and audience are at the mercy of the student who is getting up to speak… they may have submitted their speech for approval beforehand, but at graduation they could still get up and say “I f**king hate this school” or “thank you Jesus” or “thank you Allah”, and there is really nothing anyone can do about that. The only thing that can be done is eliminating any speech by any student completely – at ceremonies, pep assemblies, etc. If the valedictorian wants to get up and thank God, or Allah, or mention no god at all, that is their prerogative. The rest of us have to squirm uncomfortably.

    • @Molly Totally in agreement that religion is integrated into the curriculum, and that’s okay if it’s appropriately taught. Religion is an important part of our history, our culture, our music, art, etc.

    • Molly wrote: “If the valedictorian wants to get up and thank God, or Allah, or mention no god at all, that is their prerogative. The rest of us have to squirm uncomfortably.”

      Why? Why has the situation allowed to come to the point where it it cheered and encouraged to speak about Yahweh or/and Jesus in a place where it does not belong?
      This is exactly the same as xians´ request for religious tolerance – as long as it is only xian faith that has to be tolerated.

  21. I always regretted not taking “The Bible as Literature” in high school. Heard it was an interesting class with a really good teacher. Was able to get up to speed on my own for the most part.

    One of the things that comes to mind when discussing how various beliefs are treated, which usually depends mostly on whether they are in the majority or minority (majority often makes arguments based on populism, minority generally has to defend against the tyranny of the majority), is the difference between ‘respecting’ someone’s belief system versus ‘tolerating’ it.

    We certainly can be respectful towards someone holding a particular worldview, while finding the worldview itself ludicrous. While it seems like a contradiction of sorts, that’s just the way it is. We tolerate different views in general, but when it comes to specifics, we often insist that the belief system do no harm such as when the welfare of children is concerned as with faith healing verses western medicine (though there are grey areas such as with blood transfusions).

    It’s interesting to me that a worldview (the belief in a god of revealed knowledge – i.e. sacred texts) insists on special status requiring kid gloves rather than willing to go toe to toe in a knock down drag out in the arena of ideas because it feels it can’t compete otherwise. While I feel no one’s belief should be arbitrarily and unnecessarily demonized, the claims of ultimate knowledge on the nature of the universe must be suitably scrutinized.

    They can’t all be right, and as I’ve written before, a true leap of faith would be to jettison ALL sacred texts and offer a prayer from all of humanity asking “God” to resend and clarify its message if it is really out there. Can you imagine the level of scrutiny that would be given globally to those claiming to be prophets and messengers of God? Talk about sectarian friction.

    And if this “God” petitioned humbly by all of mankind to put up or shut up is a no show, then we can get on with our lives in a rational manner and quit distracting society with infantile fairy tales.

    Until then…On with the War on Christmas!! (which starts earlier every year it seems)

    xD

    • @LT I love this idea: “They can’t all be right, and as I’ve written before, a true leap of faith would be to jettison ALL sacred texts and offer a prayer from all of humanity asking “God” to resend and clarify its message if it is really out there. Can you imagine the level of scrutiny that would be given globally to those claiming to be prophets and messengers of God? Talk about sectarian friction.”

      Can you imagine a world where we’re all united in our belief or disbelief? Wow. Peace.

      • Somewhere out there on the intertubes, I’ve got the prayer already written.

        It explains how we are flawed creatures, tired of fighting each other over stupid and trivial things, and want to be able to work together in a loving compassionate fashion. It would ask that if there actually is a God that communicates with mankind, to choose this moment when all of humanity is humbly asking for direction and Divine guidance…or forever holds its peace.

        No message would be one of the most profound “messages” ever passed along to mankind in its entire history.

        One can dream, no?

  22. I found what I was looking for re: calling on God to clear up the confusion…and a challenge to believers —

    http://www.veteranstoday.com/2010/09/13/burn-in-hell/

    LanceThruster
    September 17, 2010 – 1:57 pm

    I would be far more impressed with religions claiming “revealed knowledge” from their designated god if they got rid of their “sacred texts” and started with a blank slate. Hit the reset button and pray for guidance.

    “O God, we’ve garbled your message. What should we be doing?”

    Maybe an atheist’s prayer.

    “We see no evidence of any supernatural entity that interacts with humanity. We’ve lobbied for the religious to give the being they collectively refer to as “God” (in the various names, definitions, and spelling rules) a chance to get us all on the same page. If there is a message or instructions to be communicated…now is a good time to step up to the mike.”

    The entire course of human history could be dramatically and forever changed by what happens next.

    http://community.focusonthefamily.com/b/jim-daly/archive/2011/03/07/a-startling-photo.aspx

    And for believers I pose this hypothetical question: – If you were to arrive at the conclusion that we live and exist in a godless universe (not PROVE it, not FORCED to accept that view, but determined for YOURSELF that there was no CREDIBLE evidence for the existence of any god or gods and therefore the default position was the same for your views on the existence of say, leprechauns) how would you live your life from that point on? Suicide? No limits? Rape, rob, murder, steal? Try to (de)convert everyone else? Go insane? Or would you continue on pretty much as you do now? Love your family, or kids, or spouse, or significant other? Continue to partake in the joys, sorrows, and challenges that our lives entail? Most believers I ask won’t even humor the question. It’s usually some version of, “God exists so the question is meaningless.” I ask “Which god?” They usually answer, “There is only one.” This then digresses into figuring out accurately this supposed gods message for humanity. I conclude that if god exists, and god wants humans to know of its existence and its blueprint for ours…then it has failed miserably because virtually NO ONE is on the same page.

    “Theologian: An uncommon individual who, though possessing finite abilities, has been called by God himself who, though possessing infinite abilities, requires the assistance of the former in explaining Himself to the rest of us.” [Translation: if God existed, theologians would be out of work.] ~ “Rev” Donald Morgan

    -and- Stephen F. Roberts:

    I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

    Finally—

    I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking. The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.

    ~ [Carl Sagan, 1996 in his article In the Valley of the Shadow Parade Magazine Also, Billions and Billions p. 215]

    • @LT This is great. Thanks for finding and posting the “prayer” and the challenge…I don’t know that everyone would continue to live a moral life, but I suspect (and hope) that most would.

    • @Lance, I think we’re opening a whole other can of worms, but two points I wanted to address. 1) I agree most people would probably continue to live morally if they ceased to believe in god(s). For me though, I think life would seem emptier and somewhat devoid of a purpose. I am not claiming your life is empty or devoid of purpose; but that’s how I would feel. 2) You often say how god(s) failed because we are not all on the same page, pre-programmed with identical knowledge and beliefs. To me this sounds like we would be drones. Robots. On auto-pilot. Actually the thought of us all being pre-programmed with identical knowledge and beliefs regarding God sounds a little bit terrifying. I find it interesting that is your expectation of how it should be.

      • @Molly – Thanks for your take on it. What I would expect from an all-powerful being wouldn’t make humans drones, but rather them be able to compare notes on what “God” actually wants humans to do and have a consistent, unified message. Think of it like a curriculum for children…it would be the same regardless of “school district.”

        The message needs to be clear and unmistakable. I mean, where did the early church get the notion that it was OK to torture or execute people for believing differently? A God worth its salt might anticipate such confusion and take action to prevent such travesties, no?

        The amount of unimaginable suffering that “God” has allowed in its name is a good argument (in my book) against its existence.

        As far as facing reality on its own terms versus what one might wish for…that’s why I included the Sagan quote.

        IMHO, A hurtful truth is always preferable to a soothing lie.

        • @Lance, thanks for the thoughtful reply. Like I said, probably topics for another day, but thanks for clarifying what you meant with the “we would all be on the same page”. I’ve wondered about that in the past when you’ve said it. Totally agree “a hurtful truth is preferable to a soothing lie”, so you should follow what your truth is. Its not the same as my truth, as we already know. ;-)

  23. @Molly, I hate to hear that you would find life emptier and without a purpose if there was no god. Assuming there is, in fact, a god, what is it that you see as your purpose?

  24. A nice story to share just because —

    A Day at the Ball Park

    http://aprojectforkindness.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/adayattheballpark/

    • @LT That was a touching story. Thank you for posting it. If you don’t mind, I’m going to send it to Lisa Morguess, who also comments here.

    • Lance, thanks for sharing that. I have a son with Down syndrome, and it was nice to see someone write about a person with Ds without casting them as either someone to be pitied or as one of “God’s special gifts.”

      • @Lisa – YVW. It made me smile. What I particularly liked about it was how it showed that we can learn something about life from everyone we encounter. That being said, I balk at the notion that the difficulties and hurdles we deal with are doled out by God as a learning exercise for others (God’s special gifts), or worse yet…some punishment indicating God’s disfavor.

        I wish you and your son much happiness and success. Your approach sounds exactly what is needed.

        • Thanks Lance, I really liked the story too, and agree with you ( “I balk at the notion that the difficulties and hurdles we deal with are doled out by God” ). I was pregnant with twins and someone told me “God never gives you more than you can handle!”. After I lost one at birth and the other spent 5 weeks in the NICU (he has cerebral palsy), the SAME person told me “God never gives you more than you can handle”. So…huh?, did he change his mind? Did he come to some realization in the 7 months of my pregnancy that I couldn’t handle two boys at once?” One of my issues with some (not all) xtian’s is they rely on god, and “godisms” so much that it clouds their better judgement and hinders their ability to think.

          • @Tracy – You are so right on the ‘godisms’ like when someone offers, “They’re in a better place now” when someone dies (though as my friend whose mother’s funeral is this Friday observed, “She’s no longer in pain.” That sentiment is completely understandable). At times it seems as if society is regressing (as when Pat Robertson puts the blame for hurricane destruction as a punishment for various accusations of immorality). You display tremendous courage in the way you’ve dealt with the adversity in your own family. I hope you continue to draw on this reserve of strength and that family, friends, and loved ones are there for you with the support we all need at times throughout our lives.

      • Lisa, I agree. I have a child with cerebral palsy and I also find that most xtian’s think it would be impossible to cope with such stress and, in my case, loss of his twin at birth, without religion. I think it’s a testament to the human race that we are capable of dealing with much more than we may ever know, and we don’t have to have an imaginary being to cheer us on.

  25. Wow, so many comments and great ideas on this topic. I have never commented here but read your blog daily, I really enjoy it! I also live in Texas, I was brought up here, in fact. When I attended public schools in Texas, in the 50’s and 60’s, teacher led prayer (in the 50’s) was done, especially before lunch. Then came the crack down on prayer in school. That’s when it got interesting, at least in my public school. I tell this story as a lesson learned from a child who was brought up by an atheist father, and did not attend church.
    My sixth grade teacher was determined that some kind of prayer would be said before the lunch meal, but knew that if he led the prayer it would mean his job. Therefore his solution was to ask each child in turn, one by one, if that child would like to say a prayer before going to lunch. So one by one, they all said much the same thing, “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for this food”. Our course, you could say, “I don’t have a prayer”, or “We don’t pray at our house” (my case), but considering that all of the other kids said this, it would have been quite the statement to make. So I said what the other kids said, even though it meant going against what my family believed. I felt a bit like a traitor, but I so wanted to fit in and not be an outsider, or ridiculed. I also felt like I was being betrayed too. I did not feel like this was a very free country, where it was a hard thing for a kid to admit that they did not have a religion and didn’t want to pray. This is a pretty sad state for a 12 year old to think or feel like living in America, at any time in history, in my opinion.
    My niece recently posted on her Facebook page, that she thought that God should be brought back to public school, that it would solve so many problems that young people have, less crime etc. I pointed out to her that if the school chose which religion to effectively teach there, it would take away her right to teach her kid her belief system and her religion. She’d never thought of it in that way, for the first time acknowledged that it might not be a good idea to teach religion at school.
    I do think that a good course in comparative religion, if it could be taught without bias (a big IF), would be a good thing for any kid, provided it was an elective and optional.

    • Hi Sandra, Thanks for letting me know you’re out there and for sharing your story. I think it’s interesting that the teacher had the kids say the prayer before lunch. The schools still do that–have the students say the prayer before (fill in the blank with a football game or graduation or other event). This is how they get around the law here.

      Having kids, I do understand the pressure to fit in, but I know you have to give up part of yourself to do that.

      Good idea–telling your niece that god in the schools might mean a belief system she wouldn’t agree with.

      • I admire you for going public on raising your kids w/o religion, takes guts, especially in Texas. We (my husband was on board with this too) did it too, only not so public. No regrets, my son just turned thirty and his beliefs are his own, and pretty much like ours. We took him out of the public schools system after a second try at second grade, their failure to teach him to read was a real wake up call. (Hotsy totsy Collin County public school too, just couldn’t teach a kid that was different). We found a great private Montessori for the elementary grades and then home schooled him to college. He reads and writes and is now “normal” (extraordinary but I am prejudiced). He has is own business. All without one prayer, not one lighted candle, only skill, courage and perseverance. Hip hip hooray!

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s