I was going to write a post about the Pledge of Allegiance this week, but some discussions lately have made me think that perhaps I should start with something a little more general.
As a Pagan parent, I have run into some bumps in the road with my son at school. There was the infamous cupcake decoration, flyers for local church activities being passed out at events, and as always, a little bit of parental worry. Which I know, aren’t really that huge. I know that many people, perhaps some of you, have dealt with larger issues in your children’s schools.
However, things have been getting a little heavier around here lately. First, my son came home and told me that he didn’t want to say the Pledge of Allegiance “because it has God in it.” I told him that he didn’t have to say it and that I would back him up, but that he should still at least stand with the class to cause minimal disruption. Months later he tells me, offhand, that his teacher had informed him that he “had” to say it. Unfortunately, he told me at least 2 months after she had said this to him, so I felt it was too late to bring it up. I just reinforced my earlier statement that he doesn’t “have” to say it.
Then, my son comes home and tells me that some of his classmates have been telling him about Jesus and some of them are very upset that he doesn’t believe. He informed me that they told him that he would go to hell if he didn’t believe. I listened to him and took a moment to think. Then I responded with, “Sweetie, these children are just repeating what they’ve learned at home. It’s what they are being told to believe. Don’t forget that this was how I was raised and I really believed it for a long time. I think that most likely they are worried about you because they have been told that you, their friend, is going to go to hell and have horrible things happen to you. Some of the stories they are told about hell can be really scary. Unless they get very rude about it, it’s OK to just let them talk and move on. Or, if you’re uncomfortable, ask them to stop talking to you about it.”
He was very accepting of that and I haven’t heard anything since. *fingers crossed*
I’ve also been hearing a lot about this particular topic lately. I’ve been hearing and reading stories of children coming home and letting their parents know that a teacher or staff member has given them a religious lesson or discriminated against them because they aren’t a particular religion. And in those stories I’ve heard the voices of parents who are shocked, hurt, and have no idea how to handle the situation. Totally normal responses to not receiving the respect that everyone has a right to. It’s a violation of our trust of the school faculty and staff and it’s a betrayal of our fellow citizens who, most likely, know very well that we have a right to the separation of church and state.
I don’t have a clear-cut answer for every situation, but I did do some research on what exactly our religious (or nonreligious rights, as they may be) are in the public school arena.
Here is what I found (sources will be linked at the end):
Are students allowed to talk about religion to other students? Yes, unless they become threatening or they begin to single students or groups of students out.
Are teachers allowed to teach students about religion? Yes, from an academic and objective perspective only.
Are teachers allowed to teach a religion? No.
Is prayer ever to be mandatory in school or at any school functions or activities? No.
Are teachers allowed to actively participate in their faith during school hours in front of students? No. While teachers are on duty they are expected to remain neutral concerning religion and should not publically express their own faith in the presence of students.
Are religious clubs allowed to exist in public schools? Yes, religious groups are given the same rights as other groups. However, faculty and staff can not attempt to persuade students to join a religious group nor can they discriminate them based on their participation or nonparticipation.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. I highly recommend taking a peek at some of the links I’ve found and reading it for yourself.
Hopefully, I can find some information on how to handle these situations to be shared in the next post.