A Big Flap Over Faith
A "beloved" teacher has resigned from his position at a local high school, because he was told that he cannot use his classroom as a platform for promoting his Christian beliefs. He has been disciplined for this issue before, and was briefly suspended in 2012 because of it. So this is the second time that he has simply ignored an administrative directive not to promote Christianity in his classroom.
And let's be clear here, because there is a lot of glossing over of what really happened. The fact is, he did not merely proclaim himself a Christian. He did not merely profess his love of God. It wasn't because he read his Bible on his lunch break or folded his hands in silent prayer at his desk. I find these things distasteful and inappropriate in a secular academic environment, but I grudgingly admit that those acts fall under freedom of religion. But that's really beside the point because that's not what happened.
You don't get suspended for reading your Bible on your lunch break. Not unless the school district really wants to invite a storm of controversy. Administrators are smarter than that. They know what can and cannot be done. And they know where the line is drawn between practicing a faith and preaching one. What happened is that he actively and willfully promoted Christianity as the one true faith and exhorted his students to open their hearts and minds to Jesus.
So, he was reprimanded and suspended pending administrative review of the situation. And then, he quit. He wasn't fired. He left his position voluntarily. Because he didn't want to follow the same rules as everyone else. See, here's where it gets really messy and the whole "persecution" waters get really muddy. Because if a Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or Jewish or God forbid Wiccan teacher happened to breathe the tiniest whisp of dogma in the classroom, the Christians would have a lynch mob formed and pitchforks at the ready before the administration even had a chance to wag a finger.
Now, you people who aren't in the know about Southern religious culture might think I'm exaggerating. I assure you I'm not. If anything, I am underplaying just how pervasive this religious one upmanship really is. Christians don't want religious freedom, though that is usually the tack they will take. They want religious freedom for Christians and they want the rest of ya'll to just shut the (BLEEP) up. So, this isn't about being persecuted. It's about having special privileges, which they feel is their due as servants of the Lord Jesus, denied them.
And that's what really happened. This teacher was denied the opportunity to break the rules. Again.
Here's what I think about religion in the classroom:
Religion has always been a cornerstone of human culture and behavior. It should be studied because it tells us so much about how our predecessors viewed the world, how current beliefs evolved and how these ideals have shaped our nation and our world into the place it is today. Plus...it's really pretty intriguing from a purely academic standpoint. Some crazy interesting stuff happened way back before there was a way to explain all the unexplainable things.
But that means all religions should be studied with equal consideration and objectivity. If it's not acceptable for one to be studied, it's not acceptable for any to be studied. If it's acceptable for one to be studied, it's acceptable for all to be studied. And I think a lot of people would be on board with a comprehensive, well balanced and unbiased offering of religious studies in the public school setting. But that simply does not fit with the Christian agenda. That's is not what they are fighting for.
Promoting one religion over another in a secular learning environment is inappropriate and really, just plain rude. We are still the great melting pot, home to many cultures and religions. As an American, that makes me proud. What makes me sad and a little ashamed, is that so many people feel it's okay to push their religious views on people who do not share them. Why is that okay? Most of us wouldn't dream of trying to dictate any other personal choices, even the ones that are destructive and unhealthy. Why is it okay to insist that those who have different religious views, ones that are held equally dear, ones that are just as steeped in history and family tradition, honor beliefs they do not agree with in a place that was never intended for that purpose? Public schools host a dizzying array of races, cultures and religions. Why do YOU as a Christian, get to commandeer the public learning environment to promote yours? It boggles my mind that people don't understand why that's not acceptable.
And think about this...by promoting one religion above all others in an environment where many faiths are represented, you further alienate children at time in their lives that is already fraught with so many reasons to exclude, belittle, segregate and judge. My God...have you been in a Middle or High School lately? It's BRUTAL. WHY would you want to introduce yet another element that could cause a child to feel singled out, excluded and embarrassed? You think it doesn't happen? It does. It's happened to my kids more than once. The first time was in second grade. That's seven years old, for those of you who can't remember. Seven. Try explaining to your seven year old child why people were laughing at him because he didn't go to church. Try calming a hysterically sobbing child enough to go back to sleep after a nightmare about hell. Some Christian kid took my kid's innocence and peace of mind away by introducing the notion of hell to him. In public school. And yes, the teacher was aware and did nothing to stop it.
In high school, with so much confusion about bodies and sex and sexual identity and cliques and allegiances and love and hate and good and bad....no kid needs to deal with religious stigma as well. Please really think about that. If your kid is Christian, chances are, you've never really seen it from that perspective. But these are fragile, emotionally evolving not quite adults we're talking about. And they get hurt so, so easily. Those scars can take a really, really long time to heal. I still have lingering bitterness over things that were said and done to me as an adolescent in the name of religion.
For all these reasons and so many more, separation of church and state is essential. Honor your God, in Church. Let others honor their Gods in their houses of worship. In school, let us all learn from and about one another and the world we live in together. I don't think it's a very difficult concept to grasp.
(DISCLAIMER: I know not ALL Christians hold the views described in this post. And once again I must express my gratitude for the many Christians I know who are tolerant, accepting, open minded, and loving people who just want to live as they believe and let others do the same.)