Required Readings

All about religion in schools: Required Readings, 03.21.16

Some weeks here at Required Readings, I worry that too many of the entries focus on church-state clashes, drawing attention away from an ocean of other education-related news of interest to skeptics. This week, however, I am moving in the other direction to shine a spotlight on these matters. Why? This article about the Christian Educators Association International. Here’s a quote that tells you all about the nature of this group and its mission:

“We’re not talking about proselytizing. That would be illegal,” said Laursen, the group’s executive director. “But we’re saying you can do a lot of things. . . . It’s a mission field that you fish in differently.”

We all know that these teachers (and administrators) exist and are aware of specific egregious cases, but rarely do we hear such honesty about overarching intentions. (I was reminded of situations where leaders of the anti-choice movement wander off the scripted talking points about saving babies to mention banning contraception and punishing women for non-reproductive sex.) In this case, the organization is not just spouting off about being positive role models or expressing their First Amendment-protected opinions; the intention, instead, is to fish for children. Not just in rural areas or the American South, as some with more secular frames of reference may believe, but across the country and internationally. Somewhere near you.

So I’m hopping up on my soapbox to raise several examples from the past few weeks of how religious seepage into education manifests itself.

First up, we have the middle school depicted in this week’s featured image, where a local minister was coming in to lead lunchtime prayer sessions. A parent sent a video to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who responded with a letter noting that such activities suggest “that the school district has preference not only for religion over non-religion but also evangelical Christianity over other faiths.” The principal protested that they are doing no such thing, the prayers were requested by students, and, by the way, please give us the name of the parents involved so we can speak to them about their concerns.

IMHO, the image is a perfect representation of why fighting these situations is so important. While the group of students lined up around the cafeteria are more than a little problematic, my eyes are on those few brave students still at the tables, carrying on in the face of what is likely huge peer pressure. Experience shows that these children may be ostracized, punished by teachers, or even kicked out of their homes. Yet still they sit out the prayers. It’s for them that we adults need to act.

Meanwhile, hundreds of FBI agents raided businesses and yeshivas in several predominantly ultra-Orthodox Jewish villages in New York last week in an investigation on the use of government money allocated for technology equipment. Jewish news outlets have recently raised questions about the use of federal E-Rate funds (whose goal is to help provide affordable Internet access) in Orthodox schools and libraries because many of these schools prohibit students from using the internet.

In Kentucky, elementary students with perfect attendance (OT, but does anyone really think attendance is something to be rewarded?) went on a field trip to Ken Ham’s Creation Museum, which teaches that the earth is 6,000 years old.

The school board in Chino Valley, CA, has hired an attorney to fight a ruling prohibiting it from engaging in ““religious prayer in board meetings and the policy and custom of reciting prayers, Bible readings and proselytizing at board meetings.” I suppose Chino Valley must be flush with cash right now.

This week the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a challenge to a law that requires religious institutions to inform the federal government in writing of their religious objections to providing contraceptive coverage to their employees. The schools contend that having to fill out a piece of paper violates their constitutional rights.

And, this fight over a proposed gay-straight alliance group in Tennessee is indicative of the backlash faced in the areas where non-100-percent-heterosexual students likely need them the most.

These stories don’t even touch topics such as creationism in the classroom, bullying of non-Christian (or even non-evangelical) students, bible giveaways on school property, school speakers whose goal is proselytizing, and sexual health education that is abstinence only, shaming, anti-gay, or just plain factually wrong.

So, my point: be aware of what’s happening in your area, speak up when you can, and support the folks who have to deal with this nonsense. Your regularly scheduled Required Readings will be back later in the week.

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Librarienne is a university librarian who sees her professional mission as teaching the masses how to separate the wheat from the chaff in today's expanding universe of information, that everything you read requires a critical eye, and how to properly use apostrophes.

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