7/05/2010 | Share this article: View CommentsBy ExPenty --
In my day-to-day existence I’m a schoolteacher. My school has children ranging in age from 3 to 11.
schools system here in the UK is rather different from that in the USA. For one thing, as there is no separation of church and state here, it is compulsory by law for every publicly maintained school to have a daily act of worship of “broadly Christian character”. It is technically permissible for parents to have their children exempted from this, but in practice most don’t bother. It is also technically permissible for teachers and school staff to be exempted from this if they object on religious grounds, but in practise this rarely happens. For one thing, most teachers, even if they disagree with religion, don’t want to rock the boat, as it could have a detrimental effect on their career if they’re seen as not being committed to all aspects of school life.
Usually these acts of worship, or assemblies as they are usually called, are run by the teachers. Understandably, not all teachers want to do this, and they can’t be compelled to do it. So when a local Christian group offers to do the assembly, they are usually given free rein.
Atheists, agnostics and humanists in American schools: you don’t know how lucky you are. Most Christian visitors tell a story about Jesus or some other biblical figure, try to draw out a moral to the story and lead a prayer at the end. While I personally may have objections to some of this, on the whole it’s pretty innocuous. As long as it’s presented as “This is what I believe” or “This is what Christians believe” rather than “You must believe this”, it’s legal and above board. The problem comes when we get the occasional fundamentalist group in that goes a bit further (and beyond the law) and presents Christianity not as something they believe, but as something everyone should believe. In other words, they are on the borderline of proselytising. They rarely go over that line, as proselytising in schools is illegal, but they often get very close to it.
I had to sit through one such assembly recently. A local fundie church brought in their puppet show, with music and fun… and a full-gospel presentation. I was rather frustrated, as not only did they have a captive audience of impressionable children, but I could do nothing to prevent them trying to indoctrinate them. In the end I had to walk out because it was getting me so angry. I made my feelings known to my boss afterwards; why should these fundies be allowed to get away with it?
Atheists, agnostics and humanists in American schools: you don’t know how lucky you are.