Religion and the Public Schools:
One Mother's Thoughts on the Proposed Posting of the Ten Commandments
by K. Peak
(Note this was written in 2000)
Several weeks ago I received a short questionnaire from our 51st District Delegate. One question was how would I feel about the Ten Commandments being posted in the public schools. At first I was appalled. The concept of religious "policies" in a public school scares me. Then I started to think. Why does it scare me? Could it be because over ten years ago I left the Christian religion? (I was raised Protestant in the Congregational sect.) Could it be because I have seen torment and harassment of children not of the Christian faith by children of the Christian faith? Could it be because my high school education was at a Catholic school because our public school were too bad? Could it be because I have experienced the cruelty of children and adults against someone whose beliefs are different? It is a bit of all - and more.
Let me begin by stating I have NO problem with ANYONE's faith as long as it does not encourage the injuring of others by thought or deed. Let me also state that what I cannot tolerate is having someone's beliefs thrust down my throat because they feel I am wrong. I cannot stand religious groups knocking at my door and trying to tell me I must follow them or go to a really bad place. What is to say they are right? What is to say I am right? Only whatever power(s) that be or may not be can judge that.
The religions of the first three people I know that come to mind are: Jewish, Hindu and Pagan. The next few are: Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Catholic, Agnostic, and Wiccan. We all had different beliefs but respected each other and learned from each other. As you can see, many of my friends and acquaintances are not Christian. Should they have been forced or their children be forced to see a religious code of ethics daily in a public education setting? Especially if the religious code is not of their religion? In all fairness, if the ethical code of one religion - no matter how majority - is posted in a public place, then any other religion - no matter how minority - should be posted as well. You could fill an entire hallway of religious codes of ethics! Now, what if you have an Atheist in school who is offended by this? In all fairness, the codes should be removed. What a can of worms we may open...
I have two options of education for my son: public schools or home. I do not have the option of a religious school for my child. Why? My religion is not popular enough and often looked down upon. Not long after moving to Virginia, I began reading stories in our paper of a Middle Eastern religious group wishing to open a school. There religion is often associated with terrorism and many misconceptions. Personally, the people I met of this religion were more moral and upright than many Christians and many of my own faith. However, because of the actions of a radical few, the majority have a bad reputation. The community wanted to block the school for fear that the school would be a front for training tiny terrorists. Did anyone stop to think that maybe these people truly wanted to provide their children with a school that not only concentrated on academia but also religious studies? Catholics have their schools, so do other Christian religions. I have yet to see a Pagan based School, a Wiccan based school, a Hindu school... (if they exist, please tell me). So, since I have no options for an education with a religious setting and I feel children can greatly benefit from a school setting socially, I have no other option than the public schools. Is it fair for my son to have the religious code of another person staring at him daily when I know if I ask the school board to post ours I will be laughed out of the county? What is my son being taught - even subliminally? That the beliefs of his family are not important in the eyes of the majority. That we are wrong. That we are possibly worthless.
Religious history is a subject I would love to see taught in public schools. Many religions from the dawn of man when his Gods were of the Earth, to organized pre-Christian rights to the rise of Buddha, Zoroaster, Judaism, Christianity and others are fascinating. It is possible for a course as this to be taught without teaching one religion is better. Though this takes a strong teacher who is open to anyone's belief system and who is willing to teach the history of ANY religion of ANY student in the class. A moment of silence at the beginning of school, sporting events and such is not offensive to me. This gives anyone of any faith a chance to pray to his or her deity/deities or just to sit respectfully. However, shoving a Christian practice down the throat of a non-Christian abhors me if it is in a public place. If I want my son to have a Christian based education, I will find a Christian based school.
Years ago a professor told me he hates the term "Melting Pot" when describing our country. We are not a melting pot. We are more of a salad. Each of us have our own flavor, color, texture, spice that contributes to the delicousness of a well constructed salad. Even with the dressing that binds the community of vegetables and fruits, our own uniqueness comes through. If you bake brownies from scratch do you taste the flour, the sugar, the eggs, the salt when the preparation id done? No, you taste only the chocolate that overpowers the rest. In a salad, the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, carrots all retain their flavor. They are just sharing the same bowl. Plus, which is more nutritious? Is it more nutritious for us to allow a group to over power our individual flavors or to let us all shine through?
Religious morals should first be taught at home then in a religious setting as a church, synagogue, temple, coven or mosque. A public place is for the public. We are all part of the public. If we allow one group to display a religious icon, phrase or whatnot, we must allow any other to as well. If not, we are doomed to repeat the intolerances that history has shown in her bloody past. The Burning Times, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, Christians being forced to battle beasts for Roman entertainment, the Christians forcing Pagans to follow or die - do we want to repeat this?
Does any of you know what it is like to be teased in the halls, told by teachers you are evil or just ignored all based on religion? Does anyone know what it is like to be told in a PUBLIC school to start the morning with a prayer? When you say something as simple as the Lord's Prayer but your faith uses Debts and Debtors as opposed to the more common Trespasses to have the teacher make a spectacle of you? Do you know the torture fourth graders are capable of inflicting on another just based on religion? Do you know the pain the singled out child feels? I do... It hurts like no one would believe... It hurts worse when you are in a public school you though was not religiously biased. I expected such treatment in the parochial system when I entered High School. I did not expect such treatment in the public schools when I was a younger child. Yet it happened and I was tormented for a long time. Regardless of what the majority insists, this harassment happens - at all levels. My school denied much of what they say happen to me and others.
My son is of a minority because his father and I made a hard decision about our faith. I do not want him to feel like he is evil or bad in a place he should be learning tolerance, acceptance, Math, Reading, Science and History. He will face enough trouble from close minded ignoramuses throughout his life. I do not want it to start in a place where he should be able to be himself while conforming to the basic morals which should bind us all. It is wrong to kill. It is wrong to steal someone's possessions, spouse or children. It is wrong to rape. We must respect others: parents; elders; peers; those who we do not agree with. These morals can be taught without a religious basis. If you want to teach them as they apply to your religion, do so at home or at your place of worship. Do not force my son or the children of my friends to have one religion's codes thrust upon them when we all know our codes will be ignored.
Please, when school districts, local and state governments talk about bringing religion of ANY TYPE to a public school, stop and think. What could the ramifications be for a person not of that religion? Will their beliefs be allowed to be posted for all to observe as well? Even if there is only one student of five thousand of a different religion, will he or she be given the same respect as the majority? Or will the student be forgotten or worse, ridiculed if he or she speaks out? I will teach my son to be tolerant and curious of all faiths. I will teach my son to pity those who are so close-minded they cannot see the wonderful colors and textures of our country. I will teach my son he can speak his mind freely as long as he does not speak to damage another. I will teach my son to stand against injustices and above all to honor what he is and who he will be.
Please, do not make our jobs as parents any more difficult than it already is. Please do not do anything in the public schools that could make my son feel inferior based on the PERSONAL belief system called religion. Allow his religious education and experiences to be guided by his parents. I feel putting the religious code of any religion no matter how popular in a public education system is creating problems we may not be able to handle in the future. As History has shown us, when we mix politics with religion, people die.
Blessed Be to All, Whomever You Follow.