When Public School Programs Push Religion

What would you do if your child was forced to attend religious ceremonies against his will by his public high school? Maybe your gut impulse would be to sue the school, especially if it continued after you asked it to stop. But would you be willing to ostracize your child and force school districts that are already struggling financially to spend time and money on legal fees to defend themselves?

These questions were all recently put to me and at a local Americans United for the Separation of Church and State meeting in Columbia, South Carolina, by a lawyer who has a child in a South Carolina public school.  She is a non-believer and the band teacher is a Christian who has, reportedly, driven students out of the band before because of his focus on his religion. Though a non-believer, she tries to be laid back about what she protests, it's not worth it to her, for example, to question the mandatory moment of silence the school district enforces, a policy in violation of the First Amendment according to a Supreme Court decision, or to protest the prevalence of Christian music the band is asked to play.

But this Christmas, the band was asked to play, for a grade, a performance at a Methodist church where the band teacher and minister led the band in five or six Christian prayers and it was, in essence, a church service.  The mom attended this and, with rising anger, was asked repeatedly to stand up, sit down, and praise the Lord.  She contacted the band teacher, who saw no issue with the performance, and she contacted the principal of the school, who hasn't gotten back to her.  And so, she put this question to the group, what was she supposed to do?

I can't say I have a good answer, there's a limit to how much you can do without really drawing attention to yourself and potentially making life difficult for your child.  For her to have legal standing, her child would still have to be in school when she brought her case, and she doesn't want to do that to him.  Admittedly, life in the South is more fraught with these difficulties than in other parts of the country. When I was in school I had to listen to the principal tell us to "have a blessed day" every day over the morning announcements. Such a large percentage of the population is Christian, and openly hostile to other religions, that it makes your life very tough if you stand up for your (non)beliefs.

Not everyone is Madalyn Murray O'Hair, not everyone wants to define their life by standing up for a cause, we've all got other things we want to do with our time.  Unfortunately, that means that a lot of stuff like this goes uncommented upon, unprotested, and uncorrected. SCA and a lot of other groups are working to help, but things like this are far too common, and I know that so many people aren't telling their stories for fear of being ostracized, I can only hope that it will get easier and that advocacy will make a difference.

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