Can You Stop the Pro-Christian Messages from Afar?

Reader Kaitie is facing a bit of a dilemma. Her boyfriend (a senior in high school) attends a public school where possible pro-Christian videos are being played for students. He’s not about to stir the pot over it and Kaitie is wondering if there’s anything she can do about it even though she’s no longer attending the school (and if so, what):

I am a freshman in college and I attended a high school in a very small, rural town in bible belt Missouri. My boyfriend is still going to school there and has informed me of something very disturbing. The school has an educational time every Tuesday and Thursday called LEAD time in which students are taught lessons by senior and junior mentors and sometimes shown videos with life lessons and such.

This week a video was shown with an obvious religious bias. It showed two kids skydiving along to Christian rock music in the intro, I guess to make them seem rebellious and interesting, and then showed the two having a conversation. They talked about morals (sexual promiscuity, lying, cheating, etc) and although the boyfriend said they never actually “brought it back to Jesus,” it was very obviously implied, as if the Christian music at the beginning wasn’t obvious enough!

I was outraged and he didn’t seem to understand why I was so surprised. “You’ve been away from [the school] too long” he said, because really, I shouldn’t be surprised that something like that was shown at that school. The thing is, last year things like that weren’t shown, but I do remember an incident in which a video about violence against homosexuals was shown and several students complained. “Edgy” videos were never shown during LEAD time again.

I told the boyfriend that he should complain about this video just like the Christians complained about the last one, but he wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it. He is more of a skeptic than an atheist, but his parents are churchgoers so he can’t go the common “parents complain to the administration” route. He isn’t nearly as “activist” as I am when it comes to his disbelief and I doubt he wants attention drawn to him for being anti-religion at that school, especially because I was known for being outspoken about my atheism when I went there and we think people might think he is just following me or that I converted him or something.

While I would really like to see him step up to the plate on this one, I doubt he will do anything. He says that if another video similar to this one is shown (it’s part of a series) that has religious undertones, he will maybe say something. My question is: is there anything I can do to complain if I don’t go to school there anymore? I would like to help my boyfriend find some more nonbelievers at the school so he doesn’t have to go it alone, because I know they exist, but they’re hard to find. Any advice for me or the boyfriend?

Do you know of any other time when students have fought something like this in a public school?

This was part of the message I sent back to Kaitie:

My own thinking: There’s not much you can do from a distance. Someone inside the school has to take action. If you attended the high school, perhaps there’s a teacher you’re close to that you could contact about this? (Preferably a tenured one.) A teacher might be able to put a stop to it without much legal action. Without any hard evidence that there is a pro-Christian message being displayed, it might be tough to do anything, though. The music itself isn’t a smoking gun (unless there are several mentions of Jesus per song).

Does anyone else have better advice?

  • ubi dubius

    She could ask Americans United for Separation of Church and State to look into it.

  • Catherine

    Kaitie,
    It might be helpful if you know the name of the series to try to find out who produces the videos. If they are produced by a religious group, that is going to help prove your point. If your boyfriend knows the students who showed the video, maybe he could ask a few questions (where did they find the video? etc). He wouldn’t necessarily have to come right out and say that he had an objection to them.

    My advice would also be to find a sympathetic teacher.

  • Richard Wade

    This sounds more like Katie wanting to change her boyfriend’s personality to her liking rather than wanting to protect church-state separation at her old school. She wants him to be more opinionated than he actually is about this, and coming from that, wants him to be more assertive about his rights. The guy is who he is and he thinks the way he does. Being young, that will probably change as he matures, but he will grow the way he needs to grow, not the way Katie wants him to grow. If he decides on his own that this issue is worth the struggle then she can be supportive of him, but otherwise she should butt out. She will only muck up the relationship if she tries to mold him the way she thinks he ought to be.

    I would suggest to Katie that she should take care of her own environment and to join or start a secular student group at her college.

    As for the high school and the video, as my dear ol’ Dad often said, “The most powerful force in the universe is apathy.” If neither the boyfriend nor anyone else in the school cares about this enough, then they’re getting what they want and they deserve what they get. Riding in uninvited with the cavalry from the outside to “rescue” the situation is not going to end well.

  • Pockets

    While i agree that apathy can work if everyone is apathetic, the fundamentalists have taught us that if you yell and scream at the top of your lungs someone will pay attention to you. Now once you get their attention you have to have something to say. First I would (like mentioned above) talk to Americans United for Separation of Church and State and see what their stance on this is, and to get good feedback on how to address the issue, then I would address the school board, tell them that as an alumni you have ties to the school and have become aware of “religious propaganda” being played in schools.

  • http://falterer.blogspot.com Falterer

    What precisely is offensive about the video? It sounds like an interview with two young Christians talking about their opinions on moral issues. How was it “obviously implied? I didn’t read anything specific in there that made me upset. Is the school presenting this video instead of a comprehensive sex education course? Kaitie may be overreacting a little.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    I second that. It sounds like Kaitie is overreacting a bit.

    Just e-mail the school. Just tell them that you’re an alumni, and that you heard a rumor that you are unhappy about. If they’re really nasty about it, then you can make a big deal about it.

  • J

    There are tenured public school teachers?

  • http://arkonbey.blogspot.com arkonbey

    I agree with Falterer: as long as Christ is not overtly mentioned, I don’t see the problem. I’m an atheist, but I’m not offended by the LDS commercials that say things like “go play with your kids instead of sitting in front of the tv” and “be nice to your neighbors”. I think they’re great and more people should follow their advice.

    Her reaction uses a flawed logic. For example: If Xtian dogma say ‘don’t lie’ and the videos say ‘don’t lie’ and if it’s being shown in the bible belt then it must be overtly Xtian and its entire purpose is evangelical.

    I’m also inclined to agree with Richard W.

  • infideljoe

    Maybe we should choose our battles wisely. If we complain about every little religious thing, eventually no one will want to listen to us anymore. Sometimes we need to lighten up a little.

  • http://notapottedplant.blogspot.com/ Transplanted Lawyer

    As the Newdow case revealed, the courts will look to standing as a way to avoid dealing with arguments against popular religious practices. Katie is not a student, and not a parent of a student. So she lacks standing to do anything about it personally. The boyfriend, who would have standing, has chosen to do nothing so as a practical matter that’s where the matter will rest.

    Besides, if the boyfriend is insufficiently outraged to complain, then we outsiders must at least consider the possibility that the video wasn’t so bad after all.

  • Polly

    @infideljoe,

    I agree. We’re going to end up looking like the curmudgeon sub-culture if we get too petty. I say we stick to the battles where people are actually being harmed – picked on, excluded, unfairly denied benefits, rights, etc.
    It’ll be better if we’re supporting a real live underdog, rather than just rushing in too start legal proceedings over abstract matters.

  • SarahH

    There are tenured public school teachers?

    Yes. My mom works for the school system and really early on, I remember thinking that the word was “ten year” and it meant you were safe from being fired if you’d worked there for ten years, lol. But yes, it exists for public school teachers as well as college professors, etc.

  • JSug

    If she’s registered to vote in the district, she could contact the school board.

  • Elle Cohen

    katie should write to the school board, or she should send letters or e-mails to the parents of the students attending the class. She should send letters to anyone she can. While I do think she could be overreacting slightly, she might not be, (i dont know the whole situation) If this is allowed it is a slippery sloap til christianity is openly taught in public schools. Or she could write to the local newspaper. Even if it does no good, which it probably wont, at least she will of made her opinions known.


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