One thing we’ve all learned from the Jessica Ahlquist case is that many public schools have religious symbols in the buildings — and they justify their placement by saying it’s “tradition.” It’s always been there, so it should always be there.
Tradition is overrated, though, and in these cases, it doesn’t make it right. You need people like Jessica pointing out that the religious banner should never have been allowed in the first place, no matter how sentimental it may be for other people.
It’s a similar situation for Luke Fevin, an atheist and a father in Alberta, Canada. He enrolled his children into Sturgeon Heights school, a public school that he believed was free of religious influence.
He quickly found out that wasn’t the case:
At Sturgeon Heights, they began every morning with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer over the intercom. Even if non-Christian families wanted to opt out, they couldn’t, since the prayer was piped throughout the school. For Fevin, that wasn’t acceptable. He’d enrolled his kids at Sturgeon Heights on the understanding it was a secular school. No one, he says, had told him about the prayer policy. So last year, he began an effort to get it changed, not just for his kids, but for every family that might not feel brave enough to oppose long-established tradition.
Why do they do the daily prayer? Tradition, of course:
Principal Garnet Goertzen [says:]
“The Lord’s Prayer is part of opening exercises. It’s been a part of this community’s tradition since the school was new. This community is predominantly a Christian community, and it has been since the school opened.”
Yes. In the multicultural Canada of 2011, a public, non-Catholic, supposedly secular school board, fully funded by Alberta taxpayers, has long been explicitly encouraging Christian prayer.
The article in the Edmonton Journal points out that the school division isn’t actually breaking the law (on something of a technicality). But there’s still no reason to continue the tradition.
In fact, there’s an upside to this whole story: Fevin’s complaint has resulted in a partial victory!
As of this September, at least, principal Goertzen has suspended morning prayer at Sturgeon Heights. The Sturgeon school division is now reviewing its own religious promotion policy. And the community is striving to find some kind of compromise, like a moment of silence, or an ecumenical “affirmation” of values, that maintains a tradition of moral reflection without imposing a specific faith. It won’t be easy to find a solution that pleases everyone. Luke Fevin says his family has already felt immense social pressure, either to leave the school, or surrender the argument. He says he’s not just speaking for his family — but for all who oppose mandatory prayer, yet are too intimidated to say so.
I don’t know if there’s any way to show support for him, but if there’s a fan club, I’m joining. We need more people like Luke, courageous enough to speak out against religious tradition in places where it doesn’t belong.
(Thanks to Ron for the link!)
***Update***: Luke Fevin tells his own version of the story at the Edmonton Atheists’ website.
Of course, one interesting question in all this is why out a school with approx 375 children, have only two families said anything? Is this because only two families feel this way? Of course not – the elephant in the room is that anyone who dares dissent against the religious status quo will pay a price (as my family are doing). I know of parents that agree with us but just don’t want to get involved and even parents who agree, but because they own local businesses know that speaking up could well be financial suicide. Bullying discrimination by religion. It is real, but no-one wants to touch it — it is more toxic than racial discrimination.
So far, the net result of religion in my children’s school has been to set parent against parent, child against child and even teacher against teacher — but to point this out would be considered inflammatory and disrespectful.
(Thanks to Dorothy for the link!)