Atheists Aren’t Stopping ‘See You at the Pole’

It’s not that hard to understand where public schools have to draw the line with respect to religion.

Teachers and administrators are not allowed to proselytize during school hours or anytime they’re wearing their “Teacher” or “Coach” hats. They can, however, sponsor a Christian club after school (assuming the school allows clubs for other faiths and no faith as well) and talk about faith in that capacity.

Students can pray or read the Bible in school (provided that it’s not disruptive). They can start a religious extracurricular group if they’d like. They can even run See You At the Pole events (which many students did on Wednesday) outside school hours.

Why so many Christians think all that constitutes persecution is beyond me.

Here’s how badly they don’t get it.

At East Hanover Township Elementary School in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, a parent had a letter handed out in the classroom that said all students were going to participate in the SYATP event during school hours unless parents signed a permission slip against participation.

The superintendent of the district later said the letter was never authorized and SYATP wouldn’t be occurring during the school day. (Instead, it was held 10 minutes before school started.)

Members of American Atheists later protested the event — which was uncalled for after the school had made the appropriate changes — but give the atheists (including the Pennsylvania Nonbelievers) credit for getting this story into the press.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, Christians educators are acting like “anti-Christian” forces took something away from them because they’re being reminded of the law.

In Wilson County, where the school district lost a lawsuit involving a parent prayer group, a policy requires such events be student-led only, deputy director of schools Mickey Hall said.

“We prayed that the (ACLU) wouldn’t be a hindrance to us, but also that the Board of Education would change their thinking and stop appeasing the ACLU,” said Westmoreland father Scottie Graves.

Kayla Carter, a senior at Westmoreland High, said she was praying for her teachers who couldn’t participate. “I think we all want to take a stand,” she said. “It’s upsetting and it’s not right teachers can’t pray with us.”

Again, it’s amazing the level of ignorance at play here. Teachers can pray. They can even pray with students. But they can’t do it while they’re acting as government agents. They can’t lead a prayer in the classroom or locker room. That’s not discrimination; that’s just good public policy.

At least The Tennessean got a good sound byte from Thaddeus Schwartz of Secular Life:

[Schwartz] supports the right of teachers to express their religion, but he doesn’t think that’s appropriate at school.

“There are so many places and so many opportunities to do these kinds of things, the best policies would be not to use the school grounds and property to do this,” he said.

That’s all it comes down to. Pray at home or at church — no one’s going to stop you. Not any atheist or civil rights group, that’s for sure. And if you have a crazy urge to pray while you teach, go work at a private Christian school.

But don’t waste your time trying to push your faith in a public school. We have the law on our side and nothing gets church/state separation activists more riled up than people proselytizing to children on the public dime.

(via Justin Vacula)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505622038 Anonymous

    There’s no reason for it other than to proselytize.  It’s trying to shove the praying in peoples’ faces so they ask about it and want to join.  It’s not like there aren’t 17 other hours in every day that these kids aren’t at school.  If they want to do it that bad, go straight to your church after school.

  • Psychotic Atheist

    It’s strange.  I grew up in a culture where prayer was a legal obligation of the school, and most people I know grew up to be either not particularly religious, or of a completely different religion.  The prayers were kind of vague, but of the Christo-Islamic variety (I don’t think there were  any Jews at my school, but there were plenty of Muslims). 

    The Christians of the USA would do well to heed the lessons of Europe:  Have a state-ordained religious position at your peril.  Government are barely capable of running the things it is needed to run. It is absolutely terrible at running religion!

    Of course, this doesn’t stop me from being exasperated by the pandering to religion that our educational system gets involved in.  At least we have (or at least had when I were a lad) compulsory religious education classes where we would learn things about other faiths in a factual basis (much like Dawkins and Dennett have championed in the past).  There’s nothing more toxic to religion than learning the details of other people’s religions.  When you think to yourself “It’s crazy, how can anyone really believe that?” it’s not too much of a push to turn the question inwards before realising you have as much basis for your own weird beliefs as anyone else: None but the words of your parents and priests.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      One argument for prayer in school I suppose.

      I churned out so many Our Fathers and Hail Marys that the words lost all meaning and just became a word salad you stumble through as quickly as possible.

      In rote school prayer there is no sense that you are talking to any god, just making noise with your mouth.

  • Psychotic Atheist

    It’s strange.  I grew up in a culture where prayer was a legal obligation of the school, and most people I know grew up to be either not particularly religious, or of a completely different religion.  The prayers were kind of vague, but of the Christo-Islamic variety (I don’t think there were  any Jews at my school, but there were plenty of Muslims). 

    The Christians of the USA would do well to heed the lessons of Europe:  Have a state-ordained religious position at your peril.  Government are barely capable of running the things it is needed to run. It is absolutely terrible at running religion!

    Of course, this doesn’t stop me from being exasperated by the pandering to religion that our educational system gets involved in.  At least we have (or at least had when I were a lad) compulsory religious education classes where we would learn things about other faiths in a factual basis (much like Dawkins and Dennett have championed in the past).  There’s nothing more toxic to religion than learning the details of other people’s religions.  When you think to yourself “It’s crazy, how can anyone really believe that?” it’s not too much of a push to turn the question inwards before realising you have as much basis for your own weird beliefs as anyone else: None but the words of your parents and priests.

  • http://twitter.com/TominousTone Tom Lawson

    Sounds like an “Are You with Us or Against Us?” event.

    They should call it: “If I Don’t See You at the Pole You’re Not Sitting with Us at Lunch Anymore.”

  • Gus Snarp

    I don’t see how the school changing the event to comply with the rules makes the protest “uncalled for”. Changing the event after the letter was handed out in school doesn’t change the fact that the letter was handed out. It doesn’t change the clear message that was sent by that letter to any non-Christian student. It probably doesn’t even mean that the school administrators get it. The protest sends a strong counter message and may be quite necessary to impress upon the school administrators that this isn’t just a sop to the ACLU, this is about real people whose rights were violated when that letter was handed out in class, and makes it clear that anyone who quietly cringed or felt intimidated by that letter is not alone.

    • Carl S.

      Exactly.  I was PA Nonbelievers’ coordinator of the response, and at the time of the protest, the school district had not contacted any of the complaining parties acknowledging the district’s wrongdoing (by allowing distribution of the opt-out slip, and allowing it to say that the starting time was the same as the start time of school).  Their attorney (a graduate of Grove City College—look it up) even claimed in a letter to FFRF that the event was planned ALL ALONG to END at 8:50pm (the official start of school)—a lie or an failure to do his research….either one, justifying his termination as solicitor of the district.  His response was so absurd that FFRF may still pursue the matter.  We also need to find out if the event was held on school time in previous years, and they just got caught this year.  Of course, the reason why they want to hold it during school hours is to make sure that all the kids arriving on the buses will be able to attend and be “shepherded” direct from the bus to the flagpole.

  • Trina

    All the prayers to allow prayer weren’t answered . . . maybe they should take the hint!

  • b00ger

    The persecution complex comes out of a long history of Christian privilege in this country. They have been allowed to skirt the laws for so long with impunity that when they are forced to follow the law, they feel like they are being discriminated against. Sadly, most are too thick-headed to ever be able to empathize with non-Christains. Christian dogma makes up so much of their reality that anything that detracts from their ability to publicly display their faith is seen as tantamount to denying them a basic human right. I think a more effective tactic that protesting is to demand a similar event for Humanism or (insert any non-Christian religion here). Then we can cry foul when denied. Look up the Rock Beyond Belief story for an example of what I’m talking about.

  • cipher

    “We prayed that the (ACLU) wouldn’t be a hindrance to us, but
    also that the Board of Education would change their thinking and stop
    appeasing the ACLU,” said Westmoreland father Scottie Graves.

    Seems not to have worked, doesn’t it?

    • Drakk

      Hm, anyone else would take the hint and stop trying it, but I’m assuming that’s beyond them…

  • http://infidel753.blogspot.com Infidel753

    By a very common weird religious inversion of logic, whenever they are prevented from pushing their religion on others, that constitutes them being persecuted.  And if they can’t do it under government auspices, that means the government is oppressing them.

    Psychotic Atheist — beware of confusing cause and effect.  Many European countries have official religions and are highly secular, but that doesn’t mean the former leads to the latter.  It may be that, due to the decline of the power of religion, there was less interest in investing the necessary effort to disestablish the church once such an idea became thinkable.  An official religion in the US would have nightmarish results.  Sure, it would make religion unpopular in the long run — but that’s already happening anyway.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    What’s worse is that this is an elementary school. The oldest children at that school are probably ten years old. You know it wasn’t their idea to pray at the flagpole. This isn’t student led. No, this is all coming from their parents and religious leaders. I’m certainly in support of middle school and high school students forming groups or organizing activties according to their interests, but little kids like this couldn’t have even found out about “See You at the Pole” without major influence from adults. 

  • Sue Blue

    I’m sure that grade-school kids are just leaping out of bed a half hour earlier every morning so they can rush off to stand around a flagpole and pray in the snow or rain before school starts.  Yeah, that would get me up in the morning…
    Like Anna says, this is not a student-led initiative but just a bunch of christian nutjob parents using their kids to push their religious agenda.  This is a thinly-veiled attempt to “out” the non-christians so they can be discriminated against by the christian majority.   In these cases I’m always reminded of that Dr. Seuss story about the star-bellied sneeches and those without “stars upon thars”.   That little story about the stupidity of bigotry should be required reading in all schools.  

    • Parse

      When I was in high school, See You At The Pole was only attended by the Real True Christians.   It wasn’t so much an attempt to weed out the non-Christians, as an attempt for all the RTCs to prove to each other how much more Christian they than the unsaved heathens (read as: everybody else, including those who go to other churches).  Of course, this was a number of years ago, and things easily could have changed since then.

      • Demonhype

        See You At The Pole as a student-led, prior-to-the-start-of-school-day event was just a way for RTC’s to prove themselves like that.  And that’s just fine.  No problem if some particularly Jesus-infused types want to get up extra early just to pray on their own.  No C/S issues there.

        To make SYATP a school-led during-the-school-day event requiring a parent’s signature to get out of it is essentially an attempt to weed out the non-Christians and/or force themselves down the throats of others.  On the public dime.  Which is something else entirely.

  • Anonymous

    What more do you expect? Christians have a deep persecution complex, always have. And modern pastors and apologists don’t help when they endlessly quote that verse about how “the world hated me before you, and it’ll hate you too…”. Even when society disregards them, they read it as persecution. It’s all part of a massive delusion stemming from a failed doomsday cult struggling to justify it’s existence as it fades ever further into the background.

  • Edmond

    How the hell do you have to sign a permission slip to have your child NOT attend?  What happens if the kid doesn’t have a slip?  Will he or she be FORCED to go?

    • Carl S.

      Yes, that’s the $64,000 question.  We think that the parents (and perhaps some teachers) would have greeted the buses as they arrived and led the kiddies to the flagpole, unless there was an opt-out form filed.  Or, if the kids went to their classroom, all except the opt-out kids would have been released to go to the flagpole.  But who would be qualified to watch out for the safety of the kids while out at the flagpole, other than teachers???  C.S. PA Nonbelievers

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    …a parent had a letter handed out in the classroom that said all students were going to participate in the SYATP event during school hours unless parents signed a permission slip against participation.

    A parent “had” it handed out in the classroom? So somebody else did that for the parent? Like a teacher perhaps? Or a student right in front of the teacher? This looks like it was done with at least the tacit approval of the school administration. It sounds disingenuous for the principal to say only that the letter was “never authorized.” It seems likely that it was allowed with a wink and a nod.

    I think that purpose of the letter might have been a clumsy attempt to find out who are the atheist parents in the community, or at least the parents who uphold the First Amendment. 

    Gotta find them un’merican commie pinko lib’ral fag lovin’ God hatin’ ay-thee-ists hidn’ under our beds! They’s ev’where, didn’ y’know? We’s gotta git rid of  ‘em.

    • Carl S.

      It appears that the parent submitted it to the principal, who allowed it to be distributed in the kids’ classroom mailboxes, and may have even used the school copier to run off copies.  It’s not a new principal, but the Superintendent was out of town, supposedly on vacation.  C.S. PA Nonbelievers

  • Pureone

    I never understand why they purposefully go against the teachings of Jesus-  Matthew 6:5-6.

    • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

      Because even though the Bible is the literal word of God and should be followed without question, any parts Christians don’t like are obviously parables that don’t have to be taken seriously.

    • cipher

      Jesus didn’t really mean those things. He was forced to say them by Liberals.

  • Dan W

    Have these morons never read the Constitution? It’s not that long of a document. Certainly not as long as the Bible, which I’m sure many of these Christians haven’t read either.

    I remember in high school there was a See You at the Pole thing before school one year. At least they were smart enough at my high school to have it outside of school hours. I didn’t go, partly because I was an atheist even then and partly because I was in the marching band and we had practice that started before school. I still don’t understand the point of these prayers at the flag pole. Maybe it’s for True Christians (TM) to show off how religious they are. In any case it’s prayer so it’s pointless.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rsvohi Ryan S. Valentine

     If
    the Government is enforcing a “separation of church and state,” by
    telling people of any faith that there are certain times they can and
    cannot practice, or speak openly about their beliefs, then the
    government is in violation of the constitutional rights of those people.
    In this situation, there is neither freedom of or from religion, or
    freedom of speech. And since the government is the instrument of
    enforcement, it violates any pretense of “separation of church and
    state” as well the injunction that “congress shall make no law
    infringing on the establishment or practice of religion.” This issue is, and has always been centered on certain people’s intolerance and prejudice against the belief systems of others. So what what has happened is that now, instead of free exchange of ideas and tolerance of diversity of those ideas, (all of which is essential to proper education and free thinking) we have enforcement of federal laws which mandate an atheist (not agnostic, which I would be in favor of) belief system be promulgated.

    • http://www.facebook.com/rsvohi Ryan S. Valentine

      Of course, if the Atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Pagan etc.  teachers would start talking openly about their faiths, I am sure those Christians who feel so persecuted as it stands now would be the first to object….BUT that type of free, opened dialog is what would be valuable to our students, to our communities, and would be aligned with what the founders intended.

  • Mylesbuell

    i am a student in a tennessee high school and the syatp event was crazy. They had plenty of teachers out there. (up to 10) all the teachers/ students here are fired up about how the aclu might come at them even though they never did. some students and i aren’t protesting but we are forming our own syatp event to represent everyone elses beliefs that were not represented . TN is brutal about church and state seperation and it drives me nuts.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_M52AGLNZNZEPUWHR2AQE2AO35Q grab a gun

    Everyday, it seems that these religious organizations are becoming more involved with our government’s politics.  They have become lobbiests!  I say, impose taxes on these religious institiutions!  They have become nothing more than businesses, so tax them as such.  No representation without taxation.

  • Scott

    Wow…with all the school shootings, teenage pregnancies, rapes, and drunk driving incidents you are WASTING time on this conversation?  Wow.  Get over it.

  • Mommy2rain

    1 Thessalonians 5:17 says “Pray without ceasing. So a teacher who is a Christian cannot “Pray at home or at church” and check their religion at the door. They may not be allowed to lead the students in prayer, but They are still praying. Most probably praying for their unsaved students and colleagues. I’m not advocating the teachers preach to their students, but if a student, who is a Christian, asks their teacher to pray with them why should the teacher not be allowed to do so even if it is on school grounds?


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