Prayer at a Preschool Graduation

During a Texas public preschool’s “graduation” ceremony on May 31st, one teacher urged a student to say “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Amber Barnhill was a parent at that ceremony and she was surprised by what she heard. She didn’t want to make a big deal out of it — it was probably just an innocent mistake, right? So she decided to just chat with the teacher and let her know what the issue was:

[The teacher] replied “I’m sorry, but I cannot apologize for that”. She kept reiterating this line through the whole of our conversation. She also said “no one else had a problem with it” though clearly she did not ask everyone involved and “no one has ever said a word to me before about this”. I inserted the word “religion” to which she immediately cut me off with “oh it’s not a religion, it’s a way of life. It’s who I am” and elaborated on this.

The conversation just got more frustrating from there. In short, Amber was the voice of reason. The teacher was the voice of denial.

And then, the next day, the teacher sent the students home with a flyer for a local church.

That’s when the Freedom From Religion Foundation got involved. They sent a letter to the Beaumont Independent School District letting them know of the problem — and just like that, the issue appears to have been solved:

Amber Barnhill

12News spoke with the teacher involved. The teacher admits to making a small prayer for the student to say but says she was just trying to give her students a mock graduation.

“I didn’t intend to impose, I just tried to mock a graduation. I did apologize to the lady who was the only one I found who was offended,” She told 12News.

The district say it will respond to the case following a thorough investigation. The teacher tells 12News she will not include prayers in any future programs.

Problem solved.

Two quick lessons from all this: The teacher’s good intentions are no excuse for circumventing the law. Also, it makes no difference if one parent complains or 100 parents complain; if you’re doing something illegal, then it needs to stop.

Kudos to Amber for saying something about this instead of just letting it go.

By the way: Amber is a Christian.

Incidentally, this is the same school district where a principal shut down a cosmetology class last fall because one of the students “looked” gay. It’s also just a short drive away from the Kountze Independent School District, home of the Bible-banner cheerleaders.

(Thanks to Richard for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • MD

    “I inserted the word “religion” to which she immediately cut me off with “oh it’s not a religion, it’s a way of life. It’s who I am”’

    That sounds very much like Islamic fundamentalists.

    • Spazticus

      I suppose that her statement could be accurate, if it were say, Taoism being mentioned. But then again, I doubt many Taoists would suggest a child should do something like this.

    • CultOfReason

      Also sounds a bit like Bill O’Reily when he claimed Christianity is not a religion, it’s a philosophy.

    • Tom

      Certain flavours of Christianity have been doing this for a while. “A way of life”, “a personal relationship with Jesus.” Not a religion, nossiree. What makes it such blatant spin and denial is that they mostly seem to have had no problem whatsoever calling themselves a religion until the word started to take on more and more negative connotations in modern society.

    • onamission5

      I am struck by the fact that this was one Christian religiousplaining her own religious beliefs to another Christian. I don’t know why that amuses me, but it does.

    • Stev84

      There is really not much of a difference between Muslim, Jewish or Christian fundamentalists. Muslims get away with more in their area of the world, but the underlying thought processes are exactly the same.

    • Rain

      “I inserted the word “religion” to which she immediately cut me off with “oh it’s not a religion, it’s a way of life. It’s who I am”’

      They aren’t mutually exclusive. It can be both a religion and a way of life. Usually that line is delivered as though the two are mutually exclusive for the purposes of a rhetorical “shock value” ploy.

      Person A:”Oh but golly, it’s a way of life so it can’t be a religion, ha ha ah ha, got you on that one, aren’t you the dumb one, lulz.”

      Person B:”Uhhh my brain hurtz dude”.

  • Beth

    Good for this mother!

  • rovinrockhound

    The teacher admits to making a small prayer for the student to say but
    says she was just trying to give her students a mock graduation.

    Wait, how is this an excuse? Is she saying that prayers are acceptable during real graduations?

    • MD

      That’s what she thinks happens. So when anyone asks why people should speak up against sponsored prayer in high school graduations, point them to this.

    • UWIR

      Maybe she attended only religious schools, and is having trouble grasping the concept of a public school?

      Or maybe one need not experience an actual graduation to teach in Texas?

  • Anna

    Ugh, I hate all of these stories about the public schools.

    This is a preschool, which makes it even worse. These kids are so young and so innocent. It’s no wonder that almost every child in America starts believing in a deity by the time they are 3 or 4 because even the ones from non-religious homes are exposed to things like this!

    These teachers do not understand (or care) that they are government employees and that it is not their place to tell the children in their care that gods are real or to force them to pray to those gods. If I can’t entrust my children to the school system, then what can I do?

    • Gus Snarp

      People pushing their beliefs on pre-schoolers really pisses me right off. This is just terrible. I understand that they think their beliefs are right and that they have to try to save everyone, but can’t they at least wait until the kids are old enough to understand the issues? Can’t they at least respect other parents wishes as much as they’d want their wishes respected? The obvious answer is no, if they wait until the kids learn to think for themselves they’ll never convert them.

    • Gus Snarp

      In answer to your question: send your kids to a public school in an urbanized area in the north, preferably the northeast, or in California. They’re going to occasionally hear about religion, and there may still be some church/state screw ups and issues, but you’ve got a much better chance at avoiding these sorts of things.

      My kids schools have all done fairly well. There have been some handouts for church camps and activities, but secular hand outs go out as well and I think just about anything is accepted for that purpose (If I could find a good flier for CampQuest Ohio, I’d see if they’ll distribute that next year). There was one book on a suggested reading list for kindergarten that I don’t think should have been there, but I don’t think kindergarten kids go online and look up books to read and then go get them from the library and read them to themselves without their parents helping out somewhere in there.

      • Anna

        Good advice, and I should probably point out that my question was hypothetical. I’m extremely fortunate to live in a diverse part of California. I went through my entire educational experience without encountering any church-state violations, and I grew up with tons of exposure to the public school system. One of my parents was a kindergarten teacher, so I knew lots of teachers growing up, and I also know many current teachers. Prayers at school functions (let alone prayers to Jesus) would never be tolerated here. I can’t even imagine a teacher trying it.

        I have no worries about sending my kids to any of the local public schools, but I wonder what on earth I would do if I lived in the Bible Belt. It’s my understanding that secular private schools can be almost impossible to find there, and if I can’t trust the public school teachers not to try to indoctrinate my children, then that leaves me with, what, homeschooling? I hate the idea of having to do that, but I don’t know what other choice I would have. I’d want to at least make sure my kids weren’t forced to recite or listen to prayers and weren’t being surreptitiously taught religious material.

        Out of curiosity, which book did you think was inappropriate for the kindergarten reading list?

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          I live in the Bible Belt, though not the most religious parts of it. The teachers here aren’t usually the problem- it’s the other students. Usually, a quick call or conference takes care of any problems that arise. The teachers are genuinely trying to be inclusive, they just don’t know how they come across to non-Christians, and polite conversation goes a long way (“I know you aren’t trying to be hurtful, but my kid feels excluded when …” is a decent formulation I know my mom used).

          Note: I don’t currently have kids, this is just what I remember from going to school.

          • Anna

            That’s good to hear. I’m sure I have a somewhat biased impression because of all these stories about teachers and administrators trying to promote Christianity, but it’s nice to know that at least some Bible Belt schools can be trusted to do the right thing.

          • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

            yall are going to love this, it’s a little off topic but anyway: so i work with a xtian mom, she’s my cubical mate. i wear long skirts to work, mostly. it’s a matter of comfort (i sit down all day, pants are restrictive) but i also don’t shave my legs so i’m like, “well, long skirts are best in a state where people like their straight women shaved all over (i live in TX now).” after about a week, my cubicle mate, a fundie, asks me shyly, “i don’t want to be all nosy, but i was wondering (i also wear flat, not heeled shoes), are you a Pentacostal? i noticed your dress and legs and i just don’t want to offend you with anything too risque in my speech.”

            BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

            • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

              That is beautiful. Just beautiful. I actually just got a funny look from my husband because I laughed out loud.

          • Gus Snarp

            I did fine in the Bible belt, too. My hometown was full of born again fundamentalists, and still is, but we never had prayer at school events and we learned evolution in biology class. No significant issues at all. Which is why I find what’s going on now so troubling. In those days they seemed quite content to send their kids to Sunday school and youth group to learn about the Bible and pray, now they want to shoehorn it into public schools.

            I think we’re seeing two phenomena at once: one is evangelicals, mostly in the Bible belt, who want to proselytize at all costs and are therefore trying to stick religion into government in places where it hasn’t been, and the other is rural area that just never caught on to what the rest of the country was doing that are now meeting up with growing urbanized areas and coming into conflict in ways they never imagined.

        • cary_w

          I feel your frustration, but I don’t think the answer is to run away or pull your kids out of school, except as a very last resort. The best thing you can do is to watch very closely what is going on in the schools and speak up when it’s not acceptable. This will not only help your kids, but also make it a better environment for all the kids at the school. By doing this and keeping an ongoing dialogue going with my kids about what is appropriate and not appropriate in school and what can make kids feel uncomfortable or left out, we have had an overall very good expiriance with the public schools in rural Utah for the last 15 years.

          I would also warn you not to be too quick to judge! One of the best teachers my kids ever had was, almost surely, a polygamist. I was a bit freaked out when I first met her, but she turned out to be an excellent third grade teacher. She never brought her religion into the classroom, did some great science units, had excellent classroom control, and took my son from reading at an early second grade level to almost a forth grade level in one year, all while being dearly loved by all her students!

          • Anna

            I think this is generally good advice, but I would be leery about making my children the test case. Still, I know someone has to stay there and keep an eye on things. If all the secular parents leave, then the fundamentalists have carte blanche to do whatever they want.

            Incidentally, I wouldn’t worry too much in Utah. There don’t seem to be as many church-state violations (that I’m aware of) involving Mormons. I think it’s because they have a dedicated program for missionaries, and they don’t just target random children the same way evangelicals do.

            It seems to me that the overall culture of an area really depends on the majority religion. I live in a majority Catholic area, and I would suspect that most Catholic areas in the United States tend not to have a lot of these types of problems. Similarly, I think areas with large Jewish populations can be counted on to respect separation of church and state. I would guess Mormons think along the same lines. Their program for indoctrinating their own children takes place outside the school system entirely.

            Evangelicals appear (to me) to be the least trustworthy group. Whenever there’s one of these stories, an evangelical Christian seems to be behind it. I hate feeling like I can’t trust evangelicals, but I would seriously worry about leaving one of my children alone with them. Catholics I wouldn’t worry about. Jews I wouldn’t worry about. Even Mormons, I wouldn’t worry about. I went to a Mormon summer camp when I was 14, and no one tried to convert me. I wouldn’t mind a conservative polygamist teacher in the slightest, as long as I knew the teacher could be counted on to separate her religion from her job.

            • cary_w

              Letting your child be a test case can be very empowering if the child truly understands the issue and fully believes in it, but, of course, sometimes the best thing for the child is to quickly remove them from a bad situation.

              You are right that Mormon, in general, have a much better understanding of what “separation of church and state” means and why it’s important. (I wish the evangelical Christians would take a lesson from them, but they see the Mormons as “not true Christians”, so I guess it will never work!) But I don’t think it’s because of their missionary programs. I think it’s because, unlike the vast majority of mainstream Christians in this country, the Mormons actually have been a persecuted minority, and in very recent history. It was only a few generations back that they were the ones being ostracized for their religion.

              • Anna

                Makes sense to me, although sadly it does not seem to have helped them at all when it comes to the issue of marriage equality. Their support for Prop 8 was quite disappointing, especially considering their own persecuted past.

          • Randay

            Was she in polygyny or polyandry or group marriage? I have been in an unofficial, but effective group marriage.

            • Anna

              I’m not Cary, but in rural Utah, I can’t imagine she would have been anything other than a fundamentalist Mormon in a plural marriage. Most of them are pretty secretive about it, though, considering Utah’s laws.

        • UWIR

          ” I went through my entire educational experience without encountering any church-state violations”
          Really? No recitals of the Pledge?

          • Anna

            Well, the Pledge is legal, and while I agree that the phrase “under God” shouldn’t be in there, I would only count as church-state violations actions that specifically break the law, ie: teachers asserting the existence of a god, students being forced to recite or listen to prayers, etc.

            • Randay

              Maybe the pledge is legal, but what purpose does it serve? I don’t remember saying in school long long ago. I don’t rise during the national anthem at sporting events either.

              • Anna

                I don’t really have strong feelings about it one way or the other. If “under God” wasn’t in there, I wouldn’t have any objection to the Pledge, but I also don’t think it serves much of a purpose.

            • UWIR

              No, the Pledge is not legal. Just because no one is willing to enforce the law doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

              • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                What’s legal is ultimately decided by SCOTUS, not your or my personal opinion.

              • Anna

                It’s been taken to the courts several times, but there’s been no success in getting them to rule that “under God” is a violation of the Establishment Clause.

                • UWIR

                  “It’s been taken to the courts several times, but there’s been no success in getting them to rule that “under God” is a violation of the Establishment Clause.”

                  That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a violation. And there has been success. A California court ruled that it was constitutional, and gthe Supreme Court vacated that ruling through the technicality of standing.There’s been only one ruling in favor of it, and it was by a three judge panel, only two judges ruled in favor of it, and the ruling rests on such patent absurdities that the judges obviously were lying through their teeth when they said that they believed it was constitutional. For instance, they claimed that it promoted a secular purpose because it advanced the notion of limited government– but the limitation that it advanced was that government must follow the dictates of God! How is “government is limited to following God” a secular purpose?

                  Rich Wilson
                  “What’s legal is ultimately decided by SCOTUS, not your or my personal opinion.”

                  1. What is legal is decided by the law.
                  2. SCOTUS has never ruled in favor of it.
                  3. SCOTUS only rules on federal law. Both the California Constitution and California statute prohibits the pledge.

        • Gus Snarp

          I don’t remember the book exactly. It was an illustrated Christian hymn. Literally, every word of the hymn was in the book and no other words, plus some pictures, including a two page spread of the hands of God the creator. I’ve mentioned it here some time ago because at the time I saw it I was pretty horrified. My son was starting kindergarten and I thought if that was on the reading list we were going to have a big problem.

          • Anna

            That doesn’t sound appropriate to me, either. Granted, there’s a bit of a fuzzy line when it comes to traditional hymns that are also well-known songs (ie: Amazing Grace, All Things Bright and Beautiful, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands), and there are picture book versions of many of those. It’s not quite as problematic as an illustrated prayer or a specifically evangelical text, but I can’t imagine why the teacher thought it was a good idea to put it on the kindergarten reading list.

            In any case, you can always bring your concerns to the teacher or whoever is in charge of putting together the list. Even if they don’t take that title off, they might be willing to put illustrated versions of other religions’ songs or myths as a sort of balance. There are picture books from Buddhist and Hindu mythology, too.

    • http://justdfacsmaam.wordpress.com/ MarkNS

      Move to Canada. While we have our share of fundies up here, they’re usually just laughed at.

      • Texan

        They’re laughed at here, too.

      • Anna

        The more I hear about Canada, the more I like it! If I needed to switch countries, I wouldn’t mind hightailing it over to British Columbia.

      • Jesse Sinclair

        Except our fundies are just better at hiding it. Look at the Harper government…

  • Fentwin

    Pre-school graduation ceremonies?

    How long before they slap a cap and gown on a new born, still dripping amniotic fluid, shove a paper in those phalanges that grip so well and declare “Congratulations for graduating Uterus U.? :P

    • Anna

      They’ve been around since at least the 70s. My old nursery school had them.

    • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

      Hey, don’t mock Uterus U. It’s very hard to get into. Out of the millions that try to enter only one is selected. And my time there was well spent. I can honestly say, that I would be the man I am today, without the time I spent on person growth in Uterus U.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Especially if one uses the wrong entrance.

    • JET

      Parental photo ops and a way to fundraise money for the professional pictures of your child in their construction paper cap holding a rolled up certificate. Seriously.

    • Conuly

      It’s an excuse for dressing them in a silly costume and making them sing and dance for your entertainment.

    • C Peterson

      The school I mentor at is preschool to 8th grade, all age instruction (classrooms aren’t segregated by grade level, so all the kids mix). We formally graduate our 8th graders (anywhere from 1-5 per year), and there are very casual “graduation ceremonies” for preschoolers moving on to kindergarten, and kindergartners moving on to 1st grade. These are really just intended to be fun for the kids involved, and humorous to the attending parents and community members. Student awards are handed out at the same time. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

      • Fentwin

        lol, of course not, I was sincerely just joking around. I would never begrudge anyone such an experience, neither the kids nor their parents. :)

  • jdm8

    I wish the Christian “it’s not a religion” folks would quit making up their own definitions.

    It can go against them anyway, if it’s not a religion, then they might not get the tax-free benefits and other aspects of special privilege they’re trying to keep.

    • Gus Snarp

      Has that been a popular argument for a while now, or does it mostly stem from Bill O’Reilly?

      • jdm8

        I’ve heard it said many years before Bill O’ said it, but he seemed to have popularized it.

        His “tide comes in, tide goes out” comment is something I’ve not heard before he said it.

        • Randay

          Don’t forget Billo’s “the sun comes up and the sun goes down”, which he uses as an excuse for having an imaginary friend.

      • http://CoffeeShopAtheist.com/blog Patrick

        It’s definitely been around since I became a Christian in the mid-90s. It goes back to this ‘get away from dogma’ that Jesus seemed to preach, and get back to Jesus.

        And follow the dogma.

  • JET

    I am thrilled that this was a self-identified Christian mother who called the FFRF and made an issue of this. They can’t blame “those damned atheists” for this one, and it gives me hope that even some Christians in Texas are secular.

    • anniewhoo

      I was thinking the same thing. Could you imagine if she was an atheist? Or simply didn’t state her beliefs? I think this would have gotten much more out of hand.

      • Amber Barnhill

        Not sure. I think they all think I’m an atheist anyways regardless of the fact that I quoted scripture (and didn’t get struck by lightening lol). I’m being attacked and threatened and people trying to seriously screw with my personal life and my job (hence my kids). Searching for info about me online and trying to get me in trouble. someone was talking about organizing a protest in my front yard. I’ve been told not to show my face in public. I am really blown away. I didn’t realize how terrible people can be!

    • The Other Weirdo

      She wasn’t a True Christian™. There. Problem solved.

      • Amber Barnhill

        actually, “this woman” was born and raised god ole’ fashioned fundy baptist, went to church school, graduated from seminary and spent about 5 years in full time Christian service. specifically because of the WIDE diversity of belief just among Christians, this mother is very careful about adult religious influence on her children without her consent or knowledge, as would any concerned parent be.

        • Amber Barnhill

          as well as… careful about those who expressly represent Christ to her child whild doing so in a manner that defies the law, disrespects diversity of beliefs and promotes lying. i’s a moral and ethical issue, not a personal one

          • Joe Olden

            The person accusing you of not being a “true Christian™” is making a joke. It is a common joke among atheists that when Christians are faced with another Christian acting in a surprise fashion, they will simply claim the person is not a “true Christian.” The “™” is a hint that this is a joke.

            • Amber Barnhill

              I actually wondered that after I responded lol. My apologies. I’ve been on the receiving end of quite a bit of “you’re not a real christian!” and “you should be ashamed of yourself! A real christian wouldn’t….”. “This is Murca by golly, if you don’t like it you can leave!” almost non stop for the last two days. It didn’t occur to me it might be a joke until later. I had thought approaching it from an openly Christian perspective (with good arguments and sound logic mind you) would lessen the social angst of my position, but it seems to have had quite the opposite effect lol.

              • The Other Weirdo

                The trade mark sign(™) is usually a signal that the post is sarcasm. I am an atheistic Jew. Who am I to determine with any validity who is a True Christian™ and who is a Worshiper of Satan®. :)

                • Randay

                  “atheistic Jew” is an oxymoron. Either you are an atheist or you are a Jew. I was brought up as a Xian and neither I nor anybody else would call me an “atheistic Xian”.

                • The Other Weirdo

                  That’s your problem. What you call yourself is of sublime indifference to me.

                • Tweekus

                  Not really. Someone can be an athiest and still be an ethnic Jew. They may keep Kosher, and some of the traditions, less out of faith, and more because it’s familiar to them, but they don’t believe in God.

                • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                  That’s just not true. Judaism is a more encompassing identity in some ways than Christianity- it’s a religion, ethnicity, and culture all bound together. I’m an atheist, but I still consider myself a Jew. I have a distinctive outlook on life, different from Christian and ex-Christian counterparts, from growing up steeped in Jewish logic and lore. I’m currently trying to figure out which customs to keep and not- I don’t keep most of them, and I’m not sure I’ll wind up keeping any of them, but there’s a comfort and familiarity and cultural background to some of them I’m not sure I want to entirely give up either.

                  I would, should I ever claim Jewish status and want to move to Israel, be able to do so. So would my children. Being Jewish is much, much more than just the religion.

                • Randay

                  Jews iare not an ethnic group. At most they may or may not share certain cultural affinities. “there’s a comfort and familiarity and cultural background to some of them I’m not sure I want to entirely give up either.” The same is true for Xian atheists, but for me, I have given them up, except for the cultural background which we are both stuck with. Kosher is an even more barbaric practice than industrial killing of animals.

                  “Judaism is a more encompassing identity in some ways than Christianity”. You didn’t grow up in a monoculture Xian community like I did.

                • The Other Weirdo

                  And now you’re telling Jews what they are and what they are not? How cute. Here’s a nickel for you.

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  When someone calls themselves a ‘secular Jew’ or ‘atheist Jew’, I know exactly what they mean, which is the exact purpose of them using that phrase. That’s more than I can say for words like ‘atheist’ or ‘agnostic’, which I frequently have to further explain to people.

                • Justin Peters

                  It’s weird, but the way Jews work I think there actually exists room in their religion somehow for athiesm… It’s really complicated though I don’t know enough to know for sure.

              • Justin Peters

                Just goes to show what your religion really promotes (though obviously I don’t mean you specifically (-=). It’s impressive for you to have escaped it to the degree you have and still be a believer. I suggest educating yourself on the true ridiculousness of Christian doctrine sometime you seem quite intelligent and well reasoned. There is no more reason to be a Christian than any other religion, really there is no good reason to be of a specific religion at all. If you feel like there is a supernatural force acting in your life for your good, I don’t find it likely But it’s not as ridiculous, or as abrasive as Christianity. I know right now you probably don’t see how casting off religion in favor of a naturalist view would improve your life, but I promise that it would for what a random promise of a stranger on the interwebs is worth. Check out “Richard Feynman” on youtube sometime. He was a scientist more than an atheist, but he had one of the best perspectives on the world of anyone I have heard speak.

                • Amber Barnhill

                  thank you, I will look into that. I was raised pretty narrow minded, but since I’ve broke out of the extremist group i was raised in, I’ve learned to be more open minded and study things, hear the arguments rather then ignore them. Sometimes atheist (or most times really lol) have a better take on christianity than christians do because they aren’t afraid to call things out for what they are. i appreciate differing views.

                • abdala233

                  Those of you trying so hard to circumvent ”our” freedom of speech are misguided.

                  Get out there athiests, let us see you help the poor, give housing to the homeless, save the children entrapped in human trafficking, go help people rather than using all your energy trying to stop our freedom of speech.

                  Amber, reading your posts I believe, if you did get all that education, some how you missed the classes teaching proper English. ”since I broke out of”?

                  You are getting a lot of attention due to your complaint of a child’s simple prayer. Which seems to be your reason for trying to block that child’s freedom of speech.

                  You don’t care who gets hurt as long as you ”win”.

                  The courts have decided, at this time, to agree with you.

                  The majority of our nation disagree.

                  I also find it hard to believe you are a
                  Christian, but then Christians thru history have not always agreed. Wars were waged to overtake the enemies.

                  If you have children I feel so sorry for them, they are lost in this chaos. As Madeline O”Hare’s children now are trying to express their sadness for all she did to our beloved nation, so might yours.

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  Get out there Christians and get to know some atheists without assuming they never help the poor or give housing to the homeless. You’ll probably learn that their values are not all that different from your own. We all love our kids. And we all want our kids to have the freedom to make their own religious choices, and not other adults using their influence to push our kids in a religious direction.

                  edit: p.s. you had to dig pretty deep to find a single typo in everything Amber has written. And despite the quality of everything else she’s written, you point out that single mistake? That doesn’t seem like a very Christian thing to do.

                • Amber Barnhill

                  if you read the article you would have caught the part where it said I was not offended by the prayer itself, but by the teacher’s response, which was essentially that she has no concern for obeying the law or respecting other people’s rights. The teacher made a child repeat after her, hence SHE was the one subverting the child’s freedom of speech, not I.

                • April Lamba

                  Lol you are the same person who would scream “Crawling Sharia” if a public school allowed Islamic prayers. Such hypocrites. Atheists do a lot for the world, they just don’t show off their religion as a business or use it as an excuse to do well,

                • Sandra Stott

                  Incidentally, just because “the majority agrees” doesn’t make it the right thing to do. I wont fall into the usual trap of pointing out other societies and the disgusting anti-life the majority of the people endorsed. It would probably not do me any good anyway, because then that would open up more ad hominem attacks and straw man arguements.

              • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                I can understand the sensitivity to the issue for sure! I’m glad you spoke up, and I’m sorry you’re getting so much flak for it. I would have thought you being a Christian would have insulated you some too.

            • Sandra Stott

              Sometimes it is hard to tell when someone is being a Poe. I got the joke, but I’m old and sarcastic to begin with, and recognize these things most of the time. Maybe The Other Weirdo could have used quotes around the um, quote. But the problem is solved, and so everything I said is moot now anyway. ;) By the way, thank you for standing up for what’s right, Amber. You have my full respect. (and no, that’s not a joke)

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          It’s funny how so many people don’t trust public schools to teach their kids proper science, but are totally fine with public schools teaching their kids how to pray.

        • A3Kr0n

          She seems like a very intelligent woman who knows how to speak for herself.

          • Skampy

            Nope.

        • Rain

          actually, “this woman” was born and raised god ole’ fashioned fundy baptist, went to church school, graduated from seminary and spent about 5 years in full time Christian service.

          So in other words, maybe the teacher wasn’t fundy enough! (Only kidding!)

          • Amber Barnhill

            Actually I’ve become quite liberal over the years. I’m not very “fundy” anymore, I say that to make a point and I apologize for not catching on to the joke lol. Like i said, people have been accusing me of not being a “real christian” all day long and being “young with no experience in the faith” etc. it can be a little insulting considering.. I’ve even been called a “false prophet” and a “rat” by those that simply cannot accept a differing view.

            • Rain

              We’re all rootin for you over here. (My dumb joke was that I thought it would be a Shakespearian type of ironic plot twist if it turned out that you were extra fundamentalist and were worried that the teacher was too liberal. Probably only makes sense in my own head. Sorry about that.)

              • Amber Barnhill

                lol no it makes sense. i know how the extreme fundys think because I’ve btdt. If I’m not mistaken seventh day adventists i know are extremely pro separation of church and state, So yes, there could definitely be that kind of twist to it as well lol.

      • Kyle Andrew G

        I love how you trademarked it, like it’s some kind of manufactured brand, haha.

      • EMHughes

        Of course not… a TRUE Christian would have gone on and on and on about how she was being “persecuted” because the rest of us weren’t willing to put up with her superstitious bullshit.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      It’s not so much about being secular as it is about not wanting someone pushing a different denomination on their kids. That’s the real problem. This issue is always painted by Fundamentalist Christians as atheists vs believers but most of the complaints and lawsuits come from other Christians who are in a minority denomination in their area.

      • UWIR

        Yeah, Jehovah’s Witnesses take a lot of flak for their proselytizing, but they’ve been a major source of First Amendment precedences.

        • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

          They have every right to try to hand me their literature. I only object when they wake me up on Saturday mornings. they have a right to tell others about their religion. I have every right to ignore them.

      • Amber Barnhill

        thank you! this is exactly the point I was trying to make and what i was standing up for, but holy cow people are NOT getting it. I’m like “you people attacking me, do you not realize I’m actually defending YOUR child’s rights as well?” it’s futile

      • abdala233

        The majority of our citizens are Christians. Throughout my life Christians respected Jews, Muslim, all religions and those non believers . We all respected others beliefs and somehow lived in peace, again, respecting one another.
        But now you few are fighting to end others freedom of speech and that is wrong.

        • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

          No. the minority groups were mostly silent out of fear. In elementary school I had a classmate who was Jehovah’s Witness. Each year it was a new battle as teacher after teacher punished him for not saying the pledge of allegiance (which his religion forbid him from doing). It was a constant battle on the part of his family to keep from being forced to participate in activities that violated their freedom of religion. Sorry but this idea that everything was fine once upon a time is a right-wing fiction. It was terrible for anyone who belonged to a minority group and their rights were most certainly not usually respected by the majority.

        • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

          You’ve got your freedom of speech, and we’re not messing with it at all. You can speak in your home, in your church, on a street corner, on TV, in print, on the internet, no restrictions.
          What you can’t do is use the government as your private pulpit. You can’t force any person to listen to you. And you certainly can’t force other people’s children to participate in your rituals. That’s what we’re opposed to.

  • Brian Westley

    The idiots over at Glenn Beck’s selfshrine are already adding their confused Christian-supremacist spin:

    http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/06/11/youre-reading-this-right-christian-mother-turns-to-atheist-group-to-protest-illegal-pre-k-graduation-prayer-to-jesus/

    • JET

      Let me guess… She’s not a True Christian?

      • Brian Westley

        Bingo! And it’s a freedom of speech issue — every Christian has an absolute right to push their religion under any and all circumstances.

        • UWIR

          Here’s, it’s especially silly, since the issue wasn’t her praying, but her soliciting prayer from the students.

    • anniewhoo

      Why do they have the word illegal in parentheses in the title? From reading the comments, they have already forgotten about the school prayer and are now yammering on over who is and who isn’t a TrueChristian®.

      • JET

        And meanwhile they’re following the ridiculous con-job blatherings of a Mormon. If only they knew that Beck is really on a mission.

    • TCC

      On the bright side, there are some people (including Christians) who are noting how this was the right move to make. There are the characteristic idiots, of course, talking about how “the Constitution doesn’t say that you can’t pray wherever you want!!” and how Christians who support church-state separation aren’t true Christians (or are heretics, etc.), but at least there are some voices of reason.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      Are his viewers too stupid to know he’s a Mormon?

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Considering the parent’s faith allegiance, her reliance upon an atheist group that has been controversial (and viewed by some critics as “anti-Christian”) since its inception is fascinating. But, perhaps she truly believes in separatism and found the FFRF to be the best organization to help meet that objective.

    As if contacting Americans United would have made it any different.

  • Gus Snarp

    Anybody else notice that the news readers made a point of calling FFRF a “Wisconsin based” organization? Got to point out that these are Yankees telling good, Christian Texans what to do!

    • allein

      They do that all the time. They love to play up the “out-of-state” aspect of it. Rarely, I’ve seen news reports that specify that they are a national organization (sometimes not even mentioning what state they are based in), but usually they like to imply that FFRF is just some outside group trolling the country for little things like this because they just want to stick their nose in some small town’s personal business. They also like to downplay the “the only reason they’re here is because someone in this community called them” part. It’s frustrating.

  • Puzzled

    Question 1: A preschool graduation? So far as I can tell, the purpose of a graduation ceremony is supposed to be related, in some way, to having done something. Preschool is not that sort of thing, you don’t need to do anything to finish.

    • Antinomian

      Eh, give it to them. Everything a kid has accomplished up until then, Uterus U. with it’s high drop out rate, Breast or Bottle U. by giving up the attachments to comfort, and then the dual major of Pee Pee and Poopy U. has been taught and accomplished with at least a singular approach. Preshool is the first thing a kid accomplishes consistantly within a group of its peers.
      Now kindergarten, that’s where the shit gets tough. Suck it up kid, you’re on your own now.

    • onamission5

      It’s also a minor rite of passage, graduating from “baby” school to “big kid” school. Artificial, sure, but the same could be said for any other milestone rituals.

    • UWIR

      It’s called a “commencement” ceremony, not a “completion” ceremony. It’s about moving on to another stage.

  • Paul Reed

    “The teacher admits to making a small prayer for the student to say but says she was just trying to give her students a mock graduation.”

    1) This is a pre-school. Hardly the place for religion.
    2) This was a teacher. She should know better
    3) This was a (mock) graduation. Even real graduations shouldn’t have prayer or religion.

    Sounds to me like she was wanted to make a “statement” against the recent issues regarding prayer and graduations, and knew most if not all of the parents would be fine with it.

  • Martin Ellacott

    Most religion is a disgusting display of ignorance, touted by equally disgusting people.

  • LonesomeDove

    May be off the subject, but can anyone explain WHY exactly a Preschool needs a “Graduation” in the first place? Are we now such a country of underachievers that we have to reward a kid for every little step they take?

    • Qrayze

      It helps the kids understand that the school year is over. Generally, preschoolers love school and can’t wait to go every day. Helping them realize that school is out for the summer keeps them from begging to go back to school the following Monday. –a grateful mom whose daughter “graduated” from Head Start.

      • Machintelligence

        That, and some people love ceremonies.

      • cary_w

        It’s also because some of the most important things that are taught in pre-school are how to follow directions, listen to the teacher and take turns. When pre-schools put on these kinds of shows, it’s not just to force parents to sit through a horrible performance, it’s actually a huge part of the pre-school curriculum.

    • allein

      Because it’s cute and fun?

  • sswaan

    Christianity is a religion *and* a way of life (or a cluster of ways of life). They’re not mutually exclusive. Religions have cultural elements – language, practice, taboos – that suggest or define particular life-ways, but that doesn’t meant they’re not religions.

  • Jordan Sugarman

    Did anyone else catch the juxtaposition here?

    “I’m sorry, but I cannot apologize for that”

    “I did apologize to the lady who was the only one I found who was offended,”

    So which is it? Did she apologize or not?

    • UWIR

      She didn’t apologize for what she said to the student, but she did apologize for not apologizing for what she said to the student.

  • closetatheist

    Personally, I’m more bothered by church flyers being sent home with the kids – this prayer could almost be a thoughtless gesture, but the flyers show premeditation and intent by at least two separate parties. Did this teacher promise not to send home anymore flyers with the children?

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      The flyers, coming AFTER the prayer discussion, really seem to be a veiled statement by the teacher. That said, as long as the teacher would agree to include flyers from other organizations, it was probably legal. The prayer was definitely not.

      Another thing that bothers me less about the flyers is that they’re really directed at the parents. The prayer affects the kids directly.

    • cary_w

      As a parent, I’m not too bothered by the flyers as long as they were not just random “come to our church!” or “give yourself to Jesus” flyers, and actually had some relevance to pre-school kids, such as information on summer day care or camps. As long as non-religious groups are allowed to hand out similar information too, it doesn’t seem school sponsored, just a curtesy to give parents information they a likely to be interested in.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      This is the actual flyer. But as Amber is quick to point out, the flyer is legal and is not an issue for her. It was just the irony of the timing (days after the prayer discussion with the teacher).

      • Anna

        These may be legal, but I don’t think they should be. The government shouldn’t be involved in promoting the activities of churches. If it’s not endorsement, it is certainly promotion. Why should the government be helping sectarian groups recruit new members? I don’t believe this is appropriate at all, and just because all religious groups may technically be allowed, in reality the only organizations handing out flyers are those interested in converting children from non-Christian families. Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus don’t do this sort of thing.

      • closetatheist

        Thanks for posting this, Rich. But is this seriously legal? what’s the difference between this and passing out tracts? It specifically claims that the children will learn to “trust in god.” If religious literature is in schools I thought it was just normally in an open place and students could take it if they pleased – it seems a bit different if teachers individually hand each kid a piece of religious literature though…

      • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.bingham1 Christopher Bingham

        IF it’s legal, it’s because they’ve opened the class up to be used as a public forum. So, if FFRF wanted to have a workshop for kids and parents, they would have to allow the flyers for that event as well.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Agreed, if they accept this, they have to accept other things. One thing that leans me towards legal is that it is an invitation to an event, not a declaration of truth. I know “trust in God”. But that seems pretty flimsy as an evangelizing statement, especially to kids who most likely can’t read it.

          Another thing to keep in mind is that religious clubs are of course allowed at school. They just can’t be endorsed by the school. So is the teacher using her influence as a teacher to push Christianity? Probably, but hard to prove. Should various groups be allowed to include their flyers in the packet? I personally detest football, but my kid got a football tryout flyer in his K packet.

          I think as long as it’s clear that it’s just something the school is handing out but not endorsing, it’s ok. A bit like those “free speech zones” in airports.

          It also doesn’t seem to be something FFRF mentioned at all, and I think they knew about it.

          I think I’d prefer they not have any of it, but that’s more me opposed to my kid being an advertiser’s wet dream.

          I should add that the age of the kids is something that initially made me lean illegal. Based on http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Published/962544.P.pdf

  • Tom

    Lady, if it’s who *you* are, then *you* get out there and say it. Don’t turn bloody preschool kids you have a duty of care towards into human sock puppets.

  • Anna

    Kudos to Amber for saying something about this instead of just letting it go. By the way: Amber is a Christian.

    Good to hear! There are so many horrible stories about Christians attempting to violate the separation of church and state that it’s important to point out the people who are actually on our side. Really, we depend on those moderate and liberal Christians (along with those from minority religions) to stand up and say something. In a lot of these areas, there may not be atheists able to go public, so it’s even more essential that people from other groups are willing to speak up.

    • http://justdfacsmaam.wordpress.com/ MarkNS

      I agree that “moderate” Christians can be useful idiots; however, they are enablers of their more dangerous co-religionists. Anyone who contends that morality must be derived from a ridiculous book of myths has no argument to put to those who would interpret the same ridiculous book in a less savoury manner.

      • Anna

        Well, you won’t be making many friends with that attitude! Calling people “useful idiots” is just rude, especially when those people are on our side and are willing to do the right thing. There is absolutely no reason why theists can’t support, respect, and defend separation of church and state. Indeed, it is in their own best interests to do so.

        • http://justdfacsmaam.wordpress.com/ MarkNS

          “There is absolutely no reason why theists can’t support, respect, and defend separation of church and state.” Indeed, I agreed. They’re useful. However, they also believe in virgin births and talking donkeys so the “idiot” moniker is apt as well.
          These folks may help us fight some battles but they’re hardly allies. Their insistence on bringing superstition into discussions of morality helps no one and hinders human freedom.

          • Anna

            If you want to drive them away, then by all means continue using that rhetoric. I’d prefer to keep the liberal and moderate theists on our side. When we see them bringing superstition into discussions of morality, then we should certainly challenge them on that. But I don’t get what calling them names accomplishes. Apart from being rude, it reinforces any latent bigotry they may have towards atheists and makes them even less likely to reconsider the validity of their belief system.

            • http://justdfacsmaam.wordpress.com/ MarkNS

              Hey, I’m merely stating a fact. I’m not in an active debate trying to get christians on my side. Sure, I won’t let on how idiotic I find them if they’re arguing with me against their slightly more deranged co-religionists. But, neither am I going to mince words when they spout their irrational nonsense.
              You’ve provided no argument against my assertion that even moderate christians are idiots. I will, therefore, assume you agree with it but merely don’t want anyone to mention it for tactical reasons.

              • Anna

                No, I don’t think they’re idiots. I think they’re indoctrinated, which is not the same thing. I don’t see the point in calling people names. You may not have been talking to a Christian, but you went out of your way to call them idiots. It’s possible to make a strong criticism or condemnation of irrational beliefs without using slurs and insulting people’s intelligence in the process.

  • Texan

    Wait, the teacher issued a non-apology and said she won’t have any more graduation prayers, so it’s all done? How do we know she sees saying grace before snacks as an extension of this? What about the school district that allowed this to happen and still has not responded to the complaint? How can BISD parents have any confidence that their children will not get the same treatment, especially considering the rabid response there from vocal Christians who feel entitled to have this continue.

    I am glad the teacher sort-of backed down, and congratulate ms. Barnhill, but I would say this is far from over. After all the times Hemant has assumed the worst about Texas and left me feeling compelled to defend it, I must now point out, this is Texas. Those rednecks are not going to back down quietly. Some of us are supporting the parent, but we are struggling not to be shouted down by the worst among us. No, this is not over. But when it is, more texans will be able to send their kids to public schools without fear of proselytization from above.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i just learned of these things. i have a friend in FL with a toddler who “graduated” from pre-K. his father was charged $110 for attendance to the “ceremony.” wtf? first off, you don’t “graduate” from every grade, and even if you do, it’s not the same until you’re moving on to a whole different school level. secondly, charging for it? um, no. he already paid them tuition, fees, etc. he has the right to see his kid in some stupid ceremony the kid won’t even remember when he’s 30, for free. give me a break.

  • KenO1964

    We need a “Freedom From Ignorance” foundation.

  • UWIR

    “She also said “no one else had a problem with it” ”

    I’m reminded of an incident that Frederick Douglass wrote of in which a white northerner went up to a slave and asked him about his feelings of slavery, and of course the slave has nothing but good things to say about his master.

  • Jim

    I think the bigger thing here is that there’s such a thing as a “preschool graduation”.

  • Randay

    The prayer is the first offense, so she should have received a warning or a suspension. The flyer is a second offense so she should be fired.

  • Brad Preston

    The comments section under the television station’s story is a cesspool of hatred, ignorance, bigotry and Christian supremacy; just a sliver of what this brave woman has surely had to endure from her community the past few days.

    Before becoming an atheist, I identified as a liberal Christian. I volunteered fulltime in a church, and got a lot of “a real Christian would [vote this way, think this way, act this way, condemn this way; etc.].” It was a groupthink, mob mentality, which is on full display in that comments section—only this time it’s an angry Christian mob with pitchforks and torches: a group of people who claim to have the corner on truth and love condemning a fellow Christian and gleefully wishing eternal damnation upon her.

    I say kudos to Amber Barnhill for protecting vulnerable children and for standing up for lawfulness. We need more people like her.

  • Nilima LM

    I don’t have any words to appreciate this post…..I am
    really impressed …. Thanks for sharing this with us

    Regards.

    Top
    Preschool
    ,

    Top
    Playschools in India

  • danica

    Good on her. The law is the law. I wonder how many parens would be complaining if the teacher had made them say “in Allah’s name” .. probably like… all of them. Lol

  • Carmelita Spats

    You don’t need a modern day crusade. You just have to improve education, access to information and information literacy. Separation of church/state helps keep someone’s alchemy out of everyone’s chemistry class. It’s that simple. Save the crusade for rampant obesity. Running burns calories.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Your frothing-at-the-mouth rant has rendered your command of American to be unintelligible to anyone with a semblance of even one functioning neuron. You might want to reread the post you replied to for context.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I hope you never have kids

    Obviously reading comprehension isn’t your strong point.

  • Matt D

    Do you need some medication?

  • abdala233

    I so agree with you. The” dumbing down of America.”