The Wrong Advice to Give to a Mother Whose Children Are Subject to Proselytizing in School

In a recent Slate column, Emily Yoffe offers far-too-cautious advice for a mother whose child is dealing with religious proselytization in the classroom.

Here’s the setup:

My son’s elementary teacher sent a note to all the parents last week. The email included a link to her website. Included on the site was a note stating that she couldn’t wait to share Christ’s love with the children. We are a religious minority in this community and, living in the Deep South, I deal with this kind of thing every single year, whether it’s school-sponsored Bible study, the choir concert that includes Christmas songs almost exclusively, or my middle-school-aged daughter feeling like she has to become a Christian because the other kids at lunch tell her she’s going to hell if she doesn’t. Do you have any suggestions for handling these issues without causing my children to be ostracized or suffer retribution from the teachers?

Other than the peer-pressure-possibly-bordering-on-bullying from students, the rest of those things are hands-down illegal (assuming the mother is telling the truth and assuming this is a public school).

Yoffe’s advice unfortunately downplays all of this:

Let’s hope the teacher means that Christ’s love animates her feelings about her students, not that she intends to proselytize. But as you say, the religious assumptions of those around you are so pervasive that bringing a complaint might not do much except make school more unpleasant for your kids. If your concerns are mostly about afterschool Bible study or Christmas carols, I think you have to just shrug this off…

… Religion doesn’t belong in public school classrooms. But making a federal case of its every intrusion will only make it more difficult for your children.

That’s just bad advice. Groups like Americans United (which Yoffe mentions in a follow-up comment) and FFRF can send letters to the school making them aware of the improper religiosity without implicating the student — and, without making a “federal case” of it, change often happens as a result.

I don’t know where the letter-writer is from, but I hope she saw the comments on the site urging her to tell a church/state organization what’s going on. Letting this slide to avoid stirring the pot would only make things worse.

(Image via Shutterstock — Thanks to Stephanie for the link)

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.


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