They Do Not Play Fair

The contents of this post represent the opinions of JT Eberhard and are not those of the Secular Student Alliance.

That it’s flagrantly false is reason enough to hate religion.  That proselytizers frequently prey on the dying, the downtrodden, or the weak makes me furious.  But what really makes me see red is when they go after children.  Religion cannot live on its own merits, and so its followers here in the States focus on getting it into the heads of those who are biologically pre-programmed to trust adults.

There are laws in place designed to keep public school about learning.  These laws do not infringe on the rights of religious students to talk about their faith, to share it with others, or to pray until the moon falls out of the sky.  But because public school is not close enough to church for their tastes, lots and lots of religious people seem to consider it their obligation to break these laws.  They do not play fair.

The New York Times just published a great article on the subject.

At a school assembly here in South Carolina on Sept. 1, a preacher described how Christ saved him from drugs, telling his rapt audience that “a relationship with Jesus is what you need more than anything else.” A rapper shouted the Lord’s praise to a light show and most of the audience stepped forward to pledge themselves to Christ while a few remained, uncomfortable, in their seats.

Such overt evangelizing would not be unusual at a prayer rally, but this was a daytime celebration in a public school gymnasium, arranged by the principal for sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

The rapper is B SHOC.  Earlier this year I received a complaint about them and immediately looked them up.  I found a video on youtube made by them confirming the South Carolina event.  As word got out they immediately took the video down.

Guess who had already mirrored it.

They don’t even plead ignorance.  They hide.  They sneak, waiting to emerge later to tell us how moral religion makes people.

Among other recent examples:

¶ At Pace High School near Pensacola, Fla., teachers cited the Bible as fact in class and one teacher preached to students with a bullhorn as they arrived at school. In litigation that ended in July, the Santa Rosa County district agreed to stop promotion of religion but said that teachers could pray in private settings and could use expressions like “God bless you.”

¶ In Sumner County, Tenn., teachers led students in prayer and Bible study, and allowed Gideons International to distribute Bibles during school hours. Officials agreed this month to end the practices.

¶ In Baltimore, under threat of a lawsuit last spring, district officials stopped a school principal from holding prayer services to help students prepare for a standardized test.

I’m at an advantage since my job is working with atheistic high school students, but I could go on for pages with cases exactly like these where Christians work to seize a captive audience in a public school.  I could construct an even longer list  of times where stuff like this is happening and a plaintiff for a lawsuit cannot be found due to fear of bullying or reprisal of some kind from the religious students and their communities.  Ask Damon Fowler how a religious community, including the administrators at a school, can turn and work to destroy the life of a single student who does something as sensible as ask his administrators to obey the law.

Religions do not win by the merit of their ideas.  They win by being ideological bullies.  They do not play fair.

Christian legal advocates counter that such plain violations are far less common than the opposite problem: overzealous officials trying to cleanse the schools of religion, punishing students for protected speech like personal prayer or handing out devotional messages to their friends.

This has got to be a joke.  Are you really telling us that those in the majority are the ones suffering bullying/oppression here?  The Liberty Institute (the same ones trying to bully an atheistic student into dropping a lawsuit in Virgina) cites a case that, if proven true, would certainly constitute a violation of a religious student’s rights in my eyes (I suspect that case is the case of Jonathan Morgan).

He described one continuing legal case in which “children had pencils ripped out of their hands” because they carried a Christian message and students were “banned from writing Merry Christmas to the soldiers.”

But the idea that problems like this are far more common than Christians taking a two-flush monster poop all over the first amendment is insane, and the First Amendment Center calls them on it.

Despite such disputes, legal religious expression is more present in schools now than it has been for decades, said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington who advises school districts and helped develop teacher guidelines that are consistent with the law.

And what’s more, even though the organizers of illegal events almost always duck, weave, and lie on behalf of the almighty to some extent, some of them often have no issue with saying exactly what they’re doing.

The students were addressed by Christian Chapman of Charlotte, N.C., who describes himself as a “traveling evangelist” and often speaks at schools, he said in an interview.

“I definitely think that we should try to get our relationship with Christ back into the schools,” said Mr. Chapman, 43. “Jesus represents everything we want our students to live by.”

For non-Christians to hear this message, he said, is no worse than Bible believers being forced to hear about evolution every day.

Bullshit!  Evolution is science.  The case for evolution has been made within peer review, the evidence has been laid down, and evolution has survived.  It has survived with flying colors.  Look no further than the Dover trial to see what happens when Christians dispute this on an even playing field (it should be noted that the judgment on the case was written by a religious judge appointed by George W. Bush).

We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. …It is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.

But how did the believers defend it?  Would you believe they didn’t play fair?

“The inescapable truth is that both [Alan] Bonsell and [William] Buckingham lied at their January 3, 2005 depositions. … Bonsell repeatedly failed to testify in a truthful manner. … Defendants have unceasingly attempted in vain to distance themselves from their own actions and statements, which culminated in repetitious, untruthful testimony.”

So don’t whine that you should get to break the law because students get taught science.  Play fair.  If Christianity would pull itself up by its boot straps and pony up some evidence, it could be taught too.  But it must play fair.

Fortunately, many of these people seem to think with Jesus at their back nothing could go wrong, which results in them not being very good liars.

On the videotape about the rally, Mr. Chapman quotes the school principal, Larry Stinson, as saying, “I want these kids to know that eternal life is real, and I don’t care what happens to me, they’re going to hear it today.”

Click here to hear Chapman outing the principal.

And these are only the ones who get caught.  In the American South especially, this type of thing goes on all the time with so many believers indignant of the laws that keep school about education rather than making it less distinguishable from a church.

And you know what the response will be?  It’s always the same (just ask Jessica Ahlquist): “How can you sue our district and take away so much money from our school?” as if the ACLU (and the judges ruling that the school is breaking the law) are somehow the bad guys.  No, the bad guys are the ones using the education of our children as a meat shield to protect themselves while they break the law (and the Liberty Council is among their rank).

And there will be responses from the liberal Christians.  They’ll tell us that the organizers of these types of events and the communities that support them are the fundamental minority.  The article tells a different story.

The September prayer rally at New Heights Middle School in Jefferson had deep support in the community. With a population of 47,000, Chesterfield County supports at least 200 Christian churches, according to Paul Wood Jr., pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Cheraw, S.C.

“There’s not a lot of religious diversity here, so it becomes hard for people to believe that everybody isn’t a Christian,” said Mr. Wood, who was perhaps the only pastor in the county to publicly question the rally.

And if these numerous law-breaking believers are not the majority, why is it that we atheists and legal institutions are the ones having to watchdog against this type of thing?  Why must we fight to keep evolution in schools?  Where are the noble, fair-handed Christians and why are they not policing their own?

Remember recently when Mary Kochan wrote

Running like babies to court because of your brittle feelings.  “Oh, but judge, but judge, I saw a cross and I just can’t stand it.”

If Christians would stop breaking the law, especially if they’d stop breaking the law in order to go after students, we’d stop resorting to lawsuits.  If believers would stop thinking they were above the law, they wouldn’t have to worry about judges helping us.  You want to claim the moral high ground?  Start playing fair.

I hope the ACLU cripples the fuckers.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Johnnykaje

    They can’t play fair. If they played fair, they’d lose like losing losers. And they know it.

  • Jenesa

    The idea that teaching evolution is school is the same as evangelizing at a mandatory school assembly is ridiculous.

    Evolution is a scientific theory that has stood the test of time and scientific criticism, and more importantly,
    it’s a theory that any child hoping to progress in the fields of biology will need to understand, regardless of whether or not they personally believe it.

    My high school biology teacher always said we didn’t have to believe her, we just need to understand it. A astronomer might not agree with the big bang theory theory, but he needs to understand it.

    Additionally, evolution isn’t incompatible with most religious beliefs. It’s only fundamentalist literal interpretations of religious text that tends to bar evolution and other scientific ideas.

    If they were talking about teaching a class on world religions, and focusing on Christianity because it’s most common in this country, and it’s taught as a history/culture class, that would be totally okay with me too.

    But under no circumstances is it the case that a child in public school needs to not just know the religion but actually believe it.

    • R. Johnston

      If they were talking about teaching a class on world religions, and focusing on Christianity because it’s most common in this country, and it’s taught as a history/culture class, that would be totally okay with me too.

      Given the lengthy history of theocrats trying to sneak religious indoctrination into the public school curriculum in any way possible, that’s really not okay. The chances are very good that the class will not be taught purely as a history/sociology class, and the ability to prevent individual teachers from using the class to proselytize is limited at best.

      Consider bible-as-literature class sessions, which are more common in public schools than comparative religion classes. The bible as literature is quite crappy literature. The influence of the bible on literature is a potentially legitimate area of teaching, but these classes are never structured around reading pieces of good literature and using the bible as one of several secondary reference tools for understanding such literature. On the public secondary school level they’re always structured as a flimsy excuse for reading bible passages as primary material.

      • Jenesa

        There’s no question that it could be abused, i’m just saying a class that was legitimately taught that way is different from evangelizing. i was just trying to further distinguish between useful informational material and trying to get kids to pledge their life to jesus

  • Shelley P.

    Aww. It looks like such a nice, well funded public school. All gonna change now, and the kids will lose.

  • Kara

    Scumbag Christians, claim we need Jesus in school to learn morality, breaks the law by proselytizing students.

    • p0rkchops4ndwiches

      While they’re wrong to do it (in a legal sense), the law doesn’t define morality and using it as a ‘moral compass’ is flat out wrong.

  • Adam

    Ahh, but you’re missing the point. Which laws are they breaking? The laws of man or the laws of their delusional fictitious all-powerful dream-man?

  • stubby

    “For non-Christians to hear this message, he said, is no worse than Bible believers being forced to hear about evolution every day.”

    Well sure that makes sen..wait…what?

  • kaorunegisa

    As to your point near the end re:liberal Christians and the idea that crazy people like this are the minority, I highly recommend this post by Fred Clark at Slacktavist.

    The premise of it is if evangelical Christianity wants us to consider figures like Tony Perkins, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, etc. to be marginal figures, then they should *actually* marginalize them. Instead, you see a lot of handwaving and demuring because, by and large, the evangelical mainstream *agrees* with these lunatics, but that mainstream would just prefer they don’t be so loud about how much they hate gays, or think women are inferior, or consider atheists to blame for 9/11, etc.

    He’s an evangelical Baptist, but one of the fiercest advocates for the separation of church and state (and gay rights, and the teaching of fact instead of faith, and a number of other things) that I’ve read. Unfortunately, he recognizes that he is, in fact, in the minority of Christians, but I will give him credit for actually being the type of theist that liberal believers keep saying are the “majority.” Either way, I think you’d get a lot out of the article, and it’s proselytization-free.

  • Joe t

    Eww, two flush monster poop? Was that ready necessary JT? I’m gonna have that in my head for the rest of the day. Thanks a lot.

    • JT Eberhard

      I’m a giver. :)

  • progjohn

    There is always a problem when a public body gets prosecuted – who pays? It’s rarely the perpetrators, it’s the taxpayers. This goes way beyond preaching in schools. To make these laws bite we need to find a way to fine or sack individuals.
    As an aside, here in the uk it’s perfectly legal for state schools to preach as much as they want, no first amendment here. You are lucky, lucky bastards. Mind you, belief in religion here really is a minority pursuit, so maybe the brainwashing isn’t that succesfull in the long term.

  • Tinker

    Maybe we do need a state sponsored religion here to show the kids where religion actually came from. In GB most people have been able to come to the (correct) conclusion that religion is actually an invention of those in power or those that wanted to be in power. There is no better example than the Anglican Church. It is public knowledge that the church was founded by Henry VIII because the Catholic Church would not allow the annulment of his marriage. That little bit of knowledge can provide a logic string that can be pulled on. Here, when religion indoctrinates young children they hide little strings like that. They don’t talk about when religion is invented, who started it or how.