Myth #3: Atheists want to kick God out of public schools and indoctrinate children in atheism.

A secular census has recently been launched and Mary Ellen Sikes is doing a week-long blog series about the results.  She shot me an email this last weekend, which I just got to yesterday, and asked if I’d post them.  Seemed interesting, so here we go.  :)  (You can also find these posts over at Stephanie Zvan’s blog Almost Diamonds)

Post #1 can be found here.

Post #2 can be found here.


Some of the most begrudged church-state rulings in the U.S. have centered around the nation’s public schools.

It’s a fact that the majority of these court cases have validated the secular vision of public schools at the expense of the sectarian one. Ending prayer and bible readings as school-sponsored exercises jettisoned a century or more of Christian privilege in public education.

And being reminded that students have never lost their right to private, individual free exercise is small comfort to those who miss the special status (their) religion used to enjoy, though it does become harder to lob serious criticism at atheists, who’ve shown no interest in attacking children’s pre-test prayers.

The American Secular Census asks respondents to weigh in on a more complex issue: how teachers should cover religious and secular influences on subject matter like art and literature. Only 13% felt that secular influences and notable atheists, but not religious influences and people, should be covered, whereas 62% felt that “Religious topics should be taught in an unbiased manner and should be balanced by related secular topics” — hardly the stance one would associate with a desire to indoctrinate children in atheism. (17.7% felt that these discussions should be avoided entirely.)

Predictably, teaching about creationism and intelligent design is opposed by a majority (58.6%) of respondents; yet a non-trivial minority (40.5%) are willing to accommodate their presentation as myth or literature in non-science classes.

Atheists don’t expect or want public schools to promote atheism. They do want a neutral secularism that values minority children equally with those from religious majorities. As one Census registrant put it:

“Living in a secular world would not mean people would be less privileged to believe as they choose, regarding philosophical opinions. It would simply provide a neutral common ground where we, as people, focus on our similarities for the good of all.”

Tomorrow – Myth #4: Atheists disbelieve because they are ignorant about God and religion. —–

Mary Ellen Sikes is the founder, president, and developer of the American Secular Census. She became involved in the secular movement in the early 1990s, went on to found and lead a local humanist group, and has served in various staff, officer, advisory, and board positions for regional and national organizations, most recently as a co-founder of Secular Woman.

American Secular Census methodology: Because not all registrants complete every form or every question, sample sizes vary from topic to topic and cannot be generalized. Until the Census reaches a 5-figure registry overall, analysis should be considered suggestive rather than statistically authoritative; however, most questions now have sample sizes approaching or exceeding those of nationally recognized surveys.

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.

  • smrnda

    I think part of the problem is that many Christians have no concept of neutrality. To them, anything except enthusiastically promoting Christianity all the time is the same as denying it; not affirming it as true is the same as stating it’s false, there’s no option in their minds to simply remain silent or neutral on the issue.

    • RuQu

      And in fact, the Book of Revelations explicitly condemns the middle path:

      “And you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I am going to vomit you from my mouth.”

  • TychaBrahe

    @smrnda We had that argument repeatedly during the Cranston Prayer Banner debate. A Christian prayer on a wall is an endorsement of Christianity. A blank wall is not an endorsement of atheism.

  • smrnda

    I agree Tycha, that’s the rational way to think about it. A blank wall with no prayer doesn’t say there’s no god. However, many Christians tend to think that anything that isn’t pro-Christian might as well have ‘god is dead and hail satan’ written all over it. To me, it’s just people who have had too many privileged being unwilling to give them up because they got used to it. Despite them being in the wrong, I just try to keep in mind how they think.

  • bethel

    Christians should abandon the public school system and educate their children in their own sphere where they can freely practice their culture without headache or restraint. If they vacated the public schools, there would be considerably fewer students, the power of the NEA would be reduced, and taxes would have to be lowered. Christians then would not have to pay twice to educated their children as they wish, in taxes and tuition.

  • Grimwyrd

    As an atheist, I fight for government neutrality. I do not approve of “In God We Trust” on US currency, but I would also fight against “There Is No God” on US currency. Neither slogan is appropriate from a neutral government, and yet many Christians would take an attempt to remove the former as a proactive statement of the latter.

  • Epinephrine

    Makes me think of the cectic comic:
    http://www.rudism.com/comics?cectic&132

  • Pingback: Myth #5: Atheists are waging a War on Christmas.


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