While American public-school children are hunched over their devices attending online virtual classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, an evangelical Christian organization appears to be busy inserting religious propaganda into their curricula in Ohio, church/state separation watchdog American Atheists (AA) warns.
New Jersey-based AA in a press release issued Tuesday announced the launch of its investigation into dissemination of religious propaganda hidden in regular secular course work in online courses in Cincinnati [Ohio] Public Schools — types of virtual classes “millions of students … are required to take part in due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the organization asserted in a news release.
AA is specifically investigating Cincinnati schools’ online offerings taught via Edgenuity because that company “describes itself as part of Alpha Omega Publications, ‘a leading provider of PreK-12 Christian Curriculum, educational resources, and services to Christian schools and homeschool families worldwide.’” AA reported.
“In 2019, even before COVID-19, Edgenuity claimed more than 4 million students and boasted about ‘its products and services [being] used in each of the top 10 largest school districts–as well as 21 of the 25 largest school districts–within the U.S.,’” AA’s news release notes. “Now, with even more public school districts adopting virtual programs, American Atheists has serious concerns that millions of students are being subjected to religious indoctrination by Edgenuity and, potentially, other providers.”
AA has learned a number of facts that have raised red flags:
AA says materials it has obtained show that various Edgenuity-produced curricula at multiple grade levels contain “explicitly religious content that cannot be justified by Ohio’s Social Studies Learning Standards. The press release reports that one third-grade Social Studies module on “ancient Hebrew culture “is devoted to Bible stories” that students must summarize, draw pictures about and explain Yahweh’s (God’s) motivations.
- AA says it obtained materials showing that Edgenuity-provided curricula at multiple grade levels contain “explicitly religious content that cannot be justified by Ohio’s Social Studies Learning Standards.”
- In one eighth-grade history class, AA points out, an Edgenuity instructor teaches Christian theology “under the guise of the Great Awakening, uncritically reading sermons that promise eternal suffering for sinners; underlining important phrases like ‘full of the fire of wrath,’ ‘You hang by a slender thread,’ ‘divine wrath,’ and ‘singe it, and burn it’; and discussing the afterlife and ‘what God has in store for them if they do not repent of their sins.’” [The Great Awakening refers to a series of religious revival periods in America during the 18th through 20th]
The AA release contends that what’s happening at Cincinnati Public Schools is a constitutional travesty:
“Public schools must protect everyone’s religious freedom—not force atheist parents and families from minority religions to subject their children to Christian indoctrination,” said Geoffrey Blackwell, Litigation Counsel for American Atheists, who submitted records requests to Cincinnati Public Schools on behalf of local parents. “The school district must see to it that all materials presented to students meet constitutional standards by being free of sectarian content. Schools that partner with companies to provide educational services need to be sure those programs meet the Constitution’s requirements.”
In further comments, Blackwell said many atheist and non-Christian parents, and others, consider “threats of hellfire and eternal damnation … nothing short of child abuse,” in that “particularly impressionable elementary and middle school students” are targeted. Such stealth proselytizing “has no place” in public schools, he said.
AA President Nick Fish such discrimination against atheist students and those of religious minorities can inflict “lasting damage” to their mental health.
“As atheists, we are happy for students to study comparative religion, but the material must be taught in an objective, neutral way that neither attacks students’ religious freedom nor threatens their well-being,” said Fish. “Anything less is unacceptable and unconstitutional.”
As American Atheists delves deeper into what’s happening in Cincinnati Public Schools, its important for secular Americans to remind themselves that this is a single byway in a national Christian Right network that purposefully seeks to insert Christian doctrine into U.S. schools and curricula in any way it can.
This includes before- and after-school Good News Clubs, which are Bible study groups since endorsed as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The large “In God We Trust” signs sprouting up in hallways and classrooms of American schools are also a product of this Christian Right effort to turn the nation into a Christian theocracy in practice, if not fact. Some states are even passing laws to allow religious classes in schools.
So, hats off to AA for shining a bright light in a dark corner in one American school district, one among many districts nationwide quietly, perhaps knowingly, accommodating such religious instruction.
At least in public schools, children need to be shielded from potentially dangerous fantasies others want to convince them are truths.
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