Question of Atheist Scruples – student atheist edition

June 7, 2016

Nice!

Your 15-year-old refuses to stand and repeat the Lord’s Prayer at school. She says she is an atheist. Do you support her right to refuse?

Fuck yeah.

I’m reminded of a news article from earlier this year here in Saskatchewan regarding this very thing:

Dusti Hennenfent’s children go to Lindale Public Elementary School in Moose Jaw. The school plays the Lord’s Prayer over the PA system every morning.

Under the Education Act, Saskatchewan schools are allowed to have mandatory prayers for students, even in public schools.

Should prayers be included in classroom time in public schools?

“I’m concerned that it really doesn’t have respect for the individual beliefs of the students,” said Hennenfent. “I don’t understand the purpose of having religious worship for one religion at a public school.”

Exactly. If a public school can’t or won’t give equal time to acknowledge the religions of other students, it’s unfair. Better to remove the prayer rather than give preferential treatment to one group of kids over the rest. It’s not like those Christian kids can’t pray on their own without an official prompt. Nobody’s saying kids can’t pray in school. The problem comes when the teachers and principals and other people in authority positions force kids into praying and possibly/likely create an uncomfortable feeling for those of other faiths, or none.

“When I originally called the school and discussed this, at the very initial part of this process, I called the principal and she said that kids did have the option to leave the classroom [during the prayer],” said Hennenfent.

However, she said she was never made aware of that option, nor were her children. She also canvassed parents from seven different classrooms and learned that none of those children had been told that they had the option of leaving the classroom during the prayer.

The school has said that it will continue with the Lord’s Prayer because the majority of parents, about 90 per cent, are in favour of it.

I hate to counter with, “Well, a lot of people were in favour of slavery, too, but it’s still wrong.” It’s true, but it’s trite.

David Arnot, head of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, said Friday that he agrees with Hennenfent.

“What you can’t do is choose one religion over another,” Arnot said. “A dominant religion, like Christianity, doesn’t get preference to other religions.”

He added that, in his opinion, the section of the law that allows for prayers in schools is outdated (it dates to 1995) and would likely be re-written if challenged in court.

There was a similar story in 1999 – “Saskatchewan told to pull prayer from schools” – but since it was a Commission making a recommendation, no one was under any obligation to change anything then. There was an earlier one from 1996 regarding bible readings in public school in 1993 The Board of Education was very pro Bible then, as well as now, apparently.

I haven’t found any updates on the current story, unfortunately. I thought I did, but it turned out to be a different prayer problem – Saskatoon’s public prayers at civic events. “The city has since decided not to adopt a prayer policy at civic events.”

Whatever that winds up meaning.

Now, to throw two book suggestions in – The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide: Helping Secular Students Thrive and The Young Atheist’s Handbook: Lessons for Living a Good Life without God. Buy copies for your kids if you can or want to and then put in requests for your local library to own copies as well for those families that can’t afford to buy books but can still benefit from the information.

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