I encountered a depressing story this morning of two families in Delaware who challenged the Indian River School District’s practice of promoting Christianity in its public schools (Prayer Suit Settled Little for Families). The Indian River School District’s staff members would lead explicitly Christian prayers at school functions, leading to a pro-Christian anti-Semitic attitude that resulted in the harassment of Jewish children. Parents of two of the children filed a lawsuit. After 3 years of harassment, one of them has decided that this type of activism just isn’t worth it, regrets having done it, and would never do the same thing again.
It was similar to a story reported on Atheist Revolution in “Complaining about God in School Can Have Dire Consequences”
The most depressing part of this story is the recognition that there is no support structure for people like this. We are all well aware that those who challenge theocratic practices such as this can pay a heavy cost. Yet, as far as I know, there are no agencies or institutions set up to collect contributions that will then go to helping support people in this type of position.
That support could take several forms.
(1) Providing the individuals with people that they can talk to and provide moral support
(2) Providing assistance that would help to avoid the harassment such as an alternative cell phone
(3) Helping the victims avoid public exposure by providing people who could do yard work or go on errands for the family.
(4) Providing the family with a greater sense of security by providing them with somebody who can accompany them when they go out in public.
(5) Providing moving expenses and people who can help move if the harassment drives the family to making that type of choice.
(6) Organizing a public information campaign that condemns any community that condones this type of harassment, and condemns civic and religious leaders who do not take a stand against it.
These people are actually doing the community a service. They are helping to protect and promote important values. There is some obligation to regard them the same way that we would regard a soldier who has gone off to war. They deserve our honor and respect. We show them this honor and respect by showing that we are willing to endure part of the burden that they have accepted.
What makes these practitioners of harassment particularly despicable is their willingness to target children. What these people want is to use the public school system as a tool for promoting their own church – their own religion – by using it as an opportunity to preach to (brainwash) an audience that is not only captive but vulnerable.
When people protest, these practitioners victimize children another way. For all practical purposes, they hold the children of any who would protest hostage, and proclaim as loudly as possible, “One false move out of you and we will make sure that your children suffer.”
It is a very effective technique.
It is the embodiment of evil, but it is also effective.
That’s one of the messages that needs to be made clear in this type of situation, and the message that I have in mind in the sixth item on the list above. It involves using the incident to point out that the local community has evolved a culture that condones the exploitation and abuse of children in order to obtain their religious objectives. They exploit access to children in the public school system for their own objectives, and then they promote not only the abuse of children who do not conform to their program, but the abuse of the children of any who would protest this exploitation.
This is the moral culture that the community has adopted, but it is not a culture that any community has a right to be proud of. It is a culture that shows that the moral leaders in that community – the preachers and political leaders – are themselves morally bankrupt. Yet, they insist on exploiting the school system to pass this lesson in immorality (exploitation and abuse) on to the next generation.
I want to stress that I think the habit of debating these issues in terms of ‘separation of church and state’ should be put aside. This is, of course, the proper role for the lawyers to take when arguing the case in court. However, it is not the role that people should adopt in debating the issue in public. The public debate should not only explain that there is a separation of church and state, but also that there should be a separation of church and state in the sense that where it is violated we tend to find a culture of exploitation, intimidation, and abuse.
In these types of cases, the two often go hand in hand.
In too many places across the country, they are successful. In too many places around the country today we do have children learning the moral lessons of exploitation, intimidation, and abuse from the moral leaders in that community – through the public school system. This is the lesson that those schools are teaching. It is a lesson that they will continue to teach unless and until somebody stands up to put an end to it.
Yet, we have so far left those who would dare to stand up against this culture of exploitation, intimidation, and abuse to fend for themselves. The ACLU may provide legal support, but where does the family go for moral support? Where do they go when they become the actual targets of the very culture of exploitation, intimidation, and abuse that they have decided to challenge?
So, this posting is a challenge to those who are involved in fighting the culture of exploitation, intimidation, and abuse to find ways of supporting its soldiers in the field – the people who are on the front lines and in the court room. It is a bit unfair, I think, to expect them to go into battle alone, with us in the background, collecting the benefits of their actions, but not willing to share the burden.