To : all Subj: Bible In School I live in a suburb of Rochester, NY: the Town of Greece.

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

From: Patricia Lange Posted: 17 Jul 94 00:00 To : all Subj: Bible In School I live in a suburb of Rochester, NY: the Town of Greece. The Rochester area contains every religious group you can imagine and plenty of atheists, but there are certain areas of concentration. In "my" town, we have an abundance of Catholics and "Fundamentalists." As an atheist, I keep alert to any attempt at religious indoctrination in the public schools. So far I am quite satisfied that my 10-yr. old son is getting an appropriately secular education here, despite the leanings of the vast majority of his classmates' parents. Others are less pleased. I haven't heard many complaints from the Catholics (and they have their large system of Catholic schools to turn to here if they're dissatisfied). Shortly before school let out for the year, for example, I had a newly ordained Baptist minister insisting to me that Satanists were proselytizing at my son's school. I assured him I volunteered there 2 or 3 days a week and there was no truth to this assertion. He seemed quite convinced that They were Out There and I was just missing Them. Another group is outraged that high school students were allowed to watch some "R" rated moves about the VietNam war in their studies of that period of history. Actually I agree that the teacher erred in not getting permission from the parents before showing the film, but somehow this was turned into a "morals" question instead of a "common sense" issue. At our last school board election, a self-proclaimed creationist was elected. He has asserted his desire to reintroduce "biblical values" into the public schools. Yesterday this was a headline in the local paper: "GREECE PUPIL NOT ALLOWED TO READ BIBLE IN SCHOOL - BOY'S FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS IN QUESTION." The article explains that the boy, Kenny Haller, age 7, took his Bible to his first grade class to read to his classmates. His teacher told him his choice was inappropriate for the class segment in question, in which the children were to practice reading aloud to others. She said she had no problem with him bringing the book in and reading it during the "free reading" time. His mother, insisting her son's rights were violated, took the issue to the teacher and to the principal without getting satisfaction (it's unclear what would have satisfied her). Now she has presented it to the school board at its most recent meeting and has asked it to set a policy for the district. Because the teacher and principal were not present, the board did not act at the time. One member stated "I have no problem with the young man reading his Bible on his own time, but it depends if he was given another directive in class, or how he did it." It's not clear from the article what the board plans to do next. I hope it's to gather the facts. I see this as an issue the "fundamentalists" would LOVE to blow out of proportion. They claim kids can't pray in school (they can, of course, as individuals and in silence). They claim they can be exposed to all sorts of "evil" secular ideas without being allowed to use "the" tool to counteract them. If the only tool they accept is the authority of their bible, then they're right, but it's their own fault if they want to be so self-limiting. If they taught their kids critical reasoning skills they'd have a more flexible and useful tool. They're incapable of seeing that if THEIR magic book is allowed "in" as authority, others will (should) have the right to insist theirs be given equal time. I think the board member quoted in the article got it exactly right. The boy has already announced he wants to be a church pastor "when he grows up." If the facts show he read his book aloud to his classmates with the intent to pursuade or "inform" them of the truth of its contents, then the teacher had the duty to step in and stop him. If, though, all he did was plan to read aloud a few verses to practice his reading skills, she probably should have allowed it. The board should look into what actually happened. A rule permitting the bible to be used during free reading time or even aloud in a neutral and secular context would be great. I think it is even important - necessary - for every educated person to be familiar with the stories and the impact (positive and negative) they've had on our history and literature. The book should be read and discussed as literature along with other writings considered authoritative by religions around the world. If this principle were stated as the policy of the schools, maybe teachers would be less afraid to use religious literature in a secular context. As I see it, the True Christians then would have one fewer arrow in their quiverful of supposed persecutions. What I fear is that the issue will be used by the new, fundamentalist, board member to foment a conflict which doesn't exist and to enshrine a "right to read the bible aloud in school" as a freedom of religion issue regardless of the classroom context. Pity the poor teacher who gets caught in the middle of that. When the child starts to proselytise during class discussion time, is the teacher allowed to let the others ridicule him or offer other interpretations? Does she have a duty to present all the other sides? To ignore what's going on for fear of having some (by definition, state-sponsored) influence on the outcome? 07-17-1994

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank