Friday, March 15, 2013

Oh dear.

I realized last night that Greenville is in fact the home of Bob Jones University. So if you hear about someone getting burned at the stake...

Speaking of South Carolina, let me share one of the formative episodes in my position on religious freedom. I lived in South Carolina when I was a kid, and that's where I started kindergarten. They didn't know exactly what to do with me, since I was already reading at a 4th-grade level, so I ended up spending half the day in a first-grade classroom. Usually, the kindergarten teacher would come and get me before lunch, but for whatever reason, one day she didn't, so I just sat their and waited while the other kids got out their lunches.

And then the teacher had them recite the Lord's Prayer.

In a public school. In 1978.

Bear in mind that this wasn't in some backwoods town. It was in West Columbia, a suburb of the state capital.

Now, I had grown up in an entirely secular household, and I didn't know praying from a hole in the ground, so I didn't have the sense to bow my head and move my lips. When the teacher confronted me, I told her I didn't know what they were doing. In retrospect, I suspect the teacher mistook my precocious candor as disrespect. (Again, I had grown up in an environment where I was never scolded for questioning things; it took me a looooooong time to realize the rest of the world didn't work that way.)

So she rapped me on the knuckles with a ruler.

For not knowing the Lord's Prayer.

In a public school. In 1978.

I never told my parents, because, being a kid, I assumed I had actually done something wrong. It's probably just as well, because my mother would probably have the ACLU all over them, and we'd have ended up getting run out of town with torches and pitchforks. I mean, in all likelihood, I was the only non-Christian in the whole school, but still, it illustrates exactly why organized prayer in school, even "voluntary" prayer, is so terribly problematic. Where children are concerned, nothing involving an adult is ever really voluntary.

(I must say I was rather appalled to discover that they still have prayer in school in England, and while it doesn't seem to have gotten in the way of their atheism, my English ex- remembers vividly how she was ostracized because, being Jewish, she was "allowed" to stand outside during the prayer services. Ironically, in the UK, a lot of parents home-school their kids so they won't have to pray in school.)

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