The supreme court ruling in favor of the coach leading prayer in public school, effectively sanctions the bullying of non-Christian kids.
One of the worst days I can remember happened in the seventh grade. Since then, there have been many other bad days that made that one look like a walk in the park. But from birth up until that point, that one was the worst.
I was wearing a brand new outfit that included a shirt that had a super awesome bitchin’ cat on it. And glitter. So not only was I sporting my favorite animal, it was sparkly too.
The problem: there was a girl who was wearing the same shirt, on the same day.
That fact alone would have been devastating to my 12-year-old self. But this particular girl had been the target of bullies that had so far ignored me. They made fun of her because her clothes all came from K-Mart.
For those that aren’t familiar, K-Mart was the not nearly as cool old school version of Walmart. Shopping at K-Mart meant you were poor. Embarrassingly poor.
And now we were wearing the same shirt. My young life was officially over. The cat was out of the bag; I sometimes bought my clothes at K-Mart, just like the un-coolest girl in school.
I spent that day being laughed at by all the cool girls, including the 2-mile walk home from my rural school bus stop. When I got home, I promptly threw what had been my new favorite shirt in the trash.
My mother, ever supportive, understood completely. She had grown up awkward and Catholic and subjected to bullying by nuns. She probably felt a little guilty because I had begged her not to take me shopping at K-Mart for this very reason.
The school was also sympathetic to my plight, as well as that of other K-Mart girl. Up until that point, they hadn’t been aware of our school’s resident mean girls. But once they were, they took action. They called their parents, and several of those who had been seen engaging in bullying behavior were talked to by the school counselor. While there were still giggles and stares, the bullying at least about clothing was effectively ended.
I think most people have had some type of experience like this in school. The overwhelming need to fit in fueled by hormones and tumultuous emotions. Kids are desperately trying to figure out who they are and how they relate to the world and the people in it at that age. It’s much worse for some than others, but I think everyone can relate to feeling this way at some point during their school career. Even bullies have been bullied at some point.
My son was no exception. Born with a smart mouth inherited from his mother, like me, he had a difficult time making friends in school. He also happened to be on the autism spectrum, which didn’t help at all. My son missed social cues, but he also had an unfortunate tendency to be brutally blunt and honest. He was not the kid that might pretend to like something he didn’t just to fit in.
When a conversation about God and the bible came up in his 6th grade shop class, he told the truth. One kid in the group asked him his opinion on the subject, he answered honestly. He said that he wasn’t a Christian, and didn’t believe that the bible was proof of God.
The table erupted. The kids gasped in disbelief, and began to berate him for his non-belief. It only escalated when my son refused to walk back his statement.
The teacher heard the commotion and began to fear for my son’s safety. My son was escorted from class and to his next one. In subsequent days, my son was called a “devil worshipper,” had a kid threaten him and our family with hell, and had a makeshift bible planted on his desk.
Unlike my own no good very bad day, the school did not have his back.
When I reported these incidents to the school, I was told it was no big deal. Kids were kids. And besides, my son had offended their beliefs. He was obviously the instigator in the situation.
And this didn’t happen in some super conservative state in the Bible belt. This happened in the suburbs of deep blue California.
This religious bullying was dismissed as “kids exercising their religious freedom.” Same as my son’s 7th grade math teacher who invited his students, including mine, to join his church youth group. The same math teacher who informed them of the miracle of intelligent design.
Had my kid been a bit different, he may have thought to lie when asked about his beliefs. He would have felt the pressure to fit in, and tailored his answer in an effort to not rock the boat. Something he said he wished he had done in hindsight.
Now imagine the pressure on kids to bow their heads in prayer with their public school coach. A man they likely look up to. And even if they don’t, they know he holds the key to their school sports opportunities. They’re part of a team and need to represent a united front in the presence of their opponents.
Even my kid, in his social naiveté, would recognize that honesty would result in dire social consequences in that situation.
Because Christianity is considered synonymous with being good in many cases, and conversely not being Christian is bad. That’s what makes the recent Supreme Court ruling so heinous.
The conservative Justices have sanctioned and even condoned the coercion and bullying of non-Christian kids in our public schools.
The wall between church and state that already only offered flimsy protection for our secular children was not just chipped. It was not weakened. It was obliterated.
As a parent of a secular kid who at the age of 12 faced death threats, was called “evil,” and was effectively abandoned by the school in favor of Christian kids, I am terrified.
And whether or not you are a nonreligious person, you should be too.