As Americans continue to grow less and less overtly religious, I suspect and hope what happened at a British library in southern England will start to happen here in the U.S.
Earlier this month officials of the West Sussex County public library at Burgess Hill banned volunteers from a church-run playgroup, “Noah’s Ark,” from conducting a children’s under-5 session as part of the facility’s “Rhyme Time” program because of the group’s songs about God.
“We have been very grateful to [Noah’s Ark] for their support, but following feedback from families, we have decided to bring these sessions in line with the other Rhyme Times in our libraries, which are led by staff,” the library administration, in conjunction with the county council, explained in a public statement, the Daily Mail reported. “Families can continue to access faith-based activities in community venues, and library staff are very happy to help anyone looking for details of where they can join these.”
‘Baby God Time’
The Noah’s Ark group, affiliated with King’s Church of Mid-Sussex, had been participated in the Rhyme Time sessions once a month for about years, the newspaper reported.
“We are sad our involvement in Baby Rhyme Time is coming to an end …,” a church spokesman said. “It has been a well-loved, free group for people in the local area.”
One of the church’s volunteers in the sessions, Charlie Burrell, said the banning would disproportionately impact poor families. He admitted a couple of their regular songs mention God. According to the online new media site The Blaze, one of the Noah’s Ark songs sung by children included “Mr. Noah Built an Ark”—to the tune of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
This move by the library was clearly seen by many opponents as religious discrimination, but if it’s analyzed rationally, it only moves overt religious expression out of a publicly funded space to privately funded venues. Religious people in that community are still free to practice and express their religion beyond public venues, which serve all British citizens, including atheists and non-Christians.
Non-Christians generally oppose their tax funds being used to indoctrinate children in a different religion than theirs, and atheists oppose their taxes being used to fund any religious faith, when they view all supernatural religion as superstitious fantasy. And neither group can be expected to tolerate having to listen to religious songs while in a public library.
So, in that context, banning religious groups from necessarily secular public library presentations is not inappropriately discriminatory.
Opposing tax-funded religion
From my point of view, the one critical factor that perpetuates religions, but especially majority Christianity in the West, is the purposeful, continuous indoctrination of children in dogma starting very, very young and continuing into young adulthood. Tax-paying citizens should not be forced to pay for such programs that teach children what they wouldn’t want their own to learn and that they believe might be delusive and dangerous.
This does not stop religious people from believing what they want and transferring to their children such ideas, however ill-advised, in any private venues, including at home.
Still, religious people are dumbfounded. As Noah’s Ark Rhyme Time volunteer Burrell lamented to the Mail:
“How can an organisation that bring people joy, especially to children, be discriminated against in this way? ‘I cannot imagine how anyone could find this offensive. All religions and beliefs are rightly celebrated in schools and even on TV channels such as CBeebies, and, in fact, isn’t that exactly what a library is for—education?”
Here’s the disconnect. People of faith in America and the United Kingdom have so long lived in a traditional Christian paradigm that they believe its seeming normality gives it status as a permanent, even necessary, element of culture. Faith, in the predominant form of Christianity, is, indeed “celebrated” throughout the culture, as Burrell contends, but the question is, “Is that appropriate phenomenon in secular republics?”
Non-Christians and religious apathists and opponents say, “No!” Atheists, in particular, see religious indoctrination of children as a form of “brainwashing” that presents imaginary nonsense as factual reality to intellectually vulnerable children.
What the Burgess Hill library did should be a template for what publicly funded American institutions—libraries, performance centers, schools, etc.—should do as we move forward in a nation in which nonreligious citizens now comprise a quarter of the populace. The demographic has been increasingly expanding at a rapid rate for a number of decades.
Religious freedom should not mean free promotion and dissemination in society paid for by government taxes, and especially not tax-supported and government-endorsed indoctrination of impressionable children in ancient superstitious beliefs.