Arizona Atheist Sends Letter to Local High School

Sometimes being the Arizona State Director of American Atheists requires direct activism. On occasion, I receive complaints about violations of church and state that I have to address. Most recently the mother of a student that attends Sahuarita High School contacted me to let me know that there was an outside group handing out Bibles on the grounds of the high school. Her son was intercepted on his way to the bus loading area and handed a small book with a “cutesy” locker picture on the cover. Obviously, the book was specially published for handing out to students. She sent me pictures of the book and an annotated map of where the violation took place. She also included the names of the principal, the superintendent, and an assistant superintendent. She was afraid to bring up the situation because of possible repercussions and that’s why she contacted me. It’s too bad that the situation occurred in the first place, but it gives me the opportunity to take action. For one thing, it gives me a chance to dust off the letterhead stationery provided by the American Atheists. She gave me all the information I needed: the day, the time, pictures of the material, maps, and the names and mailing addresses of the folks I needed to contact. Perfect!

The first thing I did was look at other similar situations and the resulting court decisions. It is clear that handing out religious materials in school and on school grounds by outside groups is illegal. It is less clear when the distribution is done by students attending the school. There are gray areas, of course. Can the outside group stand on the sidewalks near the school? Are the sidewalks public or are they on school property? This whole situation reminds me of a couple of kids playing “I’m not touching you” games in the back of the family SUV. Whether or not it is legal in a particular case, there are several reasons that distribution of religious material by outside organizations on school grounds is a bad idea:

  • Students might not realize that the school itself is not endorsing a religious message. School officials must take affirmative steps to make certain that students understand this.
  • Students that reject the religious material in front of other students may confront peer pressure, coercion, and ostracism.
  • It is possible that a religious group, in its zeal, may harass students and force material and views upon the students.

     

In addition, parents have the right to decide what religious training their child receives. Teachers and administrators are limited in what and how they teach. Outside organizations cannot be held to the same government standards and parents have no control. Once a student climbs on the bus or disappears through the gates of the schoolyard, the parents should be safe in the belief that their children are free of religious proselytization until they step back off the bus or leave the school grounds.

 

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About AZAtheist

Retired--Researcher, Developer, Program Manager, Arizona Regional Director--American Atheists, Organizer--Tucson Atheists, Organizer--Skeptics of Tucson
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9 Responses to Arizona Atheist Sends Letter to Local High School

  1. AZ Gringa says:

    I hope we get to hear how this turns out!

  2. mommyx4boys says:

    Okay why didnt the child just throw it away if he didn’t want it. Someone gave him a book and this is bad? Even if you don’t believe what the bible says isn’t it good to educate yourself on it. It is a part of history

    • azatheist says:

      @mommyx4boys, The mother did not want her child proselytized on the school grounds. She complained to me and I took the proper action to address her concerns. If you are concerned enough to “educate yourself” on similar situations, please read this article: http://thehumanist.com/news/religion/whats-the-best-way-to-challenge-religious-intrusion

      • mommyx4boys says:

        okay i did go to the link you provided, i am a christian, and my opinion is that no one christian or otherwise should be trying to influence or handing out stuff at schools. i know i would be mad if someone was at my sons school handing out books on atheism. however i know there have been issues at my sons school where teachers told him couldnt pray before lunch, and that is not right either. i will never try to force someone to be a christian and i expect the same respect in return

      • azatheist says:

        @mommyx4boys, First off, thank you for actually checking out the link I provided. It seems that we are in violent agreement about proselytizing in schools. However your initial reply seemed dismissive of the mother’s concerns. The discussions concerning the separation of church and state are also a part of our history. Learning will also take place when the school children witness first hand how the concerns of the a-religious minority are handled by school administrators and government representatives. We live in a liberal democracy which means that the concerns of the minorities are addressed and not simply dismissed. If your children wish to pray before lunch why can’t they do that silently?

      • mommyx4boys says:

        Why should they be forced to pray silently, they are not asking anyone else to pray, and is that not a part of free speach and there religious rights. Also at first i was being dismissive about the mothers concerns but i realized that was not right.

      • azatheist says:

        In principle, I could agree with you but this has been my experience: When people choose to pray in a mixed setting and they choose to pray out loud, others are required to “respect” those doing the praying by keeping silent and not eating. The fact that others are not forced into participating is good but doesn’t go far enough to not give the appearance of special privileges for people that are religious. Besides, I was taught when I was religious that it was only important that God heard my prayers, not everyone else in the room. If you’d like to review an admonition from Jesus on the subject please read Matthew 6:5: http://biblehub.com/matthew/6-5.htm

        One last thing to consider: The mother asked me to take action on her behalf because she was afraid that there would be repercussions against her or her child. This situation need not get more complicated than to have the people handing out Bibles leave the school campus and leave the religious training to the parents of the children.

      • mommyx4boys says:

        I agree with that, but my son is not asking others not to eat, or to bow their heads, he is in fourth grade i seriously doubt anyone even noticed, other than the teacher, and i agree that prayer does not have to be done out loud, but i refuse to tell my son he can not do it, to a Christian that would be like telling an atheist they have to say one nation under God. I understand where the mother is coming from, i put myself in her shoes and that is partly why i decided i was wrong. The fact is if another child tells my son he is an atheist, that does not harm my child, and my son saying his prayers does not hurt anyone else either.

  3. Monty says:

    What was in the letter that you sent to the school and have they replied to it?

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