This morning, as I checked my email, I saw a headline similar to the one that leads this post and inwardly groaned. It has all the markers of the kind of modern-day Christian persecution story that people love to rally behind, just like this one:
But how believable are these stories? As one of the articles I read this morning points out, there are already some reasons to be a bit skeptical of this story about the kindergartner. If it really happened, then it’s certainly a deplorable situation — teachers have no right to stop a child from saying a prayer. They also have no right to force a child to pray. Sadly, many of the people who become incensed over the first scenario don’t realize they should be just as incensed over the second. The United States government has no right to infringe upon any individual’s religious freedoms. That’s why it’s so important to make sure our government keeps its neutrality.
Many Christians think they would like to live in a “Christian” nation, but whose definition of Christianity will be upheld? Will it be those who believe women should have no authority over a man? Will it be those who believe that all the Old Testament laws are still supposed to be followed, like sacrifice and stoning? What about those who believe interracial marriage is a sin, or those who think worshiping with instrumental music is wrong? These are the same problems that the early pilgrims were trying to avoid when they came to this country. And even then they often got it wrong, as the Salem witch trials illustrate.
We should all be thankful that we have religious freedom in this country. But having religious freedom does not mean we’re “free” to push our religious views on others. So when organized prayer was taken out of public schools, that was not an attack on religious freedom, it was a defense of it.
What really gets me about things like this story and the recent movie God Is Not Dead is that they’re often attempts to make people feel like religion is under attack in the modern world. That’s simply not true. I find the setup for that movie incredibly unbelievable. I can totally see a philosophy professor being arrogant — but a philosophy professor who is that dogmatic about forcing people to give up theism? I don’t buy it. The whole point of philosophy is to consider different ideas. Forcing someone to believe a particular thing runs completely counter to philosophy. And they also make the same old and unfounded accusation that down deep atheists believe the evidence supports God, but we’re just angry with him. It’s ridiculous and inaccurate, but it’s what many people want to hear.
Regardless of whether or not this little girl was really forced to stop praying, I would love to see a story like this promote a larger dialog about what religious freedom really is. I’m not holding my breath though.