I found out here that today is “Bring Your Bible to School Day.” It’s an evangelical Christian campaign to encourage kids to bring their bibles to their schools and talk about their religion to other kids. The site even has a fancy legal memo (put together by the Alliance Defending Freedom) which goes into the boundaries of what kids can get away with between classes. All in all, it’s an exploratory pitch into getting kids to sell the faith where their parents cannot go.
Unfortunately I didn’t find out about this in enough time to write this post any sooner, but I think that it still raises an important issue: how should someone respond to this in an educational setting? Essentially the idea promoted by the organization (backed by Focus on the Family, no less) is to show that Christians are still everywhere. Not only that, but children even in elementary schools are also being encouraged to promote The Bible and their faith to other kids. Depending upon how many participants there are, this could be something strange or even scary to a child who just wants to get through the school day.
However, stuff like this campaign actually happens more often than people might think. Children are always pressured to share their faith with their friends. If that wasn’t enough, faith takes a center stage in many schools; kids in secular families aren’t allowed to ignore it at all. Therefore, despite this campaign taking place today, there needs to be a discussion on how to protect kids from religious sales pitches.
Don’t feed the persecution complex.
Persecution myths abound in early Christian lore, and certainly growing up I heard all kinds of horrific tales about how the Christian deity was getting taken out of schools. What this does is create a default belief that merely talking about religion will generate an organized response from the enemies of the faith. Confrontation is expected in situations like this. Indeed, that even might be a goal of the whole event (more on that later).
Opposition to religious indoctrination does not always mean confrontation, though. An important reminder is that while kids are allowed to talk about religion on their own time, nobody is required to listen. Changing the subject and excusing oneself from the conversation are valid ways of handling youth preaching. If you see a group of people carrying bibles, give them a wide berth. It’s good practice for dealing with animated street preachers later on in life.
A lack of confrontation actually speaks volumes. To people expecting to get into verbal fights over their beliefs, being afforded mutual respect flies in the face of that myth. It’s a contradiction that they will have personal experience with, some hard evidence that shows perhaps they’re not as persecuted as they’re making it out to be.
Children might be the only people showing their Christian peers human dignity.
At its core, getting children to preach to other children is an exercise in parents using their kids. Most realistically, these kids live a life that provides constant opportunities to be further drawn into their religion. For some, this isn’t about choosing to talk to others. Rather, it’s about having family pressure them into practicing what is being preached.
Inherent to this is a lack of respect for the dignity of those kids being used as pawns. While these beliefs might seem silly or laughable to kids that aren’t subjected to it, they’re all too real to the ones that are. Indoctrinated kids are being told that their worth as people can only be measured in religious terms, and they are treated accordingly. Sometimes, it just helps to remind one’s friends that they are valued regardless of what religious beliefs they might have.
This also might be part of a trend of generating litigation for “religious freedom.”
There is a good reason why legal issues are getting explored in conjunction with all of this. The way the law currently works, students are able to talk about whatever they want so long as it doesn’t disrupt the good order of the campus. Any effort by the school to enforce discipline can be scrutinized under this framework. So, a teacher who tells his or her students to close their bibles before class starts might end up getting slapped with a lawsuit. The same thing goes for schools responding to disruptions caused by religious discussions that get out of hand.
Every single one of these suits is an opportunity to appeal to higher courts. Eventually one or more of them might make it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Once there, religious groups will have an opportunity to get new decisions which expand the ability of churches to use kids to promote their message. If they fail, they will most likely get more restrictions placed on student freedoms.
The bottom line here is that children are being brought in as fodder for their parents’ agendas. This means that responsible parents might want to take steps to educating their kids in how to preserve their own rights. Despite the apprehension parents might feel about it, ultimately this will empower kids to make their own choices about what they deeply believe – without being treated like collateral.