Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Yesterday I did what I should never do, something that is even sillier than responding to a post in the "Comments" section on the online news: I responded to someone who had posted inflammatory rhetoric on Facebook.

Even as I was doing it, part of my brain was shouting, "No!  Don't do this!  It'll just make things worse!"  But the other part of my brain just responded with a helpful hand gesture involving one finger, and made me go ahead and click "Post" on my response.

What incited me to do this was a Facebook page link that led me to the website of The Alliance Defending Freedom, which has the headline, "How anti-Christian extremists are using our public schools to radically transform our culture (and how YOU can use the $1.2 million matching grant to stop them!)."  We are also treated to this picture, which illustrates how serious all this is:

In fact, it was the picture that was what triggered my response, which was, "...except that this never happened.  But carry on."  The original poster responded, "But it's heading that way!"  And I responded, "Oh, c'mon.  I would never do any such thing to one of my students, and I'm an atheist, for cryin' out loud."  And she responded, "That's because YOU have common sense.  Not everyone does."

At that point, I gave up.

When I looked at the Alliance Defending Freedom's website, I think what struck me most was the following bit:
Act now to protect religious freedom in public schools!
  • Planned Parenthood
  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
  • The Obama administration
  • Advocates of homosexual behavior
All of them have big plans for eliminating your faith from our public schools.

The first step in their scheme has been to crack down on any form of religious expression in school.

Prayers are forbidden. Religious references are censored in students’ schoolwork. Students are punished for speaking out about their faith in class.

And these extremists are not stopping there. They’re striving to use public schools to undermine our children’s faith and indoctrinate them with anti-Christian propaganda.
And I thought, "propaganda?"  Really?

Webster's defines propaganda as, "(1) Information, esp. of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view; or (2) The dissemination of such information as a political strategy."

And these people are accusing the atheists of using propaganda?

Let's start with poor little Emily's school paper, which has been marked with an "F" and "Remove Jesus please!"  This is so obviously a poorly Photoshopped image that I wouldn't think anyone would fall for it; still less for a scenario where any teacher, in any school in the US, would give an assignment to their students to "give an example of someone who impacted your life" and then add the caveat of, "Oh, but it can't be Jesus.  No Jesus allowed."  Despite the impression of the people who wrote this website, that Christians are some kind of small, desperately embattled group, might I point out that in the US, Christians are still vastly in the majority, at (as of last year) 71% of the population?  In many places in the US, it is hard to find anyone who isn't Christian.  So tell me: what's the likelihood of some evil atheistic teacher getting away with giving a child an F on a paper for mentioning Jesus?  Nearly three-quarters of the nation would be seething with outrage.

Oh, but try even having kids learn about other religions, and see how these people react.  Just last week, an elementary school in Wichita, Kansas was forced by public outcry to remove a display that described the "Five Pillars of Islam" after a photograph of the bulletin board went viral (and especially after The Washington Post said that the display was promoting Islam).  Never mind that the school also had displays about Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity, the latter including a poster of the Last Supper.  Never mind that teaching about world religions -- including Christianity -- is part of the state's elementary school curriculum.


Oh, and it's all well and good to "pray for our efforts to keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel in public schools," to quote the Alliance Defending Freedom's website again.  But don't even let the kids be exposed to information about any other worldviews.  Can't have that.

Apparently, it's perfectly fine to break down the Separation of Church and State, but you damn well better make sure that it's the right church you're letting in.

Bottom line: proselytizing, of any kind, has no place in public schools.  I would be wrong to try to force my atheism on my students, or even to try to convince them in some more subtle fashion.  Matters of belief have no place in the classroom.  But if I would be wrong to put up some kind of Atheist Manifesto in my classroom (if such a thing existed), then the teacher in Muldrow High School, of Muldrow, Oklahoma was also wrong for putting up the Ten Commandments in her room.  (And lest you think that the Ten Commandments are just some kind of universally-accepted norms for good behavior, allow me to remind you that the first one reads, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.")  I might also point out that when 11th grader Gage Pulliam contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation about this unconstitutional display, he was harassed by Christian students to the point of being threatened with physical violence, despite the fact that he said publicly, "I want people to know that this isn't me trying to attack religion.  This is me trying to create an environment for kids where they can feel equal."

The knife cuts both ways, doesn't it?  Funny thing, that.  And unlike little Emily's Jesus paper, Gage Pulliam and the harassment he faced is real.

What we need here is tolerance, and an understanding that belief is a matter of conscience, best left to discussion between children and their friends and families.  There are, actually, places where religion should be checked at the door -- and public schools are one of them.  This doesn't mean abandoning your beliefs, it just means not using them as some kind of hammer to smash over the heads of people who don't happen to think like you.

And it also means not using sleazy propaganda to try to convince people.


  1. this is scary, on so many levels. I cant even express how much this sickens me.

    1. "this" being, your own comment? This is the internet, we can't see which way you are pointing when you use pronouns without the nouns they reference.

  2. What a well written, intelligent blog. In the UK we've pretty much stopped religious education, unless it's say, a Christian school etc. We now live in such a beautifully diverse society we can no longer justify harping on about one religion (I'm not religious) and not thinking of others. Once in high school (12 plus) it's a choice to learn about religion, they pick that subject and are not forced into it. Bravo on this blog

    1. Hey.....have another look at your precious UK. You are now inundated with muslims who are now instilling sharia law in everything they can get their hands on. You have a broken immigration system that lets all subjects of former empire countries enter un-inhibited which includes all of Pakistan and all islamic former British Empire countries. Way to go.....they are now taking over your country.

  3. I see a great amount of desperation in all of this. It is corellary to the vehemence I see in the Republican party to remain relevant. The more agressive their tactics, the more it only proves, to me, how irrelevant they are becoming. A swath of negativity to parse through in the interim, sure... but it eludes to blue skies on the horizon.

  4. this is no doubt bs, and i cant stand it when anyone does this. yeah i am conservative, but this crap happens on both sides, and its wrong regardless. to say only one side does it is wrong, but both sides doing it doesnt make it right. why you must check your facts.

  5. Yet, it does happen: I applaud you in that you would not do that to a student, but there are teachers that will. Your post is as much propaganda as the OP that you cite. In that they are base false. Only the Facebook post was just someone was possibly just duped where as your assertions are just plain wrong. In a free society, one should not have to "check their beliefs at the door" neither should they have to check talk of them there either. If as a society, we are as civilized and advanced as you would proposed we are, then surely discussions can take place about ALL beliefs without hate, discrimination, or violence? If not, then NO belief system should be discussed in such places instead they should be saved for the home or some other private setting.

  6. The fact that some who my call themselves Christian and possibly tote the Republican party name and distort this story sickens me as well.I am a follower of Jesus and do happen to be very conservative.Communication gets so twisted and so many with different views get filled with hate. I think there was some truth in the story but it got twisted. In general we as human have evil hearts and have tendency to hate retaliate etc.Jesus does not teach that and gives us a way to change, but those that do evil and claim His name cause much harm.