Religion in schools: make it stop, please

From the DH today (anyone know why the LE didn’t run a  story on this?):

LEBANON — The Lebanon Ministerial Association is sponsoring a dedication service Tuesday to pray for the Lebanon Community School District and its leadership. The public is invited.

The service starts at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Lebanon High School. Prayers will be offered for the school board, administrators, teachers, parents, students and staff.

Ministers are inviting school district employees to dinner at the high school prior to the service.

Pastor Dan DeSaulnier of the Lebanon Evangelical Church said Kim Fandino, a Spanish teacher at the high school and president of the Lebanon Education Association, suggested the ceremony and will lead part of the worship.

Um, NO.  It’s fine for high school employees who share a religious tradition to get together and do their thing, but it should absolutely not be on school grounds, nor should it be publicized as if it was a school-sanctioned function.

“Public schools have to be a place where children of all faiths and children of no faiths need to feel welcomed and embraced,” Fidanque said. “Events like this draw lines and imply that families and students who attend this event will be part of the ‘in’ crowd and tend to ostracize people of other faiths and other religious beliefs.”

Doesn’t everyone realize this is the point of such an event?  The presence of Fandino alone should be a strong indicator of this – aside from Alexander, I can’t think of another person in the LCSD who has been as divisive over the last decade.  And to be fair to Alexander, I don’t think he always knew he was being so divisive.

But wait, you say.  What about this?

“It’s like baccalaureate for grownups,” she added. “We’re coming together, we’re praying for each other and we’re looking toward the future.”

First, BLECH.  The comment about it being ‘baccalaureate for grownups’ is painfully bad proselytizing, and an insider plug aimed at recruiting churchgoing students (I doubt many non-Christian students will be familiar with the bacc service she’s referring to).  Second, as the ACLU executive director pointed out, the “each other” only really holds true for the participants and those who identify with them.  Were I  a student or staff person at LHS, I would not feel like this event included me in any way. (Along those lines, when I was subbing, I saw Christian iconography or quotes in more than one classroom.  Not cool.)

Events like this pretend to build community but really build factions, since they are exclusive.  The ACLU ED is right – while it’s technically legal, the relevant question (as any clergy should know) is not can but should? And the answer is clearly no.


Immediate Update: It appears the LE did run a blurb on this.  However, they failed to mention what I would consider very, very relevant information, like the fact that LCSD employees will be leading part of the service.  On what possible grounds would the LE justify leaving that out?  That’s news.

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12 Comments on “Religion in schools: make it stop, please”

  1. Eric Stoller Says:

    I highly doubt that LCSD folks would be so willing to have a “Lebanon School District Atheist Dedication” event…especially with the way that the poster conveys that the LCSD is leading the event. Christian-centric perhaps? Ugh!

    Thanks for posting this…I usually ignore the LCDS posts, but this one was quite interesting 🙂

    Although this article was written about Christian privilege at higher education institutions, it might provide some context for folks:

    http://www.education.uiowa.edu/crue/publications/documents/About.Campus.12.2.pdf

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I can’t agree with you here Dennis. While we must jealously guard the separation of church and state, likewise avoid any faith based exclusion or advantage in a public school, we need not throw the baby out with the bath.

    Tolerance is called for here.

    How wonderful that faith based organizations are supporting public schools and honoring ALL of the students and staff in their way. Schools REALLY need community support. The Christian churches are stepping up… other groups are equally welcome to do the same.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    As a school district employee, it bothers me to see that this is a service initiated, planned, and run by a teacher. If the religious community initiated, planned and led the service, it would seem like a genuine effort. But in this case, it appears to be self-promotion by Fandino or at least an effort on the part of Fandino to get strangers to pray for her.

    As a union member, I regret that the identification of Fandino in the article as the president of the LEA makes it seem as though the LEA is endorsing it. I certainly wish that Fandino would learn to separate her role as a private citizen from her union position. Perhaps someone could suggest to her that she ask the media not to include her title of union president in articles in which she is not acting in that capacity.

  4. Dennis Says:

    Anon – that’s fine. They should simply refrain from doing it on school grounds and advertising it like it’s a school event, that’s all. There’s a difference between “I am praying for you” and “I am not providing an opportunity for you to participate.”

  5. IE Says:

    You are on target, Dennis! I am very tired of blatant intrusions of Christianity into public school activities. I would not like it if there were Islamic intrusions, so why are Christian ones OK?

    I have long wondered why baccalaureates exist, since we supposedly have a separation of church and public schools. Thank you for this post.

  6. Dennis Says:

    IE,

    I actually have no real problem with baccalaureates that are held in churches by churchgoers and that celebrate the accomplishments of certain members of the church. It’s akin to a church celebrating many other things. I just have problems when church functions happen on school property or are advertised as being school-related events.

  7. IE Says:

    This year’s baccalaureate was held in the high school auditorium. School property.

  8. Joe The Apostle Says:

    Dennis my son, you have risen from the dead and are now back blogging amongst us. You were gone for three long months only to rise and return to blog about the living and……

    Nice to have you back. Fandino probably means well, but you are quite correct, it needed to be done differently for a few reasons.

    Joe The Apostle

  9. Roxy Says:

    I just have problems when church functions happen on school property or are advertised as being school-related events.
    Church functions happen in the school auditorium every Sunday. Valley Life holds Sunday services there.

  10. Dennis Says:

    Somehow, I have less of a problem with regular church services. I think it’s clear that they are not school-related functions. And I know many less-well-attended faiths – often non-Christian faiths – have trouble finding good spaces to meet, and I would not want to deprive them of a viable space.

  11. IE Says:

    Maybe it’s better because they pay rent. But that has never felt right to me either. I mean, would they rent to a non-Christian religion to hold religious services there regularly, if it was a religion evangelical Christians found deeply offensive? I think not. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so (to steal a line from “Monk” TV).

  12. IE Says:

    I have been thinking about my last comment and am not sure it accurately reflects my belief on this issue: I DO think any group that contracts to be responsible for any facility damage and maybe carries an insurance policy, should be able to rent school district space during non-school hours at a rate that covers costs of cleaning, given that these are public buildings and community use should be encouraged.

    However, I strongly believe in the separation of church and state, and yet do see value in teaching about and exposing students to various religious belief systems held currently and historically throughout the world.


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