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Second-Class Citizens in the Classroom: Promoting Religion in Public Schools Is Hurting Our Family

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December 5, 2011

Jonathan and his son are plaintiffs in an ACLU lawsuit filed today challenging a pervasive practice of school-sponsored prayer, preaching and religious activities in the Chesterfield County School District.

For about five years now, my family has been speaking to the principal of New Heights Middle School about how we do not appreciate all of the Christian overtones in the school and the outright blatant push for students to become Christians. Because we are not Christian, my son has been bullied and teachers and school staff have told us that our beliefs are wrong and that we should “get right with God.”

There have been many assemblies, concerts and other activities over the years that have had the emphasis on Christianity. For example, earlier this school year, the school held a Christian worship rally during an assembly. A minister gave a sermon to students. A Christian rapper named B-SHOC performed a number of religious songs, and students were asked to fill out a form saying that they had accepted Jesus. Though the school has defended the assembly by saying it was voluntary, students were told that if they did not attend, they would have to spend the afternoon in the in-school suspension room. Teachers have ordered my son to copy essays stating that he believes in God and thanks God every day. Christian religious symbols hang throughout the school.

We are tired of enduring this. As non-believers, it makes us feel like second-class citizens in this school because we are not Christian. We are not anti-Christian by any means. We are not anti-religion. We, like the founders of our country, believe in the First Amendment, the Bill of Rights, and the Establishment Clause. We value our right under the Constitution to hold whatever religious beliefs we want, or none at all, without interference from the government.

We do not feel that public schools should be teaching religion other than in an unbiased way for historical or academic purposes. Public school teachers and staff definitely should not be promoting prayer in class or school events. Religious education should take place at home and in places of worship. Not in a public school. In this school, there are not just Christian students and families. There are people who hold other beliefs. We do not try to push our beliefs on anyone and we do not want others’ religious beliefs pushed on us. The school district is promoting Christianity and violating the law. It has got to stop!

We know standing up against this and protecting our rights may not be popular. But it is the right thing to do for our family and all other families in the school district who also feel like second-class citizens just because they don’t believe in the same faith as many school officials.

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