In light of the recent court decision regarding a public school's prayer banner that had been hanging in the gym illegally since the 1960s, my son's experience with the imposition of religion--specifically Christianity--in his school came to mind.
In objecting to the posters put up by an after-school bible club, he did not experience vilification, threats of assault and even death, ostracism, and elected officials spewing vitriol, as did Jessica Ahlquist, who acted as plaintiff in the lawsuit. (See here, here, here, and here, just for starters--there's much more.)
Jessica Ahlquist ran into trouble from day one. And the school administration was dishonest, claiming that the banner (which began with the words "Our heavenly father" and ended with "Amen") was not a prayer, just a "tradition." This fooled no one, certainly not people speaking at a public meeting about the issue last February. Speakers invoked god and insulted atheists openly.
Here's what happened in my son's case: the Hell No! club hung posters in the hallways featuring bible quotes, quotes such as "only a fool does not believe in God," and threats of eternal punishment for nonbelievers. Our son felt that these were inappropriate in a public school and wrote letters to the principal, superintendent, and school board. While I'm sure that some people thought we put him up to this, we did not. Ethan asked me to check the letter for spelling and formatting, which I did. I had no other input.
A few days later he was called to the principal's office. The school's attorney had been informed of the situation, and some of the school board members contacted a local college to see how such matters were handled there. The attorney considered that featuring a cross on posters advertising a bible club was legal, but that posters suggesting superiority of a particular religion and containing arguably harrassing statements had to come down. About half the posters were removed.
As Ethan reminded me in an e-mail, "A few people were irritated about the signs coming down, but once I exposed myself as the 'squeaky wheel,' no one was really mean about it and some people congratulated me." I recall running into the superintendent and a few of the board members at a restaurant shortly after this happened and being complimented on our son's letter.
But as my husband pointed out, the religionists have gotten much uglier in the past couple of decades, so who knows what might have happened to him if the events that transpired then were to happen today? Whether it's the political clout of the rabid religious right or fears about a secularist minority that's becoming more vocal and less inclined to stay closeted that's causing such vile behaviors as Ms. Ahlquist has had to suffer, the godbotherers have gotten nastier and nastier.
There is a reason not to tolerate such expression of religion in a public school: as the courts have decided again and again, it violates the separation of church and state. Yes, I remember singing a little song in first grade that started with "Oh, the Lord's been good to me," but that doesn't mean it was right, and subsequently such religious artifacts in state-funded schools were ruled illegal. As they should be. The majority of Americans may believe in god, and particularly a Christian god, but the Constitution exists to protect the rights of the minority.
We were very proud of our son for taking this action, as I assume Jessica's parents are of her. It isn't easy to stand for what's right when the majority of your community is against you--even without name-calling and death threats.
To all those religious believers and promoters who tell the rest of us to shut up, I can only say, "Hell, no!"