I am an educator in a public school system, and I "forced" to bow my head in prayer during system meetings, faculty meetings, luncheons, etc. Sometimes we are even asked to recite the Lord's prayer. The prayers are led by system employees of all ranks; sometimes, they even bring in a pastor for special events. These prayers for a great school year, strength to teach, etc. make me extremely uncomfortable and anxious. It goes against everything I believe in to bow my head, close my eyes, and participate in a mass prayer... yet I usually follow along out of fear of being ridiculed and possibly fired, considering that 99% of the people who works in the system are Christian. As I bow my head, I feel shame for not having the strength to stand up for my beliefs. Many times, I wonder how these Christians would react to someone leading a prayer that is from any other religion besides their own. How would they feel? Would they stand for it?
SO THE QUESTION IS... Is this legal? Is it okay for me to be asked to pray in the workplace, especially a state-funded one?
I realize I could refuse to bow my head, but should I even be put in a situation that might single me out as someone with extremely different beliefs which may result in my mistreatment?
Greetings PJ fan,
I'm an atheist educator and I teach in the Buckle of the Bible Belt.
I've been 'let go' twice for being an atheist. The first time I open and proud. The second time I kept it to myself unless confronted by another teacher, and I kept it from the students. In both cases I was preached AT as they dismissed me (refused to renew my contract).
Yes it was illegal, and yes I fought it. The ACLU was fully booked and I couldn't find a lawyer that wasn't a conflicted Christian or willing to buck the State with a $10k cap on suits.
Through it all, people were mean and said horrible things. I'm a fighter, but I can't fight everyone. And faith-heads won't come at you head on (unless they're in a mob), they sneak 'round back.
Now, I've gone back into the closet. I let people assume what they like, and when pressed I say I'm a xian.
There are no rules for atheists. Atheism is simple. Just keep your own best interests in mind. You may even find greater power of persuasion from within their ranks. I introduce children to facts and concepts that contradict the Bible ALL THE TIME, but I couldn't do it if I were an "Atheist."
The way I compromised with myself was that I considered the type of Christian that I wouldn't find offensive, and then assumed that role amongst associates and public forums.
They think I'm odd, but I'm accepted. For instance; I don't believe in Hell, I believe all good people go to heaven (xian, muslim, buddhist, hindu, agnostic, atheist, etc), there are only two rules for xians (love god, love neighbors), and that I live by only two verses Matt 6:1 (keep ones' faith to oneself) and Matt 7:1 (don't judge).
I'm very happy that Atheists went from 3% to 9% in my state. I'm not sure what percentage it will need to be at before I come back out of the closet, but I intend to come out with a vengeance when my money, mortgage, and meals are no longer dependent upon a people that think atheists "can do no good."
Good luck. Keep safe. And do what's best for you and yours.
I have seen a lot of these same kinds of messages many times. Even though there were laws on the books to prevent proselytizing of religion in the schools, when I was in school we had morning meditation (with a moment of silence) and a student read a verse (rarely anything but religious) or said a prayer -. The school board and the PTA controlled the faculty, teachers and principal. Many assemblies had a prayer or some kind of religious overtones. The entire school ostracized any child that was not a card carrying religious bigot. This was before integration; one of my teachers asked the class if anyone would not object to having a black (not the word she used) in the school. I was the only one that raised my hand (I would not object). I thought it might help me out if they had someone else to attack. She gave me a look that would melt steel. My mother was a widow with five kids to raise; she worked all the time and I thought she had enough to deal with. I was very denigrated the whole time I was in school. I wish I had it to do over again and knew what I know now because I would take a miniature tape recorder with me.
Here is a variety of (excerpts)of discrimination examples - religious and atheist.
Secular Discrimination Report - Exposing the pervasive discrimination and prejudice against the nonreligious. The title of the article is - Texas School District Won't Do Business With Atheist. The article is about a person who claims to have been discriminated against in business because he is an atheist.
From the article: "This type of discrimination is exactly what atheists and others who lack religion or religious supernatural belief deal with throughout the United States, from the East to the West to the North to the South. The dominance of religion and expectation that everyone at least believes in some deity leads to some level of innate distrust of the nonreligious in even the most liberal of areas. We don't always see examples such as this because it is avoided by atheists hiding or at the least not being open about our lack of faith. If not, discrimination such as this would happen much too often. If we look at history, as the nonreligious civil right movement is growing and there are more open atheists, we are already and will undoubtedly see more of this in the future."
Excerpts from other cases: "Religious harassment of Muslim family by southeast Delaware school district: by JewsOnFirst.org, October 12, 2006 Links to documents cited in this report immediately follow it. Religious harassment in a southeast Delaware school district traumatized two young Muslim girls and prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene. The family moved to another school district and filed suit against the Cape Henlopen School District. The case paints an appalling picture of school officials fostering a campaign against girls, ages 10 and 11, by their classmates." "The Cape Henlopen district is in the same county as the Indian River School District, where officials' aggressive Christianity prompted a lawsuit by two families and forced one of them, a Jewish family, to flee the district. School prayer lawsuit filed against district By Sean O'Sullivan, Gannett News Service, Delaware Wave, March 2, 2005." "Two sets of parents filed a federal lawsuit in Wilmington on Monday that seeks to bar the Indian River School District from promoting religion at school functions. The parents, who also are seeking damages, claim in the lawsuit that their rights to free speech and to be free from state-sponsored religion have been violated. "We didn't want a lawsuit, but at this point we feel like we don't have any other choice," said Mona Dobrich, one of the parents, in a statement provided by attorney Thomas J. Allingham. "We are not trying to remove God from the schools or the public square. We simply don't think it is right for the district to impose a particular religious view on impressionable students."
"School district disputes lawsuit By Sean O'Sullivan, Gannett News Service, Delaware Wave, May 4, 2005 "WILMINGTON - Indian River school officials have filed papers in federal court denying virtually every claim in a Jewish family's lawsuit over school-sponsored Christian prayer. John Balaguer, attorney for the school district, also asked a U.S. District judge to strike large sections of the complaint as "immaterial, impertinent and scandalous." Balaguer said the items were included solely to cast the district in a negative light."
"A large Delaware school district promoted Christianity so aggressively that a Jewish family felt it necessary to move to Wilmington, two hours away, because they feared retaliation for filing a lawsuit. The religion (if any) of a second family in the lawsuit is not known, because they're suing as Jane and John Doe; they also fear retaliation. Both families are asking relief from "state-sponsored religion." Their suit describes how the graduation of the sole Jewish student in her class was ruined by a pastor asking in Jesus' name that the "Father be with one specific student...and guide her in the path that You have for her." It also describes how a crowd of adults at a school board meeting yelled at her little brother to take off his yarmulke and how his classmates called him "Christ killer."
"Follow-up: Bloggers make JewsOnFirst report on Delaware Jewish family a national sensation Anti-ACLU websites published Jewish family's address, phoneby JewsOnFirst.org, July 11, 2006 (I know this is not new and I don't know your religious leanings but you could contact them for some advice maybe?)"
"When major blogs picked up the story of the Dobrich family that fled the aggressive Christianity of Delaware's Indian River School Districts, readers sent expressions of support. The blogs "outed" a religious right anti-ACLU website that encouraged more persecution of the Dobrich family."
"Delaware district might be using families' lawsuit against it for Supreme Court test Rutherford Institute encouraging risky school board strategy by Jane Hunter, JewsOnFirst.org, July 11, 2006
"JewsOnFirst breaks the story that the Indian River School District, urged on by the Rutherford Institute, a religious right legal group, might be planning to use the Dobrich and Doe families' lawsuit against it as a Supreme Court test case for school board prayer policies. The Rutherford Institute has been encouraging the Indian River School District board to make decisions favoring religious stances."
"In June, a national civil rights Web site called (www.jewsonfirst.org) picked up the story and tossed the prayer suit under a national spotlight. Since then, bloggers across the country -- and the New York Times -- have run stories about this issue that seems to transcend local boundaries. (in case you ever need help maybe this would make a good contact) (www.jewsonfirst.org)."
Trumping Religion: The New Christian Right, the Free Speech Clause, and the Courts by Steven P. Brown. This book is the first scholarly treatment of the strategies employed by the New Christian Right in litigating cases regarding religion using the free speech clause of the U.S. Constitution.
This is also of interest: Access Act "The Equal Access Act is designed to ensure that, consistent with the First Amendment, student religious activities are accorded the same access to public school facilities as are student secular activities."(www.witchvox.com)
House Bill 3678, the Texas Religious Expression Protection Law, Is Designed to Force Sectarian Religion into Public Schools Using the Power of the State, and Is Therefore Unconstitutional by Steven Schafersman July 9, 2007 Amazing story in the Hong Kong paper, creationism is being taught in 30 aided schools in Hong Kong! Quote one principal: "Our religious belief does not approve of evolution". Scientists urge excluding God from biology. Guidelines on creationism criticized Liz Heron, SCMP, Feb 07, 2009 Leading Hong Kong scientists have criticized the Education Bureau for tacitly encouraging schools to promote creationism in biology lessons through its guidelines on teaching evolution.
defending the First Amendment against the Christian right ...Jews On First …because if Jews don't speak out, they'll think we don't mind. Jews On First is the name of the organization.
I just hope you get a break - Good Luck!
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The ACA Lecture Series continues Sunday, March 8th at 12:15pm at the Austin History Center, 9th and Guadalupe. The building opens at noon. Ryan Bell will talk on "My Year Without God: Now a Permanent Condition."