Separation of Church and State? Not Where I Live
As I walk through the front doors, several prayerful Christians urge me to join them in worship as they gesture towards a large room filled with joyous exultation of the Lord. This hardly seems out of place for my small hometown in Middle America, except that I am not in a church, I am walking into my public high school. It is eight o'clock in the morning, I have a headache because I was studying until the early morning for my five Advanced Placement courses, and as my classmates implore me to find a new life in Christ all I can think is, "What happened to separation of church and state?"
When a student group won teacher support for a "Magic" card game club, the principal immediately disallowed it because he considered it to be satanic.
The debates on cable news shows about religion in classrooms seem so remote when my school's level of involvement in Christian clubs makes reciting "under God" in the pledge seem trivial. Almost daily, meeting times are announced (during class time) for a slew of Jesus-inspired extra-curriculars, loudly advocating involvement in prayer and Bible study groups. Pictures of crosses and verses from the Good Book greet students throughout the hallways, cafeteria, stairwells and the occasional classroom thanks to the efforts of dozens of students busily filling pages of construction paper with the word of God.
It is not my intention to censor anyone's free speech, but it is important to realize that the administration's liberal and open-minded policies on student expression do not extend far beyond the confines of their own religious beliefs. When a student group won teacher support for a "Magic" card game club, the principal immediately disallowed it because he considered it to be satanic. In addition, when I posted political flyers critical of US foreign policy and advocating a peaceful solution to the Iraqi disarmament situation, I was reprimanded and told to remove my signs from the walls. Basically, the message the administration sent was that political information meant to inspire discussion and debate has no place in a public educational facility, while Christian posters bearing religious imagery are perfectly acceptable.
Although I am an atheist, I am not anti-Christian and I respect and admire many great religious leaders including Mother Theresa, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi. I am also the leader of an after school charity group where students of all backgrounds from agnostics and atheists to Jews and Christians work together to make positive change in the world. In addition to raising awareness about child labor and poverty, we do projects such as bake sales, car washes and benefit concerts to raise money for the education of underpriveledged children. Our greatest accomplishment came last year when we raised over $5,000 to fund the construction of a school in rural Nicaragua. We work towards these goals for different reasons, but personally, my morality and sense of obligation to help the oppressed is not based in faith or religion, but rather in philosophy and my humanistic values. As the fifteen of us meet weekly trying to change the world, the Christian groups are preoccupied with a different agenda. They seem to think that Jesus' chief concern is that they sit in a classroom praying, singing, and praising instead of troubling themselves with the fact that poverty will kill 35,000 today or that there are 250 million children in the world working in fields, streets, and sweatshops instead of attending school.
I hope that one day our school can be a place where all students can express themselves in total freedom whether their message is artistic, religious, or political, but until then, I don't want to be hassled coming in the door.
Mike Hachey, 17, is a high school senior in Beavercreek, Ohio. He is an anarchist, peace activist, and human rights advocate.
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