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Religious liberty or religious bullying?
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The national news has picked up on the heated discussion happening in Bulloch County around the proper role of religion in public schools. As one who went through public schools in Bulloch County, graduating from Statesboro High School in 1998, I am thoroughly dumbfounded and embarrassed at the reactions I have been reading.

According to the Dec. 5 article, "Speakers: Schools restricting religion," many people have joined a Face-book group titled, "Bulloch County Citizens for Religious Liberties." This group is upset that public school teachers, when using their public school email accounts provided by taxpayer dollars, are not allowed to promote a particular religious belief to students and families who may or may not share that belief.

In addition, the group is upset that public school teachers in public school classrooms, also paid for by taxpayer dollars, may not promote their personal religious beliefs to a captivated audience full of im-pressionable children who may or may not share those particular personal religious beliefs.

When I was attending Sallie Z., I vividly remember reciting a teacher-led prayer before eating lunch. As far as I remember, students were forced to participate. Being a part of the majority in the class who was raised in the Church, this didn't bother me. And I don't remember it bothering my classmates, who just went through the ritual in order to get to our chocolate milk, the highlight of a second-grader's day.

But I wonder how Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim students felt? On the flip side, I wonder how parents would have reacted if a teacher began each day by asking children to pray after him: "Salutations to the supreme Lord Ganesha, who showers his blessings on everyone. Oh Lord of Lords Ganesha, kindly remove all obstacles, always and forever from all my activities and endeavors."

I have to wonder if there would be an outpouring of support from the community if a parent complained to the school board.

The United States was founded on the principles of religious liberty, including the right to be nonreli-gious. The government cannot force us to attend any particular religious service, nor can it dictate how churches, temples, mosques, and other religious bodies conduct religious services. Many parents I know believe that religion is a deeply personal belief, and one that should be taught to children in the home or in a church, where parents have a choice over how religious material is presented to their child.

Rather than seeking religious liberty, this group seems to be encouraging religious bullying — the ability of teachers (who are in a position of power and authority) to have unmitigated authority to influence impressionable children with whatever religious doctrine the teacher deems fit. Religious liberty doesn't mean that adults get to do whatever they want to do; rather it is religious liberty that protects children from having religious doctrine forced upon them by publicly-funded institutions.

Parents, who don't have a choice of which teacher will be with their children for countless hours over the course of a year, should applaud the Board of Education for upholding the law and ensuring that the religious education of children stays where it belongs — with the family, not dictated by the state.

Dan Desai Martin
Silver Spring, Md.


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