Ministers in Schools?
I live in Scotland- a country which is, nowadays, not particularly religious. I go to a secular school; one which admits pupils of all races, backgrounds and religions, and I’m proud of this. However, we have three ministers assigned to our school who speak at assemblies on a regular basis. No other religions; just Church of Scotland ministers. This bothers me, and here’s why!
One of the main reasons having ministers assigned to my school bothers me is that it’s a non-denominational school. We have at least a few Muslims and Sikhs in the 1200 or so pupils, and on the staff. Even more are non-religious- atheists, anti-theists, agnostics or those who believe in God outside the confines of organised religion. This is no exception to the rule in Scotland; just under 67% of people in the country identify as religious, with only 42% followers of the Church of Scotland (2001 Government census). This is compared to 83% of Americans who identify as religious (76-80% Catholic or Protestant). Why, then, do we have only Church of Scotland ministers? In a non-denominational school, surely either all religions should be represented or none of them should. In fact, with 33% of our population either non-religious or mute on the subject, if Christians are represented then atheists and humanists should also be invited to speak. However, they’re not.
The Church of Scotland is admittedly the official religion of our state, but with less than half of the population adhering to it, should it be fed to the pupils of non-denominational schools? There are at least two religious high schools within a reasonable distance of my own school. Free buses are provided to get to these schools should parents want to send their children there, or should the children themselves want to go. I chose to go to my high school partly because of its non-religious nature; my mother wanted me to go to the local Catholic school as she thought the standard of education was higher, but I thought it was against my personal beliefs and insisted on going to a non-religious school. But I still couldn’t escape Christianity. It was no longer the holiday church visits of primary school- instead, the ministers came to us.
The ministers assigned to my school are perfectly pleasant people; it’s not them I object to. It’s simply their presence. I have no objection to them making themselves known to pupils, who can then seek them out if they feel compelled to do so. I just really don’t like how they can stand in front of a group of young people from 11-18 and talk about how Jesus can save us, and how God loves us. Instead of having speakers relevant to the kids they’re talking to- utilising the time for anti-bullying talks, or to educate about drugs- they have a few people who shuffle in, talk about Jesus for fifteen minutes and then shuffle out again, leaving us baffled as to what exactly they were trying to tell us.
The worst example in my memory, and the one which compelled me to seek exemption from religious assemblies, was based around the Parable of the Four Soils, or the Parable of the Sower. Here’s the first video the minister showed us:
It’s pretty tame, I know. So that gives you an idea of the parable. But this next video, I’m guessing one which was supposed to be “down with da kidz”, was the one which really, really bothered me (I’m having trouble embedding this particular video for some reason, but plz click the link to watch it! It’s relevant).
What does that say to you? Perhaps it’s just my over-active atheist imagination, but that to me said that if you don’t “enhance your relationship with God”, you will be a loser, drop out of school or become a pregnant alcoholic. Okay, maybe not that literally- but even when I try to be open-minded, I still come away from that thinking “so if I don’t love Jesus I’ll fail at life?” If it was more than just me who took that message from the video, then this is a horrible, horrible resource to be showing to kids- particularly the youngest ones. Will they watch that and say “I don’t believe in God. Does that make me a bad person? Does it mean I’ll do badly?” No, no it doesn’t. I got Dux (valedictorian) of my school this year, and God had nothing to do with it. You know what did? My own hard work, driven my by own motivation to do well. That’s what a school should be encouraging, not a reliance on God to sort your problems for you.
If you go to a non-religious school which insists on having religious speakers on a regular or semi-regular basis and it bothers you, don’t be afraid to speak out. There’s no need to be obnoxious about it, but you can ask for exemption, or speak to a trusted teacher about your feelings towards the issue. Nobody can force you to believe in any God- anything at all, for that matter. So if you’re non-religious, or even if you’re a minority religion, don’t let your thoughts go unheard.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons