So, Joey, age 10 and in fifth grade, comes to me yesterday afternoon and tells me, “Mom, I wish I hadn’t gone to school early today.” See, he’s walking to and from school on his own this year, and he likes to get to school early in the morning – well before the bell rings – so he can have a little time to chitchat with his friends and play handball. “Why?” I asked. “It was Pray At the Flagpole Day, or something. All these people were at the flagpole praying and talking about God and stuff.” I have to say that I was quite taken aback. I have a vague recollection of a friend mentioning something like this happening on her kids’ school campus a couple years back, but it kind of went in one ear and out the other. “What did you do?” I asked Joey. See, at 10 years old, Joey is a self-proclaimed Atheist. Now, you might think I would be thrilled about this, but the truth is, I think 10 years old is far too young to identify oneself with any degree of certainty as anything ideologically or politically. It takes a certain amount of maturity and worldliness to make up one’s mind about such things. Be that as it may, however, at this point in time, Joey is sure that he doesn’t believe in God, and he calls himself an Atheist. So I wondered what he did when he came upon this gathering at the flagpole – which, by the way, is the spot specifically designated for the school kids to remain at until fifteen minutes before the bell rings in the morning, as there is no supervision on the playground before then. “I wanted to turn around and come back home for a while,” Joey said, “but I thought people would notice me and think I was being disrespectful, so I just stood away from all of them.”
This whole conversation prompted me to Google “prayer at the flagpole,” and all kinds of sites came up with information about the official event, “See You At the Pole.” I had no idea that this was a movement on such a large scale, or that it takes place every year on a designated date. I am flabbergasted. And honestly, pretty appalled.
I understand that this is a Free Speech issue, that it is NOT sponsored or endorsed by the schools themselves, and that it’s been challenged through legal avenues (thank goodness there are other parents out there who are also appalled). I have to ask, though: WHAT IS THE POINT? Seriously. What is the point of this whole event? What is the purpose, the intent?
Wikipedia states that it was started in 1990, in part, because “some Christians see public schools as hostile to Christian students.” REALLY? Why, because public schools try to uphold the whole Separation of Church and State thing? Because religious instruction has no place in public education? That’s hostile? You people already get your Released Time Christian Education, which is also total bullshit – if you’re intent on giving your kids religious instruction, do it on your own time!
I truly do not get the point of this See You At the Pole nonsense, except to create a public spectacle to – what? Garner sympathy? Recruit new Christians? If prayer really works, then it will be just as effective done in private. What is it about gathering publicly in a location where there is sure to be a captive (and in at least some cases, unwilling) audience? Do Christians believe that this scores them bonus points with the Big Guy? If it’s a matter of just rejoicing in the Lord, that, too, can be done just as passionately and effectively in private – or heck, do it in someone’s front yard! Why public schools, though?
And don’t give me this crap that it’s “student led.” Bullshit. Especially at the grade school level. There are adults organizing this and encouraging this, and if you tell me any different, you’re lying or completely naive.
My real question, and my real beef is this: why are Christians so intent on making their religion part of the public realm? I know you guys think you’re members of The One And Only True and Real Religion and that everyone else needs to see the light like you have, but you do know that members of every religion think that, right? Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Christian Scientists, you name it. They all think they’re right. And since nobody can agree, religion in its entirety, and in all its forms, should remain out of the public sphere.
The United States of America is not a Christian nation, nor was it founded on Christian values. It is a secular nation, and although many of its founders may have been Christian, they understood the absolute necessity of creating a secular government and keeping Church and State separate.
I understand that Christians have a right to engage in See You At the Pole, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
But, hey, in the interest of fairness, I’m thinking about encouraging my Muslim friends to have their kids congregate on public school campuses nationwide to express their religious beliefs. And while I’m at it, I think I’ll get all my Atheist friends’ kids together to gather at our local public schools to deliver lectures about evolution and the Big Bang Theory and how nobody can even prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that some guy named Jesus Christ ever lived.
Everyone’s cool with that, right?