“See You At the Pole” and Other Nonsense

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?

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27 Comments on ““See You At the Pole” and Other Nonsense”

  1. Addie
    September 27, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    Actually Im very cool with it and would encourage all different groups of people to meet together – its the only way to become informed on what other people believe and make your own mind up. Any kind of event that happens in/around our community (especially with other cultures, including their religions) we try to go and let the kids see for themselves.

    Honestly, I dont really see the problem here… I mean if he wasnt forced to join in or made fun of for not joining in then what difference does it matter really if they choose to meet publicly?

    Even though we are a Christian family (not that my kids have chosen yet, but it is how they are being raised), my kids dont participate in this and wont until they choose to do so on their own… but thats mostly b/c I dont really see the point in it, but then I dont deny the people who want to do that that right either…..

    I guess I just dont see what the fuss is about… maybe thats just me.

    • fletcherabbott
      September 27, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

      I would agree with you Addie. I stumbled across this post so forgive me for being a stranger on this blog. I think it would be one thing if he was being pressured to participate in something like this. That would be considered wrong and pretty offensive. This was something that a group of people wanted to do once a year though. Is that so wrong? Especially when you consider that these students are required to sit in on classes and answer questions on test that speak directly against some of their beliefs, but as a Christian I make a point not to make a fuss over that.

      I just don;t see the big deal with the way things currently are. They weren’t thrusting their faith to others, but were simply having a time of prayer for a once a year event. Keep in mind that many of these kids end up feeling pretty alone in the schools for their faith. This can be a strengthening booster for them. It wasn’t bothering anyone.

      As for how I would feel about muslims or people of other faiths gathering to pray, I say that’s fine. They have the same right I do. It would be foolish of me to expect anything less.

      I would like to say to the author of this post that I am really impressed by your sons maturity over the situation. He seemed to want to work really hard to make sure he wasn’t being disrespectful to others, and I found that really encouraging to hear.

  2. Miriam Kast White
    September 27, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

    I can sympathize with your irritation…..I can’t stand that kind of manipulative pushiness. We too, are a Christian family (my husband is a Presbyterian pastor) and yet….I would never endorse or encourage such an event. Try not to lump us all together….there are many Christians who don’t actually believe that their way is the only way…I know that I do not and I have great respect for other traditions and for the needed separation of church and state.

    • Justin Cruze
      September 24, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

      Then, I say respectfully, you cannot call yourself a christian.

  3. Becca
    September 27, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

    This is just so very sad to me. I agree with you 100%. I don’t mind that they’re gathering to pray, wherever it is, but I *do* mind that they do it to prove some sort of irrelevant point when other groups are doing nothing of the sort (and if they did, just think of the backlash that would ensue!!). Religion was a big part of schooling when I was growing up, meaning Christmas and Easter were celebrated in full-force both in art and in music. They made me very uncomfortable. I enjoyed them, but didn’t think I was *allowed* to enjoy them because I was raised Jewish. To now think that they’ve been done some great *wrong* by removing religious context from the school curriculum, and to counter that with a show of public solidarity, is just frustrating and sad to me. Religion should be a personal choice, a private choice. School children are still learning and growing, delicate and impressionable, and this sort of activity serves only to confuse and alienate. I am now agnostic, prefering to enjoy my own personal beliefs, comfortable in knowledge, learning new things, appreciating the beliefs of others.

  4. 7777777
    September 27, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    Oh Lisa… This was such a tough read for me… It really was. Why do people have walks supporting all kinds of causes? I encourage all walks of faith to gather together and meet. And lots of other religions do! When I was in highschool lots of Mormans gathered together in a group before school and did a bible study together. JW’s commit one day a week to door to door knocking to share their faith. If they weren’t pressuring Joey to join or trying to “recruit” him then what is the harm in it. There are countless walks done to support all sorts of causes that I don’t support, endorse, believe in, etc. but I fully understand one’s freedom to support them. Christians and any other religious group atheist included should have the freedom to gather together. Even at a school. I am Christian and you know that 🙂 I would pray in public with others any day of the week. Not because I am getting more glory from God but because it’s powerful. It’s my right. I don’t just display my beliefs in my house. What kind of person would I be. Think of if your children only displayed their morals, beliefs, values, etc. in the house. Wouldn’t that bother you? Well isn’t it the same? My religion defines me. Yes, I know that is strong but it’s the truth. I want to share it with others and I want others to know I am a Christian because I am proud of it. I understand that may other people believe many other things and I have compassion and love for all of them and that includes the right to gather (even at a school) before hours.

    • Lisa
      September 27, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

      Ahhh, Alycia. I’m sorry this was a difficult read for you. But you know where I stand on this topic. Imagine if I stood at the flagpole at a public school and said all these things? I imagine quite a few people would be pretty upset. I imagine a lot of people would not want their kids exposed to it.

      JW’s don’t go door to door to “share their faith”; they do it to recruit new members. Which I find offensive. I don’t want anyone coming to my house uninvited to try to convince me to adopt their beliefs.

      And I think there is a big difference between displaying one’s morals, values, etc. in public and engaging in religious ritual in public. Meeting up at the flagpole to pray, sing hymns and talk about God is not merely living by Christian values – it’s making a statement. Which, of course, is within their rights, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is supportive of the statement they are trying to make. Apparently, this movement rose directly out of Christians’ belief that public schools have become “hostile to Christian students” and I really question that – hostile how? Because there isn’t enough Christianity in public education? Well, guess what – there isn’t supposed to be ANY. So, really, this is a protest of a kind, and protests are meant to be persuasive on some level. And no, nobody was pressuring Joey, but it did make him uncomfortable. He shouldn’t feel uncomfortable on his own school campus, just like no student should. Which is also why religion just has no place in public schools – it belongs in the private sector.

      You know I love you. And I hope the vast differences in our beliefs never comes between us.

      • Becky
        September 29, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

        Wow. I was surprised to read that your son had witness that. Actually I’m surprised that his school allows prayer to take place at all. I thought that doing that was against the law.

        Schools seem to be crossing lines all over the place these days. First I read that a school in Texas was allowed to spank one of their students and NOW I came across this article this morning and I was furious! Take a look.


      • Lisa
        September 29, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

        Becky, the flagpole prayer thing takes place before school, and *officially* the school doesn’t endorse it or participate in it – that’s what makes it legal, because it’s not actually a “school” activity. And public school campuses are considered public property, so, they’re allowed to do that.

        And yeah, it’s hard to believe that in some states, corporal punishment is still legal.

        The story about the girl getting her hair cut at school has been going around Facebook; I haven’t read it, as I know it would get me very riled.

  5. Lisa
    September 28, 2012 at 12:20 am #


    I agree with you. I send my children to private school that has the same beliefs that I do and no one ever feels out of place. No one should ever feel uncomfortable and even though I am Catholic I don’t believe my religion or beliefs should be pushed on anyone and vise versa.

    Like someone said before, don’t group all “Christians” together, because we handle ourselves differently. Many things happen in life that we just need to walk away from. Everything and Everyone is not going to act the way we think they should or believe the same as we do.

    I remember in grade school, during the Pledge of Allegiance the children who where Jehovah Witness left the room.

    Do they still do the Pledge of Allegiance in Public School?

    • Lisa
      September 28, 2012 at 12:33 am #

      I think it depends on the school. I’m pretty sure that at my kids’ grade school, they don’t say it every day, but they do sometimes.

  6. Sue
    September 28, 2012 at 12:41 am #

    Amen, sister. And, I hope evolution is getting talked about within your kids’ classrooms. I was shocked to hear my kindergartener reciting the pledge of allegiance. I’d forgotten about that! So as he said it I amended it to “one nation, under god, if you believe in a god, with liberty” etc etc

  7. Lindsey Articolo
    September 28, 2012 at 12:51 am #

    I was raised Christian, and as a kid and a teen, I loved praying at the pole with my friends (and when we knew it was pray at the pole day, we organized it, not the teachers)…. but as a non-churchgoing, definitely non-christian adult…. I can’t see being bothered by kids praying around a pole in front of a school. Putting positive energy into one another and “out there”… it can’t possibly do any harm to anyone. What a nice way for them to start the day, holding hands and thinking positively, praying to whatever they believe in…

  8. Holly F
    September 28, 2012 at 2:48 am #

    I’m glad to see that others are welcoming to non-Christian faiths or Atheists also displaying beliefs in public. I think they are certainly more open and enlightened than other Christians I know.

    With that said, I live in Mississippi. If you aren’t Christian, you might as well be a devil worshipper. People are surely NOT open to any other choice. They are still fighting to keep school led prayer in, abstinence as the only sex ed, and any form of evolution “talk” out. So to settle that problem, I think any and all religion belongs only in private schools.

    • Addie
      September 28, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

      Also from Mississippi… small world… 🙂

      • Holly F.
        September 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

        Visited your blog Addie. Gorgeous photos!

        I’m south of you. All the way down to Biloxi. 🙂

        Do we have Down syndrome in common?

  9. Sue
    September 28, 2012 at 3:23 am #

    This whole argument would be moot if it was a Ku Klux Klan meeting at the flag pole (I hope). People would say the greater good of their kids not being exposed to such hatred outweighs the free speech rights of the Klan members. It’s because Judeo-Christian values are so engrained in American culture that our society doesn’t see the ‘harm’ in prayer meetings. I am 100% for upholding my constitutional right to separation of church and state, but I seem to be in the minority on this.

    • Lisa
      September 28, 2012 at 3:30 am #

      I’m in the minority right there with you.

  10. Asha
    September 28, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    The whole reason why you heard about it, is because it made your child uncomfortable. That alone should be a reason why such events shouldn’t take place. It makes kids feel like they ” don’t belong ” . It is a subtle way of pressuring. Unless they have “meet me at the flag pole” days for all of the other beliefs.

    • Lisa
      September 28, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

      Thank you, Asha.

      I have to be honest: I’m tired of the whole Christian persecution thing – Christians feeling that they have to make a point of making a stand because they’re so picked on for their beliefs. Christians are the majority in these parts, not the persecuted minority.

  11. paula
    September 28, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    Funny, how something like “praying around a pole” gets your dander up. What about the behavior at recess or in the locker room? I worry more about the peer pressure that isn’t out in the open. At least they’re not praying in the broom closet and making it a “christian only” activity. It’s okay to not have the same lifestyle as your neighbor. I’m a christian, my daughter is agnostic. I love her still the same, no matter what.
    “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Wise thoughts from Eleanor Roosevelt.

    • Lisa
      September 28, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

      Why does it get my dander up? Because it only serves to divide; it fosters an “Us Against Them” mindset. The whole premise of the event originates out of the notion that apparently many Christians have that public schools have become “hostile to Christian students.” So this is there way of making a stand and thumbing their noses at Separation of Church and State, and saying, “Oh yeah? You won’t allow Christian-based rituals and education in public schools? Well, we’ll show you! We’ll show you by protesting in a deceptive manner right on school property with impressionable children as our audience.”

      That’s why it gets my dander up. Because the whole thing is bullshit.

      • paula
        September 30, 2012 at 1:15 am #

        No, it’s not bullshit. When you start having to hide those things you believe in-religion, freedom of speech, your nationality? Then it is bullshit. It is a public school, a place where ANYONE should be able to say or show what they believe in…no matter what it may be. In my state, people who believe in white supremecy are allowed to parade up and down the streets shouting their beliefs. Because, this is a free nation, a nation where people can do those things. Do I believe in it, NO I do not. But, I do not think it’s right for anyone to have to hide what they believe. When it comes to that point in our great nation, where people can only pray in church or in their own homes. They have to hide that they are christian, or atheist. Then we are in trouble. For now, let them pray at the flagpole. It’s not hurting anyone, it’s their choice! And hey if it gets your dander up, well it’s a free nation and you’re allowed to say it gets your dander up.

      • Lisa
        September 30, 2012 at 1:42 am #

        Like I said, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. We have the right to do and say a lot of things. That doesn’t mean those things are always the right things to do or say. Nobody is telling anyone to hide their religion – that’s a complete misinterpretation of what I said. I’m saying that people need to stop pushing their religion on other people, and that’s what this is in some form.

  12. Michael
    September 28, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

    paula said:
    “Funny, how something like “’praying around a pole’” gets your dander up. What about the behavior at recess or in the locker room?”

    Well, those are different issues altogether, aren’t they? And it is possible that all of those things get her dander up. And I’m sure I can think of a few more!

    At any rate, you say that you’re more concerned about the peer pressure that isn’t out in the open. To be sure, those are certainly things to be concerned about, and as parents, we all are. But just because the pray at the pole event is “in the open,” doesn’t make it any less of a concern. The particular location, including the fact that it is in the open, is part and parcel of one of the purposes of the event, isn’t it? And that includes spreading religion to some degree. People may say that the children themselves organize it and that may be true, but did children come up with the idea of the event in the first place? I doubt it, but even if they did and even if they organize it every year on their own, without any parent lifting a finger, or even reminding them of when the event’s coming up, it doesn’t matter because the whole notion of god, and indeed the particular religion they worship, must’ve come from their parents or somewhere else.

    And it being in the open, in some ways, does make it more dangerous because the openness makes it appear less innocuous. But religion depends in part on such openness to be able to spread and have mass influence.

    To people who think religion is based on a desperately misguided concept and at the root of many of the world’s problems–which is not a far-fetched idea, it’s disheartening to see it “invading” a school where kids aged 5-11 attend, all dressed up in the open as peaceful prayer, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    Honestly, I don’t know that I thought it was the biggest deal; I suppose it could also be an opportunity to teach my child tolerance, which he’s already got.

    • Michael
      September 28, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

      I forgot to ask–where does my response fall on the Eleanor Roosevelt scale?

      • paula
        September 30, 2012 at 1:16 am #

        Anywhere that you like, it’s your choice!

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