Education Under God (November 2002)

“There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights, malignant opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state, as religion. Let it once enter our civil affairs, our government would soon be destroyed. Let it once enter our common schools, they would be destroyed,” stated by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, Weiss v. District Board, reveals the perilous potency of religion’s impact when involved in public schools. The inauspicious results of permitting religion to be an accepted aspect of public education can be followed through 12 years of an education dictated by God.

I was in the first grade. “Santa” was visiting our school, handing out candy canes to the good little boys and girls. As I sat on his lap, he inquired what I desired for Christmas. A tear rolled down my cheek as I told him that I couldn’t receive a Christmas gift, because I didn’t celebrate Christmas. I was a mere Jew, a simple Chanukah-celebrator. Yet I was more than that. I was ignorant–I certainly did not have the intellect to comprehend why I was different because of my religion, or even why I believed the things I was told to believe.

I was in the second grade. My teacher was asking each student to share their holiday plans. When I said that I was celebrating Chanukah with my family, the boy next to me said, “Oh, you’re a Jew. Where are your horns?”
I was bewildered. “What are you talking about?” I replied.

“Jews are the Devil’s children, of course,” he said. The teacher put him in time-out. For weeks I believed that I was evil, until my teacher explained to me that my peer had been misinformed by his father. Yet I still made a vow never to share my holiday plans with classmates, even if the teacher told me to do so.

I was in the sixth grade. A grandiose Christmas tree decorated the entrance of my school. I immediately went to the principal and asked why there were Christmas decorations and no other holiday decorations. He simply stated that most students celebrated Christmas, but there still was a Chanukah decoration–one plastic menorah sitting on the corner of an office desk. Once again, I felt a growing barrier of different religions, a barrier which had endured only because the public schools I attended disregarded the so-called division between church and state.

I was in the eighth grade. My history teacher attempted to fill the classroom with various holiday decorations during the winter holiday season. I finally felt that someone had acknowledged how unfair it was to belittle one religion by paying unequal attention to it. But then a student stood up, offended because he was an atheist.

I was in the tenth grade. I heard an announcement for a Christian club meeting. I went to the principal, and asked why there wasn’t a club for every other religion. She said that if I wanted to start a Jewish club, I could, and that all that was required was a teacher to sponsor the club. It seemed like a fair response, until I realized that by attempting to create a Jewish club, I’d be isolating those students whose religion was not Christian or Jewish.

I was graduating from the 12th grade. At the graduation ceremony, the chorus sang songs with lyrics that included religious terms, even the name “Jesus.” Exhausted from 12 years of disappointments in my school system’s deviation from what I deemed a necessary separation of religion and school affairs, I did not object further than by telling my principal on my way out, “I didn’t appreciate the songs that the chorus sang.”

The lack of division between church and state creates a division between students based on religion. It classifies each student, and some classes will perennially be given more attention than the others. I had felt abnormal as a student only because I didn’t receive Christmas gifts. No child should have to go through that feeling of utter isolation, no child should have to wonder why their religion isn’t perceived as significant as another, no child should have to deal with religion in school.

Students often applied typical stereotypes of Jewish people to me. I have been called cheap for picking up a penny on the sidewalk for good luck. Had a student of any other faith picked up that penny, no accusations would have been made. I was assumed to have certain viewpoints just because I was Jewish, and all Jewish people have the same viewpoints. If religion was not dominant in schools–if holidays were not celebrated at school, if prayers were not said, if clubs based on religion were not active–I, just as many other students, would not have had to handle the emotional turmoil resulting from preconceived notions and from the undesired destiny of mental solitude.

America is an enduring melting pot, a country that advocates rights to everyone regardless of their religion. Involving religion in public schools bluntly contradicts what America stands for, because no public school–no matter how hard it tried–could possibly satisfy the religious needs and wants of every student. Atheists are typically not even considered. There is absolutely no way to appease every student, and therefore religion should never be entangled with public schools.

Faith in the public education system is being destroyed by a lack of equality. This cannot be rectified under the continuing religious bias. In a world being torn apart by beliefs, the future’s only hope for unity is that American citizens will be educated as a nation instead of under God.

Freedom From Religion Foundation