High School Honorable Mention Essay Winners (Jan/Feb 2003)

“Rote Faith”

By Danilee Eichhorn

At my school, I have encountered many shining examples of faith, people whose pride, trust, and belief in their country and their God remain completely unhampered by their stunning ignorance in regard to both. This year, I decided to stop standing up for the Pledge of Allegiance. The words exchanged and events that followed clearly demonstrated the sad–and I wish I could say shocking–fear of dissent which has been so ingrained in the youth of America.

Ironically, while my remaining seated did not in any way disrupt the pledge, a few people in my homeroom did by yelling at me to stand up. After waiting respectfully for the pledge to end, I explained that I did not feel it would be appropriate for me to stand since I disagreed with the words of the pledge. I did not believe in God, nor do I believe that the pledge’s sparkling characterization of America fits the reality. Futhermore, as an internationalist, I do not feel right in pledging allegiance to any flag. Geography does not inspire any loyalty in me.

. . . In times like these, it is imperative that church and state be and remain separate. Schooling in America is compulsory and publicly provided by the government. Therefore, to force any belief, religious or otherwise, upon children through any ceremonies, events, or education itself in public schools is a grievous violation of the most important personal liberty we have. Something is profoundly wrong when one finds oneself accused of assaulting liberty by refusing to relinquish it.

Danilee Eichhorn is a graduate of West Chester East High School, Penn., and is attending Oberlin College, double-majoring in English and political science. She plans to attend graduate school after college, earn a doctorate in political science, and pursue a career in teaching at the college level. Her interests include history, German literature, Russia, politics, and in particular, the historical impact that German literature has had on Russian politics.

“One Nation under One God?”

By Kathryn Poulios

I have seen religious discrimination in my own school district. A little over a year ago, fliers were posted in the hallways advertising a meeting of the Fellowship of the Christian Students. To my understanding, institutions like these are permitted to exist as extracurricular activities in the school as long as they are student-initiated and run (which it was) and the school provides equal opportunity for any religious organization to create a similar club.

Knowing this, one of my fellow classmates approached the principal in the hallway. He asked if he would be allowed to form a society for pagan students, which would also meet after school. The principal, without giving a second thought, refused the student’s proposition. She told him he was being disrespectful and offensive. To me, her behavior was more offensive. I was surprised to see such hypocrisy in my own school. By her response, I saw the reinforcement of her own personal beliefs. The message being sent was clearly that anything going against the religious beliefs of the administration is intolerable. This kind of message is exactly what should be kept out of our public schools.

Kathryn Poulios graduated from Antietam Middle-Senior High, Reading, Penn. She attends Antioch College and plans to major in mathematics, but also has interests in literature, human rights issues, music, and drawing. She was involved in choir, the academic challenge team, and Modern Language Club, and also participated in the track and field team. In her spare time, she enjoys reading classic literature, science fiction, and math theory. She also likes to volunteer with community organizations and support the local underground music scene. She ranked eighth out of eighty-three in her class with a 3.95 GPA and an SAT schore of 1380. “I hope to someday research the mathematical and scientific advancements made in ancient civilizations and eventually teach at a university.”

“Pledging Allegiance to the Constitution”

By Sean Carroll

I grit my teeth when I hear the words “Please stand for the Pledge” over the school intercom. As my classmates rise and place their hands on their hearts, I stare down at my desk. Twenty students speak the words that years of repetition have engraved into their minds. I continue staring at the desk, hoping no one will notice I am not standing. “And to the republic for which it stands!” enunciates my teacher, extra loud. This is what I had been dreading. “That means stand up! Especially you, Mr. Eagle Scout!”

Although embarrassed by this reference, I remain planted in my seat, wishing the words would go by faster. After my classmates finish and sit down, my teacher says, “When I ask you to stand up, I expect you to stand.” Gathering my courage, I announce, “I don’t think students should have to stand for the pledge because it is a prayer.”

. . . As a Unitarian Universalist with atheist beliefs, I became acutely aware that the words “One Nation Under God” conflicted with my religious beliefs. My discomfort spurred me to investigate the problem, and I learned that the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court rulings prohibit the reading of religious prayers in public schools. . . .

Peers thought I was unpatriotic and lazy, teachers convicted me of resisting their authority, and my parents warned me that my reputation would suffer from my actions. Having experienced the agony that school-sponsored prayer can cause for a student, I can testify that when religion is instituted in public schools, it has negative effects on students and education in general.

Sean Carroll graduated in the Class of 2002 from Coventry High School, Conn. He was most active in band, art, and creative writing, serving as the Art Editor for his high school’s yearbook. “Creating works of art is my greatest interest.” He also participated in Cross Country and Track and Field for four years.

He has been a longtime member of the Boy Scouts of America, and earned the Eagle Scout award. “My experience in Scouting has caused me to love outdoor activities such as backpacking, canoeing, and camping. I was raised in the Unitarian Universalist organization, which is the source of my open-minded views.” He is attending Massachussetts College of Art and majoring in Communication Design, as well as taking courses in film-making.

“Separation of Church and State Confirmed”

By Kristen Hope Butler

Two years ago, my school system dismissed an English teacher based on her religion, Wicca. She didn’t proselytize or force her beliefs on students. This lady had lived and worked in the community for years; teaching was her vocation, her love. In one instant, though, her friends, co-workers, and students turned their backs on her. She was treated with hostility, alienated, harassed. She could have sued, but as she elucidated to me, she just didn’t have the heart for it anymore. Because of her religion, she had lost her place in this community forever.

. . . I received threatening notes, found my belongings defaced, and was called hateful names. Teachers did not stand up for me, as they had not stood up for the teacher who was persecuted. . . . All the while, I fought legislation to place the Ten Commandments and organized prayer in our schools, created a club for religious diversity and tolerance, and tried to explain to fundamentalists what their rights already were and why it was insulting to be told to pray to a different deity than you believed in.

Kristen Hope Butler, who graduated from Scotland High School, Laurinburg, NC, is an activist and young author. She petitioned against unconstitutional postings of the Ten Commandments in public schools. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, gardening, debate, community involvement, and meditation. She is attending Appalachian State University.

“Tilting at Windmills”

By Sierra Smith

What is wrong with a moment of silence? Why not include the bible as required reading? What’s so improper about taking a moment to acknowledge God at the beginning of a school day or in a graduation ceremony? The balance between the church and the state is not an ethical question. It is improper to view the issue as such. The First Amendment is a legal haven of protection. If the government makes concessions to Christians, it will also need to make concessions to other faiths. The constituency of America is forever changing. My community has the highest Arab population in the United States. Should I need to study the Koran in school as well as the bible? Should the school calendar be set up around Islamic festivals? What of lesser-known faiths like the Universalist Church, Buddhism, Hinduism or even Satanism? If the government opens the door for one faith, it must open the door to all faiths. Is this really what most Americans want their children exposed to? I think not.

The religious right also fails to see the volatile environment it is advocating. Many religions teach that other faiths are wrong. They advocate proselytizing and even violence in some instances. Many of the conflicts worldwide find their roots in religious differences (the conflict in Israel, for example). The safest place for religious expression for all concerned is outside the public school.

Sierra Smith attended Northview High School in Sylvania, Ohio, where she was an Honor Society member at Northview High. She also excelled in distance running. She represented Northview’s varsity cross-country and track and field team for the past three years and will captain the women’s team this year. She is attending the University of Toledo where she will be pursuing a major in sports medicine.

Freedom From Religion Foundation