Thinking critically for my daughter’s sake – Lynn Wilhelm

FFRF awarded Lynn a $1,000 scholarship. 

The night of May 8, 2012, my young daughter and I awaited the election results of North Carolina’s proposed constitutional amendment. Most of the early results were promising.

Sadly, our hopes turned to dismay as county after county declared “that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”

We had both worked the week before at phone banks urging voters to get out and vote against the amendment. While making calls, it had been clear that those supporting the amendment were doing so for religious reasons. Many said things like, “God meant for marriage to be between a man and a woman.”

Amendment One was the result of the Republican-dominated General Assembly and its surge of conservative legislation. As the proposal for the marriage amendment was debated, many legislators asked why social issues were dominating the Assembly while our state had a 10.5% unemployment rate and many other concerns.

It was heavily supported by conservative religious figures and groups throughout the country. Bibles and preachers featured prominently in many TV ads. Voter approval of the amendment brings a new era of discrimination against citizens based on religious principles.

Although my daughter and I constitute a nontraditional family, I am not likely to be directly affected. So why did I take time to work phone banks and get pledges from voters? Why did I spend some of my already thinly stretched income purchasing “Vote No” materials?

One reason is my daughter. Being a mother has made me even more aware of the threats religion poses to our freedoms. What future can my daughter, being raised without religion, expect to find in an overwhelmingly religious political atmosphere? What rights will she have to live, love and learn as she grows as a U.S. citizen? What will her education be like if religious zealots manage to defund public schools and ensure that pseudoscience makes its way into classrooms?

During this election season, we have been subjected to Rick Perry’s comments about teaching creationism, Michelle Bachmann’s belief that her God called her to run for president, and Rick Santorum’s idea that teaching evolution has been used to promote atheism.

We hear revisionists claim that America was founded as a Christian nation and needs to be returned to that ordained state. Public school systems in Louisiana, Kansas, Florida and other states are experiencing challenges to their curriculum led by those who wish to see theologically based ideas taught. The Texas GOP platform states, “We support school subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded and which form the basis of America’s legal, political and economic systems.”

Don’t they know that America’s legal and political systems are rooted largely in ancient, non-Christian Roman and Greek systems? Have they forgotten that our founders were not all Judeo-Christians?

These conservatives oppose teaching “critical thinking skills” which “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

The Republican platform in North Carolina says, “We oppose efforts to remove the recognition of Almighty God from our schools, courts, currency and Pledge of Allegiance. We oppose efforts to remove prayer from our public meetings and governmental institutions.”

In Louisiana, a push to allow religious education to be publicly funded backfired on at least one legislator. Rep. Valarie Hodges said, “I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school.”

Louisiana’s voucher program attracted applications from a Muslim school and 123 other religiously based schools. Regarding the Muslim school, Hodges said, “Unfortunately [the funding] will not be limited to the Founders’ religion. … I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”

So, will Louisiana fund all religious schools or will it discriminate against certain religions?

Last year I realized that I had to find my own way to combat the growing religious influence in the public sphere. One way to curtail religious indoctrination is to focus on reality.

An important facet of reality is that our universe seems to work quite well without the interference of supernatural beings. How could I speak out in favor of reality?  Participating in politics, far from my purview, was not a likely option.

After carefully evaluating my skills and talents, I came to realize that a career in science education would provide a way for me to teach others about reality. I know it is possible to combat pseudoscientific claims of all types through education. After learning how science unearths wholly natural explanations for phenomena, many people begin to question the supernatural explanations they’ve been taught.

If our opinions are grounded in reality, religion will lose some of its luster and the desire to have it permeate every aspect of public life may be reduced. One day, religious belief as a desirable societal guide may be regarded as a ludicrous idea.

One day, maybe I won’t have to worry how religion will affect my daughter’s future.

Lynn Wilhelm, lives in Cary, N.C. She is a single mother to Aiden, 8. She worked 10-plus years as a landscape designer and taught horticulture in a public school after getting a B.S. in agricultural education and extension in 1999 from North Carolina State University. “My teaching experience was riddled with difficulties partly due to the very religious atmosphere I found at the rural North Carolina school. I only taught for one year and thought I would never teach again.” With a recently renewed interest in education, she is pursuing a master’s in teaching science at NCSU and will graduate in May 2013.

Freedom From Religion Foundation