- Posted April 25, 2014 by
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Why God Does Not Belong at Graduation
Read another of her essays: "Why I raise my children without God"
- Jareen, CNN iReport producer
When my oldest graduated last year, our public school ceremony was held in one of the biggest churches in Texas. This is typical in our state since religions have the money to build enormous, well-appointed auditoriums, complete with Jumbotrons and state-of-the art sound systems.
It is expected that students will start the ceremony with a prayer. Last year’s graduation prayer was followed by a speech about King David. As the audience listened, the Senior Class President told us that King David never walked away from God. She hoped that each graduate would have “the same belief and faith that David did.” For God, she said, “always has the best of the best planned for your life.”
The Texas Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act, which has become a model for other states, ensures the rights of these students to express a religious perspective during public forums such as assemblies, sporting events and graduation ceremonies, further promoting the agenda of religion in the public sphere. While theoretically any student can express her religious views, it is safe to assume that we will never hear discourse promoting Islam, paganism or anti-theism.
But truth be told, these student speeches are not so much about God and religion as they are about the quality of thought and the education these students have received. In other words, what these new graduates say speaks volumes about what they have learned--or not learned--in school. A speech can prove that a student can read, yet not understand. Write, yet not enlighten. Recite, yet not analyze.
While conservatives are patting themselves on the back for the thinly-disguised ways in which they’ve injected their religious views into public education and secular events, our children have suffered. Those students who hold tight to outrageous stories about a boy who kills a giant with a slingshot or man who lives in the belly of a whale demonstrate that our public school has failed to teach them to be critical thinkers and to be skeptical of how history is recorded. Indeed, we’ve taught them to deny their faculties of common sense and instead accept as truth ancient myths that have no basis in fact.
And there’s more. In allowing our students to speak and preach about religion, a topic that we know is divisive, we teach them that their views trump all others. We encourage them to be exclusive, not inclusive, and to be indifferent rather than empathetic. Yet, along with critical thinking, multicultural sensitivity and awareness are some of the top qualities employers and colleges seek.
As high school graduates make their way into a future filled with uncertainties, struggles and setbacks, I can think of no good that comes from teaching them that someone else is in control of their lives, especially when that someone doesn’t exist in our physical realm. In giving up the planning and charting of their future to an intangible deity, these students abdicate the responsibility for their lives. It’s all in God’s hands. He has a plan. Only God knows. If life doesn’t work out, prayer becomes the answer rather than action and introspection.
There is an appropriate time and place for prayer and biblical stories: Sunday school, worship services, family dinner tables. Expressions of faith do not belong in public graduation ceremonies. Graduates want to be moved and inspired by speeches; parents want to know that their children have learned the important skills they need to carry them into college or the work force. This year, I hope that our students will not continue to promote Christian privilege and personal faith, but will instead demonstrate that they’ve learned to think critically, insightfully and intelligently.