by Laura Friend
I looked over at my 13-year-old daughter and felt that familiar well of love spring up from deep within my heart – my, she has grown into such a beautiful young woman, I thought to myself. We were on our way to see the play “Annie” as a special mother-daughter date. As we drove into the city she shared with me some happenings at school. Most of her discussion was positive with one exception. In one of her classes a video was shown that made her feel uncomfortable due to its largely anti-Christian content. It was a music video by a popular artist that mocked her religious beliefs and promoted homosexual behavior – something she has been taught is wrong because it destroys the foundation of the traditional family. A student who felt strongly that it promoted the message, “embrace who you are, who you are is great” presented the video! That part of the student’s message was a very positive; unfortunately, the method of delivery caused my daughter to feel her beliefs were under attack.
My issue was not with the student – she has every right to feel inspired by the video. My issue was with the open bashing of Christians and that this video was allowed to be shown in a classroom setting. Our school district, like many other schools and employers, has an inclusion policy which states that the district will create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students. Christians and other people of faith increasingly find their concerns dismissed and their beliefs demeaned, despite inclusivity policies. My daughter was required to watch a video that maintained that the Bible was outdated and therefore irrelevant. Her Judeo-Christian beliefs were mocked. How is that supposed to be inclusive of the Christian students in the room?
As parents, we need to educate our children about what to do if their religious beliefs are attacked in a public setting. Consider talking with your children about the following points:
- Find out if they have experienced a similar situation – has a student or teacher made statements or presented information that is openly anti-Christian (or anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim)?
- Ask what they did in that situation. How did they respond? How did it make them feel?
- Discuss ideas for appropriate responses in such circumstances (i.e. speaking up in class, speaking with the teacher privately after class, talking to a school counselor, talking with another trusted adult, telling parents).
- Discuss what true tolerance means. Consider sharing Michael W. Austin’s definition of tolerance. He defines tolerance as, “The capacity to disagree strongly with another person about issues, including significant ones, while maintaining civility and respecting their right to hold a different view than you, even if you are convinced it is false.”
- Keep the discussion open by checking in with your child from time to time about issues surrounding religious freedom and tolerance. Let them know you are always available to answer questions and explore solutions to issues that may arise.
We also need to be ready to speak to others in defense of our religious beliefs and liberties. In my case, I sent an email to my daughter’s principle explaining my concerns. After receiving my email, the principal agreed that no student should feel his religion is under attack in a school setting. He assured me that he would speak with the teacher and make sure that in the future any videos presented by students would be previewed to ensure appropriate content. I appreciated his response.
All faiths should be respected and all students should feel they are free to think and believe as they wish, without fear of recrimination or discrimination in a public school setting. We need to be prepared to defend our right to believe. Inaction is akin to acceptance of attacks on one’s religious freedoms. Believe it or not, being that one voice can make the difference. So, be the difference. One school, one teacher, one principal, one issue, at a time.