In my previous post, in the comments, a Christian (who did not identify his or her denomination, but I suspect it was of a reasonably fundamentalist sect) and I started talking about religious intimidation. The Christians, as they almost inevitably do, justified the whole bit about hellfire and damnation as being sufficiently important that the intimidation is justified. I pointed out that, outside of religion, no one thinks that way -- it's wrong, for instance, to threaten a person with torture and death to make them lose weight, even tho' losing that weight might well save their life. Other Christians I've talked to about the subject say, essentially, that Christianity doesn't engage in systematic intimidation, even though I find it quite easy to find examples of people who are pretty messed up because of religious intimidation, fear of hellfire, apocalyptic nightmares, the whole nine yards.
Well, here's a post from Atheist Revolution about prayer circles on playgrounds. This never happened to me but I think it's an interesting example of systematized religious intimidation and a fairly clear case of what I mean by when I say that doing this sort of thing to children constitutes child abuse.
What is a prayer circle? Let's go to Atheist Revolution's post!
Imagine yourself back in the third grade. It is recess, and you are with your classmates on the playground. There is a teacher in the vicinity, but the supervision is fairly minimal. Suddenly, a group of 6 or more children approach you and say something along the lines of, "Have you been saved?" You are not sure what to make of the question, so other questions about your religious beliefs and experiences follow. Without understanding the consequences, you tell them that you and your family are atheists, Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, non-fundamentalist Protestants, etc.
The children start calling you names and hurling insults at you. If you happen to be Jewish, you will hear things that would make neo-Nazi's proud. You are a sinner. You are going to burn in a lake of fire. You will rot in hell. They form a circle around you, holding hands to make sure you can't easily escape. They tell you that the only way you can save yourself is to accept Jee-zuhs. They begin praying around you loudly to "save your soul."
AR goes on to say:
[P]rayer circles are such a common occurrence on Mississippi playgrounds that nearly everyone I know with children who isn't a fundamentalist Christian has had it happen to their children. In some cases, especially if the family is not Christian at all, it happens many times throughout elementary school.
And when the parents complain?
These parents typically meet with the school officials to express their concern, push for increased supervision, etc. But time and time again, they run into the same wall. The fundamentalists are the overwhelming majority, teachers can't be everywhere, we can't control what other children say, this is part of the culture here in the South, etc.
It's actually hard to find specific mention of this happening. I, fairly obviously, believe AR's story. And a person can find tantalizing clues to it in searches -- it even has a name, prayer bullying. And in this article there's this little nugget, "Last October, in a suit involving an assistance principal with a school-age son, DeMent found illegal and bullying religious activities throughout the school district." There was a link, but it was broken. Still, what is there is pretty interesting:
Now, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit on behalf of a family in Troy, a small town in the southeastern corner of Alabama. It charges that schools in Pike County are essentially abusing and persecuting four Jewish children who are refusing to pray and write essays and other school assignments which have a religious content.
Searching a bit more, I found some information on Judge DeMent. He's apparently the go-to guy in that area if you want someone to move against religions violating the barrier between church and state.
So, he stopped people in public schools in DeKalb, Alabama. This was in the late 90s that this was happening. He also had to stop school prayer there, too. Examples include:
Thursday's order issued by DeMent said that county schools have ignored previous rulings concerning prayer, and continue to allow praying over school public address systems at football games, distribution of Christian Bibles during official class time, and teacher-organized devotional session during the school period. He specifically expressed opposition to what is taking place in the Fyffe School, where officials are permitting up to 200 students to stand each day and pray when the son of Michael Chandler, who initiated the lawsuit, enters the cafeteria.
The last, with Michael Chandler, is precisely the sort of school prayer circle bullying Atheist Revolution was talking about, of course.
Which is interesting to me on a different level, too. Not just that there is enough widespread school prayer bullying that it gets to be a federal case, but the virtual news blackout on the subject! Apparently, the state of Alabama is in a long feud -- going on a decade -- with a federal judge who is trying to stop numerous violations of church-state separation, including prayer bullying, but also the distribution of Bibles in schools, assigning religious papers in class even to non-Christians, prayers on the PA system, things of that nature. The silence about this is pretty stunning, particularly given the fact a federal judge has been involved for a decade.
However, the notion that religious people aren't intimidating others, systematically and abusively, is simply not true.