I often consider what battles I would want to fight in the name of Atheism. Even more-so, I ponder how my choices will influence the way my children handle themselves in similar situations. Separation of church and state (SOCAS) is a constant battle within the Atheist community and I am not naive enough to think my child will be immune to the discrimination. Try as I might I will not always be there to hold my child’s hand, so after much thought I have decided on three levels of SOCAS battles: a level one battle is a situation that I would have to step in on, level two are battles that be left up to the child and level three are battles I would encourage to be left alone. Here, let me elaborate.
When there is a blatant violation of SOCAS I would feel obligated to speak up, not just for my child, but for all the children that it may be effecting. A good example of this would be the presence of religion in the public school system. Whether it be a plaque listing the Ten Commandments, a teacher trying to implement mandatory prayer before class or even an instructor attempting to teach creationism- all of these would be completely inappropriate in a public school setting. Though I have every intention of teaching my child the fundamentals of each religion, I do not want it to come presented as fact and I do not want it to come from the mouth of a believer. If ever I found out that the school staff were using the classroom as their own personal pulpit I would have to step in and put a stop to it. So weather religion sneaks in as a form of decorative wall art or masquerades as science, it has no place being present in our public schools and I will not stand for it.
When it comes to those in-between battles, there are some things that I would have to leave my child to decide. For instance if my daughter decides that saying “under God” is not a big deal I would respect that and if she chose to rebel as I did when I was young and sit down for the pledge that would be fine as well. Though still a separation of church and state related issue, for me it is not at the same level as religious monuments or mandatory prayer. The fact of the matter is that as hard as it is to remove religion from the public schools, removing the government influence would prove nearly impossible. For better or worse, the Pledge of Allegiance is a symbol of loyalty to our country (with or without “God”). Sort of like how people complain that “In God we trust” is on our money, yet they don’t refuse to spend or receive it. We work towards change and yet still award a level of grandfathered in acceptance. Saying the pledge has become the social norm and therefore is in a different league than requiring prayer or providing religious literature to be taught as fact.
This may come as a surprise but there are some battles that I would not want my children to fight in the name of atheism or SOCAS. A few years ago, right here in Pittsburgh, we had a situation that really made me see that sometimes you have to step back and realize that not all issues of SOCAS are created equal. Imagine being part of this… On December 4, 2010, a 7 year old girl was killed by a drunk driver who smashed head on into her mother’s car while they were on their way to pick up her father after a church event. If your child had attended the same public school as she did, they would have seen a Christmas tree where you were allowed to hang angels in her memory. So right there we have two major religious symbols the Christmas tree and the angel appearing in a public school. This is clearly a matter that falls under the separation of church and state umbrella, but what would be gained by fighting that battle? Sure, you might get them to take down their tree, but not without appearing to be a heartless individual who has no compassion for those mourning the loss of a child. This was done out of remembrance for the lost life, it was a way to cope with a tragedy but what it wasn’t was a way to proselytize. I am adamant that just because religion appears in a public place it does not always mean that it’s inappropriate… consider the context in which religion is present and perhaps you will see that some battles are best left for another day.
These examples are just a taste of what you may encounter when raising children in a world where religion wants to dominate all. There is room for adjustment, obviously what works for my secular family may not work for all, but the fundamentals are still there. Fighting for our freedom from religion does not have to be an all or nothing battle- perhaps choosing your battles wisely will yield a greater return in the end.