Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Keep Focused...

South Knox Bubba brings up a Halls Shopper report on some efforts to get Halls kids out of school to attend an upcoming religious crusade, and notes the similarities between this and the India Tracy case.

I hope everyone keeps in mind that the fact that, while important issues and ones that bear scrutiny, the question whether students should be allowed to attend religious functions on school time is not the central point here. India was allegedly harrassed, abused, advised by teachers not to go against the system, and forced to attend these extra-curricular functions. The important issue is allowing people to pursue their religious beliefs in their own way without fear of retaliation or intimidation, not whether the dominant religious belief should be encouraged. Children are being blatantly denied their Constitutional rights in front of our eyes.

According to the Halls Shopper article, Tennessee Code states that students have a right to express their religious beliefs at school and be absent to participate in religious activities (under the same circumstances they are allowed to express non-religious beliefs). This should, of course, apply to all religions - not just Christianity - and should equally apply to those not wishing to practice or acknowledge the "popular" religion or any religious belief at all. However, there are some who believe that religious rights only apply to one religion - their own. If you don't follow it, you're an outcast, you're not worthy of our respect. It's interesting that India's family practices Paganism, a spiritual belief even less familiar and more mysterious to Christians than Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism. But what's tragic is that those who profess to be Christians openly advocate discrimination and harrassment. This is not Christianity, it never was, and those who profess to follow Christ and actively participate in this discrimination are hypocrites of the worst kind.

That a child is abuse by his or her peers is bad enough. True, they're middle-schoolers and throughout history middle-school has been a living hell for some people who are "different" than others. I don't think much will ever change that. However, when teachers, bus drivers and school administration stand by and allow it happen, either out of fear, complicity, or just plain amusement, it is time to take a stance and make a change. I hope that if the Tracy allegations are true, justice is swift in Union County.

And if we're not careful, it could happen again in Knox County, in Halls. Or in your community.

Believe in Christianity if you will, but know that religious discrimination is immoral, it's illegal, and it can tear communities apart just when we need them to be united the most.

UPDATE: (2/27)

The Knoxville News Sentinel published an editorial on 2/26 that not only keeps the case in the public's eye, but distinguishes as well the two parts of the issue: one regarding separation of church and state, and the other concerning harassment of children because of their religious beliefs. Keep it up, KNS.

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