March 23, 2023

Linda Allewalt: Let’s call HB547 what it is: a blatant attempt to legalize evangelizing in schools.

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Retired educator Linda Allewalt says that a new “religious freedom” bill in Kentucky is just an attempt to inject religion into the classroom–where it does not belong.

I worked for many years in public school classrooms as a teacher’s aide and as a substitute teacher. I am very familiar with the environment of a classroom and how the teachers and children interact. The very best teachers are the ones who make their classroom feel like a comfortable space and where all the students feel as though they are equal and valued in that little community they share daily. The Supreme Court rulings in 1962 and 1963 that people refer to as the point at which “God was kicked out of the schools” came up because children were being exposed to daily Christian based prayers and the Christian bible in the classroom. This led to students of other faiths (and no faith) to feel like outsiders every day in their school.

I am also an atheist. When I read about this legislation and considered the fact that atheism is also protected speech under the First Amendment, I imagined what it would be like if I was once again running a classroom under the provisions of Rep. Fugate’s legislation. I could imagine wearing my Freedom From Religion shirt that says, “Unabashed Atheist: Not Afraid of Burning in Hell.” I could wear my nice Big A atheist necklace. I could put a copy of Christopher Hitchens’ book “God is Not Great” on my desk next to my pencil holder. I could put up a little sign with one of my favorite quotes on it by Chapman Cohen, “ Gods are fragile things. They may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense.” I could go on with this idea, but I think you get my drift. I wouldn’t do any of this, even if the law said I could. Why? Because it’s wrong, both morally and ethically and violates everything I ever learned about the role of the teacher in a classroom of children. It is also wrong to harangue the people you work with everyday with proselytizing pamphlets and out loud vocal prayers. When a teacher is more invested in pushing their religious rights than they are creating an equal community, void of divisiveness, with the staff in the building and all the children in their classrooms, they don’t belong in the profession. They are taking advantage of the captive audience of children for their own purposes. It’s beyond reprehensible.

Read the full op-ed here. 

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