In the most recent flare up an atheist group is accusing an Arkansas grade school of violating the constitutional rights of students by inviting them to a performance of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at a local church. I fear we will continue to see more of these challenges to remove all types of community support for any activity with a religious overtone, going against the long held beliefs this country was founded upon.
Students at Terry Elementary School in Little Rock were invited to a performance of the show at Agape Church, a non-denominational Christian Church. Reportedly teachers informed parents in letters sent home that a school bus would shuttle children to and from the show, which would be performed on a school day.
“We're not saying anything bad about Charlie Brown,” said Anne Orsi, vice president of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, “The problem is that it’s got religious content and it’s being performed in a religious venue and that doesn’t just blur the line between church and state, it oversteps it entirely.”
According to the letter the teachers sent home, the students would need to pay $2 to cover the expense of the bus ride but students were not required to attend the production, according to the school district. A spokeswoman for the Little Rock School District said the district did not endorse any particular faith or encourage any specific religious activity.
One parent contacted the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers after receiving the letter.
The parent, who did not want to be named, said that although she could choose not to allow her child to attend, she was letting her daughter go to the performance for fear the girl could be singled out.
For a nation founded on religious freedom, a nation that has become more tolerant of many views and changes in society it seems odd to me to find religion under so much fire today. But it’s clear the non-believers and atheists have chosen to draw a line in the sand. Instead of celebrating the freedom to believe as each individual sees fit, we find a group putting up barriers to the outward beliefs of others. These groups apparently want to change the One Nation under God to something very different.
Recent studies have shown that while 46 million adults are unaffiliated to a specific religion they are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor. With few exceptions, the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.
It’s been said that when things look down, people look up and seek the help and comfort of their God. It will be interesting to see how these challenges to religion and the customs that will be playing out throughout the upcoming Christmas season will be further affected this year. A number of nativity events have been shuttered as a result of legal threats, but as we’ve seen throughout history, efforts to restrict certain practices or beliefs tends to have the reverse affect. It’s unfortunate that we go through these challenging periods of time, but like so many things we experience in life it all seems to be for a purpose in the end. Those of faith and those who chose a different path will hopefully look back on this time period as some type of turning point and however you chose to view these events, I hope we can all agree the discussions and outcomes will serve to strengthen our nation, our beliefs and our ability to be tolerant of each other.
Dan Alexander is associate publisher of New Market Press. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.