Just when you think bullying and homework are the only things you have to worry about during the school year, something totally unbelievable comes out of left field. Two Georgia elementary schoolteachers are in the hot seat after being accused of singling out non-Christian kids and forcing them to pray.
It wasn’t until the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a secular group, filed a lawsuit against Swainsboro Primary School in Georgia that two teachers were told to stop forcing their religious beliefs on their students. The kindergarten and first-grade teacher had been leading kids in prayer before lunch — which seems innocent enough. But of course, they didn’t stop there.
The children who chose to not participate in the class prayer were singled out and told to sit outside in the hallway. One teacher told the nonbelieving students that they were not allowed to recite the Pledge because it said “under God.” And for the final nail in the coffin, Katherine Brights, the first-grade teacher, told one little boy that he shouldn’t listen to his non-Christian mother, calling her “a bad person for not believing in God.”
It was because of this outright abuse of power that the little boy eventually gave in and prayed with the class, violating his beliefs. Unsurprisingly, the school agreed to settle the lawsuit on Monday and has decided to provide better training for teachers to prevent this religious discrimination from happening again. The child who was the target of the teacher’s abuse received an undisclosed settlement.
No matter what you believe in, we can all agree that telling a child that their mother is “bad” is inexcusable. Regardless of a family’s beliefs, insulting a parent (and questioning their parenting skills) is crossing the line. And the worst part is, this all went down in elementary school.
Elementary school is one of the most impressionable times in a young child’s life — that’s why we get so scared when we send our 5-year-olds off to school. We want them not only to be physically safe but to feel safe and valued by the adults in charge of their care. These teachers ruined that trust when they used their rigid belief system as a punishment tool. Instead of presenting the world as a place where a child is free to be themselves without fear of judgment (and can learn to accept others’ differences too), these teachers taught kids that their thoughts, views and beliefs don’t matter if they don’t line up with the majority.
Never mind the fact that these were kids of “secular” parents. With hundreds of versions of Christianity in the U.S., even a churchgoing parent wouldn’t appreciate a teacher forcing their brand of religion on their kid or telling their child that they’re somehow a “bad” parent.
As infuriating as this is for a parent to hear, it’s also a wake-up call. It would be nice to think that even our youngest children were spending time in an accepting environment, where individual thoughts and beliefs could be shared freely, but clearly that’s not what’s happening behind closed doors. This dismal truth reinforces something we already know — it’s never too early to help your child form their own identity.
While it would be ridiculous to expect a first-grader to go head-to-head with a teacher, this situation reminds us that even young children can benefit from learning to question and come to their own conclusions. As much as we’d like to pretend it won’t happen again, intolerance is everywhere, and it’s our job to teach our kids how to handle it.
There’s a silver lining to all this madness: Even young children can learn how to process information and think for themselves. Equipping kids to form their own opinions and beliefs not only builds character, but it can help them to do better in school.