I posted this to a local atheist activist group, and received a great deal of support… might as well post it here too. Note that my message to the teacher is not aggressive… I am merely pointing out that proselytizing in school is not something that should happen. (It’s illegal but I have not pointed that out.) I expect a positive response from the teacher.
The issue here is that we live in a secular country. I understand that teaching our children about religions and cultures is a good thing, so I can see this was done with good intentions. However, the phrasing assumes that everybody is religious, and in the case of someone like Josh, the only one with an atheist parent in his class, this leaves him immediately feeling uncomfortable, and sets the tone for religious discrimination. (He has been upset by this for days and delayed from filling it in until the night before it was due.) An eight year old is never old enough to have independent views about religion, and thus is always going to reflect the parents’ views… which generally means those of his or her religious indoctrination.
In addition to this, Josh was in foster care until last December, and although he says he doesn’t think god is real, this is confusing to him. Surely such lessons could be introduced without this thoughtless and unnecessary pressure being placed upon the child?
Here is the post as made to the activist group…
Am I overreacting?
My son Josh, in grade 2, got this homework asking about “My religion”.
He has been stressing about it for days, and has been afraid that he will get into trouble because he doesn’t have a religion.
I don’t mind if he is taught about all religions, as long as nobody preaches to him. And he has mentioned before that his teacher has told the class she is a Christian. But this has caused him a lot of stress. So I wrote a letter to the teacher… in a hurry.
It’s very untidy and was written in a rush last night, and reads as follows:
Josh does not have a religion because I am an atheist.
He is worried that he will get into trouble for being honest.
This is putting him under a lot of unnecessary pressure.
I believe in separation of church and state and that religious proselytization has no place in school.
Please emphasize to him that there is no pressure for him to have a religion, and that you are only teaching him about religions in general.
Update: The teacher didn’t respond to me, but she did exactly as I asked. She explained to Josh that it’s “perfectly fine” for him not to have a religion and that the lesson was meant to teach the children about other religions. I don’t think she gets it though, because she also told him he can use atheism as his religion (when he presents it to the class today – the first half of the class presented yesterday). So she’s in the “atheism is also a religion” camp, despite those homework questions and answers making it clear that he does not have a religion and doesn’t worship or pray to a god. But at least she did reassure him that he wouldn’t get into trouble or lose marks for answering differently. So while I am not happy with the way the homework was phrased (the subject could have been raised without it), overall I am happy with the outcome.