February 29, 2008

Complaining About God in School Can Have Dire Consequences

Being open about one's atheism or standing up for separation of church and state are admirable but sadly not always without consequences. A reader sent me a disturbing e-mail describing what has happened to his family after he and his wife complained to school officials that his 11-year-old son was being required by his music teacher to "sing a song of worship" during which he was told to point skyward to "show he loved God." I think we can all agree that he was right to bring this to the attention of the school, but what happened next serves as a scary reminder that speaking out for what is right may have unimaginable consequences.

Matthew, the reader who contributed this story graciously gave me permission to post it here. He could really use some input, and I told him I thought many of you would be as helpful (and probably more so) than I could be. Here is the e-mail I received (unedited except for a spell check and the insertion paragraph breaks):
I have a story to tell and I hope that you are able to advise me in some way that is helpful. A few years back our son came home from school...he was eleven at the time...he had an unusual assignment from his music class. He was to sing a song of worship for a grade. His teacher also instructed him to point skyward at certain points of the song. She said that he was to do this to show he loved God.

This did not set well with us at all. We immediately contacted the school but the teacher would not even speak to us on this matter...neither would the principal. After that I contacted Channel 4 Action News WTAE out of Pittsburgh. They were very happy to speak with us. They sent a camera crew to the school and then to my home. The school backed down from their position and did not require David to perform the song of worship for a grade. We also mandated that we did not wish for David to have any future contact with that teacher.

We thought that that was going to be the end of the subject. We simply wanted to get on with our lives but it did not work out that way. We lived in a very small rural area with several churches. Our neighbors turned on us. We endured threatening phone calls and even had trash thrown on our front lawn at night. School became unbearable for David. Teachers would single him out and he would get reprimanded on a very regular basis. We then received a notice from our landlord informing us that we were to be evicted for non-payment of rent. We were completely paid in full and he knew it. His only response to this was "God Bless You". We left our home and moved into another community but our troubles followed us. David was still harassed on a regular basis.

It was at this point that we decided that if David were going to have any type of an education then we would have to homeschool him. We contacted the school to arrange this but they were not very helpful. We finally located what we were led to believe was a substitute teacher and she was to arrange this for us. We paid her $150. A week later I met with her again and she informed me that all of the paperwork had been filed and we could begin David's homeschooling. That was one problem out of the way...or so we thought.

Our new landlord sent us an eviction notice for non-payment of rent...it was unbelievable...so we simply paid it again...($550)...three days later we were served with a notice from the magistrate. We lost...and we lost our home once again. We were forced to live in a small dump of a motel for the next seven months. It was unbearable. I left my mother's address for our mail and that was when our troubles really began. The school was sending and calling...you guessed it...no paperwork had ever been filed for David's homeschooling and now we have serious problems. Even though we now have a beautiful home in the country we are uncertain how we are going to deal with this situation. Any advise or help that you can offer in this situation would be most helpful.

- Matthew
Have you, especially those of you with children, ever faced anything like this? What advice could you offer for Matthew?

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