When I was 11 years old and entering Middle School my family moved from Miami to Alief, a suburb of Houston. Only days before my first Christmas in Texas, a large high school student wearing cowboy boots and chewing tobacco confronted me.
“You a Jew?” he angrily inquired. “How could you people not believe in Jesus after you murdered him? Did you know it’s Jesus’ birthday? If Jesus Christ ain’t the son of God, who the hell is?”
This is the type of pressure often faced by non-Christians in conservative school districts. There can sometimes be an enormous amount of coercion to conform to the majority view, particularly around Christmas, when the “Jesus is the reason for the season” crowd, wants to let non-Christians know they are an alien species in a “Christian Nation. While I am certain things have improved since I was 11, in 1981, there are still pockets of bigotry and religious intolerance in America.
As recognition that religious majorities often make religious minorities feel left out, as well as to follow that pesky “separation of church and state” rule that keeps our country free, we don’t use public schools to shove religion down the throats of pupils. Not only would doing so be illegal, but it is also rude and obnoxious behavior – violating the spirit of Christmas.
Unfortunately, not everyone is smart enough to understand the wisdom of ensuring that our public schools are not turned into private fundamentalist church services. A terribly misguided substitute teacher in Redding, Calif., Merry Hyatt, is sponsoring a ballot initiative that would require all public schools in California to give children the opportunity to sing or listen to religious Christmas carols.
“For years and years, maybe one person has been able to ruin it for an entire school,” Hyatt said. “It’s not right. I think it’s the majority’s turn.”
Hyatt is mindlessly promoting a myopic and shortsighted idea designed to make non-Christians uncomfortable in the hope they will convert to Christianity in order to feel accepted and fit in. Portraying religious minorities as the Grinch who stole Christmas is also exploitative, because students are a captive audience who would have no choice but to endure unwanted proselytizing – sometimes at the hands of older, larger tobacco spitting students in cowboy boots.
Of course, the unspoken subtext is that such bullying is precisely what people like Hyatt are truly after. They want consequences to be paid for anyone who is not a fundamentalist or for GLBT students, who would also face increased persecution in a more religious public school atmosphere, given that faiths practiced in conservative areas are largely anti-gay.
People like Hyatt worship mob rule as long as they are in the majority, where they can force their sectarian views onto others. I’m not sure how tolerant people of her ilk would be if, for example, a majority Muslim public school in Dearborn, Michigan, forced Christians to celebrate Ramadan. Or, a majority Catholic public school made a picture of the Pope mandatory in classrooms. How about a majority Jewish school jettisoning Christmas songs in favor of Hanukkah ditties? What about a New Age Winter celebration in liberal public schools at the expense of Christmas altogether?
“It’s sad and it’s wrong to have a Christmas party and not mention Jesus,” said Hyatt. “It’s his birthday.”
The undeniable fact is, Hyatt can sing religious songs at any moment of her choosing, when she is off the clock. She can attend church every day of the week if she wants to. So, clearly, this is not about religious freedom, nor is it about Hyatt being denied her ability to practice her faith.
No, this is about her not being content to practice her faith privately, and having a predatory desire to inflict her beliefs on others without their consent. This is about her wanting to use public money to peddle her religious ideas on public property – which is paid for by all of us.
Prior to her stint as a substitute teacher, Hyatt taught at a Christian school for a year. This, of course, was the proper venue for her cloying need to indoctrinate children and hammer home her narrow worldview. Instead, she wants to obliterate parents’ rights, by subjecting children to religious dogma and a conservative worldview that violates the beliefs of many mothers and fathers.
Under her proposed measure, students who don’t want to participate, or whose parents don’t want them to participate, could be excused.
“They can have a holiday party in the other room,” she said. “Or if they don’t want a party, they can have social studies or some other learning experience.”
Yes, of course they could, and be heckled and treated like heathen freaks by their peers…just the way intolerant zealots like Hyatt want it to be.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”