This is a guest post from Mary Ellen Sykes, who runs the American Secular Census. It’s the third in a series of five posts that will run this week. The first myth and the introduction to this series are here. The second myth is here.
Myth #3: Atheists want to kick God out of public schools and indoctrinate children in atheism.
Some of the most begrudged church-state rulings in the U.S. have centered around the nation’s public schools.
It’s a fact that the majority of these court cases have validated the secular vision of public schools at the expense of the sectarian one. Ending prayer and bible readings as school-sponsored exercises jettisoned a century or more of Christian privilege in public education.
And being reminded that students have never lost their right to private, individual free exercise is small comfort to those who miss the special status (their) religion used to enjoy, though it does become harder to lob serious criticism at atheists, who’ve shown no interest in attacking children’s pre-test prayers.
The American Secular Census asks respondents to weigh in on a more complex issue: how teachers should cover religious and secular influences on subject matter like art and literature. Only 13% felt that secular influences and notable atheists, but not religious influences and people, should be covered, whereas 62% felt that “Religious topics should be taught in an unbiased manner and should be balanced by related secular topics” — hardly the stance one would associate with a desire to indoctrinate children in atheism. (17.7% felt that these discussions should be avoided entirely.)
Predictably, teaching about creationism and intelligent design is opposed by a majority (58.6%) of respondents; yet a non-trivial minority (40.5%) are willing to accommodate their presentation as myth or literature in non-science classes.
Atheists don’t expect or want public schools to promote atheism. They do want a neutral secularism that values minority children equally with those from religious majorities. As one Census registrant put it:
“Living in a secular world would not mean people would be less privileged to believe as they choose, regarding philosophical opinions. It would simply provide a neutral common ground where we, as people, focus on our similarities for the good of all.”
Tomorrow: Myth #4: Atheists disbelieve because they are ignorant about God and religion.
Mary Ellen Sikes is the founder, president, and developer of the American Secular Census. She became involved in the secular movement in the early 1990s, went on to found and lead a local humanist group, and has served in various staff, officer, advisory, and board positions for regional and national organizations, most recently as a co-founder of Secular Woman.
American Secular Census methodology: Because not all registrants complete every form or every question, sample sizes vary from topic to topic and cannot be generalized. Until the Census reaches a 5-figure registry overall, analysis should be considered suggestive rather than statistically authoritative; however, most questions now have sample sizes approaching or exceeding those of nationally recognized surveys.