School and Sunday School — Two Different Things
February 11, 2000
When I was a little girl I went to Sunday School very faithfully at the
little white frame Methodist Church on south Acoma in Englewood. We
learned the The Commandments and the 23rd Psalm and all about Adam and
Eve and Noah and the Ark and the traditional Bible stories children were
taught and still are in Sunday Schools in churches across the country.
But when we went to school -- that square red brick Lowell School -- we
learned reading and arithmetic and civics and stuff like that. There
was a flag on a big flagpole outside the school and we marched in to
"The Stars and Stripes Forever," but inside the building there was just
school stuff -- no religious banners, no prayers. So I grew up
believing that the two were separate and would always be.
Later on when I studied the Bill of Rights, I learned why. Sunday
School and Lowell School were both important, but they had different
functions. I went to Sunday School because my parents chose to send me
there in the hope that I would grow up sharing their values, beliefs and
ideals. School was public and was shared by and supported by the whole
community with all their different beliefs.
The early pioneers who came to America from Europe in were escaping
religious persecution. The Pilgrims came to get away from the dogma of
the Church of England. All who came had a desire for religious
freedom and made it a basic part of the new country -- freedom to
worship as they choose, and the freedom not to have anybody else's
religion imposed on them.
Now, 200 years later, we are seeing attempts on the part of a political
group of social conservatives to take that freedom away from us and
force their religious views on the rest of us. Only now it's called
rescuing us from the "moral abyss of sin" that they say we have sunk
into. It makes a great political issue.
Colorado Senate Bill 114 would require that a copy of the Ten
Commandments be posted in every school room in Colorado, and that a
moment of silence be observed before class for "reflection on our
heritage as a free people under God."
I am not for a moment questioning the value of the Ten Commandments. I
do, however, question using them as a political issue.
Why not post the multiplication tables? A friend who used to teach 4th
graders says she did post them, and it didn't make any difference in the
number of kids who could multiply 4 by 19 at the end of the year. Or
maybe we could post the Grand Junction Traffic Code and make better
drivers out of our 16 year olds.
As to the moment of silence, the kids are probably thinking about the
coming math test or what they had for breakfast. If they choose to pray
silently, they have always been free to do so and do not need a law
giving them permission. I suspect most of the teachers would be happy
for an hour of silence. In any case, our "heritage as a free people" is
hardly the major thought in most school age minds at 8:00 am. If this
weren't so deadly serious, it would be funny.
But it is serious. It is, of course, unconstitutional. But beyond
that, it is not designed to help the kids. This whole "moral abyss of
sin" they talk about is an effort on the part of the Religious Right to
get a foot in the schoolroom door with the objective of bringing
religion fully into the schools -- an effort to break down our
traditional separation of church and state.
As U. S. Representative Diana DeGette wrote, "Once you start mandating
the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools and similar policies, you
begin the slide toward a religious state -- undermining the bulwark of
tolerance on which this country was built."
One thing that hasn't changed yet -- in 80 years or 200 -- is that
Sunday School and Lowell School are still separate. And I'd rather not
have my great grandchildren find the Ten Commandments all mixed up with