What Do You Do When Your Kids Are Indoctrinated Against Your Will? August 15, 2011

What Do You Do When Your Kids Are Indoctrinated Against Your Will?

The scenario: Donald‘s wife dropped their kids off with her parents for a week. (A mini-vacation. Yay!) But grandma knows Donald and his wife are atheists… (Damn sinners.) So she knows exactly what she’s going to do with the grandkids: Send them to a weeklong Vacation Bible School.

Donald talks about his concern:

… no rules were broken here. Still, though, her mom had to have known the kids would never have arrived at her house had she told my wife about Vacation Bible School before she left for that long drive. These things aren’t just dreamed up at the last minute. They have to be planned. So, it’s fair to say that she knew it was going to happen for sure way before hand. She chose not to mention it until afterwards.

Even worse is that his daughter called her mom after Day 1 of the VBS — crying. It’s obvious that this Bible study is trying to scare the kids into belief in god. You can read more details here.

Now, Donald’s trying to figure out how to handle the situation when the kids come back home:

… we’re left to pick up the pieces. We’ve decided to begin showing our oldest daughter some bible stories before bedtime. We’ll also be including myths from other cultures as well. We’ll try to make it fun and interesting. And hopefully we can teach her that she can be a good person regardless of what she believes.

How would you have handled his situation?

What would you have said to the grandmother?

What would you say to your children when they came back home?

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I have had a similar situation in y family. Fortunately my mother only took my then 3 1/2 year old to her church for a service. but she knew it would upset me. the worst part was that my daughter had gone to a pre school  like environment while there and now only sees it as fun. I explained to her that mommy believes in different things then most people. When she is old enough i plan to show her about many religions. grandparents need to realize that thy had their chance to raise kids and now they do not get to dictate everything.

  • “No rules were broken here.” WTF? How about the rule that they are the parents of the child, NOT the grandmother. Infuriating – if it were my child, that grandparent would never again see my child unsupervised until she was an adult.

  • Anonymous

    I often hear atheist parents mention VBS like it is no big deal. I went to VBS as a child and it is a place I would never let one of my children go. This is not a place where they just share cutesy little bible stories with children and do crafts.  VBS is a place where they begin to indoctrinate children in young earth creationism and in the fear of eternal damnation. There is also a huge emphasis on the belief that all people are sinners and therefore inherently bad.

    If my children were at their grandparents and were put into VBS, I would drive back there, pick them up, and bring them home.

  • glan.islwyn

    If I was the father, I’d be ripping the grandparents a new one for going behind my back and doing something of which they knew I wouldn’t approve.

  • Ellise Tucker

    Where do I find to contact Donald? I looked on his blog and didn’t find anything. I live  close to where he lives and it would be nice to have an atheist so close. It is hard to find any where I live.

  • Thorny

    I would of told them that some people believe these myths and explain all the majors myths throughout history say start at greece and that each new religion believes all the others to be false and that religion is false but some people choose to believe because they are indoctrinated or are scared of death/want a community to be a part off. I would of picked my kids up immediately  and tell the bible camp where to shove it also i would tell my mother where to shove it and that she can’t indoctrinate my kids and not let her see my kids again. But then again I’m only 18 so i may handle it with more tact when i’m older.

  • What I’d tell the kids depends a lot on how old they are.  If they’re quite young, I’d explain that only mean people tell scary stories like that to little kids.

    I’d inform grandma that what she did was a serious betrayal of trust, and that I regarded it so seriously that for the next year she would only be allowed to see her grandchildren when I was present to supervise her.  If she succeeds in earning back the trust, she might be gradually allowed to take them on outings by herself–but no guarantees.  She isn’t the parent–I am.  And I will not have my kids exposed to superstition as though it were fact. 

  • Anonymous

    Well here in the UK the grandmother would have been breaking the rules, she is not entitled to do anything against the parents wishes. What would I have done, I would have collected my children and warned the grandmother that a repeat of that would lead to legal action, probably resulting in an injunction.

    Whilst a legal challenge by the parents probably wouldn’t receive popular support in some states in the US I’m pretty damned sure some law was transgressed by the grandmother.

  • Matto the Hun

    What would I have said to the grandmother?
    A) How dare you break our trust.
    B) Thank you, thank you for proving how morally bankrupt your religion makes people.
    C) It’s a real shame the kids didn’t stay with you guys instead of Bullshit-Liar Vacation School, because you might have liked spending that time with them. Now you will never see them . Ever.

  • Anonymous

    I’d probably completely lose my tempter, let the grandmother have it, making sure to denigrate and insult her stupid faith as much as possible, and generally make an ass of myself. Probably a very bad idea, but people scaring kids with devil stories strikes a nerve.

    As far as the kids are concerned, it might be helpful to engage in a little exposure therapy. Blaspheme openly, and challenge God to punish you. Show them that nothing bad comes from it, and that God can’t hurt anyone. Just like the monsters under the bed. 

  • If my daughter called me after one day at Grandma’s crying, I’d be there as soon as I could to pick her up. I’d tell my mom before we left that unless she can promise not to deceive me about how she would be spending time with my daughter, my daughter would no longer be visiting without my supervision. Then, I would explain, as age appropriate, why what Grandma did was wrong.

  • I’ve had this exact situation arise with my son, as well as just about every other type of indoctrination you can imagine from taking my then-baby to a priest to be “blessed” to VBS to them straight up telling him that his parents are going to “hell” & he will too if he doesn’t believe them…

    This is how we’ve handled it:
    For the family: Put your foot down. Explain exactly what type of boundary they are crossing & inform them that if they continue it will create a very strained relationship. Be firm.
    For the child: We teach our child about all major mythologies/world religions. Along with sharing your own beliefs, this is the fastest track to a child who can defend themselves from this type of thing. My 12 year old can (respectfully) deflect their comments himself, which is important because it’s not just family members, it’s going to come up at recess, hanging out with friends, anywhere… it can get tough for atheist kids out there: Arm them with the knowledge to respectfully defend themselves & they will.

  • Anonymous

    Uhm for starters I would have picked my kids up from the camp and taken them home the instant one of my children made it patent they were being indoctrinated employing fear. The post says the parents were told the Bible school was happening and agreed with reservations. For me that was their first mistake, if for no other reason that it showed grandma that she can be decietful and manipulative and get away with it.

    However I’m at a total loss to understand why the very first reaction of the parents after their 7 year old daughter called them, crying and clearly terrified, wasn’t to say “stay right there sweetie, we’re coming to get you” and then jump in the car and take her home. There would be less “pieces” to pick up if they had stopped this ill-begotten exercise as soon as it was clear it was harmful.

  • KB

    oh nice, having been in this same situation, I had to laugh at the name Donald, as that is my husband’s name and his parents are huge christians. They told my kid that she would go to hell if she died tonight and hadn’t accepted christ as her savior. I was pretty pissed off and it still pisses me off AND not being a christian, I don’t have to forgive sh!t. So, I haven’t and they solved the situation by deciding to cut us out of their lives and never talk to us again. They would send cards for xmas and bdays. Now it’s been nearly 3 years and we haven’t heard a peep. Boy have we gotten some letters from them…ouch. So now the whole family has cut us off, whoopdedo. They continue to pray for us though. I’ve repeatedly asked them to stop because every time they pray for us a woman considers abortion. Rude? Yes. But guess what, they stopped saying that to us. We may all well agree it’s disrespectful to the parents, but what about the kids? Fear mongering and deception are the arenas of adults. leave the kids alone.
    As to what this guy should do, it really is up to him to decide when and if he should rip em a new one or cut them out of his kids life. It’s kinda like losing weight or quitting smoking. Everyone can tell you how amazing you will feel and how they did it, it was easy, but it is a decision you have to make for yourself. I just hope he doesn’t wait and tolerate as long as I did. I lost a lot of years fighting over stupid crap, years I could have spent enjoying with my kids. I feel bad for the kids. My daughter was so upset she accepted christ the next day because she swore she did see the devil that her grandad was talking about in the basement.
    Yea, you saw him honey, he was just sitting in front of you with a bible.

    And by the way, my kids are much happier than before. My son finally told me one day that he didn’t really want to be around people who cared more for a book than their own blood.
    They, kids, are so much smarter and perceptive than we give them credit. They’ve lost nothing by losing 2 grandparents. If the kids mattered, the grandparents would have respected them more and judged them less. It’s really sad.

    Good luck.

  • Revvie

    My family is fundamental/evangelical to the nth degree.  I used to be, too, before I was exposed to the wider world – first in university and then in researching child development and psychology.  Reading about the way brain chemistry works in young children opened a door to doubting the concept of original sin – and if that was untrue could I trust anything else my religion said?  I decided no.  (There was also  a boatload of cultural and doctrinal issues I could no longer support.)

    I live 3 hours from my parents.  When we used to visit, I’d allow them to go to Sunday School with my parents.  However, as they got older, my parents wanted them to go to “gospel” meeting as well and that is where I objected.  I told my parents that unless they could keep my children out of gospel meetings, my kids wouldn’t be staying there without me.  They respected my wishes until the kids were older and at that time we had another discussion.  By the time my kids were 8 and 11, I felt they were capable of sorting through the issues – or, at least, coming to me for answers.

    For my daughter – the pragmatic child – this worked well.  For my son – the sensitive one – it didn’t.  I regret letting them take him to church at all as I am now forced to take him to a liberal Christian church simply to give him an alternative to the abusive fundamentalism in which I was raised.  I researched local denominations, wrote e-mails to various ministers, and chose a church which is open and affirming to LGBLTQ issues, heavily involved in social justice, and approaches the Bible from a perspective of myth and morality play instead of divine and literal instructions for life.

    It’s not popular to say so, but if either of my children choose fundamentalism as an adult I will feel that I have failed as a parent – and will trace it back to allowing my kids to attend church with my parents.

  • Arnold Facepalmer

    Is second section C) of your response.

  • Anonymous

    Making a big deal about it seems more likely to result in the kids wanting to join the religion than anything. Making something a taboo just makes it more alluring. 

    I’d explain to the grandparents that while I respect their faith I do not want my kids enrolled in something like that. They would be welcome to share their faith with the kids so long as they did not scare or threaten them or make the entire visit about proselytizing. It would be a good way for my kids to learn about other people’s beliefs and to think about what they believe and why.

    Then I would sit down with my kids and talk to them about it. Ask them what they thought about what was said and if they had any questions. I would encourage them to think critically about the claims made and to learn more about anything they were curious about. 

    I really don’t much care if my kids become Atheists, Christians, Muslims, or whatever so long as they do so because they thought critically, skeptically and rationally about what they were doing and were doing so out of their own free choice. Though I don’t personally see how approaching things that way could result in someone becoming religious 😉  

    I don’t think I’m going to be looking toward raising Atheists as much as kids who have the tools to analyze claims and make good decisions. 

  • Meh.

    I just find it interesting that you send you daughters to their grandmothers house in order to strengthen their relationship with each other, along with getting some all important alone time… And instead, she sends them off to camp.

    My suggestion would be, send then to camp quest next year instead of sending them to grandma. If she’s not going to be spending time with them anyway, don’t even bother taking them.

  • Aleena051985

    Plain and simple when my daughter called me crying I would have dropped everything and moved the sun to go get them.  Secondly, I would inform the grandparent(s) that they would under no circumstances ever have my children unsupervised again.

  • Maybe different then most people but still one of many. There are plenty of places to counter the unwanted negative influences of religious thinking imposed on our children throughout our area even when it comes from Grandma.

    If your daughter is now old enough, take her to hear Hemant speak. My boys enjoyed it and my then eight year old immediately looked forward to more opportunities to hear him again.

    Of course, nothing beats destroying the the reality of any number of gods like visits to local museums.

  • Grizzly

    Until the grandmother was an adult!

  • exe

    Did it occur to anyone that the grandparents’ upbringing of the mother resulted in the mother becoming an atheist?  So if the grandparents tried the same kind of upbringing with the grandchildren, might not the grandparents be responsible for the kids becoming atheists too?  How would the grandparents reply to that?

    Incidentally, this reminds me from a scene in the movie “Screen Door Jesus”.

  • Flawedprefect

    Hate to say it, but this is where the old joke about “what’s the fastest way to become an atheist? Read the bible” holds a kernel of truth. I’m willing to bet that if the kids were God-bothered and scared into believing, they they have probably been set on the right path to rejecting that nonsense. I applaud Donald’s efforts to show them bible stories in context of mythology – that’s gonna help put things in perspective. I reckon the real issue here is respect for Donald. I have a similar situation: my inlaws (as well as my own parents, I’m discovering) completely ignore my stance on religion and continue to assume I will raise my own kids Catholic. It’s a slap in the face. I hope some way of gaining respect for our position among family members can be found among the collective experiences shared here. We can choose our friends, and social circle, but we can’t choose our family. We have to live with them, but respect for each other is not one-way (ie: for their deep-seated religious way) They have to respect us as members of the family as well.

    Dammit, I’m giving my father-in-law a piece of my mind this weekend cos of this. I feel for ya, Donald! I hope you find a good resolution to this problem!

  • I’

  • I have two kids who are 9 and 6. Here’s how my wife and/or I would’ve handled the “We’re taking your kids to the Sky Fairy camp” situation.

    The kids go back in the car and we drive away.

    Oh, I talk to my kids all the time about religion (I run an atheist/comedy/parenting blog), but we talk about like it’s a form of deranged comic book.

  • This
    was the vacation bible school of yesteryear.  At least nowadays it doesn’t
    involve the physical aspect – just mind games.

    Seriously, though, I would suggest having a preemptive talk with your kids if their
    grandparents are likely to pull a stunt like that.  Let your kids know
    what is going on so they won’t be terrified with all the God and Damnation
    talk.  (and the fact that they are not alike all the other kids in the
    vacation bible school).   Tell your
    kids to consider religion as being like make-believe for grownups. 

  • Parse

    My response would be simple: “I’m coming to pick you up, right now,”  and stayed on the phone with them during as much of the drive as possible. 
    They’ll remember the incident, yes – but they’ll remember it because their dad dropped everything to come protect them, without thinking twice; not because of the scary stories some stranger told them.  They may even take away the lesson that the torments promised by the church are trumped by the demonstrable love of their parents.

    The grandparents should lose all unsupervised access to the kids.  The grandmother’s actions clearly show an intent to deceive – I’d wager good money that she volunteered to take the kids for specifically that week with the intention of putting them through VBS.

    As for damage control, I’d introduce them to Greek and Roman mythology.  Tell them that people believe all sorts of silly things (yourself included!), and that simply because somebody believes something, doesn’t make it true.  At one time people believed in those other legends as much as the scary church lady believes in the Bible story – so there’s no need to that horror story seriously.  

  • T-Phoenix

    Hopefully you haven’t been overly inundated by people, but I like most here have a very violent initial reaction to this.  Although in the end I’m in the ‘supervised visitation’ camp once I calm down a bit. 

  • Thanks. You’re right: we’re not respected. This is evidenced by my mother-in-law’s description of my wife: “She thinks she’s an atheist”. What the hell does that mean? Like she thinks she’s an atheist but she’s wrong?


  • TJ

    If there was a way to do so, I would sue the grandparents. They were completely out of line and need to pay the price.

  • “What would you have said to the grandmother?”

    You are never, ever, EVER going to see your grandchildren again unless you promise to never pull a stunt like that again. What you did was a serious violation of trust. We have the right to raise our children according our own values. If you can’t respect that, we can’t trust you to be around our kids. Period.

  • Kyle Scott

    As the atheist father of 2 young children I can tell you that there is a chance, even if it were my parents, that they might never see their grand kids again.

    To the grandparents, I would express my profound disappointment in their un-Christian like lie and leave it. There would be no further words until they apologized and agreed to a serious sit down discussion.

  • Brian Swann

    You appear grounded. You obviously love your children. You’ll all be fine. I recommend Richard Dawkins’ letter to his daughter for further re-enforcement. I don’t know how to insert a link so, just google dawkins letter to his daughter.

  • Matto the Hun

    Thanks for your story KB.

    Looks like your in-laws inadvertently taught your kids all they needed to know about religion. You should send them a thank you card for that.

  • Al Y

    I’d raise two freethinking adults and then sic them on grandma’s deceit. Watch her face turn in horror as young adults parry her every apologetic and pierce with striking logic at the heart of her faith. Then, throw your smug face on and light up a cigar!

  • KDM

    To be honest it depends on the sect. I went to a VBS at the pretty low-key Protestant church that my grandparents attended (I went on and off regularly from about 7-10 years old) and all I remember was putting on plays and singing songs about respecting out parents and sharing and all that jazz. There was never an extreme push like you’d see in the Jesus Camp documentary. Now that’s scary stuff.

  • Dave

    I would have said “F-ing C&nt, you will NEVER see my children again.”

  • The Other Tom

    I would go pick up the kids at once, directly from the church. If grandma is there I’d tell her bluntly why. If grandma is not there, she could find out when she came to pick up the kids that they’re gone and deal with the consequences.

  • The other tom

    I went to vacation bible school as a kid, and it was very boring. We did some tedious crafts, and we were taught some meaningless platitudes. The sheer meaninglessness of the experience turned me off of christianity. So, some people may not be so harmed by it. It depends a lot on the church.

  • The other Tom

    That’s exactly what it means, and it’s just as disrespectful as it sounds.

  • Anonymous

    I would definitely be making phone calls and my mother would not see that child again.  Ever.  The grandparents have no right to make decisions like that without clearance from the parents, ever.  And if my child called me in tears because of attempted indoctrination, there is little that would keep me from getting my behind there immediately.

    My mother has often said she is praying for us and that’s fine… it’s her dime and her time and it makes her feel good.  But she would NEVER do what this grandmother did.  And if she did, she wouldn’t have access to him for awhile.

  • Anonymous

    I would definitely be making phone calls and my mother would not see that child again.  Ever.  The grandparents have no right to make decisions like that without clearance from the parents, ever.  And if my child called me in tears because of attempted indoctrination, there is little that would keep me from getting my behind there immediately.

    My mother has often said she is praying for us and that’s fine… it’s her dime and her time and it makes her feel good.  But she would NEVER do what this grandmother did.  And if she did, she wouldn’t have access to him for awhile.

  • I’d be trying to sue the camp for holding my kids without my knowledge or permission (not to mention for mentally abusing them).  The grandparents would never see them again AND would have a new hole ripped.  End of story.  I am an atheist mother of two and FUCK if I’m going to let my Christian family indoctrinate my kids.  If they’re going to become Christians, they’re going to come to it on their own terms, not cause they were terrified into it as children.

  • Sinfanti

    I just want to say thanks to Donald and everyone else who has shared their experiences in similar situations.  I have two kindergarten-aged kids and a very Catholic mother.  While I doubt any similar deception is in my future, I do sense that as the kids get older my mother has become more vocal in her expectation that the kids will begin some religious schooling.  We live very far apart so it has been an easy conversation to put off.  But my wife and I have talked about sending the kids to the grandparents for summers when they’re older.  I guess before that happens I’ll need to make my expectations very clear.

  • Gib

    I would not use the word “respect” in any way to the grandparents, except in demanding how they could have such little respect for us, and how they have now lost any respect we ever had for them. And to wave goodbye for the last time to their grandchildren.

  • Sounds to me like it means: “You think you’re an atheist, but deep down you know there’s really a god”

    In other words, she doesn’t think your wife could know her own mind on this matter.

  • Anonymous

    I am guessing that if the child called home crying than this particular VBS was probably more Jesus Campy than crafty and boring. When I went there were daily altar calls, pledges to the Bible, the Christian flag, and the American flag, a heavy emphasis on creation stories, and some rather serious guilt inducing sermons.

    I am glad there are more mundane versions than what I experienced, but I wouldn’t take the chance with my young children.

  • “I’m at a total loss to understand why the very first reaction of the
    parents after their 7 year old daughter called them, crying and clearly
    terrified, wasn’t to say “stay right there sweetie, we’re coming to get
    I too am at a loss to understand this behavior. This is simply enabling cruelty through inaction. Children depend on their parents to stick up for them. A huge failure on the parents part, no matter how it’s presented.

  • James Dominguez

    Bugger showing respect to her religion – if she isn’t going to respect your beliefs or the way you choose to raise your children, then she deserves no respect in return. I have lost all patience with hypocrites who demand respect while spouting hateful, disrespectful bile against those they disagree with.

  • Allison Wolf

    What would I have done in this situation? After Day 1 of the VBS with a kid crying scared about the story I would have come to pick up my kid that night, I don’t care what time it was or how long the drive was, and those grandparents would not get the kids unsupervised again. 

    I would have told the grandmother that she violated our trust. I would have followed by saying that although we hadn’t expressly forbidden sending the kids to VBS, it was because we had never dreamed she would be so inconsiderate as to do such a thing without consulting us first. Additionally I would emphasize that we had sent the kids to be with their grandparents, and that if they were enough of an imposition that the grandparents had to send them to be watched by strangers for such a large portion of each day, they should have told us ahead of time. Since obviously they don’t feel as if they can tell us when they’re not able to handle the kids on their own and they see fit to place them in the care of strangers indoctrinating them into a religion that is not ours without informing us, I am sorry to say they are not to be trusted unsupervised with the kids.

    With the kids I would emphasize that this is part of a mythological tradition, and that many of these stories can be scary. I would emphasize that this is just one set of stories that people have used to understand the world and that many people throughout history have believed one set of stories or another is true. Keep the Bible and other sets of mythological tales and tall tales around, shelve them with the accessible fiction, and go back to them. Tell your daughter about Yehovah, Zeus, Anansi, and the Monkey King. Expose her to Native American myths as well. Can all of these stories be true at the same time? Could they all be false? Can you make up your own creation story? How about your own cautionary tale?

  • I would have been bloody furious actually, and wound up saying things about Grandmother in front of (or even to) my kids that I would regret painfully seconds after saying them… But I’d also be powerless to stop for quite some time.

    And yeah, I would’ve headed to get them straight away. But I’m also not going to judge this parent for waiting a day or two to see how things pan out. Unlike some of the commenter here I can see where a parent would react the way he did.

    I don’t like the implications in some of these posts that the failure to act sooner should be regarded as neglectful in some way. I call bullshit.

  • I’d be talking to a lawyer and having a talk with the folks at the bible camp that allowed the grandparents to sign the kids up without the express permission of the parents.

    I’d have been on my way to pick up my kid before she hung up the phone.  And this would have been true whether it was bible camp or something else, as I had not approved the grandparents handing over caregiving duties to anyone, especially those who were complete strangers to me.

    I’d have altered my will to ensure that the grandparents were not to receive custody or be considered as caretakers should something happen to my husband and myself.

    It would be a long time (as in  years) before the grandparents were allowed unsupervised visitation again, if they ever were.

  • Rich Wilson

    Grandma is familiar with the 9th (8th for RC/Lutheran) commandment, no?

    I figure the best defense I can give my son is to expose him to the stories.  And teach him how to ask LOTS of questions.  And not give him BS answers, or sometimes ANY answer.  When he asks why cats have sharp claws, we get into a discussion as to what the alternatives are, and why sharp claws might work (or not work) given the rest of the ‘cat package’. 

  • Anonymous

    What I read was that the camp was sprung on them at the last moment, when to make any fuss would mean to drop everything and cancel vacation. Maybe that would have been the right decision, but it’s a difficult one to make when you’ve been extorted into making it RIGHT NOW! That said, a soon as the first tearful call came, were it my kids, I’d drive across several states to pick them up, and the grandparents would be told in no uncertain terms that their bullshit is completely unacceptable.

  • Anonymous

    I wouldn’t trust the grandparent’s word. It sounds like they are the type that believes anything for Jeebus is good, so lying to a heathen is completely acceptable. I’d give them the rant, but mostly for my own satisfaction. I think it’s unlikely that they’d ever understand that sending their grandkids to Bible camp was wrong under any circumstances.

  • Anonymous

    She should turn it around and refer to her mom’s faith that way. “She thinks she’s a Xtian…”

  • Anonymous

    Similar thing happened with my 3 year old.  My mother-in-law took her to Sunday school a few times and I allowed it because its a pretty liberal church and I always talked to her about it afterwards.  She still doesn’t know anything about Christianity because all they did was play and make vaguely Jesus related crafts (foam crosses with stickers on them stuff like that).  But when she started half singing “Jesus loves me” I gently put a stop to those outings. My m.i.l. is the nicest Christian I know so I didn’t want to offend.  Mostly we just started planning family activities on Sundays so she wasn’t able to go.  

    Like other people have said, I teach my kids about different religions and we emphasize compassion, respect, curiosity and critical thinking.  

  • Anonymous

    A lot of people stop going to church and such as young adults but when they get married and have kids they return to religion (as it were) because that’s how they think families should be.  So I think a lot of parents are surprised when their adult children don’t raise their own kids in the religion even if those adult children have been atheist or non religious for a long while.

  • James McHale

      I have no children yet and being in the UK religion is pretty inconsequential to most people.  My parents are evangelical christians living a couple of hours away, they would never try anything like this as they know my views on the subject.

      If this situation was to happen hypothetically to my family, first I would never allow them to any bible camp, I’d cancel my holiday or ship them off to any number of other non-religious relatives.  If it went ahead without my knowledge, I’d be at the camp kicking down doors after the phone call, I’m not known for my restraint and have some experience with kicking down doors – best entrance ever. 

      The grandparents would no longer see my kids unsupervised and I would take a break from visiting for a few months to make my feelings clear.  Perhaps, only let them visit us for a year so it is in my home on my terms, people act differently under their own roof as opposed to being guests.  I would give them a dressing down, and I wouldn’t feel the need to hold back but I wouldn’t do it in front of the kids.  Probably a letter so I could compose my thoughts and edit out the swearing, they would get a clear picture of my feelings on the subject.

      As for the kids depends on their ages, I’d read them some Terry Pratchett and explain how people make up stories to explain where the world came from before science was around to figure it out.  Much like magic turtles, fairies in the sky don’t exist either.  Unfortunately, because these books have been around a long time lots of people still believe them.  But, if believing was supposed to make you a good person why did it make grandma lie to us and betray our trust, and send you kids off to a horrible place where they made you cry?  I plan on teaching the kids about mythology and ethics anyway so I guess the rest depends on their ages.  The bible is full of terrible stuff, if the Easter story doesn’t show kids what a vile religion it is then there’s plenty more in there.  

  • Right on. This is child abuse, no matter how well intended (and I won’t even concede good intentions to a person who deliberately thwarts the will of a good parent).

  • I also have a very Catholic mother… and if you aren’t expecting it I would urge you to think twice about believing that they will do this. My mother knows I am not very deeply religious but not that I’m an atheist and she has already made a comment about taking the (non-existent) future children of mine to be baptized.

    Although I have calmly and repeatedly expressed the point that I don’t wish to have children, she continues to pressure me into having them. If she refuses to accept my ability to make this decision for myself as an adult, why should I sudden believe she that she will respect my parenting choices if I should change my mind?

    Actually I’d like to put that out as a separate question. What would you do if your parents/in-laws baptized your child and specifically if it was into the Roman Catholic Church? (Since that baptism is on an infant and records them as part of the Church and supporting it forever in the US).

  • From The Vale

    Time for the Flying Spaghetti Monster to swoop in and take control of this situation!  Praise be to the FSM, our savior! 

  • Erp

    Not likely to happen to me but…

    Actually I’d like to put that out as a separate question. What would you
    do if your parents/in-laws baptized your child and specifically if it
    was into the Roman Catholic Church? (Since that baptism is on an infant
    and records them as part of the Church and supporting it forever in the

    Well in the US baptism has no legal ramifications (in contrast to some other countries where you would have part of your taxes diverted to the church until and unless you formally removed yourself).  However if a priest (not a requirement but likely necessary to get formally on the church’s books) baptized a child without the formal consent of the child’s legal guardian, he could be facing a lawsuit (canon law also seems to forbid it unless the child is likely to die).   Such lawsuits have been filed and been successful (though the ones I saw were when no relation was involved and were not Catholic).  

  • I am not an attorney, so this is not legal advice:  
    My guess is that you may have a potential winning test suit against the Bible camp.  I would not sue the grandparents as that would cause too much damage within the family.  But, the camp, on the other, is fair game.I would check with an attorney to see if the camp violated your rights by enrolling your child in camp without the permission of their legal guardian.  If so, then you might be able to go after them for psychologically abusing your children.  It would be a interesting test case, because normally this kind of child abuse is protected by the First Amendment because the kids are the kids of religious parents.  But, in this case, people were scarring your children with terrifying tales without the permission of the legal guardian.  That very well might remove the First Amendment as a defense.  This might be a great way to call attention to this kind of abuse and make other Bible camps more cautious about indoctrinating kids whose parents may not want them there.Many doctors offices have in place requirements that parents sign off allowing specific temporary guardians, like grandparents, to seek treatment for their kids.  Camps probably have the same potential type of liabilities and would typically get the same type of waivers.  The fact that they did not do so here hints that they likely failed to close a loop on avoiding that liability.  Further, I would bet that this camp knew very that they did not have the parents permission and probably conspired with the grandparents to indoctrinate the kids against the wishes of the parents.  They probably knew from the grandparents that the parents were atheists.  If that were true, that would just help the case of the parent’s against the camp.Again, I am not a lawyer, but there may be something here worth contacting a lawyer about.  There are lawyers at AHA, AA, FFRF, ACLU and other places that would likely give initial advice free of charge.

  • Laura

    Fortunately this would not happen in my family, because even though my parents are quite devout christians the wishes of the grandkids’ parents have always been given complete deference — even if they disagree. Period. So my parents would have asked first, and if I had said no — which I would have — that would have been that. (For the record, my mother-in-law is the daughter of a retired Presbyterian minister who, at his retirement dinner, outed himself as an atheist. So no worries on that side of the family.)

    That being said, I have to echo what most other posters are saying: If my young daughter called from anywhere, even her grandparents’ house, crying and scared out of her mind about something she’d heard or witnessed, I would drop everything to go get her. Over the course of a 2-1/2 hour drive I can work up a pretty good head of steam, so I imagine the grandparents — MY parents — would get an earful. And the kid(s) would no longer visit unsupervised. Ever.

  • Agreed

    This x 1,000,000!! No way I would have left my child there the rest of the week. I don’t care if I had to get on a plane to fly back and get them.

    Also agree that on the no more unsupervised visits. Saying they’ll never see them again is too strong. I feel never unsupervised again is much more appropriate.

  • Paul

    Yeah, I find it hard to believe that they made the kids stay the week!  And forget the “unsupervised”, they should never *see* those children again.

  • Um, they didn’t make the kids stay the week. From the original post:

    The day after that, my wife drove down there and brought them home early.

    Donald himself can clarify, if he chooses, why it wasn’t that same day, but based on what comes before that quote, I’m assuming there were real life problems interfering with that, no matter what they would’ve preferred.

  • JSug

    I don’t have this issue. My parents are atheists, and my wife’s parents, although very strong fundamentalist Christians, live several states away. The kids won’t be going to visit them alone any time soon. If I did have to deal with it, there would be strong words between me and the grandparents. I don’t believe in cutting them out of the childrens’ lives, but I would certainly be much more adamant about knowing exactly what their plans are, in advance. At least until they can show that trust is deserved.

    But the most shocking thing about this, at least to me, is that the VBS was willing to take the kids for the week without having all manner of parental consent and liability release forms signed by their legal guardians. Even if it’s just a day camp sort of thing. Any time I get my kids involved in an officially organized activity, there’s half a ream of paperwork to fill out. Either the church was being extremely negligent, or Grandma signed the forms illegally.

  • Agreed

    Very true. A sad story but I’m glad things are going well and sound like they’ve turned out for the best.

    ” My son finally told me one day that he didn’t really want to be around people who cared more for a book than their own blood.”

    Smart kid. It’s so sad to see this happen to families over nothing more then tradition and superstitions. I can’t fathom cutting children or grandchildren out of my life over any disagreement. Just goes to show another reason why religion is a terrible thing …

  • Anonymous

    I am a lawyer, and — forgive me for being blunt here — this is terrible advice.

    I am sure you’re well-meaning, and I’m sure we also agree on how horrible this story is.  It is truly awful.  But suing people is not the solution, not the least of which is because you have ZERO chance of winning.

    The camp’s obligation is to get consent from the parent or actual OR APPARENT legal guardian.  When grandparents bring in children, that discharges the camp’s duties.  The camp is not responsible for understanding the private relationships between a child, their parents, and their grandparents; the camp’s job is just to make sure the kid is being taken there by someone with the actual or apparent authority to take them there.  That’s all.

    The bit about the First Amendment is irrelevant, of course; the First Amendment applies to *government* actions, not actions of private churches.

    Finally, even if you could clear these hurdles — which you can’t — any tort claims would be evaluated under the “reasonable person” standard, by which a court will ask “how would an ordinary, reasonable person react to these circumstances?”  Since the answer to that is “by ignoring it,” the court is going to conclude that there was no actual harm inflicted.

    You might not like these conclusions, but they are what the law *is*.  I don’t think we atheists do ourselves any favors by encouraging people to bring losing lawsuits.

  • Anonymous

    Please do not encourage the parents to sue the camp, for all of the reasons stated above.

  • Anonymous

    This would not be a sensible lawsuit.

  • Anonymous

    Honestly, this matches my memories of a few years at a couple different VBS’ (one Methodist, one Episcopalian).  Of course, this was the 80s, so there was more of a ‘try to seem non-threatening’ approach to Christianity in general, too.  Nowadays, it’s all fire-and-brimstone.

    As for this situation?  Inform Grandma that her unsupervised visitation privileges are revoked indefinitely; furthermore, she’ll only get supervised visitation after she pays, out of her own pocket, for a week at Camp Quest for the kids, “to undo the harm you’ve done to their moral education”.  And stick to it–make it clear that actions like this WILL have consequences, and not ones’ she’ll like.

  • I’m not even going to bother making a big long post when you’ve already done such a great job saying what I would have also done. So:


  • Pato

    One time my parents put me in VBC. I think I was around 8 or 9. Definitely wasn’t a big deal back then; it’s safe to say that I absorbed nothing. The only two memories that I have from it are as follows: 1. An old lady yelling at someone for dropping a Bible because it was “God’s word” that  he/she was carelessly handling, and 2. memorizing a Bible passage, and upon a flawless recital of said passage, we received a chocolate bar. That was some good chocolate. No fucking idea what the passage was.

    After two days of that, I told my mom that I didn’t want to go back. She let me sit in her office for the remaining days of the week and I played my Game Boy. Maybe that was one of the formative periods of my life for becoming an atheist. DGAF. Retrospectively thinking, that place was pretty fucked up. Oh well.

  • Ricci

    this actually happened to my friend 60 years ago when she was a young child of a mixed religion marriage, left with grandma for the day, gran (who had obviously planned in advance) quickly whipped friend and her siblings to the local Catholic church and had them baptised. It completely broke all relationships between her and the parents (very bitterly) and gran never saw her grandchildren again through their childhood.
     I thought it very sad that this woman missed so much joy and pleasure of sharing in her grandchildrens growing years through her own narrow minded actions.

  • Aleena051985

    I stand corrected.  I thought they had stayed the week.

  • Andrew,

    Please note that my advice was not to sue, but to get legal advice on a potential strategy.  I said I was not a lawyer.  So, if advice to get the opinion of a lawyer is bad advice, then I guess my advice was bad.

    Suing is the solution sometimes.  You seem to rule out nearly all lawsuits.  We should rule out lawsuits that are not winnable and those with too high of an opportunity cost.  I don’t know if a suit on this is winnable or not, that is where the legal advice recommendation came in.  I appreciate you providing some advice, though I think you are missing a few things.  

    The part about guardianship makes logical sense, and hopefully, that is what the law is.  Of course, I was not going to assume that is what the law is given that in many other areas, the responsibility does not fall on the person making the representation.  For example, in many examples that I have seen, bars are held accountable for someone drinking underage, even if that person presented a fake ID.  I have a friend that went to prison for taking nude pictures of an underage girl and she presented him with a fake ID as well.  In this situation, we have the equivalent of a fake ID presented, except it is the grandparents misrepresenting themselves.  I think it is great if that liability is on the grandparents, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if you had said otherwise.

    Would the camp be back on the hook if they knew that the children were there against the wishes of the parents?  It would not surprise me if the grandparents bragged to someone at the camp that the children’s parents were atheists and they were finally getting the chance to indoctrinate the children.  At this point, woud the camp have conspired to violate the children’s rights to not be psychologically abused?  I don’t know.

    The bit about the First Amendment was completely relevant, because not all of it only “applies to *government* actions, not actions of private churches.”  I was not referring to the Establishment Clause.  I was referring to the Free Exercise Clause, which applies to individuals.  It is the one that apparently gives the right for parents to psychologically torture their children with stories of eternal hellfire and  blinded “magicians” (aka people who don’t believe their myths).  I am not sure if this Free Exercise right would extend to people teaching a child against the wishes of the parent.  This appears to be irrelevant if the camp did not know about the parent’s stance, but if they knew, then it would be interesting to find out if the Free Exercise clause would be a viable defense.

    As a layman, I totally disagree with your assessment that a reasonable person would ignore what happened.  Donald has not ignored this and we can see the extreme emotional reactions of other people on this forum.  Apparently, most people would not ignore what happened.  Most people would be horrified that their children have been indoctrinated against their wishes and would then have to take specific steps to undo the psychological damage.   

    I do agree that we should not encourage people to bring losing lawsuits.  But, I do think we help people by encouraging them to find out where the law stands in relation to how they have been harmed in relation to their atheism.

  • As an aside?

    I’m very pleased to hear someone advising not to sue over something like this.

    My friends and I recently had a trip to America, and the litigiousness of the culture there was toxic, figuratively and literally.

    One of them got into a bit of medical difficulty that involved a hotel physician and some paramedics

    We weren’t sure if that friend needed to go to hospital or not. The paramedics and the hotel physician refused to advise us.

    That was the toxic part. It’s completely and utterly insane for trained medical professionals to be unable to provide medical advice because the attempt to be helpful could get them sued.

    It was just messed up.

  • Meagandickey

    This is something that I’m struggling with as a young mom. I don’t claim to be an atheist, more agnostic, but I see no need to go to church. My husband is an atheist, so it’s been easy to not go to church. But now that we have a child, I’m struggling with how to raise her outside of the church, since I know no other way.

  • Anonymous

    How would you have handled his situation?
    Cancel my vacation.  Pick the kids up from indoctrination camp.  Cut all ties with the deceitful granny.

    What would you have said to the grandmother?

    What would you say to your children when they came back home?
    I’m sorry.  You’ll never have to see that woman again.

  • Motheromercy

    A very similar situation with my family.  My family no longer sees us after our daughter (aged 3!) held a wedding ceremony for two Barbies. 

    Thanks for posting.  

  • Sarah Saulness

    Look up Whidbey island parents. I have made it work. 🙂 I’m an atheist mom of 2 and I have the most amazing community ever because I made one for myself. The demand to be free of the church social dynamic is out there. Look me up. 🙂

  • Theagnosticswife

    This is exactly what my mom thinks about me. She thinks I followed because my husband became and atheist first.  Despite my telling her many times I came to my own conclusion. She figures no child of hers who she raise as a christian could deny god.

  • I found this post because I went looking for how others have handled this type of thing. My mother watched my five year old twins a week or so ago while my husband and I went out to dinner for my birthday.

    It was only today that one of my sons asked who Jesus was and said that his grandmother had told he and his brother about him. My mother knows that I no longer believe and she has not handled it well. She also knows that I wish to raise my children to be thinkers. To not just accept what someone tells them as truth.

    Son #2 wanted to know why his grandmother would tell him something as truth if it were not true. He is confused and should not be worrying if there is a god or not. He should be allowed to be a little boy without taking on adult fairy tales.

    I am angry about this and unsure how to approach the situation as I do think some exposure to what others believe is a good thing.  However, my husband and I should be the ones who teach them about such things. Not his grandparent who already knows our wishes and ignored them. 

  • Hi The AW,
    Two of the Ask Richard letters have similar conflicts with grandparents. They have differing circumstances, so my suggestions have different emphases. Read them and all the comments. Maybe someone will have said something that will help you decide what to do.  At the very least you’ll know that this is a common problem and you’re not alone.

    Good luck. Let us know what happens.



  • Thank you very much! I’m off to read those now.

error: Content is protected !!