The Tennessee legislature passed a bill yesterday, House Bill 2542/Senate Bill 2473, that would force public schools to allow kids to miss class for up to one hour each day in order to attend church. (They would also allow school buses to transport those kids, as long as the churches paid for it.)
Previously, schools boards were allowed to adopt such policies, but this law would mandate it, meaning the districts could not punish any kids who participated. Just last December, the Knox County School Board rejected the policy after giving it a trial run. Even then, they only let kids skip one hour of school per month. It was still a disaster.
If the governor signs this bill into law, it would go into effect beginning this fall. And it will very likely become law since the State Senate passed it 31-0 on Friday, and the State House passed it 94-0 yesterday. No one wants in power wants to oppose this.
But here’s why it’s a bad idea, anyway: If kids can miss an hour of school every day, there’s a chance they’re missing the same classes on those days. For all we know, these kids won’t learn the scientific method, but they’ll be taught that Noah’s Ark is real. It’s even more bizarre given that kids can always go to Sunday School or read the Bible on their own. There’s no reason to allow them to skip school in order to learn less.
There’s also the potential for bullying or coercion if many kids ditch school for church, putting their non-Christian classmates in an awkward position. Also, many of the kids who are in these programs are encouraged to preach to their friends, in part by using the toys and candy that they get at the church.
But when your state legislature is dominated by Republicans, replacing academics with mythology isn’t just a viable public policy, it’s a winning campaign strategy.
American Atheists is sounding the alarms about this bill and they’re doing it by drawing attention to the numbers involved:
“Tennessee’s church release time bill harms public education throughout the state—and, therefore, student performance,” said Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy at American Atheists, who submitted testimony opposing the legislation. “To prevent participating students from missing mandatory education, schools would have to cut programming for all students by up to 180 hours, totaling a loss of 22.5 school days each year.”
Think about that. Either students who take advantage of this policy would lose 22.5 days’ worth of instruction… or, if a lot of students ditch school, the district itself would be forced to change its schedule by cutting 22.5 full days out of its curriculum in order to accommodate everyone. It’s a lose-lose situation for everyone involved.
AA also noted the inopportune timing:
“With Tennessee facing a constant uptick in COVID-19 cases, lawmakers should focus on the response efforts — not opportunistically sneaking through an extreme bill that will leave students worse off,” said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists.
There’s just no need for this program at all, much less a program that’s forced upon every district whether the communities want it or not. Tennessee students will suffer if and when this bill passes. They will be academically behind their peers in other states. And for what purpose?! Churches have all kinds of ways to indoctrinate children; they don’t need to interrupt the school day to do it.
If parents feel so strongly about forcing religion onto their kids, they can always choose home-schooling. Instead, legislators are helping them out by sending a wrecking ball at the public schools.
If there’s any silver lining to this bill, it’s that the Satanic Children’s Ministry of Tennessee is preparing to launch programs throughout the state so that kids can learn all about how awesome Satan is:
We have waited so long for that wall of separation to be dismantled so we can get our message out to all children across the state. We just can’t contain our excitement! It’s so hard to spread our message as of now but this will allow us to teach Satanic children the best ways our spreading our teachings to their classmates. Satanism is already the fastest growing religion in Tennessee. This should help us grow even faster.
Thanks for that, Christians!
(Image via Shutterstock)