As the Religious Right Forces the Gospel Into Public Schools, Some Parents Are Opting to Homeschool

May 10, 2016

By Katherine Stewart

One Friday afternoon, Betty Ogletree’s daughter RaMae came home in tears. “I can’t do this anymore,” RaMae cried, as Ogletree remembers it. RaMae was a straight-A fourth grader at Watauga Elementary School, a public K-5 in the bucolic town of Abingdon in southwest Virginia. But in a community where most families trumpeted their conservative Christianity, she was marked as an outsider for her lack of belief in the Gospel of Jesus. “Can you please homeschool me?” her mother recalls her pleading.

The bullying started in first grade, when Ogletree’s daughter’s classmates started pressuring her to attend a Good News Club, an after-school Bible class intended to indoctrinate young children in a conservative form of evangelical Christianity. Until 2001, Good News Clubs were generally excluded from public schools out of concern that their presence would violate the constitutional separation of church and state. But a Supreme Court ruling that year, Good News Club v. Milford Central School, deemed their presence in public schools legal.

According to Ogletree, the club’s appearance at her daughter’s public elementary school had an immediate impact. Most of the girls RaMae considered her friends signed up for the Good News Club on Tuesday afternoons. Lunchtime conversations quickly started to revolve around God and Jesus. RaMae, who had been raised with a sense of skepticism about conservative religious doctrine, made an effort to stand up for her own beliefs, and she resisted her friends’ repeated efforts to recruit her to the club. One day, however, the girls decided on an aggressive new tactic. They took away RaMae’s juice and told her they wouldn’t give it back until she sang a song about Jesus.

“This is the day my child came home and collapsed in a pile of tears on my couch,” Ogletree says. “I said, ‘No more!’ I started making phone calls and plans.’”

First, Ogletree complained to the administration. But she felt they sided with the children attending the club. “It figures,” she says ruefully. “At the school entryway there’s a large sign that spells it out, ‘In God We Trust.’”

So Ogletree made the decision to homeschool. “While some tend to see religious bullying as a ‘right,’ it is at the heart [the same as] every other kind of bullying—mean, cruel, and without forethought,” Ogletree says. “There are children committing suicide all over the US because of bullying. I refuse to let my child become a statistic.”

“I could have brought in the ACLU,” Ogletree adds, explaining why she didn’t press the administration harder on the issue. “But in this area it would have caused a shit storm and I didn’t want to put my family through that.”

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13 comments on “ As the Religious Right Forces the Gospel Into Public Schools, Some Parents Are Opting to Homeschool

  • Finally an article about what’s going on in America’s schools and the Catch -22 that parents who don’t want their kids proslefties (and don’t want to subsidize it) are forced into.

    I don’t live in the Bible Belt. My town is very racially ethnically and religiously diverse, although “Christians” do predominate. But their infiltration into public schools is ilopen and obvious. From the trauma-inducing “Friends of Rachel” to the Operation Christmas Child” to Bible groups to pizza-wielding gospel barkers during lunch hour and on and on. My daughters math teacher has nine Bibles on open display in his classroom. Tell me all you math people – how does the Bible factor In to teaching math? And the school has two banners on its fence advertising the new Christian church operating on campus on Sunday.

    Religious infiltration is state sanctioned bullying of both students and parents. No-one wants to put their child in social or physical peril. No one wants their child’s social life ruined or their home vandalized. But neither do we want to be cowed or forced to let flagrant lawbreakers be role models and authority figures for our children. I could go on and on.

    I would love to see some of our atheist luminaries use their powers to take this issue on – the religious intimidation of schoolchildren beginning in elementary school through high school. Rather, they waste their time and the public’s interest by engaging in pissing contests with believers.

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  • The combination of church sponsored indoctrination, parental abuse, and peer pressure is enough to make most children think that all that nonsense is the truth and very real. I too would like to see a pushback against this kind of propaganda. QUESTION AUTHORITY should be given as one of the choices to children.

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  • This article is astonishing as well as disturbing. I grew up in ’50s Utah, and never EVER heard of any pressuring like this, despite Mormons’ highly institutionalized proselytizing. Indeed, there was no prayer in schools even before the Supreme Court’s decision on that, it being forbidden by the state’s constitution. My best information is that there has been no change in this regard in Utah. So there is something different in some other conservative Christian religions today, and tracking down the causes would be a valuable task. –F. Christensen, Professor Emeritus

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  • P.S. sorry about the typos and run-ons. Don’t know how “proslefties” came about – it was supposed to be “proselytize”.

    Ferrell- my niece lives in Chico and there is a big Mormon population and she doesn’t report anything like what I experience either.
    I do wish there were more religious people that would stand up and say that the separation of church and state protects religious freedom. But I think they are cowed by this homogenizing use of the term “Christian”. I don’t know – that’s a guess.

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  • I am a home school parent, and a proud Atheist. I have one child (planned) and we focus heavily on science, esp. evolution by natural selection. I know a lot of people think ” fundamental christian” when they think of home school, but we are the complete opposite. I like to let my daughter look at some of Richard’s videos like the ones of him on the Galapagos. I remember being in high school in the 80’s and these creepy older “youth” leaders from some local church would sit in the lunchroom and try to recruit kids for Jesus.

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  • Some religious people think that you cannot be moral without religion. Therefore, they are doing to you a good deed by bullying you into their religion. And each religion should square away their outliers. ie tell the fringe element of their religion; Jewish, Christian. Muslim or other to calm down and leave outsiders alone.

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  • Michael #4
    sorry about the typos and run-ons

    My spelling is abysmal, and my typing worse, so I type everything in Word and then copy and paste to the comments box. It preserves my thin veneer of professionalism.

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  • Wow, this article is depressing, and this poor family has all my sympathy, it turns my stomach to read this. I thought the catholic school my son goes to in the West of Ireland was crazy. They pray a lot and that kind of stuff, but the kids seem totally level-headed and not an ounce bothered about religion, once their religious class and all the praying is over. Luckily, my son’s atheist views which he loves to manifest, are being looked at with interest by the other kids, and are an eye opener to his peers in school. It sends shivers down my spine to see how a country like the US with a good education system and a majority of well educated citizens (or are there?) can have such a backward stance towards right to freedom of thought and expression. Is it because US Americans are too proud of themselves and self-righteous…? (sorry, hope not to be stepping on anyone’s toes…)

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  • 9
    fadeordraw says:

    This article bothered and days after reading it, I’m going to comment. It’s really about bullying, which has been a problem with grade schools and high schools, as well as social media for teens. As remediation, provincial legislation has been enacted as well as counter-bullying campaigns at school levels. What bothered me about the article is that home-schooling is not the answer; indeed, if Katherine has the resources and wherewithal for that, as well as the article, then she has what it would take for an organized local approach to bullying. It reminded me when my son, when it was a trend back in the 90s, insisted we bring in bottle water because city tap water was likely unhealthy. My response was to keep drinking the city water to ensure it remains healthy; if folks got sick then immediate civic action kicks in. Two decades later water bottles became the pollutant needing civic action to ban. The idea that school bullying, even bullying backed by the establishment with a religious bent, can’t be successfully confronted and that the solution is therefore individual withdrawal; indeed, abrogating any responsibility for the collective, not only seems sadly defeatist to me, it would be counterproductive, as with the use of bottled water. Then again, in my day and way back when, figuring out how to deal with bullying was part of one’s grade school, school yard education.

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  • Great letter Michael, thank you.

    On a lighter note, I just watched Saturday Night Live and a line was delivered in response to a sneeze and the inevitable “God bless you.” She looked straight into his eyes and said. “He never has and he never will.” ….I might use that.

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  • Meanwhile – wherever the religiously deluded are given any scope, they will abuse trust and pervert education. Assorted UK government initiatives, have provided ample opportunities for opportunists! – of which the Trojan Horse scandal is just the tip of the iceberg!

    Here is another example in the UK!

    Thousands of children are being taught in unregistered schools across England, many more than previously thought, Ofsted’s chief inspector has said.

    Sir Michael Wilshaw said a crackdown had found more than 100 suspected illegal schools – half of which were faith-based, Ofsted said.

    Roughly a third of them were Islamic and a sixth either Christian or Jewish.

    Seven warning notices have been issued to schools in London, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Luton and Staffordshire.

    Any school offering 20 hours of lessons a week must be registered.

    Unregistered schools are those that operate outside the supervision of the Department for Education, local authorities or Ofsted inspections.

    They are often run by faith groups and there are concerns about the safety of pupils in their charge.

    In a letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Sir Michael said his team of seven experienced inspectors, working closely with DfE officials, had identified more than 100 suspected unregistered schools across the country.

    “The evidence they have gathered so far during this short period firmly reinforces my belief that there are many more children hidden away from the view of the authorities in unregistered schools across the country than previously thought,” he said.

    He said such schools provided a sub-standard education, placed children at risk and undermined the government’s effort to ensure all schools promote British values.

    He pledged swift and decisive action against those who are operating illegal schools, and thereby putting children at risk of harm.

    This included the risk of exposure to extremism and radicalisation, he said.

    And the inspectors were “deeply alarmed ” by what they had found.

    Sir Michael said health and safety risks had included:

    serious fire hazards such as obstructed exits
    unsafe and unhygienic premises
    staff and volunteers who had not been properly checked or cleared to work with children.

    And these schools were using the freedom of parents to home educate their children as a cover for their activities.

    “They are exploiting weaknesses in the current legislation to operate on the cusp of the law,” he said.

    “Many are charging parents thousands of pounds to send their children to these unregistered schools.”

    Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell accused the government of being “asleep at the wheel” and allowing extremely worrying and potentially dangerous practices to evolve in the schools system.

    “The Tories’ education policy has led to a fragmented schools system lacking robust local oversight to spot and tackle serious problems early on.

    “As a result, many children are dropping off the radar or ending up in illegal, unregistered schools for months or years, where they are at risk of being exposed to harm, exploitation, or the influence of extremist ideologies.”

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  • I’m thinking the mother overreacted here. Isn’t the objective of raising children to teach them to cope with others and become independent at the same time? I’m sure the kid didn’t come home one day and completely fall apart. There was a lead up, at which point the mother (or parents) of the child who was feeling left out, had an opportunity to teach her that maybe her friends weren’t really worth her friendship. Perhaps she should be looking for other relationships, with children she had more things in common and would ultimately be more intellectually stimulating companions. And if the parents knew nothing, then suddenly one day the kid breaks down, well, there’s an overreaction on the part of the kid, as far as I’m concerned. It’s natural for kids to drift apart when they no longer have things in common. I for one, would never want a kid of mine to hang out with close-minded bullies who are bible-thumping morons. The child doesn’t need home schooling. She needs a practical approach to parenting and a less overbearingly protective mother.

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  • ShesTheBeth #12
    May 30, 2016 at 10:07 am

    RaMae was a straight-A fourth grader at Watauga Elementary School
    The bullying started in first grade, when Ogletree’s daughter’s classmates started pressuring her to attend a Good News Club, an after-school Bible class intended to indoctrinate young children in a conservative form of evangelical Christianity.

    This religious bullying of a child has already gone on way too long. From first to fourth grade is completely unacceptable.

    I don’t think that a child of this age has the ability to fend off these deeply indoctrinated aggressive people. There is no escape from them during the school day. This does not seem in the same category of school day ups and downs that kids need to deal with. I’m all for resilience training but this kid is in way over her head with this gang of cruel proselytizers.

    I avoid Evangelicals like the plague and I’m an adult, fully capable of defending myself against their frothing at the mouth belligerence. Kids don’t stand a chance against them. I think the mother did the right thing. Remove the child from the toxic environment immediately and homeschool while arranging for a different school that follows the Constitutional directive of secular public education for all citizens.

    The damage done to kids at this young age for long periods of time has a devastating effect that may never be corrected. The school needs to be challenged aggressively but the child should not be a victim any longer just to prove a point.

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