“Every day, driving the same route … he would get upset and tell me, ‘Pull over, I’m going to throw up’ … the kicker was when he told me that he’d rather die than go to school.”
This is a quote from Sharon Lane, whose children attend public school in Sabine Parish, Louisiana. The family is Buddhist, and her son was being routinely tormented by teachers for not knowing “correct” answers.
One illustration from a science test stated: “Amazing what the ______ has made!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” (Yes, that many explanation points) The correct answer: “Lord.” The boy’s step-sister, also in his class, said questions of this sort were frequent and earned extra credit.
When Lane approached the school principal, she was told if they didn’t like it, they could leave. On up the ladder, the district superintendent claimed they had the right to act as they did. When Lane replied, “We live in the United States of America … This is not a totally different country,” the district superintendent replied, “But you are in the Bible Belt,” and the school superintendent asked, “Does he have to be a Buddhist?”
Some conservatives saw the school’s actions as a breach of the United States Constitution, and many in the Deep South would agree, but as our country becomes increasingly pluralistic, encompassing many races and faiths, fear of the unknown increases.
Georgia’s newly-elected Jody Hice is not only anti-gay, but would allow a woman to enter politics only “within the authority of her husband,” and asserts Muslim–Americans are not protected under the First Amendment because Islam is not a true religion. North Carolina’s Mark Walker suggested, “We go laser or blitz” Mexico as a response to immigrants crossing our borders.
Fear of the “other” is not going away. We’re taught in grade school that the Pilgrims came to these shores for religious freedom, but those Puritans sought freedom only for their particular faith. They killed and mutilated the nonobservant—Quakers like young Mary Dyer were hanged on the Boston Common in 1660 for holding to her faith.
Today, we need to go beyond this 400-year-old mindset to ensure that everyone has both the right to an education free of religious harassment and the freedom to worship—or not—as one chooses.