Dear Prudence: My husband and I moved from a liberal Northeastern town to a small, conservative Southern one several years ago. One of the biggest adjustments has been the way people openly talk about religion and assume that everyone else should as well. We mostly kept quiet about the fact that we don’t practice any religion.
Our elementary school daughter told us that her teacher led the class in prayer each day before lunch in her public school. My daughter said she didn’t know if she should do it, but thought maybe it was “being a good American.” My husband and I wrote the principal about this and asked our child not be mentioned by name. The principal said she’d send a general reminder about not praying in class, but the tone of her e-mail made it clear she thought we were overreacting.
Our child reported the praying stopped immediately with no explanation. My husband and I think the teacher should have told the students why she shouldn’t have led them in prayer. He wants to press this issue, while I feel as long as we let our child know what’s right and wrong, we should let this go and accept that this is part of where we live. Our child will be in this school for several more years. We did tell a few acquaintances about this and they said “people like us” were ruining the community of faith. Sometimes, I feel like I’m being a coward not standing up for religious tolerance.
Prudence says: Your neighbors may think you’re a family of unholy Yankees, but you were right to make known your objections. Whatever the tone of the principal, she understood it violated the law and the praying stopped. So please don’t be sore winners and now try to compel this teacher to rend her clothes and explain to her students that she was violating the Constitution.
You may accurately feel somewhat bullied by the devout you live among, but I think you should continue to remain diplomatic in your interactions. You are being good ambassadors for heathens! Since you’ve got at least several years of living down South ahead of you, you want to try to see beyond the religious fervor and appreciate some of the appealing qualities of your neighbors that might not be so prevalent up North. You explained to your daughter that she didn’t have to pray in order to be a good American. Some of the other crucial lessons you are giving her are that being a good person means standing up for what you believe when necessary, and letting things go when it’s wise.
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