The drip-drip of Christian privilege over prayer time
On February 1, Social Justice Bermuda released a statement lobbying the Government to end compulsory worship in public schools, as it is a discriminatory practice and infringes on students’ freedom of religion. This statement was met with much resistance, criticism and outrage by the Christian community.
Admittedly, I am a member of Social Justice Bermuda, while not directly involved in the Education Taskforce or this specific matter. I also identify as a member of the faith community. I am a product of a Christian home and private Christian education. So I understood and expected a level of concern to be aroused because of this stance.
What I was not prepared for was the degree to which people are willing to violate the freedoms of others to assert their own beliefs.
The entire principle of religious freedom is to allow people to manifest their faith, publicly and privately, in whatever way they choose. It is to honour the individual journey of understanding and experiencing God. Christians are free to believe in Christ and share their belief without persecution or judgment because of this very human right. It is only reasonable that every other person of every other faith — or of no faith at all — is afforded the exact same right. The freedom to believe in whatever connects with their spirit and inspires them to live a life based in respect, love and hope.
Statistically, Christianity is the dominant religion on island. However, everyone is not a Christian. A quick scan of the 2010 Census report — which is the last time religion was noted in a Bermuda Census — will reveal that approximately 15,000 adults in Bermuda do not identify as Christian. Some 11,466 state they are of no religious belief. These numbers are dated by ten years, but are likely to reflect a growing trend where fewer and fewer people are identifying as religious in Bermuda, and more people are claiming spirituality, agnosticism and atheism.
I know this is a sour pill to swallow, but I cannot sweeten it to make it more palatable.
Because of this growing diversity, compulsory religious-based worship has no place in modern public education. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Children has called for laws that mandate collective worship in public schools to be repealed because it is a breach of the rights of children.
Teaching religion is one thing; practising it is another. There are ways to educate children on religious beliefs without forcing them to participate in a practice or coercing them to believe in a particular doctrine. There are also ways to teach morals, ethics, tradition and reverence without practising religion.
The Bermuda public-school system is for every child — of every faith, and of no faith at all. It is each child’s right to a holistic and quality education, beliefs aside. School should be a place where young people are encouraged to learn about faith and religion, and to also learn how to honour their beliefs while still respecting the differing beliefs of their peers. The dominant religion of this country is irrelevant in this matter.
Each parent should have the confidence to send their child to school without concern that their religious beliefs will be compromised, questioned, punished or dismissed. Each parent should have the confidence that their beliefs will be not only tolerated, but also respected and celebrated equally. After all, children learn by example. This is how you teach tolerance, acceptance, love and respect.
The outrage displayed over the past several days is an indication of the presence of Christian privilege in our community. It may be a challenge to admit or objectively discuss, but it is important to acknowledge to maintain respect and equality. Religion is not the place for disenfranchisement or discrimination of any kind. When it occurs, it must be challenged, just as it would be in any other part of community life.
Just because worship in school is what we have always done does not mean it is what we should continue to do.
• Juanae Crockwell is a member of Social Justice Bermuda and Religion Correspondent for The Royal Gazette