How to talk about student prayers without sounding like a dumbass

What should have been a non-controversy in Mississauga about accommodating Muslim student prayers has exploded into a major point of contention for Canadian atheists and secularists. Unfortunately, most of the “debate” has been people mindlessly parroting slogans they presumably think are profound, but are in fact shallow and misguided at best. If you want to jump in and comment on the issue of prayer in school, here are a few things you need to know to avoid sounding like a complete dumbass.

I am going highlight some of the slogans and memes I’ve seen repeated over and over, and explaining in detail why they’re either misguided or simply flat-out idiotic. And I am not going to be gentle or polite about it. First of all, the idiots who thoughtlessly parrot these slogans haven’t really earned any respect to begin with. But more importantly, they are usually the same people who hurl similar insults at the religious, so one of two things is true: Either they believe this is an effective method of having one’s misconceptions corrected, in which case, they can take their own fucking medicine. Or they’re just assholes. In which case, they can take their own fucking medicine.

Because so much of what passes for “discussion” on this topic is just thought-free emotional ranting and sloganeering, I am going to have insist – repeatedly – that readers stop and think about what I’m saying before blasting off yet another empty-headed screed about how much they hate even the thought of religion existing and being practised. For that, I’ve created the following image, which even those who attempt to skim the text rapidly can’t miss:

Stop and think.

When you see that image, it’s a signal that there is something going on that requires you to stop and think about the consequences or implications of what’s being mentioned. Because while this isn’t a complicated issue, it’s a big one, with wide-ranging impact. To really grasp what’s going on, you have to step back and look at the big picture. A blinkered focus only on what certain students of certain religions are doing will blind you to the real issues at play. We’re talking about human rights here, and that means we’re talking about all humans, at least in Canada. If you take away a right from Muslims, you’re taking it away from everyone, including yourself.

I realize, of course, that I am being somewhat generous when I imply that all of these stupid slogans and memes – and the dumbasses who repeat them – are merely the product of mindless emotional kneejerk hatred of religion. The reality is that there is a contingent of people who don’t give a flying fuck about secularism, but who have found a perfect gallery of stooges by pretending to. Their true cause, of course, is the specific harassment of one particular religion: Islam. Oh, I have no doubt that by saying that I’ve just lost hundreds of readers to paroxysms of banging out air-headed accusations of me being some kind of Islam apologist or “regressive left” conspiracy theorist “cuck”. But consider this: when there is a protest about Muslim prayers in schools and not one single secular organization of note shows up… but practically every organization hostile to Islam in that area of Canada does… do you really believe the protest is about secularism, and not hostility to Islam? Please tell me you’re not that fucking gullible.

But connecting the rather obvious dots between the anti-Islamic bigots and the sudden, otherwise inexplicable interest in the student prayer issue is a task for a different post. Here, I am just going to focus on the memes and slogans themselves.

Before I get to the slogans, I want to take a moment to debunk some of the lies being spread about the accommodation:

Allowing student prayers is something new, it didn’t happen in the past.
Usually along with this claim is an accusation that it’s Trudeau’s fault… or “liberals’”… or multiculturalism… or whatever the speaker currently hates most. In reality, student prayers have been happening for decades, across Canada. I’ve seen evidence of it going back thirty years, at least as far as we’ve had the Charter, and it probably went on in some places even before multiculturalism was first coined. It’s not new; it’s just new to the bigots, so they think it’s new.
This accommodation is only being offered to specific religions (ie., Islam).
Not true. Any religious group or even any nonreligious group can request accommodations for anything if they need them. And any reasonable request made on a protected ground must be accommodated, unless it can’t be for reasons of health and safety, cost, or something similar. Other religions have been getting accommodations for years. (For example, Christian student groups have organized prayer events all the time.) And this exact same idea – that of reasonable accommodation based on protected grounds – is what allows for the existence of things like gay-straight alliances in Catholic schools.
Hate speech is being promoted in the sermons.
There is no evidence of that, and no explanation for how it could possibly happen. It would require not only that every single Muslim student attending the sermon passively accepts the hate speech – which is a stretch – but that everyone monitoring the sermon (teachers, other students)… either “missed” it or just didn’t care to do anything about it. There have been people attempting to find evidence of hate speech in the sermon. Nothing has been found.
The sermons are being conducted in other languages (so that hate speech can be slipped in).
Not true. There are some parts of the Islamic services conducted in Arabic, but it’s just ritual phrases (like the takbir (“Allahu akbar”)), and quotations from the Quran. These are standard components, mostly repeated by everyone – so it’s not a practical way to slip hate speech in, unless every Muslim in attendance is secretly in on it… which is the-government-is-all-lizard-people levels of conspiracy crazy. The sermons themselves are in English (at least in most schools – there are schools that cater to special language groups, and the sermons may be in another language there… but in that case it would still be in a language the teachers could understand).
Teachers are leading the prayers.
No. Teachers are monitoring the students, but they cannot take part in the prayers, and there is no evidence they ever did.
The prayers are happening in classes.
This claim was made by commenter here at CA, but they appear to be a lying sack of shit; when challenged for proof they were unable to provide any. Other than that, there is no evidence of prayers being held in classes. (This may have been based on a misunderstanding; prayers sometimes do happen in classrooms… but empty classrooms, that are not being used at the time. But that’s probably being more charitable than the lying sack of shit deserves.)
Students are missing classes.
While some schools are arranging the prayers during the lunch period, there are some schools where the prayers cause students to miss a few minutes at the beginning/end of a class. In those cases, we’re only talking a few minutes – less than 15, usually closer to 5 – one day of the week, and the students are provided with any make-up material for what little they missed. It’s not a big deal, and it’s certainly a lot less than what they’d miss if they had to leave school to do the prayers (which was actually happening).
Students are being forced to attend/barred from attending.
Not by the school or teachers. Parents can insist that their kids go, but the school is not obligated to make sure they do. And the school can’t adjudicate on who is or isn’t Muslim (or whatever religion it is), so there’s no reason a non-Muslim student couldn’t attend (on the assumption that they behave themselves; if they cause a disturbance, then of course they could be banned from attending).
The accommodation will cost money.
Complete bullshit. Accommodating student prayers will cost the school literally nothing. The room used already existed, and was just sitting empty, which is why it was appropriated for prayer use. And the teachers monitoring the students are already there and being paid; they’re just volunteering their free time between their classes.
There is segregation happening (for example, girls being forced to sit at the back).
This is a tricky one, because the key word there is “forced”. If a bunch of students organize a prayer service where, of their own volition, the girls and boys segregate themselves from each other… what can anyone do to stop them? So long as no one complains, there is nothing the school can do about it. If segregation is being forced on any students, the school not only cannot be a party to that, it must step in and put a stop to it. But in reality, segregation will probably happen in practice, voluntarily (which is nothing new; students always self-segregate, either by clique or popularity status or whatever else).

So let’s get started with the first stupid slogan.

“Religion has no place in schools”

[Photo of protesters marching in Mississauga, with a large sign reading: No religious practices in public school.]

Islamophobic protestors marching in Mississauga, pretending to be secularists.

This is one of the most popular slogans, and also one of the most simple-minded.

As with most of the slogans in this list, it’s pretty obvious where the idea is coming from. That’s what makes these slogans so pernicious: they have a ring of truth to them. In this case, the idea is based on secularism, which requires that the school itself be nonreligious. Secularism is a perfectly reasonable idea – which is why bigots love to try to claim it for their purposes – but it’s also a widely misunderstood idea… which is why bigots love to try to claim it for their purposes. This is sad, because secularism really isn’t all that complicated.

Secularism simply means that the state and its agents – which in this context would be the school and school officials (administrators, teachers, other employees) – must not promote or inhibit any religions. And that’s all it means.

You don’t like the fact that there are still religious people in our schools? Neither do I, really. But raging and fuming about it? Saying it should be “banned completely”? Saying that no religion at all should be tolerated in public schools?

Stop and think.

We live in a free country, and one of the freedoms we enjoy is the freedom of belief. Note that I specifically said “freedom of belief” and not “freedom of religion”. That’s because too many people loose their shit at the “r-word”, and because it isn’t even necessary here. If you have freedom of belief, you necessarily have freedom of religion. Because religion is a belief, shock of shocks. It’s a dumb belief, sure. It’s a belief that can hurt people, yes. But the Charter doesn’t promise of “freedom of some beliefs”, or “freedom of beliefs that meet humanist criteria”. It promises freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, as well as conscience.

Thus, religious beliefs are included in the Charter’s protections. No, I didn’t fucking ask you if you like it. I don’t really care whether you do or not, and it doesn’t matter in any case. The same freedoms that protect your beliefs that religion is a cancer on society also protect the beliefs of someone who thinks the Virgin Mary appeared to them in a piss stain on their bathroom wall. Deal with it, or get the fuck out of Canada and go somewhere that doesn’t allow freedom of belief.

So Canadians have freedom of belief and freedom to express their beliefs that cannot be abrogated without reasonable cause (such as cost, health and safety, etc.). And despite what many people seem to think, your fundamental Charter freedoms don’t magically evaporate the moment you enter government property. If someone’s fundamental freedoms could be taken away that easily, and for such stupid and specious reasons as some of these veil ban morons suggest, they wouldn’t be worth much.

Now, the school officials have restrictions on their freedom to practice their religion while on the job… but for damn good reasons. The state and its institutions – including schools – must be secular; thus, school officials must be secular in their duties (but not in their personal lives). Given the power that teachers and other school officials have over the students, they could do enormous damage if they abused their position in the name of their religion… they could literally destroy the students’ lives. Thus, placing restrictions on their freedom to express their beliefs while on the job is a reasonable move. If a teacher preaches to other students, hands out Bibles, and wears T-shirts with religious slogans… that’s wrong.

But there are no such restrictions on the students. There’s no good reason for there to be. The students don’t have any real power over other students, state-supplied or otherwise (though if the school gives students power over other students, for example, by making them hall monitors, then those students would have their freedom to express their religion restricted just as it is with the teachers). So a student can certainly preach to other students, hand out Bibles, and wear T-shirts with religious slogans, so long as those activities don’t become disruptive.

There is nothing weird or hypocritical happening here. This is the same way secularism works in the society at large. The government and its agents cannot promote or inhibit religions… but the general population have their §2 Charter right to have religious beliefs and practice them unimpeded. And their Charter rights don’t magically become null and void the moment they get a job as a bus driver or walk into a building to get their passport renewed… or enter a school. The state and its agents (in this context, the school officials) must be secular, not the general population (in this context, the students).

So the slogan “religion has no place in schools” is just plain wrong. Religion does indeed have a place in schools… just not any place in the administration or operation of the schools or classes. The students, however, are free to be as religious – or as openly atheistic – as their little hearts desire.

“No indoctrination in schools”

This slogan is simple-minded in roughly the same way as the previous one, but is especially misguided in the context of student prayer.

The problem here is that the people trying to stick it to certain religions are deliberately conflating school-led prayers with student-led prayers, and forced prayers with voluntary prayers. And unfortunately, a lot of suckers are falling for the trick.

There are two issues here:

  • who organizes and leads the prayer; and
  • whether participation is forced or voluntary.

The first issue was covered in the previous section: because schools must be secular, that means the prayer cannot be organized or led by teachers or other school officials. That was what was happening back when the Lord’s Prayer was being recited at school assemblies or over the PA every morning, and that was wrong. Thus, it’s been stopped. But the prayers at issue in the current controversy are not being organized or led by teachers or school officials. They are student organized and led. And students have the Charter right to practice their religion and to peacefully assemble and organize. No one can stop them without a very valid argument for why, one based on something like health, safety, or cost.

The second issue is whether the prayers are being forced on anyone or not. In the case of the Lord’s Prayer, they were… again, hence that’s why it’s been stopped. But the prayers at issue in this controversy are not mandatory for anyone. Any student can choose to go, and if a student of that particular religion chooses not to (which many do), they don’t have to. In fact, if a parent asks the school to make sure their child goes to these prayers, the school can’t do that. Everything is voluntary.

Now, as with the previous slogan, the rules are very different for the teachers and for the students. It is absolutely true that there should be no indoctrination done in schools… by the teachers or any other school officials, directly or indirectly. But the students are free to indoctrinate each other as they please! Obviously the usual limits apply: they can’t disrupt the operations of the school, and they can’t usurp anyone else’s freedoms (for example, by forcing them to listen to the indoctrination). But if a student consents to being indoctrinated in school by another student, in a way that doesn’t interfere with the classes, there is nothing anyone can do to stop them. It’s a free country. The same freedoms that allow that to happen allow atheist secular students societies to “preach” their beliefs to their members.

Again, I’m not asking you if you like any of this. That’s the way it is. Freedom for Canada is for everyone, not just the people you like or that agree with you. Yes, some people are going to use their freedom to do really stupid and offensive things things. Deal with it.

Of course, all this avoids the obvious point: in the prayers at issue there is no indoctrination happening. These are not classes, they are prayers. There is a sermon (technically, two sermons, I believe), but it is necessarily brief – the students have to get back to their classes. From what I’ve heard, the whole affair is over in less than 15 minutes in most cases.

“Kids are there to be educated”

Yet another slogan that sounds reasonable until you look a little more critically at it.

Even if the primary reason for kids being in school is to be educated, that doesn’t mean… and I can’t believe I have to spell this out to presumably intelligent adults… that doesn’t mean that that’s the only thing that happens when kids are in school.

Stop and think.

You might want to sit down for this, brace yourself, because it turns out that while kids are in school, they also… play! And they socialize. And they eat. And they piss and shit. And they breathe a lot. Hell, I started a band and a music career in school, with my classmates. And here in Canada, I once watched a group of kids play the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game during their lunch break (and I used to play actual card games, and marbles, and dominoes with my friends when I was in school). Yeah. Turns out those little buggers are doing a lot of things in school other than simply being educated like good little drones. Blows the mind, eh?

In fact, you’re really going to want to sit down for this, but it turns out that in most schools, kids are free to do pretty much whatever the fuck they want so long as it isn’t harmful, destructive, or disruptive to classes. So if a group of them want to pray to Vaal or whatever, then – so long as it isn’t harmful, destructive, or disruptive – why not leave them be?

“Kids should check their religion at the door”

This is by far the stupidest slogan in the list so far – but don’t worry, they’re going to get worse.

One thing this slogan really highlights is the hypocrisy of the person repeating it. Because almost invariably, the kind of person barfing up this slogan will also be the person railing against religions for being divisive and tribal. There’s enough irony in there to turn you Trump orange with hæmochromatosis.

Stop and think.

Let’s assume a student who is very devoutly religious. Doesn’t really matter which religion. (At least, it shouldn’t, but we all know that it does to some people.) The student really believes the tenets of the religion, and insists on practising all the rituals… some of which must be practised during school hours (for whatever reason: timing, circumstances, whatever). Let’s also assume that those rituals are not necessarily disruptive or dangerous (because if they were, there would be a legitimate, secular reason for banning them).

What do you think would happen if a policy requiring students to “check their religion at the door” actually existed? I have to imagine in the fevered, confused minds of the people repeating this slogan, the student will say: “Gee whiz, the school is saying I can’t bring these beliefs and practices that I consider an integral part of my identity with me to the place I have to spend seven hours every day… well, that’s no problem, I guess I’ll just have to set my religion aside! And, heck, now that I’m being forced to do that, it’s really making me appreciate secular society!”

Anyone who’s not an idiot will realize that’s not what’s going to happen.

What’s going to happen is the kid will be – quite justifiably – outraged, and will almost certainly develop an antagonistic view of secular society. Having their religion actually and literally persecuted will probably give them a raging religious boner – religions live for being persecuted, so much so that if they’re not actually being persecuted, they’ll literally make up persecution. The backfire effect will pretty much guarantee that, far from reducing their religiosity, we would be massively increasing it. And the religion itself will be pushed underground, where it is harder to see its atrocities, and harder to criticize.

If you seriously want to make people less religious, persecuting them for their religion is about most gob-smackingly stupid way to go about doing it.

Quite the opposite, if we simply… leave them be… what will happen is the kids will come to school and, when it comes time for them to do their silly little rituals, they will have to separate themselves from the other students and mark themselves as “different”. Which is basically anathema to school-age kids, who generally want to fit in so badly, they’ll go to positively hilarious lengths. The religious kids are more likely to be embarrassed by their religion if we just treat it like an adorable little affectation than if we treat it as something dangerous or subversive. If we did the latter, we’d basically be begging the kids to gleefully adopt religion as a way to rebel. Seriously, this is kid psychology 101.

So long as a religion is not doing anything actually horrific (and we’re assuming here that the rituals the student has to conduct in school are not dangerous, and can be done in a non-disruptive way), not making a big deal about the religion is the most effective way to undermine it. Religion needs reverence badly, and irreverence is really just another form of reverence; if something matters enough to take the piss, then it matters. The worst thing you can do to religion is just… not care; don’t let it get a rise out of you, but just treat it as a quaint, silly little thing that is ultimately pointless (because it’s all bullshit) and not worth anyone’s time. Then, sit back and wait for them to do or say something really stupid, and have a laugh at it; those wacky, quaint, silly little believers and their funny religions. Of course, if they actually do anything dangerous or threatening, then certainly react, and react with righteous fire and fury; don’t let religions get away with any shit. But limit your outrage to just the specific dangerous or threatening thing, and leave the rest of the religion in the “silly and impotent” category. Doing that forces religions to demand our respect and reverence… which forces them to say why they deserve our respect and reverence… and since they don’t, and don’t have any reasons why they should, that just sets them up to look even more foolish and impotent. Rinse, repeat, watch the religions wither.

Applied here, letting the kids bring their religious identities to school, unchallenged, essentially puts their beliefs smack dab in the free marketplace of ideas, with no privileged footing. Each kid’s religion is going be scrutinized by all the other students; questioned, challenged, probably mocked. And of course it’s going to be held up against all the things the kids are learning in their classes. All of that makes for a far better chance of the kid being forced to question and examine their beliefs than if they’re forced to hide them.

“If kids want to pray, they should do it at home”

So now we’re really beginning to dip deep into the dumbass barrel.

Most atheists dislike religion. That’s fine; that’s fair; there’s nothing wrong with that. I am one of them, of course, and I hope that doesn’t come as a surprise. There are no shortage of reasons to dislike religion. The problem is that some atheists dislike religion so much, it starts to occlude their ability to reason. Hurting religion, in any way, at any opportunity, becomes so important that they lose the ability to think tactically; in essence, they’re willing to shoot their own leg off if only it will hurt the religious just a little bit. If it were just themselves they were sacrificing to hurt religion, then, well, that’s their choice. But all too often, these people are willing to throw other people – or important ideologies like multiculturalism and freedom of belief – under the bus… just to get another shot at religion in.

Stop and think.

If simply waiting until they get home to do their praying were an option, we wouldn’t really have a problem, now would we? For some religions, like mainstream Christianity, there are no obligations to perform any kind of rituals or observances during school time… largely because “school time” in Canada is designed around the Christian religion – we don’t have classes on Christmas day, for example. But some religions do have rules that require rituals or observances during school. No, I really didn’t ask you what you fucking think about that. It is what it is.

So the real choice for these kids would be to either:

  • be pressured into disobeying their religious precepts (which, yes, I realize means nothing to you, but again, I didn’t fucking ask your opinion);
  • defy the school rules and pray at school anyway; or
  • ditch or otherwise stop going to (public) school.

Some may pick the first option… which may make you happy, but obviously won’t endear secular society to the kids. Some may pick the second option… which creates the absurd situation where teachers are going to be required to punish kids for praying; way to play right into the wet dreams of religious persecution. And without a doubt, some (or their parents) may pick the third option.

But are any of these three options good for the kids? No. No, they’re not.

Are any of those three options more likely to create well-educated kids who think critically about their religion? No. No, they’re not.

So the unavoidable result – if we actually took this stupid slogan seriously – is that the kids will suffer, and be turned off from secular society and away from open-minded questioning of their religious beliefs. But hey, at least we’ll stick it to religion, right?

Actually, wrong. Because even that goal won’t be met. You would be creating a relatively minor, short-term problem for religion… while at the same time giving them exactly the ammunition they need to whip up a righteous frenzy of persecution among the believers. You would ultimately be making the religion stronger.

There is no real harm in letting kids pray in school (obviously assuming their prayers aren’t disruptive or dangerous). It’s not realistic to think that a bunch of students praying is going to inspire other students to convert to their religion, so the only students praying are already members of that religion. So letting students pray is not going increase anyone’s religiosity. But if their beliefs are open and public knowledge among the other students, it does increase the chance that the beliefs are going to be effectively challenged.

“If kids want to pray, they should go to a religious school”

This is roughly the same idea as the previous slogan, but amazingly, even stupider.

Let’s clarify first that we’re not talking about the issue of publicly-funded religious schools. That’s just plain wrong – that’s a straight-up violation of secularism. So let’s just assume that the religious schools we’re talking about are private. It doesn’t affect the analysis, except for removing that confounding factor.

What kind of stupid, fucking, short-sighted atheist are you if you’re suggesting that we should send kids who want to pray to religious schools? Seriously, it must take effort to be this dumb.

Religious schools are a terrible idea. They should not exist. Yes, even private ones. They may have the right to exist, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a terrible idea that we should prefer didn’t exist.

Even if religious schools themselves weren’t such a terrible fucking idea, sending all the religious kids off to segregated schools is such an obviously idiotic idea, that even though I know the people repeating it aren’t really thinking things through, I’m still alarmed that the idea managed to make it through as many neurons as it did. And remember, these are often the same people who accuse religion of being divisive and tribalistic.

Keeping the religious kids in public (secular) school does absolutely no harm to the kids who aren’t members of their religion. Seriously, a bunch of kids praying to Zeus off to the side is not going to inspire the rest of the student body to take up the religion. Get real. But keeping the religious kids in public school may do remarkable good for the religious kids. If they were off in a religious school – presumably one that matches their religion – their beliefs would never be challenged, and their “education” would be chock full of bullshit that will only strengthen their faith. But in a public school, it would be open season on the kids’ religion. They would have to justify it in an open marketplace of ideas, stave off challenges made by other students, and face the facts presented in the proper education they get in their classes.

Keeping religious kids in public, secular schools increases the chance that they will grow up to become nonreligious adults. That’s what we want, isn’t it?

This is just another example of those people who just hate religion so much, they actually make things worse for themselves and everybody else, and ultimately just strengthen religion.

“Religion belongs in places of worship”

This one isn’t specific to the student prayer issue, but of course it’s come up.

It boggles my mind that atheists can repeat dipshit slogans like this and still manage to convince themselves that they’re intelligent. I mean, stop and think about what you’re saying! Who the fuck are you to say where religion “belongs”? We live in a free society. People can practice their religion where-the-fuck-ever they want, so long as it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s rights. And lo, the same rights apply to you: you are free to “practice your atheism” where-the-fuck-ever you want.

Good grief, this slogan doesn’t even survive even a cursory look by a reasonable person. I mean, what about those religions that don’t have places of worship? What about those religions that claim their “place of worship” is the entire region (as some aboriginal religions claim), or the entire world? What’s to stop a clever student from saying their classroom is a “place of worship”? Who decides where and what a “place of worship” is? Oh, now you want the government (via the teachers and school administration) to make rulings on what places constitute “places of worship”? You’re doing great with your secularism there, jackass.

So these slogans are all, to a one, mind-rottingly stupid. They are all products of a lack of careful, reasoned thought on the issue, symptoms of the same kind of casual stupidity that allows religious and other irrational beliefs to pass unexamined. If you’re one of the dimwits posting or repeating these memes, you are no different from the dimwit religious believers posting or repeating those obviously wrong faith memes. You are not helping. You are doing the opposite of helping.

Summary

If you want to comment on an issue, especially one that impacts other people – and this may come as a shock to some people – it behooves you to think about it for a bit before you do. Oh, sure, you have a right to have an ignorant, uninformed, idiotic opinion. But if you publish that opinion, you deserve to be called out as ignorant, uninformed idiot.

The issue of student prayer really isn’t all that complex, but the ideas underlying it are very broad. We’re talking about fundamental rights, and secularism itself. If we wanted to change the rules in order to have some effect on student prayer, it would have far-ranging impacts… unless you’re willing to accept having rules that are incoherent and inconsistent. You can’t take away Muslims’ right to pray without also taking away important rights from others, including nonbelievers.

As always, secularism only applies to power. Secularism is a reasonable limit placed on peoples’ fundamental freedoms when – and only when – they are in positions where they have power over others. When people do not have power over others, there is no rational justification for stripping them of their fundamental freedoms. In this context, secularism only applies to the school officials and teachers; they’re the ones with all the power in school. It does not apply to the students.

There is no reason to take away the students’ right to freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression… which gives them the right to organize and pray. It doesn’t interfere with the operations of the school, it doesn’t interfere with the ability of the other students to learn… hell, it doesn’t even interfere with the ability of the praying students to learn. There is no sane argument against allowing it. And of course, the Human Rights Code requires that the school accommodate the prayers (so long as there is no health and safety or cost argument).

And there are good reasons for us, as atheists, to want to allow students to pray in school, completely aside from the logical, secular position that there is no justification for disallowing it. When students can bring their religion to school (obviously in a non-disruptive way), they are bringing their beliefs into the fiery furnace of free inquiry… where religious beliefs never fare all that well. That means an increased chance that the religious kids will have doubts sown. And for the other kids, they will have a chance to learn more about the religion, so when they grow up to become the next generation of atheists – and some of them will – they will be better able to speak about the religion’s shortcomings and follies.

The bottom line here is: before you regurgitate a catchy slogan you heard on social media, stop and think. Take time to understand the issue, and the issues behind the issue. Talk with other people about it – and not in an echo chamber; get your ideas challenged. Then when you finally do go out and broadcast your position to the world, your words will be informed, intelligent, and – hopefully – effective.

And you won’t sound like a dumbass.

14 thoughts on “How to talk about student prayers without sounding like a dumbass

  1. Damn Indi,Who has the time, patience or masochistic nature to read, or respond, to your abusive self-aggrandizing posts? We know your the smartest person in the room and the only one with enough time to write these screeds, but you could save us valuable time and stop being such a pompous prick by at least cutting out calling people names. Meanwhile, your assessment is completely correct. Buried under bullying nastiness.

    • I have to admit that I am honestly baffled at what you’re so angry about. That I used a lot of words (all while covering a half-dozen complex issues)? That I was rude (to people who are being rude themselves)? That I am able to find time to write long and detailed posts on complex topics? That I care enough about the issues to do it?

      Is it that you were you one of the dumbasses using these slogans? Aw, are your wittle feelings hurt?

      Incidentally, my answer to “Who has the time, patience or masochistic nature to read, or respond, to your abusive self-aggrandizing posts?” would be: “anyone who doesn’t want to sound like a dumbass”. And not that it’s any of your business, but this particular post took almost a week and a half to write… which really isn’t that impressive, I’d say. But hey, if that level of literacy really is so much beyond you, I suppose I’ll take the compliment.

      Since you think I’m so smart, I suppose you’ll accept a quick lesson from me on what words mean. “Self-aggrandizing” is basically being boastful – that is, writing about how good/smart/whatever you are or talking up something you did/can do; none of which actually happened in what I wrote. I certainly said people who say these stupid slogans are stupid for doing so… but that’s not boasting about myself; it’s not saying anything at all about myself. In fact, in the whole post, other than a few side comments about things I personally witnessed (like kids playing cards), there is literally nothing about me in the post. Kinda hard to be self-aggrandizing when you don’t actually say anything about yourself or your accomplishments, ya know. “Bullying” is the use of coercion – force or threat – to abuse or intimidate. Do you see any threats in that post? No? Then it wasn’t bullying. The fact that it seems to have hurt your feelings can’t plausibly be due to any threats or intimidation in the post… it’s more likely because you were doing or thinking one of the many things I showed to be stupid, which means the problem is with you, not me. So, yup, no bullying there. Now you know! You’re welcome!

      • You’re baffled? Grow up and play nice.

        • “Grow up and play nice.”

          Anyone capable of that could not have written the original post, which was specifically taking a moral position AGAINST exactly that.

          What we’re witnessing in Indi is what happens when a person who is incapable of perceiving reality and analyzing it rationally also happens to manifest a level of narcissistic arrogance devoid of compassion that, in these times, is matched only by Trump. But whereas Trump plainly Tweets for the lulz, Indi seems to have a lot more self-image invested in his own toilet bowl typings. Week and a half? Should we get him a statuette? Or maybe an over-sized wall plaque? Is the Nobel really that far off?

          I have to wonder what this website is anymore, and why someone hasn’t had the decency to buy it, and shut it down. Canadian atheists are harmed by association with this festering pustule.

  2. You state “The second issue is whether the prayers are being forced on anyone or not.” When an adult tells me as a child that if I don’t agree with him I will go to hell for ever more and suffer eternal damnation, as an adult I would say that is a pretty coercive statement to say the least. Because as an adult if I ever catch anyone suggesting something that threatening to a child of mine they are going to have to explain themselves to me personally, not to God, right here and right now. Furthermore, if they can’t they won’t be walking away with a warning, in my world they won’t ever be walking with me anywhere ever again.

    Do you personally know anyone anywhere who might try to suggest something like that to a child of mine, and if you want to live in a world with me instead of with them then what are you doing about it?

    • > You state “The second issue is whether the prayers are being forced on anyone or not.”

      Yes, I did, but…

      > When an adult tells me as a child that if I don’t agree with him I will go to hell for ever more and suffer eternal damnation, as an adult I would say that is a pretty coercive statement to say the least.

      … *that* has absolutely nothing to do with whether prayers are being forced on students in schools.

      This was a post about dealing with students praying in schools. It has nothing at all to do with coercion and intimidation by religious leaders… unless that’s happening in schools, which it isn’t. So it has nothing to do with this post.

      > Do you personally know anyone anywhere who might try to suggest something like that to a child of mine, and if you want to live in a world with me instead of with them then what are you doing about it?

      I am educating people on how to deal with situations like that in a way that is rational and effective… certainly *much* more effective than just kicking someone’s ass. I am working to create a society where doing things like that (using intimidation and threats such as hell to coerce children into believing) is generally understood as abusive and unacceptable… so that rather than saving just *one* child (by kicking one preacher’s ass) from this kind of abuse, we can save them all.

  3. I can certainly see how you could take it to mean I was referring to “what are you (personally) doing about. I apologize, I hope I meant that rhetorically because I can readily see that you are doing a lot more than most people about this ongoing problem. I don’t know if you were raised a Christian, but I was, and the older I get the less of it I believe (I should say stomach), I went away into negative numbers about it a very long time ago.

    I’m afraid it’s true that saying something like you’ll go to hell forever to an adult is really just the thin edge of the wedge. If someone will let that go then what else will they let go. I believe it is true that all big lies started with little ones. I also believe that words aren’t always enough to correct misbehaviour. An example of what I mean by this is the huge bomb the USA set off in Afghanistan yesterday. The problem with that of course was who decides who was misbehaving.

    Thanks again for your great contributions to this excellent site which I strongly suspect wouldn’t be around for very long without your extra extra efforts. I hope your getting some kind of monetary benefit for your efforts but knowing how things usually go I strongly doubt that that’s the case.

  4. In regard to your statement “Note that I specifically said “freedom of belief” and not “freedom of religion”.”

    The real problem is that there is no such thing as *religion*, it is an entirely false concept. How can there be freedom of something that doesn’t exist? (well in a way I suppose that is the ultimate freedom). I do believe unique human beliefs actually exist, distinct from other species beliefs, and I do believe that generally speaking those beliefs should not be unduly restrained. Note I say ‘not unduly restrained’, if you have ever visited a mental hospital you will realize conditions do exist were society does have a need for the physical restraint of beliefs.

    In short the point I am trying to make is that religious people try to claim that religions aren’t beliefs (I assume by that they mean beliefs are something human derived) but rather something greater than beliefs, something from somebody named God somewhere that only they know. And of course to get in on the special secrets only he tells only them all you really have to do is agree to a few conditions or else he won’t talk.

    My understanding of the secularism is that it doesn’t get it’s ideas from God somewhere, secularist simply get all of their ideas (beliefs) right out of their own heads. This is the crucial point and the essence of what I believe makes secularism unique. My secularism doesn’t allow for some unproven supernatural source of understanding. The only beliefs (i.e. understanding) believed in my secularism are those which are human derived, nothing unproven supernaturally derived.

    If the word ‘religion’ was bereft of any special meaning in law, and becomes just another belief on an equal footing with all other beliefs, supernatural or otherwise, then I would be satisfied that justice had been served. It is the special treatment of religion as some kind of system of beliefs above and beyond all others that I have always most strongly objected to. Religious beliefs should sit amongst all other beliefs and should be judged in law equally with them. I will never accept them as something real in law and society as long as they maintain this special above human law status.

    It is exactly this special status religions enjoy in law which is why I call them criminal organizations which is, I believe, all they really are as long as they enjoy this special status among beliefs. Christianity in the west has never been held accountable to man like all other beliefs have, their only accountability has been to God, someone somewhere they have never proven to me exists. What kind of accountability is that? I could say well I don’t have to pay taxes because I’m accountable to that tree standing over there because it say so. At least I can prove that the tree even exists.

    I hate to keep belabouring the point, if I could think of a more effective strategy to attack Christianity I would, unfortunately I can’t, so readers of my point of view will just have to put up with it. Maybe if I keep hammering my point of view home often enough I will gain some converts to it because I really do believe the real issues here are poorly understood and vitally important.

  5. Jeebus, that’s quite the list. Have the contortions by militarism-for-profit gotten so byzantine that the lists necessary to counterbalance them need to grow ever increasingly large?

    Add it to the list.

  6. And if those things aren’t happening yet, they’re bound to soon start happening. Could we try to be a little bit smarter than Europe?

  7. Another addition to the slogan list: “School is for the education of facts.”

    This can be followed with something like “… not myths or religious claims”, or that can just be left implied.

    This is another one of those slogans that *sounds* correct… but doesn’t survive even a cursory look.

    First, it’s arguable whether school actually *is* for “the education of facts”. I don’t think anyone would consider a school that just forced its students to memorize a long string of facts to be a particularly *good* school. In reality, schools are expected to teach students much more than mere facts; they are expected to teach students how to *discover* new facts, how to evaluate facts, and plenty of other stuff not really related to facts, but more generally how to be an effective adult in society.

    But okay, that’s just low-hanging fruit. Let’s assume what the slogan *actually* means is: “school is for providing an education” (where “education” is understood to exclude being educated in bullshit, like religious doctrine).

    Anytime you hear someone whose entire argument is of the form “X is meant for Y”, you know you’re listing to a narrow-minded idiot. Even if it is “true” that “X is meant for Y”, that *NEVER* precludes the fact that X may have other uses or effects.

    Even if it is true that “school is for education”, nothing about that implies that *ONLY* education can happen in school. Work is for earning money… are you *seriously* going to say that you do *nothing* at work that does not actually earn you money? You never socialize? You don’t personalize your workspace?

    What “school is for education” *does* imply, if it is true, is that nothing that *prevents* or interferes with education should be tolerated in school. But there’s no rational reason that something that *doesn’t* interfere with education couldn’t be tolerated.

    So does it interfere with education in any way if students gather on their own and pray together during their free time? No. No, it does not. Therefore, even if it is true that “school is for education”, that doesn’t preclude students praying.

    Let’s go even one step further. If “school is for education”, there is no rational reason to prohibit things that don’t interfere with education… but what about things that *help* education? Because one of the reasons schools have started accommodating Muslim student groups who want to pray is because when they weren’t the students were simply… leaving the school, to go pray at a nearby mosque. That, unsurprisingly, took up far more time out of the school day, and some of the students simply wouldn’t come back after prayers. Allowing the students to pray in an unused room at the school not only means less time is lost for those students, they’re also safer. If it is irrational to ban things that are harmless to the goal, it is doubly irrational to ban things that actually *help* the goal.

    And of course, the obvious point bears repeating, that if students were completely banned from praying in public schools, religious parents would in all likelihood pull them out of public schools and either home-school them or put them in religious schools. Which is about the worst thing that can happen to those kids.

  8. I’m gonna take the time here to thank Indi for his unfailing diligence and conscientiousness in meeting the continued basic requirements of reasoned and thoughtful elaborative discourse, especially in the face of a time of expanding casuistically specious excursus.

    And that’s not to doom him to sempiternally protracting exertion.

  9. “stop and think”

    I’m thinking you don’t own a mirror big enough for that wall of text.. I suspect you may be losing your mind. Or, sorry, “fucking” mind. Don’t want to misspeak.

    “do you really believe the protest is about secularism, and not hostility to Islam”

    Well, I wait until I see more information. It would hardly surprise me to learn that, once again, Canadian Atheists were asleep. See, I don’t need to judge a message by the speaker, as you do. I judge it by its content, like a normal person with a brain. For thinking.

    STOP. And Think, Indi. I’m sure even the likes of you can do it, if you really try. You can put on your thinking cap if it helps.

    Taking your big box of claims point by point:

    “Allowing student prayers is something new…” Whether it is, or isn’t, is irrelevant.

    “This accommodation is only being offered…” You’re being a bit weaselly here, comparing occasional diversions to a weekly event. In any case, it’s irrelevant. Perhaps Islam is the straw that is breaking the camel’s back for some people, but it doesn’t make the rest of the problem OK. It all needs to go. Children especially, NONE of whom can credibly be said to have a religion, should find in their schools a refuge from this nonsense. That must be the top priority. The “protected” religious status of parents should be of no import in this, whatsoever, except to the degree that it leads to child abuse.

    “Hate speech is being promoted…” On the one hand, that SHOULD actually be their right. If people are going to speak, they MUST be permitted to speak hateful things. Also, it’s trivial to find hate spoken throughout the Quran (seriously… you can find a variety of Quran translations on the Internet… look for yourself). And the Hadith are even worse. While not ever prayer would be hateful, it seems it would take an epic achievement to avoid speaking ANY hate, in the context of Islamic prayer.

    “The sermons are being conducted in other languages…” You ADMIT that this is true (“quotations from the Quran”). Next.

    “Teachers are leading the prayers.” … The presence of the “monitor” necessarily acts as a government endorsement of the content.

    “The prayers are happening in classes” As, the time-honoured “someone else is a sack of shit” argument. You didn’t actually address the claim, which IS correct, that students LOSE CLASS TIME to go to prayer instead, and that the exit, absence, and re-entrance of these students to that class is disruptive.

    “Students are missing classes” You ADMIT that this is true. The last 15 or 5 minutes of class (which might only be 45 minutes to begin with) is not optional, or they’d just let ALL the students leave. Honestly, why even fight his point? You have no point.

    “Students are being forced to attend” Of course they are. Parents will coordinate to learn who attended and who was not being a good Muslim. Friday prayer is the most important prayer (to the parents) and they will want to force their kid to do it. Schools should in NO WAY be enabling this abuse.

    “The accommodation will cost money” Do you even understand the future tense? You don’t seriously think this accommodation is where it ends, do you?

    “There is segregation happening” As someone who actually DOES believe in equality, I find your answer to be disgusting. You ADMIT there is sexist segregation happening, and throw up your hands. Pathetic.

    “We live in a free country” No, we don’t. Talk about slogans…

    “Secularism simply means…” Nope. All it means is that all religions are treated equally. There is no obligation for the state to make accommodations for ANY of them.

    “freedom of belief” … there is no such freedom, largely because belief, which occurs solely inside the skull, cannot yet be policed.

    “If you have freedom of belief, you necessarily have freedom of religion. Because religion is a belief, shock of shocks.” No, it certainly is not. Religion is a practice. Just take a look down south, if you don’t get it.

    “Deal with it, or get the fuck out of Canada” Fuck you, you piece of shit.

    Your Islamophilia is really clouding your judgment. It ought to be embarrassing.

  10. Randy I think there is a place for you in Europe. Maybe even complete with a complimentary horned iron helmet. We don’t need your self-immolating crap here.

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