My son will be a seventh grader this year. Next week he starts school. two weeks ago there was a Transition Seminar for parents and students. The Seminar would be for parents and students from four local ISD’s or Independent School Districts. Great Idea. The move from grade school to junior high can be rough on parents as well as their children. One problem. The seminar was held at the Richland Hills Church of Christ. There was no explanation about why. Would any part of the seminar be about Jesus? Would the seminar by theologically neutral? It was possible, but here’s the statement of faith of the Richland Hills Church of Christ. That’s a very conservative Christian, Biblically literalist church. Would that attitude be included or assumed in the Transition Seminar? Does my son’s school district even recognize the separation of church and state? I don’t know. The seminar was held on the heels of our family returning from our own church event in Oklahoma. But we didn’t require anyone else to be there if they weren’t Unitarian Universalists.
This past week my wife’s school had a convocation for a faculty, not an unusual event for school, although neither of us are quite familiar with these events being held or being called that for elementary school faculty. The event was not held in her school building, nor was it held in any building in the school district, but in a local church and the faculty was addressed by the minister of the church who made it clear the church building was available to the school at any time. He did not pray, but a church being open to any public school in such a way is promoting that church and its religion over others.
I’m a minister. It’s Texas. Church is part of the culture of life here, but not everyone’s culture. What about Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Atheist kids? It’s possible the church was just a location with both of these events, a site with easy access to four school districts for the Transition Seminar and that religion was not part of the program, or an easy off campus location for my wife’s faculty with adult size seats, but in this geographic location, you can’t be sure.
The Richland Hills Church of Christ is not my religious cup of tea, but they do run one of the largest food banks in the area and my UU congregation has made sizeable donations to this good work. Yet, it’s just plain wrong to hold a public school transition seminar, even in partnership with other schools or districts in a church. Our ISD owns buildings big enough to hold the event, I am assuming the other three ISDs involved must also. It’s also wrong for my wife to be forced to attend the religious meeting place of another religion at work. We can’t teach our children separation of church and state if we don’t model it and if we don’t model it, it means we really don’t believe in it. My son and our family didn’t feel welcome at the event due to the location. My wife was certainly unable in our climate to voice her discomfort at work. I’m debating whether or not it’s worth contacting the Superintendent? The ACLU? Let it slide?