Yesterday, I ran across an article about a Muslim father in Dearborn, Michigan who is upset that his kids came home with an invitation to an Easter egg hunt. The egg hunt was being held at a local Presbyterian church, though no religious activities were planned. Perhaps because it was intended to be a secular event, the powers that be at the school approved the flyer to be distributed among the students.
Majed Moughni, a 43 year old father of two, claims that his kids, aged 7 and 9, complained about the flyer and feeling uncomfortable about being "pressured" to go to church. He decided to complain, claiming that it's inappropriate for public school teachers to pass out flyers for events sponsored by a church because of the "separation of church and state" public institutions are supposed to espouse in the United States. I seriously doubt this went down the way Mr. Moughni claims it did. I think what probably happened is that one of his kids came home with the flyer and was excited about the Easter egg hunt and wanted to attend. Dad was probably uncomfortable with the prospect of his kids interacting with Christians at a church, although obviously they do interact with them if they go to public school.
For the record, I don't think Mr. Moughni's complaint is entirely invalid. I can see why schools shouldn't be seen as promoting one belief system over another. I'm actually surprised that the flyer was allowed to be distributed in this day and age of political correctness, especially given that this happened in Dearborn, Michigan, where there is a huge Muslim population. If Mr. Moughni lived in Jackson, Mississippi, his complaint about the egg hunt would have been totally laughed out the door. At the same time, given what kids can be exposed to in a public school, I think an Easter egg hunt is relatively small potatoes.
I posted about this on Facebook and a lively discussion ensued. It included a couple of conservative Christians, a militant atheist or two, and a couple of people like me, who aren't all that religious but not quite atheist. One woman came out and said she would be uncomfortable if her daughter came home with such a flyer, even though she does celebrate Easter. She flat out said, "It's inappropriate."
I thought about that for a moment and related the story of how when I was in high school, my world history teacher took my class on a field trip to Washington, DC. We visited the Franciscan Monastery (a very cool place, by the way) and the Mosque. Of all the field trips we took in school, that one remains one of my favorites because it was so interesting. I didn't come away from that field trip wanting to be Catholic or Muslim, but I did know more about those belief systems. It broadened my perspectives and made me a better person. I'm glad my parents let me go.
My friend said, "But that's not the same thing as an Easter egg hunt. That would fall under historical context and education."
My response was, "Yes, but that is YOUR OPINION. My point is, some people would see that field trip as just like the Easter egg hunt. They would not want their kids to go because they wouldn't want them to exposed to a belief system at odds with their religious beliefs. Some people are very afraid to let their kids be around others who aren't just like them."
It seems like over the past twenty years, people have become really polarized about religion. Back when I was in school, most every kid belonged to a church and those who were atheists or agnostics weren't really all that open about it. Though I went to school in a rural Virginia county, there were a few Muslims at my school. We had some Catholics and Mormons, too… though they were way outnumbered by the Protestants. I think if we were to poll my class, there would be a lot of Baptists and Methodists along with a smattering of Presbyterians. I met my first Jews when I went to college. We also had a lot of people who attended the Assembly of God church.
I remember the kids who attended that church were very demonstrative about their faith. They all hung around together and wore t-shirts with Bible verses or religious slogans on them. I remember one girl used to wear a t-shirt that had a picture of Jesus on the cross with a crown of thorns on his head. She had another t-shirt that had a picture of a cross on it with the slogan "This blood's for you." This was allowed in school back in my day. I don't know if it still is. It probably shouldn't be allowed, but it depends a lot on the local mores. In a place where there's heavy Christianity, those shirts would be totally okay, while a Muslim wearing religious garb would probably be harassed. In places where there's more diversity, I'm sure those types of t-shirts are as verboten as t-shirts with profanity or nudity on them.
One of my classmates was a girl who went to the Assembly of God church. She sat by me in chemistry class. Every day, she'd ask me if I wanted to go to church with her. I hated church of all kinds and had no interest whatsoever. The church I attended was boring as hell. I knew her church was not like mine… it was charismatic and there was speaking in tongues and modern music. While it probably wasn't as boring as my run of the mill Presbyterian church was, I think it would have freaked me out. I probably could have complained about her constant invitations, but she was actually a nice enough person. I never went to her church and we eventually graduated and went on with our lives.
Later, I went to a public college in Virginia, where there were quite a few Christian sponsored groups on campus. I don't remember any that were for Muslims or Jews, though I do know that there were people of those faiths attending. Our choir performed a lot of religious music, the bulk of which was Christian, Protestant in particular. We did do some Leonard Bernstein music that had elements of Judaism in it, but I don't remember singing anything that came from less mainstream religions in the United States. I imagine that some people might take issue with that, given that the school is supported by public funds. In my high school and college, there were chapters of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I wonder why those were okay, given the whole controversy about the separation of church and state. We also had Young Life at my school. I did not attend, but had a lot of friends who did. It was a religious group. Maybe it shouldn't have been allowed, though.
I think Mr. Moughni is perfectly fine in not letting his kids attend the Easter egg hunt. I even think he raises a valid point about the perception that the school is endorsing a specific religion. But I also think that in the grand scheme of things, his outrage at his kids being invited to an Eggstavaganza is a bit ridiculous. When it comes down to it, there are much more harmful ways they can be indoctrinated by things they run into in the world. I think Mr. Moughni's time would be better served teaching his kids how to separate the shit from the Shinola rather than going off about Easter egg hunts. But that's just like my opinion, man.