Are Religious Schools Safe?

By: B.W. Ellis     

Over the decades we have all learned the painful lessons about trusting institutions of religion. We see the scam artists and the faith healers, the false claims of the end of the world and the meaningless condemnations of people for nothing more than being different.

Yet none of those misdemeanors upon society come even close to the felony child abuse we have seen prompting the question. Are our children safe in religious schools?

In any situation where the loyalty to religion outweighs the duty of responsible citizens to report crimes, we are literally talking about life and death risks to the people involved, in no other place is this more vitally important than in the institutions we trust with our future generations.

For the moment let’s leave behind the incredible danger of religious indoctrination, set aside the deliberate ignorances of attempting to reconcile science and faith, and push to the back burner the incalculable harm of teaching morality based on Bronze and Iron Age ideologies.

Not that these are not dire problems that every parent should recoil from when looking at schools to send their children to. No, I would like to bring one salient detail into full relief and examine it for the truly horrific element of religious education that it is.

Religious schools place the well-being of their faith, and the church, over the well-being of their students.

This has been proven time and time again in cities all across this country and throughout the world. Thousands of victims of pedophile priests, thousands of children whose lives were shredded by the sexual repression of the clergy or the dire abuse of those claiming a religious exemption.

Yet again I want to leave aside the individuals and look at the behaviors of the institutions because that is where the real danger lies.

For all those decades, all those children being tortured, molested, raped, and murdered by clerics, rabbis, pastors, priests and nuns of many denominations were forgotten by the institutions of faith that their parents and society trusted to protect them.

These institutions wrap themselves in the warm blanket of religious freedom and commit atrocities without regret or punishment, so why should we trust any religious establishment that gets to claim this protection.

The very fact that they can claim to be above the law due to their religious identification should be an immediate turn off for any caring parent. It means that the school or daycare or after school program that they run does not need to adhere to the same standards as the secular alternative.

If your son attends a Catholic high school because the institution has great accreditations or a track record of sending more of their graduates to college, shouldn’t it also matter that they have some form of oversight that is not loyal to the church?

Shouldn’t it matter that they are held accountable for covering up the sexual abuse of their students?

Where is the charge for keeping our children safe from the horrors of religious abuse? Where is the protest fighting for the separation of church and state and the equal application of our laws, no matter who you say you believe in?

If your young boy or girl attends one of these institutions, How would you know that they are being abused?

In many of the cases brought against religious abusers of all faiths the parents are usually the last to know what is happening to their children. They are not informed by the school, nor by the local police.

Parents have to figure it out by forcing the discussion with their children, the victims, which only furthers the width and depth of the shame and pain these children are now forced to endure.

We cannot trust the people who operate these institutions for one simple and obvious reason, they will not submit to the rule of secular law.

This is not to say that these abuses do not occur in secular institutions, the Penn State Scandal is a prime example of this (despite the obvious religious overtones of the coaching staff and of other faculty) but it also serves as an example of how secular law enforcement works.

Jerry Sandusky, the man who raped all those children, is behind bars for 30 to 60 years, a life sentence for the then 68-year-old man. Joe Paterno, the coach who failed to adequately report the abuse ten years before the revelations, was forced into retirement, publicly shamed, and died knowing his legacy would forever be linked to child rape.

There has been no such criminal punishment leveled against the thousands of pedophile members of the clergy in the vast amount of abuse cases to date.

Penn State was fined $60 million by the NCAA, forced to vacate all their wins during Sandusky’s tenure of rape, banned from the postseason for four years, and had their share of the money from the Bowl games stripped and donated to charities helping child abuse victims.

None of that would have happened if Penn State could’ve claimed a religious exemption. To date, no religious institution where the rape of children has occurred has been subjected to anything close to this response.

Knowing that what makes any parent think that a religious establishment would bother with stopping a rapist amongst their faculty or coaching staff?

To even claim an exemption from the requirements of educational standards and child safety laws by these establishments of religion is a violation of who and what we are as a nation.

Remember, the first ten words of the first amendment of the constitution read “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”. That means the claim of religious freedom does not allow for violations of the secular laws set forth to secure the health, happiness, and well-being of the people, especially our children.

So when you are looking at the options for your loved one’s future ask yourself this, “Is my child safe in an environment where the people who can commit atrocities do so without the oversight of our laws?”

If a school is more loyal to the public image of the church and less so to the safety of the children in their care, than a secular school is automatically the better choice.

No matter how well structured the educational curriculum, no matter how successful at sending students off to college, no matter how holy they claim to be, what value is all of that if the teachers are raping their students without recourse.

If the school places their allegiance to their religion over that of the state’s laws, then they leave your children open to horrors that have claimed thousands of lives.

Our children deserve better than that.

Fighting this assumption that religious establishments are safe for children is one of the ways we can all Talk Like An Atheist.