Our story begins in a small town in the northern United States. A typical American family – we’ll call them the Smiths – attends their daughter’s high school graduation. The Smiths are one of the few Christian families in town, and the daughter is the only Christian in her graduating class. During the convocation, a local imam says the following prayer: “I also pray for one specific student, that you be with her and guide her in the path that you have for her. And we ask all these things in Allah’s name.” This was the straw that broke the camel’s – I mean the Smiths’ – back. It seems the Smith children had been harassed in their school for being Christian for a long time.

Angela Cesere

Among the things that the Smith children had to endure was school sponsored prayer, members of Torah, Quran, Vedas and Tripitaka clubs being allowed to go to the front of the line at lunch, teachers advocating for Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism in class and, worst of all, prayers to all of those religions at school board meetings.

When the Smiths protested, school board officials refused to change their policies regarding prayers of other religions at meetings. The Smiths were told not to seek legal counsel as part of a compromise that would include only non-sectarian prayers at the convocation. When it fell through, the school board again secretly conferred with the Smiths, this time assuring the family that they would seek the counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Despite this, the school board decided to develop a religion policy at their next meeting, where the Smiths were openly harassed and threatened. When the younger Smith son wanted to read his statement, the crowd shouted vulgarities at him. When his statement was finally read, the boy told the school board it hurt his feelings when his classmates called him “Christ boy.”

State representatives present at the meeting announced that board members who changed the religious policies in the school district would be replaced. Callers to the local radio station, which had been exacerbating the situation over the airwaves, demanded that the Smiths convert.

The Smith boy faced further harassment at school. Classmates called him a “crusader,” and he frequently took off his cross when he went grocery shopping with his mother to avoid any altercations.

The fiasco forced the Smiths to move from their hometown. After leaving, they filed a lawsuit against the school district for violating their civil rights. School board members have dismissed the charges as frivolous. They have yet to change their policies, and local judges seem sympathetic to the board. One judge ruled that sectarian prayers at school board meetings were a historic tradition.

Bring this case to the attention of Bill O’ Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh or any other member of the Christian right, and they’d side with the Smiths. They might argue, given past statements around December of every year, that the Smiths’ rights as Christians have been violated, just like around the country where the civil rights of Christians are being destroyed by secularists and multiculturalists. They might ask you to write your local newspaper or congressman demanding action.

Then tell them that the Smiths are Jewish. Their real name is the Dobrichs, and their community is not a mob of multiculturalists but rather fundamentalist Christians who preach (in public schools, of all places, the supremacy of their beliefs and typical anti-Semitic diatribes. The school district is the Indian River School District in Delaware. Then see if their reactions are the same. But don’t hold your breath.

When it comes to protecting the fundamental freedom of religion for people other than Christians, conservatives and their allies in the state and federal governments don’t seem to hold the same standards as they do for people of their faith.

This shows the danger of allowing any kind of religious interference in government. If we allow schools and their respective boards to continue with this type of oppression, we have returned to puritanical Salem, circa 1690.

And the wood is already starting to burn.

Goldberg can be reached at jaredgo@umich.edu.

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