Today is the fourth Wednesday of September. If you grew up in a youth group, you know that means it is “See You At The Pole” day. Today all across the United States, young people will gather at 7:00 am around the flag poles at their school. There might be a worship song, there might be a speaker sharing their testimony, and there will be a time of prayer.
See You At The Pole (SYATP) is an annual event and youth pastors across the U.S. encourage their students to be brave enough to take a stand for Jesus and “come out” as Christian. It is often presented as a radical counter-cultural event, and students are warned they might suffer persecution.
On the SYATP website, under the FAQ section, is the question: Is See You at the Pole™ legal?
The answer to this question is a firm “Yes!” The right of students to gather and pray outside of instructional time—while at school—is clearly a Constitutionally protected form of free speech. This has been affirmed in regard to “Equal Access Clubs” by the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Westside Community Schools v. Mergens. And in 1995, President Bill Clinton directed then-Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, to prepare guidelines for what the government deemed “appropriate religious expression on school grounds.” These guidelines were issued and upheld by the government several times since. In them, See You at the Pole™ is specifically named as legal, appropriate, and protected.
I’ve participated in SYATP and prepped students to participate. Do you know what happens? Not much. There is no persecution. Students not participating tend to just walk on by. There are no protesting groups of liberal, atheist, Satanist. No one attempts to prevent the prayer by playing loud headbanging rock music. No one files legal actions against the SYATP organization or school district. The whole thing lasts about 20-30 minutes, and everyone goes about their day. Christian teens are congratulated for taking their brave stand for Jesus.
This is what happens in a pluralistic society with Constitutional rights that protect the exercise of religion. Some Christian groups mark this as a great victory. Ever since activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair had opposed mandatory Bible readings and prayer in school in 1960, Fundagelicals have declared schools hostile territory and breeding grounds for every societal ill.
SYATP isn’t a great victory; it’s just an exercise of religious freedom. Students voluntarily gather to prayer in a public space. Notice that it isn’t the Government mandating compulsory prayer. That’s the difference. Students are allowed to practice their religion as long as it is voluntary and isn’t infringing on other people’s rights.
Compare SYATP to the “Day of Silence.” The day of silence is put on by Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to spread awareness about the effects of the bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) students. Students take a day-long vow of silence to symbolically represent the silencing of LGBTQ students.
Fundagelicals who enjoy their expression of religious freedom, during SYATP, unimpeded and harassment free, oppose the right of free speech by other groups. The Fundagelical organization Alliance Defense Fund, a Southern Poverty Law Center designated hate group, organized a protest against the “Day of Silence.” They called it the “Day of Truth.” On the original ADF website they encouraged people to say “I’m speaking the Truth to break the silence. True tolerance means that people with differing — even opposing — viewpoints can freely exchange ideas and respectfully listen to each other. It’s time for an honest conversation about homosexuality. There’s freedom to change if you want to. Let’s talk.” Nothing says respectful listening by attempting to disrupt a student-led, symbolic, exercise of free speech. As always, Fundagelicals believe that free speech is only for Fundagelicals. (The “Day of Truth” leadership was passed on to Exodus International and then passed on to Focus on the Family who rebranded it “Day of Dialogue.”)
Fundagelical websites have popped up, giving helpful tips on how to oppose the “Day of Silence.” One website suggests a “Day of Silence Walkout.” Lord knows we can’t have Fundagelical children exposed to peaceful expressions of anti-bullying. After all, “True tolerance means that people with differing — even opposing — viewpoints can freely exchange ideas and respectfully listen to each other. ” is best practiced by not being there. I guess it is better to keep them out of school that day lest they learn that minority groups are bullied and harassed. The same website also advised Conservative teachers to make sure and schedule discussions in class that day. Students will be forced to speak and break their symbolic vow of silence. After all, forcing compliance to political ideology has always been so successful in the past.
Here’s what chaffs my hide, SYATP is promoted by Fundagelicals as a brave counter-cultural event with students risking persecution to exercise their right to religious freedom. Non-Fundagelicals respect their right to exercise their freedom and leave them alone. Then, the same Fundagelicals turn around and do everything they can to disrupt the freedom of speech of another group. Non-Fundagelicals want to protest the harassment and bullying of LGBTQ+ students, or GOD FORBID take a knee during the National Anthem to protest the inequality experienced by Black Americans and Fundagelicals call down the wrath of God. I can guarantee you that if a Muslim group of students wanted to gather at the school flag pole to pray, Fundagelicals would be filing lawsuits. Fundagelicals only want freedom for themselves and actively seek to oppress other groups with other viewpoints. How sad is it that non-Fundagelicals understand Jesus’ teaching of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” better than Fundagelicals.
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