Does Ames High sponsor religion?

There’s a thin line between educating and proselytizing religion. We in Ames represent a very tolerant community, but the air of uncomfortable Christianity gives Ames High a slightly unwelcoming atmosphere to non-Christians. In class, it’s fine to learn about cultural differences, historical impact, and the importance of religion throughout the ages. Religion affects billions of people around the world and it is important to learn about the cultures of other people to create open-minded and well-rounded individuals. However, many of our activities, events, classes, and places arguably cross the line between learning to foster growth and religious promotion. In our school we face religion, primarily Christianity, every day. In music classes we memorize and perform religious pieces constantly. History classes talk about it very often. Our theatre program features some productions with religious passages. The music we hear often talks about God. We used to have to say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. Our “Winter Break,” originally called “Christmas Break,” exists to take off time for the Christmas holiday. There’s no other legitimate reason for two weeks off right before final exams. Around 3 out of 5 of our choral pieces selected contain phrases praising God, hymns, prayers, psalms, and biblical references. Some are disguised and laced with Latin words passed down for thousands of years. Some pieces are historically important and classic, but others are unnecessary to sing in a school setting. On Sunday, October 10th the AHS Concert Chorale was fortunate enough to sing with students from several other schools in Iowa for a concert with world-renowned opera singer Simon Estes. The Concert Chorale, a class at Ames High, performed at Cornerstone Church singing a series of spiritual and religious songs for the Habitat for Humanity Benefit Concert. In a church. At Cornerstone. It was a required performance. A Charlie Brown Christmas , a play adapted by the AHS Thespians, was performed during Winter Madness before break. It was a school sponsored event. Not only was it about Christmas, which had nothing to do with the “March of the Penguins Against Poverty” theme of Winter Madness, but there’s a passage about the true meaning of Christmas. This is the true meaning in biblical terms with all sorts of references to the bible and God. In the AHS auditorium. During Winter Madness. It was a school sponsored event. Now, I love chorus and theatre. I thoroughly enjoyed A Charlie Brown Christmas and singing with Simon Estes. The point isn’t that they were bad performances. They were great performances. The point is that these types of events need to be separate from our school. In his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, Thomas Jefferson stated that there needs to be a "wall of separation between church and state." There is still a lot of debate as to what is and isn’t acceptable. Some elementary school classrooms in Ames still have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but when I moved to the Middle School in 2005 we no longer had to. The absence of the Pledge (which originally never read “under God” when written by Francis Bellamy–the phrase was added during the Communist Scare of the ‘50s) upset some parents, but ultimately it is a right of the students and future citizens to decide for themselves whether they are “under God” or not. While it may be difficult to determine the difference between school acceptable and religious overkill, there are obvious things that shouldn’t be happening. A school class should not need to perform at a church where prayers were said at the beginning of the performance. A high school class should not be limited to singing religious pieces. If students or staff feel uncomfortable with a religious atmosphere, then they shouldn’t’t be forced to be at school. Why would you want to wake up and go to a place where you don’t feel welcome? So where do we draw the line? The problem isn’t that religious songs, plays, music, history or culture are terrible things, the problem is simply that religion and school CANNOT be mixed together! This concept is too difficult for many people to handle. They don’t realize just how often we face these religious pressures every day. Maybe it’s because they are religious people themselves, but they have to put themselves in the shoes of a non-Christian. It’s fine to believe in whatever God(s) you want, but it’s important to keep your practices in your own home or place of worship as to not exclude or hurt others. We will never fully separate church and state. We will never live in a world with pure religious freedom. But I’d sure like us to try.