Before I get started here, I want to point out that I live in Northern Ireland, a country where religion is rife in every part of life. It is frowned upon whenever I tell people that I am an Atheist, most of them are not aware that there is an alternative to Christianity. Also I just want to point out that my school is not a private school, but a part-private school. It still gets government funding which is the most important thing. Also they boast about accepting every race, religion and any other social minority they can think of.

 As most schools do, my school has a prefect system. The hierarchy of power within the prefect system  is “Head boy> School Prefect> House Prefect”. Towards the end of last year, I was rewarded the position of School Prefect. I was, as you would imagine, very pleased as the school was recognising my contribution to the school for 6 years. I am a school prefect, assigned to a house. If you are not familiar with a house system, it is when the students are broken up further, but there is no specific criteria for which house they are assigned to. Then, the house system is broken up even further, into junior and senior. Junior houses are from 12-14 year olds; and the senior houses from 15-18 year olds. I was made Head of a Junior House, meaning that I am the top authority in the house under the teacher who is in charge.

Sorry for the lesson, but I had to explain this so that it would make sense.

For as long as I have been going to my school, and for as long as anyone  I know has been going to my school they have “Prayers” every morning except fridays. The junior houses go to “Prayers” on Mondays and Wednesdays and the senior houses go on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Basically Prayers is like an Assembly, except there are hymns sung, the Bible is read, a sermon is given and then prayers are said. The Bible is read from, usually by a School Prefect, unless the prefect is absent then then someone else might read from it, nevertheless the Bible is ALWAYS read from every morning.

You can probably begin to  see the problem already. One day I was asked to read from the Bible by one of the vice-headmasters, and I told him that I didn’t feel comfortable reading from the Bible. However I was informed by him (in a rather patronising tone) that it was part of my “duty as a prefect” to read from the Bible. I knew that the school would never listen to me, as I was only a student, or a prefect now, but it still didn’t make a difference. This meant I had to get my parents involved, which led to e-mails being sent and phone calls being made.

Suddenly, the vice-master “understood” where I was coming from. It was such a major joke coming from him.  He thought that I felt uncomfortable with standing up in front of that many people (around 400) and reading from the Bible. What he didn’t “understand” was that I was uncomfortable with reading from the Bible, not the amount of people I was reading in front of. It would have been hypocritical in the extreme for me to read from something I didn’t believe in. Not only do I not believe in it, I find it to be hateful, homophobic and generally horrible. It would have disgusted me reading from it.

I personally felt it more important to have the courage of my convictions and to take it far enough that I would have been willing to have my prefectship taken off me for it. Although, if they did do that, I would have had a field day. My school has had plenty of bad publicity over the years, with a drunkard Headmaster, Drug dealing, Homosexual sex in boarding and a suicide recently. I would not have gone to my solicitor to file a lawsuit for discrimination, instead I would have gone to the local press, as it would have been a disgrace.

Although that is futile, because they did not take my prefectship taken off me. The vice-master in question requested to have a personal meeting with me. Even in that meeting, he did not apologise for any distress. It would not have mattered really to me, except for the fact that it was just before my exams, which I was stressed out enough already, and did not need this bullshit. I wanted the issue done and dusted before my exams got into the swing of things, because I was getting really stressed.

He refused to relent, and left me to decide over the summer whether I would change my mind. He said “keep and open mind, you never know what might happen.” Am I the only one who thinks that that is a massively prick-esque thing to say? He somehow thought that the power of the holy spirit would touch me over the summer and I would be converted to Christianity. He treated me like I didn’t know what I believed, and just called myself an Atheist for the sake of it. He referred to it like it was  a condition which could be cured. Sadly I am immune to the “cure”.   I enjoy committing the most unforgiveable sin, even more unforgiveable than denying the holy spirit, thats right, rational thinking.

I would love to hear from others on their experiences with religion in school. I am having a major issue with it as I can see it everywhere. There is an icon of Jesus hanging on a wall in the school, and we have a chapel. My Religious Education teacher refers to us as “Dirty Rotten Sinners who are going to Hell”. Surely there is a lawsuit in there somewhere… It can’t be right to call a 17 year old student a dirty rotten sinner. He is a baptist, which wont surprise most of you, and it is people like him who has driven me away from religion altogether.

Thank you for reading,

Simon.

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May 4th, 2007

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