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A pseudo-patriotic celebration for Utah public schools also promotes Christianity
"Hope of America" mixes Christianity, patriotism, and cultural appropriation
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Beginning tomorrow, at least 18 public school districts and charter schools in Utah will visit the Brigham Young University Marriott Center for an event called “Hope of America,” where participating students will sing “songs of hope, patriotism, and service.”
The mindless flag-waving, much like the Pledge of Allegiance, doesn’t ever get into why anyone should love the country much less get into any of its obvious problems. If Saudi Arabia did the same kind of thing, the sponsors of this event would likely have a very different feeling about it. But my complaints about that sort of small-n “nationalism” aren’t going to prevent the event from taking place. It’s been going on since 1995.
But the Freedom From Religion Foundation says there is a very real legal problem with the event: It also promotes religion.
It’s not just that the event is taking place at BYU, the private Mormon school. The event’s website also explains that it’s being run “with the support of America’s Freedom Festival in Provo.” That group very explicitly states that its mission is to “celebrate, teach, honor, and strengthen the traditional American values of God, family, freedom, and country.” (God takes priority in that list, of course.)
There’s more. Lyrics to the songs that the kids will sing include lines like “And we’ll serve with all our might our God and country!” and “Let’s shine on all God’s children - shine with all your might” and “I love to see a church house where people go to pray. They are seeking guidance to live from day to day.”
FFRF also says in a letter to various school district superintendents that “a concerned District employee contacted us to report that the Hope of America event opened with an overtly Christian prayer.” You can hear it at the 9:15 mark in the video above:
Our dear Father in Heaven, as we gather here in this amazing facility, we are so grateful and our hearts are full of joy to celebrate the many years of this great program.
We are so thankful for the many hands and thousands of hours that have been given to create this wonderful experience for these youths and the blessed lives they have led…
We’re so grateful for our nation, for this great United States of America, the only nation founded on the principles of religious freedom, and the rights of each of us as given by Thee. We are so thankful for the Founders who looked to Thee for guidance in framing our beloved constitution. We pray that these children may feel Thy love, may feel Thy hand in their lives, and look to Thee for comfort and healing, and for guidance in their lives.
And most of all, we are grateful for our salvation found in our lord and savior, Jesus Christ… We say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
There’s also the cultural appropriation portion of the program where students pretend to be Mexican, Chinese, Russian, and Pacific Islanders using the most obvious stereotypes imaginable… like performing to the Mexican Hat Dance, putting chopsticks in their hair while holding large fans, hoisting fake spears in the air, etc.
FFRF legal fellow Samantha F. Lawrence puts it bluntly:
Stereotyping minority racial and ethnic groups contributes to the harmful notion that members of those groups are “foreigners and outsiders”… While it is likely not Hope of America’s intent to be racist or insensitive, “regardless of inventions, appropriative costumes still perpetuate harmful stereotypes and contribute to the continuation of the violence and aggression towards marginalized folks.” By boiling diverse and complex cultures down into simplified costumes and choreography rooted in stereotypes, Hope of America belittles and disrespects the cultures and people that it is attempting to honor.
FFRF also notes that participating schools use plenty of classroom time to prepare for these events, and that “teachers who raised objections to participating in Hope of America were told that they did not have a choice in the matter.” Even if student participation is technically optional, there’s at least one allegation that a teacher pressured parents to make their kids join and all the students had to learn the songs whether or not they were taking part in the charade.
The bottom line is that this would be a terrible event even without the infusion of Christianity, but the religious element makes it illegal. Students should not be led to believe that Christianity, whatever its flavor, is an element of patriotism.
Parents have the right to determine their children’s religious or nonreligious upbringing. By coercing elementary school students to participate in religious exercises, the District abuses the trust that parents place in their public school… Even if appropriate educational alternatives were offered to nonparticipating students, it would still be illegal for schools to participate in this religious event.
Plus, if the people running this event cared at all about the origins of our country, they would note how separation of church and state was a core principle for the Founders. The parts of this show promoting Christianity are precisely what we were trying to get away from.
It may be too late for schools to pull out of the event this week, but there’s no reason they should agree to participate in future years. Promoting blind-faith nationalism mixed with Jesus is just a horrible decision for multiple reasons. If the administrators who approved this event cared more about their students’ education, they would find better ways to teach them about the full, complicated history of our country.
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