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7-YEAR-OLD GETS LESSON
IN FREEDOM OF RELIGION

"Mom," my 7-year-old daughter, a student at St. Peter and Paul School, demanded, "tell me again why Joanie's teacher would get in trouble for teaching about Jesus at school."

This topic has been on her mind since Christmas time, when she learned that her cousins did not do art projects about Jesus, or sing Christmas carols in music class. I explained again that her cousins' school in Williamsville, which our taxes support, is public, not private like hers, and that their teachers are not allowed to teach about any religions. "She does not teach the religions of Buddha or Moses or Mohammed or Krishna or any other very holy people, either."

"But why? Why is teaching about Jesus in school bad?" she asked.

Tricky question, for she can understand only so much at her age, and I can share so little. For example, I cannot tell her yet all of the horrors carried out in the name of God over the centuries. That her Church's Inquisition tortured and killed non-Catholics in the name of Jesus. That the Puritans, who fled their homeland because of persecution, were equally guilty of discrimination against people who did not believe as they did, including the Native Americans who worshipped their gods in peace long before any Europeans arrived and tried to correct their "sinful" ways.

She does not know that the beloved Ireland her grandmother tells her about has experienced violence and bloodshed for decades over which church is the best. That it was possible that she has German relatives who lived under a leader who murdered children because they were Jews.

That in India, the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1983 by her two Sikh bodyguards resulted in the massacre of over 10,000 Sikhs in Delhi. That young Palestinians have blown up themselves, killing busloads of innocent civilians in the name of faith.

Americans are not perfect, and there have been instances where our citizens have suffered discrimination for what they choose to believe or not believe. But for the most part, generations of Americans have lived their lives free to worship as they please.

We take this freedom, as well as all the others our forefathers built into the Constitution, for granted. We can say what we want, play what music we enjoy, make friends and marry people outside of our faith. We get to pick who makes the laws, and can influence which laws get made.

So, I asked her: "What would you think if an army walked into your school and told your teachers they could not teach about Jesus anymore, and that everyone had to wear only purple clothes, and had to eat only blue food?"

"That wouldn't be fair," she replied. "My teacher likes to wear other colors, and eat pizza, which is not blue. And she likes going to church."

"Exactly. The same laws that protect your school, and let your teacher talk about whatever she wants, wear and eat whatever she likes, make sure that Joanie's teacher protects her students, too. So whether they go to a temple or a church, or don't believe in a god at all, everybody is treated the same. Everyone is treated fairly no matter what they look like, no matter what they read, no matter what they think or say. Everybody is happy. Understand?"

A smile broke across her face as she said, "Cool!" I am proud, indeed, of my abilities to explain complicated concepts to my young child. In her next breath, she asked, "Mom, what's a 'ho'?" More than prepared, I replied, "Go ask your father."

JOANMARIE WENDELIN lives in Williamsville.
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