But what are we to make of this? A five-year-old schoolgirl tells her pal that she’ll “go to hell” if she doesn’t believe in God.
Little pal wails and gets very upset. Headteacher tells little girl she’s out of order, and has a word with little girl’s mum, who happens to be the school receptionist.
“Gary Read, head of Landscore Primary School, Threshers, in Credition [UK], explained to the 5-year-old and her mother, school receptionist Jennie Cain, that the behaviour was unacceptable after it caused another pupil to burst into tears,” says a story on the excellent Ekklesia website.
The story became local and national news after it got into the hands of the media and of campaigners who repeatedly claim Christians are being “persecuted” in Britain when public bodies implement diversity policies.
Ekklesia tells us that the local paper, the Express and Echo, was guilty of some dodgy headline writing when it proclaimed on 13 February, “Five-year-old girl is told off at school for talking about God”.
Crap journalism again. She didn’t just talk about God: she talked about going to hell. We can’t blame the little girl, since she’s too young to appreciate the possible consequences of talking to another child like that. But we can blame the parents, for putting stupid notions like that into the head of their offspring.
The acid test with free speech usually goes like this: free speech is fine, but it’s wrong to shout fire in a crowded theatre when there isn’t one. That’s a bit of free speech too far.
Well, Gary Read has been getting lots of support, I’m glad to say. Perhaps a lot of people agree with me that, although the little girl didn’t know it, she was effectively shouting fire – in this case hellfire – in the theatre of her little friend’s head, with resultant panic.
The story linked to above cites another story on the site, in which Ekkesia’s Simon Barrow says:
[T]hose Christians who object to the school wanting to maintain a non-threatening environment should ask themselves how they would feel if a son of theirs ended up crying after being told by an atheist pupil that religious people are nuts and should be locked up? Or if their daughter was upset by a Muslim telling her she would suffer eternally for not believing in Allah and his Messenger?
Well your second example, Simon, is much the same as the one that’s caused all the kerfuffle. And I suspect some Christian parents – the nuttier kind of Christian parents – would object, even though the first example doesn’t come anywhere near either the Muslim one or the hell one. The two aren’t comparable, because the atheist pupil in your example does not say that religious people will burn in hell. Calling them nuts is one thing; saying they’ll go to hell or “suffer eternally” is quite another. Saying they should be locked up is not saying they will be locked up.
But you can bet your bottom dollar that some Christians would object to the atheist as much as to the Muslim – probably more so.
So the school is right to have taken some action, and should counsel all pupils that there is no hell, and that no one is going to go there and burn if they don’t believe in God. The idea of God and heaven and hell should be left until such a time as children can understand the concepts, and nutcase parents should keep such notions out of children’s minds.
Filling sensitive heads with ideas of eternal damnation is mental child abuse, and any parent who is guilty of it should be ashamed of him- or herself.