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Austin Cline

Christian Bullies Using Prayer Circles to Intimidate, Harass Children

By June 28, 2007

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Christians commonly try to represent themselves as the force of morality and good citizenship, but that is undermined by the many cases of Christians using religion as a basis for bullying and harassment in public schools. Largely unknown outside of those who have the misfortune to experience it are "prayer circles," a practice in evangelical regions designed to make non-Christians feel inferior, insignificant, and second-class.

Vjack at Atheist Revolution writes about the abhorrent behavior of so many Christian children:

Imagine yourself back in the third grade. It is recess, and you are with your classmates on the playground. There is a teacher in the vicinity, but the supervision is fairly minimal. Suddenly, a group of 6 or more children approach you and say something along the lines of, "Have you been saved?" You are not sure what to make of the question, so other questions about your religious beliefs and experiences follow. Without understanding the consequences, you tell them that you and your family are atheists, Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, non-fundamentalist Protestants, etc.

The children start calling you names and hurling insults at you. If you happen to be Jewish, you will hear things that would make neo-Nazi's proud. You are a sinner. You are going to burn in a lake of fire. You will rot in hell. They form a circle around you, holding hands to make sure you can't easily escape. They tell you that the only way you can save yourself is to accept Jee-zuhs. They begin praying around you loudly to "save your soul."

The teacher, if he/she even notices what is happening shrugs it off. Maybe he or she cannot see that you are crying by now. It does not look like the children are touching you, so there seems little cause to disrupt the activity. Maybe the teacher even approves of what the children are doing. After all, he or she may have been raised in this culture of intolerance.

This, dear reader, is a prayer circle.

I think it is beyond question that Christian children who do this did not get the idea entirely on their own, nor do they act entirely without parental approval. No, I think it's pretty certain that the parents of these children encourage such practices, at least implicitly through their own bad examples, and approve of it continuing. And why not? Such disrespectful behavior and attitudes are common in the proselytization of conservative evangelicals. Non-Christian adults have to deal with it far too often, so it's not a surprise that children would be subjected to it as well.

Where are the school authorities? They don't recognize that anything wrong is happening. Or they don't want to get involved and upset the many Christians in the community by infringing on "freedom of religion" (where religious freedom means the freedom to harass). Or they agree with the behavior because they, too, believe that non-Christians must be saved at any cost. What's a little harassment if it means ensuring that a soul isn't tormented in hell forever?

This behavior says a lot about what such Christians think about non-Christians. Although they may proclaim the importance of "tolerance" and "respect" whenever atheists are openly critical of their beliefs, they have no interest in showing tolerance or respect towards other religions, much less to atheism. After all, they have the truth and it's unreasonable for those with the truth to respect falsehoods ó right? Such attitudes have been important in Christianity for millennia ó violent eras like the Crusades probably wouldnít have been possible, otherwise.

June 28, 2007 at 11:22 pm
(1) Alexander says:

This should not be that strange, considering that Christians harass other Christians, in the end religion what ever it may be is based on cultish believes so seen this madness in public schools which the parents are pushing them to do, makes sense.

June 29, 2007 at 9:22 am
(2) tracieh says:

I have to look into this more. This is the first I’ve heard of it, and I can’t fathom the schools’ refusing to take action if they see it. Kid’s can say what they want is the wrong response from the school? When I was in school, there were definitely things that the kids couldn’t say.

I’d like to find specific links to actual events. I mean, I don’t doubt this has occurred; but I’m wondering about prevelance and would be interested in hearing more than just the one story (although the one story still presents an unacceptable situation).

If they were doing this to racial minority students, I wonder, in MS, if the response would be the same?

I can’t help but think “time for private school!” in this case; although many people can’t afford that, I suppose.

Really strange. Somehow I doubt talking to the parents will do any good. Talking to a lawyer might help? And they wonder why things like this end up in court and call the nontheists or nonXians whiny and sue happy. But what sane person wouldn’t at least attempt to stop kids from bullying their child at school?

June 29, 2007 at 10:27 am
(3) Pamela says:

I remember being the subject of many taunts in school of the religious and economic type (I wasn’t exactly a non-Christian, but my family did not participate in any community church and we were also very poor). I believe focusing on cognitive and emotional skills in early childhood development and education will help children have alternate, open and helpful thinking skills preventing negative attacks of bullying and taunting.

July 2, 2007 at 12:51 pm
(4) John Hanks says:

Remember that Jesus hates blockheads and phonies. I doubt that he liked bullies either. I’d challenge the bums on the weakness of pride.

July 22, 2007 at 2:19 am
(5) Paul says:

I was subjected to similiar harassment in college of all places. The harassment was more subtle than a prayer circle, however it did get downright terrifying at times. It opened my eyes to the differences between genuine faith and religious institutions ie. ‘cults’. Talk with your kids about this nonsense before they leave home for university.

August 21, 2007 at 11:32 pm
(6) robinjoan says:

When I was in sixth grade I remember a boy, a Jehovah’s Witness, who was teased almost daily for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. The teacher did nothing even when told of the problem (I let her know at recess one day). From that point on I was never surprised at the cruelty of children or what teachers are willing to overlook.

October 10, 2007 at 2:55 pm
(7) Jon says:

never heard of it.

April 21, 2008 at 4:22 am
(8) Mercutia says:

In my experience (I was raised in the Methodist church with an evangelical/charismatic background), a prayer circle is just a group of people in the church who actively pray for others on a regular basis, and will add people to the list if requested (i.e., “Please pray for my sister, she’s in the hospital”).

That said, I would not be terribly surprised to hear this sort of thing, as described above, going on in some places. When I was growing up a lot of Christians liked to paint themselves as being backed into a corner by a filthy and licentious world led by the forces of Satan; and a cornered animal is dangerous, doubly so if the corner is a delusion. I’m not an atheist (miraculously enough) but I don’t condone this kind of nuttiness as “Christian” in any way.

July 20, 2008 at 9:54 pm
(9) Jennifer says:

I think people are kind of missing the point… kids are cruel, regardless of religion. And differences, no matter what they are, are often just an excuse to be mean. It has nothing to do with their parents. Anything can be the reason to classify and ostracize. Which is why I’m completely against the term “hate crime.” All crimes are hateful. It’s idiotic.

September 4, 2008 at 1:54 pm
(10) wljc says:

Is the situation you described one that has been documented? How often have such scenes actually unfolded on school playgrounds? Or is this situation the product of a creative imagination? Unless you can document the times and places such “prayer circles” have actually taken place, I would be much more careful about creating such scenarios to accuse Christians of intimidation. It does not seem plausible.

September 4, 2008 at 2:39 pm
(11) Austin Cline says:

WLJC: Maybe you should follow the link?

January 14, 2009 at 6:10 pm
(12) Awaiting a Petty Response says:

How about children that intimidate others by making up slanderous exaggerated stories about them.,…like you have done here?

I don’t know of any CHristian governments…much less ones that ban atheism..yet many atheist regimes persecute , torture and execute people of all faiths….so who’s intolerant now?

At least Christians value humility…even if they like anyone else, don’t consistently achieve it.

Your post is bigoted, intolerant and degrading of others beliefs…and yet you criticise others intolerance..

January 14, 2009 at 6:55 pm
(13) Austin Cline says:

How about children that intimidate others by making up slanderous exaggerated stories about them.,…like you have done here?

Feel free to support this accusation.

I don’t know of any CHristian governments…much less ones that ban atheism..

Maybe the absence of such governments is why they don’t ban atheism? If we go back to a time when we did have Christian theocracies, what do you think their position on atheism was? Indeed, is there any theocracy that has tolerated atheism and atheists?

yet many atheist regimes persecute , torture and execute people of all faiths….so who’s intolerant now?

I don’t know of any persecution of religion in the name of atheism.

At least Christians value humility…even if they like anyone else, don’t consistently achieve it.

I’ve yet to see any evidence that Christians value humility any more than others or practice it any more than others.

Your post is bigoted, intolerant and degrading of others beliefs…and yet you criticise others intolerance..

Feel free to support those accusations. If you can.

If not, will you have enough humility to admit error and apologize?

September 24, 2009 at 3:48 pm
(14) Flower says:

Actually I am a christian and a true christan would never do such a thing so If you want to believe this then i will be praying for you guys thank you for listening to my comment and Let jesus Bless You

December 30, 2009 at 7:41 pm
(15) Joann Kelley says:

Hi, Austin! I hope you have a wonderful and happy New Year. Just writing to say thank you for the respectful way that you write your articles. There is a lot of truth in what you say, even if Christians like myself don’t always agree. You are right, though, in pointing out how intolerant and disrespectful evangelical Christians can oftentimes be, and how hypocritical we can be also. It is actually true that you cannot profess your love of mankind when there is so much bigotry and hatred going on. And you know what? Even Christians show total disregard for other Christians, especially if you are a moderate like me and you don’t always agree with everything your church or Kinship group tells you. For an example, at a Kinship group meeting one Friday evening early in 2009, I tried telling everyone that I have a poor relationship with my dad because he’s an emotionally abusive control freak and not really a saved Christian because he only acts like a Christian and a good person when he’s around other people as well as his Christian friends, and I was hoping my group would understand and maybe pray for me and help me out because another girl in our group was believed, prayed for, and helped out when she told us about her poor relationship with her mother. Nope! Instead, I was treated as if I was making the whole thing up because, unfortunately, most of the people in my group know my dad very well and they like him and think he’s nice etc, etc. The thing is, since they don’t live with me and have never been in my shoes, how do I expect them to understand, right? They wouldn’t even try, so I went home that night feeling frustrated and let down, and now I don’t tell my group anything anymore unless I know I can trust them enough to help a fellow sister out a little. And another time, I tried telling my friend Larry (another typical, Obama-hating conservative Christian) that I support human euthanasia and surgical sterilization because I don’t believe in allowing terminally ill patients who are dying anyway to suffer, and I don’t think irresponsible parents who refuse to change and mentally/developmentally handicapped people should be allowed to have children. Larry wouldn’t even hear of it, and he totally cut me off and refused to listen to my point of view just because it didn’t agree with his conservative ideals. He doesn’t like me supporting Obama, either, but just because I like Obama and Larry doesn’t (who, by the way, believes the “Obama is a Muslim” lie), it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop opposing abortion. So, you are so right about evangelical Christians and their holier-than-thou, Bible-thumping, intolerant message of bigotry and hate, Austin, since, as a moderate Christian who would rather love than hate, I’ve been persecuted by my own people just because I don’t always agree with everything I say. Thanks for your article, and keep up the great work!

June 22, 2010 at 9:35 pm
(16) Lily says:

I have been a practising Buddhist for the past twenty years. For over two decades, just for choosing to be a one, I have been subjected to comments like ĎDonít you want to go to heaven? Do you want to go to hell? Why donít you send your children to church? Why donít you come to my church? Why donít you send your children to my holiday church camp?í This on top of having Christian booklets shoved to me, being repeatedly cajoled to attend church activities and prayer meetings by the same acquaintances and friends, having people I barely know calling up to invite themselves to my home Ďto share the good newsí, all this even after I explained that Iím a Buddhist. I have been cornered at workplaces and there are times when a simple lunch with a friend becomes a chore when the issue of religion is brought up. My child in school has been told that ĎGod will punish youí for his belief. Itís very similar to racism.

I have many friends of different religions and I believe kindness and other good traits exists in everyone, just a question of how developed these traits are. I chose to become a Buddhist because it holds me responsible for my actions through my faith and I have lived my life as closely as possible to the precepts I have taken of abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxicants, even if in doing so I have many times lost opportunities for gain. Perfection in watching our words and actions is very difficult to achieve but it becomes a way to a harmonious living in the society if diligently observed. In this sense, I feel hurt and annoyed with the repeated harrassment by people who somehow think that Buddhists backward pagans and heathens who needs to be saved from hell just by converting. We are as progressive as anyone else but we do not shove our religion down anyoneís throat because we believe that it is the action that tells the truth, not the preaching. I have never and I repeat, never ever found anyone who harps to me about religion so far to be inspiring in anyway. The only conclusions I have come to is that they do not have respect for anyone else and neither have they lived their lives in a much nobler way that Iím curious enough to want to hear what they want to say. The ones I do find inspiring instead, though I know what staunch Christians they are, have never dropped a single of the bigoted lines. I have donated blood to save Christian or Muslim lives because they are my fellow humans. My organs are up for grabs for anyone who needs them should I expire suddenly. If I should still be sent to hell even after this just because of my faith, Iím happy to take my chances. All I ask for is that while Iím in this existence, for my family and myself to be able to practice in peace.

November 17, 2011 at 5:31 pm
(17) Jenna says:

Seems highly unlikely and improbable, even in “crazy” America. But some people will make up any old lie to discredit Christians or anyone with sincere spirituality.

October 4, 2012 at 6:40 am
(18) Margaret Cone says:

Having been brutalized by Christians for 16 years with non-stop harassment. Forcing me to move from city to city across the country. Only to find the Christians in the next city knowing who I am and that I am a target they can denigrate, and violate for their own sadistic pleasure. Bullying for Jesus makes Christians the largest hate group in America.

October 12, 2012 at 3:50 pm
(19) JTL says:

Christians in America are the largest hate group in history. I run like hell from anything that resembles Christianity. Christians should be outlawed.

October 14, 2012 at 4:20 pm
(20) Dave Y. says:

Why does it surprise everyone that Fundies are lowlifes, its a prerequisite for joining their ranks, haven’t you folks relized that yet?

They believe that thier religious beliefs keeps them from doing atrocies things, yet they are predominately inbred within very close family bloodlines!

These lowlifes ARE where the BABY rapers of the United States come from, if you bother to look into it, you will find those convicted of molesting children always come from communities that have high rate of inbreedeing!

Why is this ignored? Because we ALLOW inbreeds to be politicians folks!
and you all wonder why our Nation is working its way into being a third world Nation, those are the only Nations that Allow inbreeds to make decisions!!

Pretending the Retarded have the ability to think clearly is How this has happened to our Nation!

When you all saw the Commercials on TV back in the 70′s saying that the retatded could care for themselves and showed you a Mongoloid sifting the plastic from the metal and paper, didn’t that tell you where we were going as a Nation, looking to create a ‘Untouchable ” caste just like in India!

Fundies ARE NOT good people, if they were, they wouldn’t believe they needed to FORGIVEN so badly!!!

October 14, 2013 at 2:04 am
(21) JXS says:

I’m a non religious theist, but living in a very conservative religious area does not make me doubt the reality of the occurances mentioned in the OP. The comments in my local newspaper bashing non Christian good samaritans really do go to show me what a great deal of many religious people are really about. Religions with absolute doctrines that threaten people into believing them are generally strongly supported by authoritarians whom use this as an ecopoliticalcultural shapeshifting tool.

Religionists placing their religion’s authority into the realm of absolutism, and their god’s location into a transcendental place, they’ve invented a supreme authority figure who not only agrees with their ecopoliticalcultural views, but also an authority figure that can’t be questioned. Perhaps the latter is the real reason why so many Christians oppose science, because logic and reason are threats to this horrible myth.

I think we need to be teaching children more about critical thinking rather than just technical skills alone. It’s pretty scary when nearly half of Americans believe in creationism (I’m not sure if this means creationism of the young earth variety or not). It’s also pretty scary when, after many hundreds of years of Christian oppression and rule, that many Christians feel they’re being oppressed. Really?! Bonus: Why is it when I type the phrase “why do Christians harass atheists” I get instead “why do atheists harass Christians”. Is it just my computer, the Christian God intervening or is the web itself greatly influenced by Christian bias?

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