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Clarissa T's picture

Growing up in the Bible Belt, I had to grow unnecessarily accustomed to religion: forced to listen to it on a daily basis at school and any social functions.


In my country of birth, Panama, religion was not such a constant topic or force of influence. We have had Arab and Jewish citizens forever, as well as the oldest Chinatown in the Western Hemisphere. We have one of the nine Baha'i temples in the world. It is diverse and considered a social faux pas to squash anyone else’s place in the community because of religion. It was just our normal.


In Texas, the opposite is true. I was a nonbeliever by nine. Christian doctrine was pervasive even in classrooms (although later I learned that was illegal). I learned how to adjust or deflect the constant attempts at conversion, which sometimes as a young child, meant I had to pretend to subscribe.


I was surrounded by a city known for one of the most churches per capita. I never infringed on anyone’s space or their beliefs, but it seemed like mine were not even allowed to be verbalized. The isolation and ostracization for being a nonbeliever was pretty intense -- hostile at best -- and this was in the early 2000s. I kept my mouth shut and just tried to get by and put my energy towards academics.


When I left for college in New Jersey the atmosphere was in great contrast to Texas’ religiosity. Both conservative and liberal Christians were accustomed to diversity and to varying global philosophies. I never felt uncomfortable or shut down and it pleased me to know such safe spaces existed.


After I had my son, I vowed to not ever have him go through that experience. I attempted to work hard as I could to relocate or afford childcare that was secular, but that proved impossible to find. After two years on the subsidized waitlist, I finally received an application. Although I knew that secular childcare would be a bit of a challenge, I never imagined there would only be a few options.


The last two years of my pursuit for an undergraduate education proved brutal in the quest for non-indoctrination. In my city, the majority of state-subsidized providers were religious in curriculum. Some of the staff and teachers were aggressive when I asked if they were secular and usually responded with the following:


“Why wouldn’t that be ok?!?!”


“I, mean, what else would you teach your child?“


“Its not going to hurt him!!!”


“Oh…..?” and a slew of disapproving, judgmental, and disgusted looks ensued.


I finally got a call back from the child development center at the local community college -- 3-year waiting list, by the way! -- that did not celebrate holidays, but instead highlighted global traditions and celebrations. Their mission was to show kids plurality around the world and did so even with decor and images in their classrooms. It truly was one of a kind. I even volunteered for a week to show the kids holidays from around the world: Diwali, Chinese New Year, Christmas in Puerto Rico and Malaysia!


The following year my commute became much more complicated. I had to find a halfway point as I had a course later in the day. I assumed that because the list covered two counties and was in more diverse neighborhoods, this wouldn't be an issue again. But, again, I was dumbfounded.


Most of the providers on the list were not secular. And a good portion of the schools were in actual churches (also not mentioned on the State Providers list). The biggest disappointment was that they did not include religious affiliations in their names, so there was a lot of confusion, lost time, and more in-person hostility from staff once I posed the question of secularism.


Also, these facilities were not modest on their religious education. It wasn't like they were maybe just praying before meals or singing “Jesus Loves Me” occasionally. Their entire curriculum -- videos, coloring sheets, room decor -- was bathed in religion. It was truly astonishing.


So what did I have to do at this point? Waste more valuable child, academic, and work time to go through a list of more than a hundred providers and personally call and ask before I paid a visit.


Unfortunately, the most unbiased and secular daycare was a bit off the road, but interestingly enough there was a diversity of Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist teachers all partaking in secular curriculums. There was also a Chinese daycare (half the day in English and half the day in Chinese) with Buddhas everywhere that was also secular. But it, too, was out of my way for my commute.  


I finally had to settle for a daycare that did pray before meals, (but initially told me religion was not any part of their day and they also considered themselves a secular place). After my time-consuming ordeal, I would have to be okay with it for a couple of months. My son was uncomfortable with the ritual. I explained to him that he didn't have to pray, but of course, he felt pressured as all the other kids did it and his teacher recommended it. He felt out of place in those instances, but he did enjoy the secular parts of his day. Luckily, he only stayed about 5 months, short enough to forget it all.


As I told this story to a friend, she, too, shared her story in another state having to spend time she didn't have finding secular providers on the state's subsidized list.


Like all parents, we want our little ones to spend their day in clean and safe spaces where they will be treated well and not pushed to do something they may not understand or feel pressured under a constant agenda. We desire unbiased and equitable education for all before they enter public schools. Like all parents, we want their minds to be nurtured and respected for their creativity and free thought. We would desire that for all children.


Secularism makes space for all, not just one style of thinking. And in time of need and perhaps even desperation, this should not be exploited for indoctrination and singularity in thought, especially for children.



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