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Posted by on Feb 13, 2009 in "Gagging" Christians | 23 comments

School defends stance on girl who told classmate she would “go to hell”

Interesting article in Ekklesia. It’s hard to comment, though, without more information.

[pasted in below]

The head teacher of a Devon school has defended its actions in relation to the mother of a young child who upset a classmate by telling her that she would “go to hell” if she did not believe in God and Jesus.

Gary Read, head teacher of Landscore Primary School, Threshers, in Credition, says he spoke “respectfully” to parent Jennie Cain – also the school receptionist – after her daughter had made the remark, and after the child herself was told it was inappropriate.

Mrs Cain, who says her five-year-old’s religious beliefs are “not being respected” is being backed by Christian campaigners who say that this is another case of “persecution” against Christians.

But the school strongly denies this. Its governors are also challenging Mrs Cain over remarks she made about it’s handling of the issue in an email sent to friends, which has been forwarded to them.

Mrs Cain has not been suspended or disciplined, but she did not go into school yesterday after the publicity.

Mr Read, the headteacher, explained: “We have 271 children in our school from a diversity of backgrounds… We encourage children to discuss their beliefs. What we do not condone is one child frightening a six-year-old with the prospect of ‘going to hell’ if she does not believe in God.”

He added: ““We are a very, very open school and are in no way intimidating people. Unfortunately the context of the conversation between the two girls had a religious nature, but it could have been over any issue. When one pupil is upset by another and is crying, we take action.

“In absolutely no way are we trying to suppress discussion or make it difficult for pupils to discuss or express faith. The school has had a lot of support from teachers and parents.”

Many media reports of the incident have so far downplayed the question of offence and fright, concentrating on allegations that the school told off the child for “talking about God” – the headline in the Exeter Express and Echo this morning.

The Telegraph reported the incident yesterday but made no reference to the “going to hell” remark. The exact wording of the conversation is now being disputed.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu has weighed into the dispute in support of the parent. And MP Ann Widdicombe, a convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism, has referred to the schools’s actions as “Christianophobia”.

But Simon Barrow of the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia commented: “Before shouting ‘persecution’ Christians need to reflect much more seriously on how they would feel if their children received similar treatment by non-believers or those of other faiths, and the school tolerated it.

“The issue here seems to be that one young child frightened another. It is surely right that behaviour of this kind is respectfully challenged. I am sure the great majority of Christian parents will want to encourage children to speak with love and respect, rather than condemnation, towards others.”

Notice how the Telegraph’s report omits one crucial detail – that the schools objection was not to a child talking to another about God and Jesus, but to one child scaring another to tears with threats of eternal damnation – thereby putting a very different spin on the story.

George Pitcher in The Telegraph backs Cain here. Note how Pitcher also misses (i) the key fact that the issue was a child being frightened to tears, (ii) that the school’s inquiry into possible misconduct has nothing to with Cain (the school receptionist) emailing other parents “for prayers”, but because she may have deliberately misrepresented to other parents what actually occurred.

The omission of these details from its initial report suggests the Telegraph author is either guilty of sloppy journalism, or else is deliberately seeking to spin this story into a case of “Christians being persecuted”. Ekklesia’s Christians, as usual, give a much more balanced account.

The Archbishop of York picked up on the story as the Telegraph reports today. This report does include the school’s side of the story, finally.


  1. Another example of behavior that should be considered a hate crime.

  2. This is a tricky one – schools encourage diversity and multicultural love-ins every other week, and then slam students for expressing their faith in any way that might cause offence.To be honest, six year olds are always trying to scare each other and the whole thing has been blown entirely out of proportion. I don’t personally believe that a six year old even has the capacity to understand the doctrine of salvation, nevermind accept it – so I’m not sure that much “faith” is being persecuted here.More likely, the mother felt so angry that her Christian parenting had been called into question that she just had to deflect the blame.

  3. “Mrs Cain denied that her daughter had “frightened” another student by telling her she would go to hell. She said Jasmine had been discussing God and going to Heaven with a friend, when an older girl joined in and asked “so how do you get into Hell then”. Mrs Cain claimed her daughter then replied: “By not believing in Jesus,” but added she never mentioned the words herself.” After reading the Telegraph article more thoroughly, I think it’s hilarious that a national broadsheet would actually use reported hearsay from the infant playground as “evidence” for anything.Yet another reason for me to despise that paper. Next week James from Year 5 assures us all that the credit crunch is a joke, he still gets a tenner a week – and everyone who goes to bed before 10 is a total loser.

  4. So how did this even become newsworthy?Suddenly being given a day off (presumably with pay) so as to avoid publicity becomes “tantamount to suspension”. Even if the problem was scaring another child to tears it has only been blown out of proportion by some elements regretably including an Archbishop wanting to make a fight of it.Still I am glad that the bishop has recognised that his condition is genetic -“For me, my trust in God revealed in Jesus Christ is part of my DNA, it is central to who I am and defines me and my place in the world. “

  5. CodeWordConduit has it pretty well summed up I don’t personally believe that a six year old even has the capacity to understand the doctrine of salvation, nevermind accept it – so I’m not sure that much “faith” is being persecuted here.I did a teaching practice in Year 1 (5-6 year olds) which involved me taking some RE sessions. (A whole other story.) Even by this age, most kids had turned off religion except for one boy who would pipe up lines like “Jesus died for our sins” at any oportunity. He’d obviously been taught to parrot these phrases at home – I asked him once to explain one of his statements and, predictably, he couldn’t.Dawkins is right when he says we should wince when we hear phrases like “Christian child” and “Muslim child”; a statement like her five-year-old’s religious beliefs are “not being respected” should raise an eyebrow at least.

  6. To Pitcher’s credit, he does acknowledge this possibility.…Now we should be careful of the context here. I’ve got into a right old lather in the past for what sounded like dreadful treatment of one my children at the hands of an apparently tormenting teacher, only to find out that my little darling had been perfectly revolting and the teacher had behaved entirely reasonably.For all I know, little Jasmine might have been frightening a child of another faith with stories of the Day of Judgment…The other point of interest here is that of the private email that somehow got into the head’s hands. With the caveat that I don’t know the contents for sure, Pitcher is talking drivel. I’m afraid it’s not acceptable to make certain allegations about one’s employer – even if you think the silent incantations of your friends are going to help the situation.As Stephen says, it’s difficult to be sure about this story as there are conflicting reports on the words uttered (and ignorance of the email’s contents). However, to call it Christianophobia (a la Widdie) is bordering on insanity.

  7. This story, of course, is another from the Chrisrtian Institute stable whose mission in life is to peddle dubious allegations of Chrisians being “persecuted”. One does, however, wonder how Mrs Cain’s private emails to supposedly close friends in her church came to be leaked to the headmaster?The real issue is that infecting childrens’ naive minds with religious twaddle about “hell” and eternal punishment should be reprobated by all responsible adults and educational authorities. To that extent, the headmaster was in the right. But as competing claims to religious “truth” are irreconcileable, the proper thing to teach children is that such and such a religious tradition believes so and so – but not that such beliefs are “the truth”.

  8. I’m becoming incapable of spelling “Christian” – probably from sheer weariness at the thought of all these earnest irrational po-faced people….

  9. Anticant said: “To that extent, the headmaster was in the right. But as competing claims to religious “truth” are irreconcileable, the proper thing to teach children is that such and such a religious tradition believes so and so – but not that such beliefs are “the truth”.I was brought up strictly Christian, to the point were my dad went into school to complain that a teacher had mentioned evolution to my nine year old sister.(After my sister had initiated the dialogue.)If we had been taught that our beliefs weren’t “the truth” there would have been uproar.I really don’t know how schools can handle all of these competing “absolute truths” diplomatically, without calling the kids’ parents liars in respect to their beliefs actually being “the truth”.

  10. When I said “our beliefs”, they were only professed beliefs on my part. Just to clarify.

  11. As Piaget demontrated, children are often more instinctively honest and worldly-wise than many adults, and can smell humbug a mile off [an MP friend told me that when he was about seven he decided religion was nonsense and asked his mother “how can grown-ups possibly believe all this stuff?”] When they first encounter adult irrationalism, a lot of children are at first puzzled, and then become angry at the obvious lies and nonsense they are told. I believe that this anger is at the heart of much adolescent anti-social behaviour and delinquency.

  12. It’s still a free country – just. If you trawl through the archive you will see that theists can and do comment here – some, such as Sye, interminably.

  13. So… according to an Archbishop, his religion is genetic. But would same Archbishop say homosexuality is a choice? Not terribly philosophical point, but I find it interesting nonetheless.

  14. re the Bishop’s Christian DNA.It is rather telling that he used that to some refer facet of his essential being rather than the traditional “soul”. It is good that at least some science is making an impact on popular culture.I look forward to a strain of Christian laboratory rodents or perhaps fruit flies being available to researchers shortly. Since such animals are widely cloned, the Bishop can achieve immortality by contributing a sample and he will dwell in the Lord’s mouse forever…Wonder if it is possible to get a Templeton and a Nobel at the same time?

  15. What is more interesting, coming from a background in English, is how these Christians are attempting to appropriate language of the gay-rights movement.The article says, “And MP Ann Widdicombe, a convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism, has referred to the schools’s actions as ‘Christianophobia’.”This example is tame ccompared to the Christians who attempt to appropriate the language of psychology and science.

  16. I agree, the ID movement is far more terrifying. But I can’t help but find it absurdly offensive to co-opt the arguments of the pro-homosexual movement while decrying those very same arguments as false or deceitful.

  17. EC, Kaitlyn I got the impression it was by extension from/analogy to “Islamophobia”, widely used in th UK press.

  18. I’m afraid my familiarity with UK press is dismally limited.

  19. EC As, indeed, is the UK press.

  20. There is a link between this post and the one Stephen published concerning ‘Bible Study Notes’: why God allows suffering. Refer: the argument by Tommy Mitchell (abovementioned post) hinges on ‘Man’s fall’ or ‘original sin’. It’s because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God that we are all consigned to hell, including 6 year olds, who don’t even understand the concept, except to appreciate it’s about as nightmarish a place as you can possibly imagine.This highlights a problem I have with fundamentalist teaching: that children are effectively taught that they are born evil, yet Jesus can eliminate that just by the power of thought. To challenge this idea rationally, in order to allay a child’s irrational fears, amounts to ‘Christianphobia’. How convenient for the Christian bully, yet unfortunate for the child.Regards, Paul.

  21. As a child I had a thought I’m sure many of us have. Suppose, when I die, I get to heaven, because I believed in Jesus. But I find out my best friend from school is suffering eternal torture in hell because he didn’t. Could I enjoy the experience of heaven knowing he was being tortured in hell? I decided I couldn’t.

  22. John Sentamu believes we live in a theocracy: “Those employed as public servants and charged with running our local services, be they schools, hospitals or councils, receive their public authority only under a system of governance which is constitutionally established from the ‘Queen in Parliament under God’.For public servants to use their authority to deny the legitimacy of the Christian faith, when they receive such authority only through the operation of that same faith, is not only unacceptable but an affront. “

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