I went to Wellington College, a decile 10 state-school that tried its hardest to pretend it was an expensive private school. To give an example of what I mean, we weren’t allowed mufti days because it would “ruin the school’s reputation”.
Twice a week, we would have assemblies. As the school hall wasn’t big enough for the whole school, one year level would have their own assembly in a separate hall, on rotation. The circumstances from full assemblies to year assemblies was slightly different, with regards to the level of Christianity that was pushed upon us, but both involved it.
In the school assemblies, the whole school was to stand and recite the Lord’s prayer. This was lead by the head prefect – at the time I thought it was just a quirk, but now it seems that it may have been to get around the laws regarding prayer in schools. Additionally, we would sing one or two hymns, always of a Christian nature. In the year level assemblies neither of these occurred, but once every term or two we would be addressed by a “guest speaker” – a Christian who would discuss Jesus with us, and hand out free copies of the Christian Bible at the end of the assembly.
In the school assemblies, the pressure on all the students to recite the Lord’s prayer was intense. If you stood silent, the teachers would stare intensely at you, making sure you knew they disapproved. On a couple of occasions, I was actually confronted by teachers demanding to know why I wasn’t reciting the prayer with the rest of the school! In addition, the intense peer pressure that always exists at high school from the other students was ever present in this case.
How did I react? For a time I remained silent, but stood. After a decent length of time at the school, however, the pressure got to me, and I felt forced to mouth along silently with the prayer simply so I wouldn’t be noticed. I can recall at least one other Jewish student and one Hindu student that dealt with the intense pressure the same way, and also mouthed along with this Christian prayer. I did the same with the hymns.
A short time later, I began instead reciting the Shema during assembly. The Shema is one of the most important prayers in Jewish liturgy, and could possibly be referred to as the Jewish version of the Lord’s prayer. Well, to be fair, it should be said that the Lord’s prayer is the Christian version of the Shema, as the Shema came far earlier. I did this despite already calling myself an atheist, with a strong non-belief in God, simply because the pressure was so great. I guess I figured if I was going to recite something I didn’t agree with, at least it should be from my own culture. Still, the though of an atheist proclaiming “Hear oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one” (translation of the first line of the Shema) is a little odd, to say the least.
Now that I’m a little more mature, and a lot more politically aware, the fact that I was coerced into that situation makes me really angry. Wellington College, a state run school, had no right to force one religion upon all its students to the exclusion of all others. As far as I know, they probably still do.