Yet another blog for spewing. This one may end up with a lot of religious and social content.


Religious Instruction and Teens

There has been a bit of turmoil roiling about the web about people who "teach" teens their religion. It seems as if any old Christian church is free to indoctrinate any non-believing teens that it can get through its doors, but if pagans and heathens teach teens about their religion, they get slammed by the parents as "contributing to the delinquency of a minor", "sexual predators", or "abuse of trust", etc. The argument is that this is "not fair".

If it were that simple, the argument would be absolutely correct. However, the reality is a bit different.

First, the true unfairness: Christianity is an "accepted" religion to teach kids about, even if their parents don't approve. Any suits about it would get laughed out of court, because it's ubiquitous. If a Muslim, Hindu or Pagan parent gets bent out of shape about their kid attending a Christian service, they have little recourse.

Of course, it could be, and is, argued that a service isn't "instruction". Why don't they get accused of molestation and contribution to delinquency? Because they are general thought to be "safe" - but look at the catholic priests and boys issues, even for parentally approved interactions!

However, most Christian services and instruction take place in an open, public setting. There are lots of people, lots of "upstanding" witnesses. It becomes much harder to prove misconduct in that environment. Still, very few fundamentalist/evangelical preachers ask for permission slips from their under-age attendees whose parents aren't present or members also. Bad, bad news, IMO. I'd love to see one of those deceptive religion sellers hoist on their own petard for that.

Pagan instruction tends to be one-on-one, or small group, and not public. This, then, can be twisted much more easily by a DA looking to make a name, or a parent with a control issue.

Adults who teach teens tend to be targets of overzealous prosecution, and they have a lot to lose. How would you like to be arrested, have your reputation and job ruined, be imprisoned and/or sued for everything you own, have a criminal record, and possibly to be branded a "sex offender" because you had a teen over to your house for simple religious instruction? This is also why most capable teachers won't teach teens, period. Not in any tradition where "sky clad" or "sex positive" could even be attributed to it - even if you don't say a word about it!

Now, this is not to say that adult pagans can't give information to teens. They must, however, be more careful of how they do so, to protect themselves and the community.

First, the don'ts:
  • Don't meet alone with a teen. One-on-one must wait for adulthood or parental permission.
  • Don't meet with teens in a private location.
  • Don't delve into the sex, body image, and other anti-puritanical stuff yet.
  • Don't encourage the kid to lie to their parents. The truth or silence does just as well.
  • Don't lie about your own age to teens you are working with.
Then, the dos:
  • Do ask for parental permission, in writing (see below).
  • Do invite teens to open and public events.
  • Do post informational material and resource lists on the web.
  • Do answer email and chat questions.
  • Do be willing to answer parental questions.
  • Do give the teens credit for some brains.
  • Do counsel patience for teens whose parents are averse to the entire idea, as much as it sucks.
About permission slips - here's a sample:
I, __________________________, give my permission for my son/daughter, ___________________________, to take religious instruction with ___________________________________. I understand that this instruction is pagan/heathen in nature, and is viewed by some as non-mainstream.

Signed: ________________________________________

Date: ________________ Phone Number: _______________________
A permission slip should be designed to cover the instructor's ass, the kid's ass, and the parent's ass from busybodies and nosy parkers, as well as parents. If the parent knows, and assents, you can do formal initiatory instruction. If not, well, you need to stick to what you can point to that is publicly available.

IMO, any religious instruction (sermons, schooling, "abstinence education") of minors should require a permission slip of this sort. If I had a kid, and they were being preached at or indoctrinated, I would want to know about it, and if a preacher or "witness" wanted to drag them to services, they could damn well get my permission.

If the parents don't approve, the teen is very limited as to what can be done for them. Yes, they could seek emancipation, but that has its own troubles. Having the kid lie about their activities to their parents is bad for both your ethics, and their ethical development. Sometimes, putting up with fundie indoctrination can be a test of patience and resolve.

This is where the "Die Gedanken Sind Frei" (Our Thoughts Are Free) concept comes in: a teen's parents may have control over what the teen is permitted to do or attend, but there is no moral way for them to control what they think.

If they are true jerks, they can send the teen to one of those nasty "boot camps" that break and brainwash the kid. However, that is only quasi-legal (because of the physical and psychological torture involved), and definitely unethical and immoral (a true religion doesn't convert or retain by brainwashing). Also, it can backfire horribly. I know adults who have been through those camps, and they hate their families with a passion, and suffer PTSD on top of it.

So, if the teens' parents are hostile, the best advice is for the teen to keep their views on religion to himself, attend whatever church services the parents require, and read whatever religious information is freely, publicly available, possibly at the library. It keeps the peace in the home, teaches patience, and prepares the teen for a lifetime of being a member of a misunderstood and much maligned minority religion.

© 2007 by Ravan Asteris. Permission to repost granted, provided the text is unaltered and the attribution and copyright notices are retained.


Daven said...

Well done and well said. I agree completely.

brock_tn said...

A couple of points:

The Supreme Court has ruled on two separate occasions that parents have a fundamental right to determine what is and is not an appropriate upbringing for their children, and that this specifically includes religious instruction. The legal upshot of this is that providing religious instruction to a minor child WITHOUT parental permission is considered tortious behavior in all 50 states. In layman's terms, you can be sued for teaching a child about religion without parental consent. In some states, it is considered criminal behavior: genrally misdemeanor "interference with custodial rights," or something similar.

Second point: if you DO get sued, a written permission slip is likely to be useless. All plaintiffs have to do is put a weeping mother on the witness stand, saying "Well, yes, I did give my permission initially, but if I had had ANY idea of what they were ACTUALLY going to be teaching my precious darling I would NEVER have given my consent." At which point, you'll be lucky if the jury doesn't recommend that you be flogged.

Besides, I can't speak for other pagan religions, but Wicca isn't really a religion for kids, the peculiar ideas of the Frosts notwithstanding.

Ravan Asteris said...


On the second point, the same could be said if a hate-filled fundie taught a flowers and faeries pagan kid. However, the idea behind getting a permission slip is to encourage informed consent.

Also, I'm not just talking about BT Wicca, but all pagan/heathen paths. IMO, any religious instruction of a minor should have written permission from the parent(s), no matter how "mainstream". Fire and brimstone Christianity is a potentially damaging religion, especially if it leads to the kid coming home and telling the parents that they're "going to hell" for whatever reason.

sapphoq said...

Here's another point.

The United Nations "Rights of a Child"-- which includes the rights of children to practice a religion other than the religion of their parents-- was not ratified by the United States.
[from I believe].

Whether or not the christians are "doing it," in the United States the religious training and instruction of any child is left up to the decision of the parents or whoever has legal custody.

That is as it should be.

Unfortunately with Bush's funding of so-called faith-based organizations and fundamentalist christian influx into public schools [], there exists in this country some serious inequalities in terms of actionable complaints in the court system.

I am in no way qualified to teach any pagan path to anyone. If I were, I certainly would not take on a teen as a student under any circumstances.