A student in Nicosia is taking social media by storm, after she wrote a letter criticizing school prayer and how religion is being taught in state schools in the Republic of Cyprus.
According to local media, a student in eleventh grade at Nicosia’s Dasoupoli High School wrote a letter in her school paper questioning the value of school prayer and accusing the system of acting like a Sunday school.
The letter was picked up by local media following reports that a group of theology teachers called for the publishers of the school paper to be reprimanded. In Facebook comments, critics also said they would be drafting a letter to the education minister, while others said atheists and Hellene-haters were behind the publication.
But other critics cried foul over the reaction, which was akin to bullying as supporters of the teen described it, saying forcing students to fall in line with the views of teachers was against freedom of expression and freedom of thought.
'The class on religion is instructing and preaching to students for twelve consecutive years with a sole purpose on how they can become active members of the Christian Orthodox Church'
In the letter, the teenager called on officials to turn a mandatory religion class into an elective as well as allow it to evolve into an all-encompassing religious studies course.
“The class on religion is instructing and preaching to students for twelve consecutive years with a sole purpose on how they can become active members of the Christian Orthodox Church,” she wrote, adding that students’ personal beliefs were not being taken into account.
The student also criticized schools for their lack in providing a choice to students who may wish to enroll in a course to pursue further education of religions of the world as a matter of a personal fulfillment journey.
“It is never a question of denying students an opportunity to be educated on matters regarding their own religion,” she wrote, adding that “what we are asking for is to have a more appropriate approach.”
No benefit in school prayer, student says
The letter also criticized in-class group prayer in the mornings as well as school-sanctioned trips to church services, saying there was no real benefit for students who either “repeated sentences like robots” or looked for excuses to stay in the church courtyard during services.
“Whoever believes that prayer is so important as to impose it on children for the first 18 years of their life, they could simply teach them to dedicate two minutes of their time every morning to pray at home,” she wrote.
Educators' online comments akin to bullying
Comments on Facebook then exploded online with many users including teachers and educators delving into matters over politics of religion and ethnic identity, while some responders described the letter and its author using language inappropriate for replication in a news story.
One user went as far as to say “the student was very lucky that burning non believers at the stake was a practice that had faded away” while also adding that “when societies do not revolt because some teachers speak in the name of freedom of expression, then societies get the teachers they deserve.”
Another user said he wanted to vomit after seeing comments from educators that were essentially “in favour of censorship” while also calling for those teachers to be fired for “reaching a point where they were essentially bullying the student.”
One teacher reportedly had expressed regret online over giving the student 20/20 as her final grade.
A number of teachers and educators wrote on the student’s Facebook page, expressing solidarity and support for her cause.