Honorable mention — Andrew Haws: A classroom free from religion is full of thought

Andrew Haws

By Andrew Haws

As a high school teacher in a diverse school district, I am extremely passionate about spreading knowledge to my students. Quite often, our daily conversations lend themselves to developing the critical-thinking skills needed to promote a socially just society. Within these daily conversations, I bring forth newspaper articles, proposed legislation and public policy shifts that not only undermine the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, but also directly impact the livelihood of my students and their quest for equity.

More than any other generation, the students I teach are keenly aware of the social state that surrounds them. They are frustrated by the lack of understanding from the elected officials who have pledged to serve the people, and my students reach a point where they feel as if their voices will go unheard.

Part of what I try to do is help their voice reverberate by showing them the power of a collective, unified message. When Missouri decided to fund a private school playground with taxpayer money, and that decision was upheld by the Supreme Court, it was my job to help my students see that dollars were being stolen from their education, creating an unequal playing field and raising their college tuition. When bills designed to protect transgender students from the archaic institutions that alienate them were not even brought up for discussion in the Missouri state Senate, I brought up examples in the past where various groups were discriminated against. Interracial marriage was legal during the lives of many of my students’ parents, same-sex marriage only recently became legal, and Missouri is one of the states where private companies can still fire an individual for being gay.

Finally, when my students act incredulous that particular districts still fight battles to incorporate evolution and sexual education into the high school curriculum, I remind them of how the “Red Scare” formulated the inception of “One nation, under God.”

So where do these laws stem from? They are all derived from the teachings of the bible and are set in place to unfairly discriminate against those who hold differing beliefs. Moreover, they indoctrinate the minds of our children, the individuals that we seek to develop their own opinions and beliefs in order to help society progress forward. Without the ability to think

clearly and develop one’s mind free of bibliolatry, we could return to the times, as Ruth Green quipped, when religion ruled the world, it was referred to as the Dark Ages.

As a teacher, I am a human-rights advocate passionate about ensuring each of my students has the skills needed to navigate the misleading, dynamic and confusing world. Accepting those who are different than oneself, seeing their perspective and realizing that everybody has unique experiences that can positively change the world are characteristics of a freethinker, one who is immune to the oppressive beliefs of the bible.

The best way to fight the conservative sentiment of “In God We Trust” is to arm the next generation with the tools they need to see beyond the hateful rhetoric the bible promotes and see that the phrases “Black lives matter,” “Women’s rights are human rights,” “No human is illegal,” “Science is real” and “Love is love” are more than just words on a bumper sticker. They are ideals that we should uphold as a nation, and to do so, we must reject the push from conservative, Christian America to incorporate religion into social policy. Moreover, we cannot back down from the fight to ensure that future generations have the freedom to continue to question the hypocrisies that exist within biblical teachings.

Andrew, 30, from Kansas City, Mo., attends the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he is seeking a doctorate of education in urban leadership. He attended Truman State University as an undergrad, getting a degree in mathematics.  He is the father of a 1-year-old child.