Houston’s preeminent Christian radio station, KSBJ 89.3 (GOD LISTENS), has been running a project lately where they record school children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. It started with homeschool collectives and Christian academies like Cornerstone, but has branched off into public schools like Woodland Acres Elementary (Galena Park ISD), Sullivan Middle School (Pasadena ISD), and Ponderosa Elementary School (Spring ISD). Schools can petition to have KSBJ’s van pull into their parking lot, record the kids, and have them on the air.

The Pledge of Allegiance (and it’s Twitter version, the Texas Pledge) is already one of those things that we do in public schools that causes friction between the Christians and non-Christians of the country. For most of America’s history, virtually no one felt the need to worship the flag. In fact, the Flag Code didn’t even become law until 1976.

The origins of flag pledges have little to do with patriotism and more to do with fear of immigrants. Flag rituals were seen as ways to ensure proper loyalty to America. As immigration increased around the end of the 19th century, groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution petitioned for flags in schools (not really a thing before then) and to have kids say the pledge, hoping for a nice, homogenous world where everyone put their version of America first and any sort of alien ideas second. It worked, too.

Then, there came the addition of “under God” to the Pledge in the mid-20th century. There were several reasons for its inclusion, none of them particularly savory. The commonly-known reason is that it was a backlash against the Red Scare, but it also has a lot to do with the fact that Christianity and capitalism united to combat the New Deal. The idea that wealth is a heavenly blessing has become particularly entrenched here in Houston, where we had to shame millionaire mega-pastor Joel Osteen into opening his massive house of worship to refugees in Hurricane Harvey.

So, the Pledge is problematic in many ways, and a lot of us who don’t identify as Christian find it annoying at the very least. I’ve long since told my daughter she’s not required to say it, or say “under God” if she wants to say the rest, and legally she has every right to do that.

Presumably, any kid that finds themselves in a classroom with KSBJ has that same option, but not according to Patheos. Hemant Mehta reports…

“According to a reader who contacted me, there’s a family that doesn’t want their child to be part of one of these events, but their complaints are going nowhere. They spoke with the principal… but the event wasn’t canceled. Right now, their child has the option of participating or facing social isolation by sitting out,” he said. “It’s not a position any child should be put in.”

I don’t like to imagine my daughter sitting off the sidelines during one of these events because of her beliefs. She shouldn’t HAVE to sit out on the sidelines, anyway. Nor should the many other non-Christians — many of whom are immigrants or the children of immigrants — either so that KSBJ can use their classmates voices to enrich their religious programming. It’s not like there aren’t dozens of religious groups and schools in the Houston area where this would be completely appropriate.

The most galling bit of this comes from KSBJ’s Say the Pledge page. On it, the station assures the participants they will all receive “a KSBJ certificate for showing their patriotism.”

Patriotism is not linked to Christianity. This isn’t a Christian nation, just a nation with Christians in it. Allowing people to worship as they please within the space designed for worship and sneaking it into spaces where everyone regardless of faith should feel comfortable are not the same thing. There’s a difference between something like a voluntary after school faith club and shoving popular Christian mass media into a regular public ritual at compulsory institutions.

Currently, there’s a petition going around to try and stop this program from happening in public schools. It already has over a thousand signatures. The petition points out, rightly, that even if a child does participate out of peer pressure, they have to tune into Christian radio if they want to hear themselves. It’s, frankly, a rather conniving way to promote a radio station with a message that has no business in a secular house of learning.

Like most non-religious people, I have no problem with prayer in schools or with student-led extracurricular activities that are centered around faith — any faith. What we have a problem with is the unending encroachment of religious organizations on things that belong to everyone that seeks to make Christianity some sort of default setting the rest of us are aberrations for not joining. KSBJ needs to be rejecting applications from public schools, and the school districts should not be making them in the first place. There’s already too much casual nationalism in this country as it is, and tying it to religious fervor only makes us look more and more like an emerging theocracy.

Worship on your own time. These kids have math to get to.