Ask an Atheist is a local (Pacific Northwest) radio show out of Lakewood, Wa. I listened to one of their most recent episodes in which the topic was parenting and atheism. They brought up the issue of allowing, as an atheist parent, your child to attend religious services.
My take is the same as one of the hosts (who is currently raising a child): I do not mind my child attending a church service with a trusted family member or friend, provided my child wanted to go. But sending my child off to church with people I do not know is unacceptable. Yet, I was reminded by the conversation during the show, that this is pretty common place.
The same host described this situation that happened to her: her son plays with a neighbor girl in their apartment complex regularly. One Saturday, the girl’s mother, whom she had never formally met, asks to take her son to an event “tomorrow morning”. She had to drag it out of her that this event was church.
The host said she had two issues: 1) not being up front about where she was asking to take her son, and 2) considering that they were barely acquainted, leaving her out of the invitation and only inviting her son.
A caller recounted a similar situation with her daughter, but it was much worse. Every Sunday, a van would come to the caller’s complex to pick kids up and take them to a local church. When asked by a neighbor why she didn’t allow her daughter to go, she said, “I don’t know anyone at this church or where they are going.” The neighbor is shocked and says, “But it’s a church!” As if bad things don’t happen to children at church.
The church where I grew up used to bus kids (in a van) from a nearby housing project to attend Vacation Bible School during the summers. While some parents might have had friends or relatives that were familiar with our church (or perhaps even attended a service themselves), I know there were some that knew nothing much about us. And they, I believe now in retrospect, carelessly let their kids go to a strange place with adults they never met.
It is striking, the assumptions we make culturally, when any event is associated with a religious organization. This can be very dangerous, especially when it comes to children’s safety.