A couple of times in my writings for Chronicles I’ve mentioned “functionally atheist government schools.” That’s what they’ve been since the early 1960s, when several U.S. Supreme Court edicts effectively banned any mention of religion, or anything approaching religion, from public schools.

I remember sitting in my 6th grade class at Elliott Elementary School in Westland, Mich. in 1966, praying silently while wondering if I would get caught. It’s now almost 50 years later. Now this:

“DYER COUNTY, Tenn. (CBS Charlotte) – A high school student was allegedly suspended after breaking a class rule of saying ‘bless you’ after a classmate sneezed.

“Kendra Turner, a senior at Dyer County High School, said bless you to her classmate who sneezed and the teacher told her that the term was for church.

“ ‘She said that we’re not going to have godly speaking in her class and that’s when I said we have a constitutional right,’ Turner told WMC.

“When she defended her actions, the teacher told Turner to see an administrator. The student said that she had to finish the class period in in-school suspension.”

It’s Newspeak in action. Doupleplusgood.

The idea that schools, of all things, could be neutral on religion is an absurdity. Every writer on education, from Plato to Luther to St. Ignatius Loyola to Lenin to Orwell, understood that what kids learn is what they grow up to believe. No religion in school means a lot of kids will grow up atheist. Sure, a student from a seriously religious home likely will keep his family’s religion. The parents will correct the errors of the public school.

But most families nowadays only lightly embrace religion, if at all. So what the school says goes into the child’s soul – often for good. There are other reasons, such as the general fecklessness of Christian clergymen of all denominations the past 50 years, but the atheist school indoctrination probably is the major factor in the sharp decline in religious belief in recent decades.

By the way, it’s curious this attack on the child saying “Bless you!” occurred in Tennessee. That’s where the infamous Monkey Trial took place in 1925, about whether or not a teacher could teach evolution in the classroom. The teacher lost in what became a major cause celebre for secularizing society. It produced the awful Inherit the Wind movie and play.

But did you know the teacher at the center of the controversy, John T. Scopes, taught that, according to evolution, blacks were inferior to whites? And Scopes taught that eugenics was needed to “improve” the human race?

Those facts sure aren’t part of the general narrative of “separation of church and state,” nor in Inherit the Wind.

The Tennessee incidents, both today and in 1925, indicate why conservatives should forget about “reforming” the public schools. It’s just a waste of time. Instead, alternative private, parochial and home schools should be set up in every way possible.

Bless you.