One of the questions I’ve been asked a lot in relation to my atheism and growing level of activism is: Why? Why do I have to rock the boat? Why can’t I let people believe what they want to believe? Why don’t I ever talk about all the good Christians, but instead focus on the crazies? What can’t I just leave well enough alone? These are very fair questions, and ones I would love to answer. So let me attempt to show why this is so important to me, through a story I first heard the other day.
I was listening to the Dogma Debate podcast when I heard an interview with a woman named Kate Logan. Logan is a documentary director who’s finishing a film called Kidnapped for Christ. The film explores a private Christian school in the Dominican Republic called Escuela Caribe that wealthy religious parents can send their troubled kids. Teenagers are basically taken against their will to go to these schools where they’re abused and controlled brutally by the faculty. The trailer to the films gives a taste of the disturbing lives these kids are forced to live.
The film exposes the way just this one school is run, but there are many others both within and outside of the U.S. In the interview on Dogma Debate, Logan – who was a believer when this project began – explains how she originally meant to do a documentary about troubled kids getting their lives back on track with the help of Jesus. When she actually spent some time at the school, however, she says,
“I discovered this whole dark side of the school that I had not anticipated at all, where basically the whole philosophy of this program was to break down the students through, really kind of draconian rules… and control mechanisms… and also a lot of physical abuse, and what I would definitely consider emotional abuse as well.”
The film tells the story of one student at the school named David who was sent there because he’s gay. He wasn’t a troubled kid, or one who caused problems. Logan explains how David was a model student at school with great grades and an active social life before he disappeared.
“This was a kid who was a 4.0 student. He was in every activity in high school; in the plays, in track, in soccer. Had a lot of friends and people in the community who noticed immediately when he was gone.”
But for David’s parents, his being gay was reason enough to have him taken with no warning from his entire social structure and sent to a religious boarding school in another country. David also wasn’t the only student kidnapped in this method either.
“This happened to… about half the students there were taken in this way where basically parents would hire an outside company to come and take their kids… in the middle of the night without warning, without explanation…”
After kids are taken from their homes and flown to the Dominican Republic, they are put in an ultra-strict atmosphere without any freedom or privacy. Even their correspondence is monitored and censored by the school, and they have no way of leaving.
According to Logan, all students in Escueda Caribe are treated equally harshly. It doesn’t matter if they have an actual history of law-breaking or troublemaking or are sent – like in David’s case – for being gay, or just generally disagreeable (you know, like a teenager).
There’s also no oversight for schools like this. Facilities can open calling themselves a “Wilderness Camp” or a “Teen Center” and they never have to prove that they don’t abuse kids or even meet basic nutritional and hygienic standards. They’re given complete free reign to treat their students however they see fit.
The interview with Logan is incredible and heartbreaking, and it’s worth your time. The interview begins at the 48:20 mark.
I can’t stress enough that these schools damage the kids who attend them. Some of these schools attempt gay conversion therapy on their students; which is a practice considered by psychological experts to be so damaging that it’s been legally prohibited in two states.
This is why I fight religion. This is why I can’t leave well enough alone. There are too many stories of innocent people being harmed because of the influence of religion in their lives. Sometimes, like in David’s case, it’s not even his own life that’s been so corrupted by religion, but his parents.
I’ve been told that I should just ignore the extremists. They’re crazies, and their not worth my time. But the fact is, as long as people are being palpably harmed by religion, I don’t want to sit by and do nothing. There’s not much that I can do, but using this blog to shine a light on abuses like this isn’t nothing.
So share this story. Tell someone else about it. Post it on Facebook. Get the world out. Do something. But ignoring issues like this only allows them to continue.