Episode 66: Breaking Down Societal Norms: Henry Rollins and Release Time Religious Education
Growing up a punk rock fan, I’ve always admired the raw emotion and honesty embedded in the genre. Reflecting this, we dive into the life of punk rock legend Henry Rollins and uncover the turbulent family dynamics that shaped him. You’ll learn how those experiences shed light on the importance of families choosing to remain together out of love, not obligation, unearthing the implications of societal and religious pressures on family ties. Whether it’s Rollins’ strained relationship with his mother and stepfather or a family member of mine who severed ties with her own mother, we challenge the ‘perfect’ nuclear family narrative that pervades our society.
Building on the theme of societal pressures, we shift the conversation to a contentious issue that has stirred my passion for the longest time: religious education in public schools. In Ohio, a unique arrangement known as Release Time Religious Education allows public school students to attend Bible school classes during the school day. As a humanist and atheist, we grapple with the thorny issues this raises, not least the infiltration of LifeWise Academy, a group pushing for these Bible classes, into our school systems. While sifting through the delicate balance of religion and education, we raise critical questions about the role of school district personnel in student recruitment for these classes and the potential dangers therein. So, tune in for this eye-opening exploration of familial and societal tensions.
01:00 Henry Rollins And The Myth Of The Nuclear Family
15:59 Dealing with 1st Amendment Violations In Release Time Religious Education Classes
Let us Know Your Public School Religious Release Time Story (all information provided will be kept confidential)
Click Here to Read Full Transcript
[0:00] This is Glass City Humanist, a show about humanism, humanist values, by a humanist. Here is your host, Douglas Berger. I had the pleasure of attending a spoken word performance by punk rock legend Henry Rollins, and he had some good stuff to say about families. Then I discussed the insidious invasion of released time religious education in Ohio public schools and the First Amendment violations spilling over the wall between church and state. Glass City Humanist is an outreach project of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie, building community through compassion and reason for a better tomorrow.
[0:59] Welcome to another episode of the Glass City Humanist. My name is Doug Berger. I am your host. And today I don’t have an interview ready to go. I have two or three in the fire as it were. So they’ll be coming up in future episodes. But I have plenty to talk about today. The first thing I want to talk about is the other night I attended a spoken word event. The first time I’ve ever been to a spoken word event. And basically that’s a concert where somebody talks.
[1:37] And it happened to be the punk rocker, singer, rock contour, sometime actor, comedian, Henry Rollins. He was formerly the lead singer of the punk band Black Flag, and he’s well known for that. If you go on to the YouTube and Google Black Flag, you’ll see him in all his glory as a punk rocker. He used to really get into it, beat up people, and prance around with no shirt on, and screaming, and the whole nine yards. And he was doing his… he was on tour, his spoken word tour, no music, it was just him talking at the Maumee Indoor Theater in Maumee. Beautiful Maumee, Ohio. And I had never been in the Maumee Indoor Theater, and it’s a very nice facility, well maintained, clean. You know, they really take good care of it. The parking wasn’t that great. Maumee is in the process of transitioning some of their roadways, and so they’ve got a lot that’s torn up. But I lucked out and I was able to find a parking spot close by, and enjoyed myself immensely. Henry spoke for two hours, more than two hours, straight.
[3:05] Standing at the stage, and I took a picture of him and I’ll show the picture up. And so that’s how he stood the entire time. Didn’t take a break, didn’t take a sip of water, didn’t sit down, didn’t take any long pauses. It was constant stories. And I admit that I like punk rock. I’ve been a fan of punk rock since the late 70s, early 80s, when I first heard Blondie.
[3:43] And heard about CBGBs in New York and the Ramones and things like that. And then, of course, then you had the Sex Pistols, which were really, you know, pretty famous or infamous, as it were, and The Clash and things like that. You know, I really, really got into punk rock. Didn’t care for the violence so much, or the mosh pits, and I was probably too young to get into clubs at that time. But I did listen to the music and really enjoyed it. So I really wanted to see Henry Rollins. And so I’m glad I went. And he told a lot of stories. One of my favorites that he told is he pretty much gave his whole entire life story, from when he was born till when his mother passed away last year. And it included how he got into Black Flag and the whole nine yards. He did not have a happy childhood. His mom and his dad were both alcoholics and they abused him. And I guess he was sexually assaulted at some point during his youth. And he, you know, and she would have, she would have, she was probably.
[4:59] Might’ve been bipolar or something, and she’d have these attacks, and he would get upset about it. And she eventually married another guy who was the total complete opposite of her. And they were together until they both passed away recently. And, And so he really had a strange, a very strange relationship with his family. And in fact, at one point in the story, he tells that, you know, he graduated from high school in 1979 and he wanted out of there. He didn’t want to have anything to do with any of those people ever again. And essentially he didn’t.
[5:38] His stepsisters contacted him and let him know that his stepdad had died and they were going to spread his ashes. He didn’t go to that. And his mother eventually passed away and they had her cremated and invited him to have come and spread her ashes and he didn’t want to do that they even offered to give him her ashes and he refused you know he really had some major issues with his mother and there’s a lot of people that are like that you know you know one of my favorite shows growing up as a kid was the Brady Bunch, you know, even though it wasn’t, even though that the kids weren’t all, they were all half siblings and it was a blended family, you know, people thought that that’s how family should be. You know, we still have, we still have religious conservatives who believe that’s how family should be, mom and dad and kids. And it’s not like that. I didn’t grow up that way. I have friends of mine that didn’t grow up that way. In fact, when he was talking about his mother’s ashes, that reminded me of a friend of mine, a real close friend of mine, who had almost the same kind of.
[6:50] Thing with her mother’s ashes. She didn’t want them, you know, because they had a terrible relationship. You know, but a lot of times you have a terrible relationship with your family and, you’re still Your family, you know, it’s their blood. Yeah, they’re they’re related to you and in as much, you know, and hey, I People cut off family members all the time, I know people in my family have done that, you know They’ve cut off people the other day a member of my family had an interview in a newspaper for something that they did, It was about cancer and they talked about how their mother had passed away from cancer, Well, this person, this family member’s mother didn’t pass away from cancer. Her stepmother passed away from cancer. But because she had a bad relationship with her biological mother, she just kind of like dismissed her.
[7:52] You know, and so families are like that, you know, it’s not there’s when people talk about nuclear families. I did an interview for another podcast with somebody who was taught about restoring the nuclear family. That doesn’t exist. That’s not something that we should pine for. You know, basically, what it is, is families should be happy. They should be to get be together because they want to be together. And if they don’t want to be together, they shouldn’t be forced to stay together. You know, if some of these religious conservatives wanna do away with like divorce, no fault divorce, and they wanna force women to bring pregnancies to term, and things like that because they think that they’re supporting or protecting the family.
[8:42] And that’s just bad. It’s just a bad way of looking at things. And so I really appreciated Henry Rollins’ talk about that. You know, he didn’t shy away from, you know, opening the door on his skeletons in his family’s closet, because there was a lot of them. And he told it in a funny way. I mean, you kind of laughed and he felt, and he kept telling, you know, he’s like, I know I’m a terrible person for thinking that. He’s not, he’s normal. People have different relationships with their families, all over the place. I know from personal experience, growing up.
[9:20] We’d go over to my grandma’s house for Christmas and Thanksgiving every year, and there would be 20 people in this crammed into this small house 1940 style house and and many of the adults smoked cigarettes so the air quality was not good anyway and and so that’s what we did every year and the siblings and that family hated each other, kind of. They kind of hated each other, talked bad about him, talked behind their back. One of the husbands of one of my uncles, he married into the family and my grandpa just hated his guts and talked bad about him, talked smack behind his back all the time.
[10:11] You know, but that’s what you did when you were a family, at least when I was a kid. You went to Grandma and Grandpa’s house because they wanted you to come over to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for holidays. And that’s what you did. And you bit your tongue and and you waited till you got in the car, when you’re driving home and then and then it would all come out. Well, so and so said this and so and so did that. And it was just like it’s like, Merry Christmas. You know, it was just wild. And so eventually, my grandma passed away in 2008, and we have not had a family get together since then. My grandpa passed away in 2014, I believe it was. And we do not get together anymore, at all. That core family does not get together anymore, ever, because they all hate each other’s guts. They don’t want to be in the same room with them. You know, it’s bad blood, bad blood growing up. You know, and that’s how some that’s just how some families are.
[11:20] And so, you know, I grew up in that that atmosphere, and it was always seemed wrong to me that that you would hate your relatives so much that you didn’t want to be in the same room with them. I try to avoid that I treat, you know, and I might have talked about this before, when I was in college, somebody accused me of treating everybody the same.
[11:46] Because that’s what I used to do. I used to treat everybody the same. Whether you are a friend of mine or not a friend of mine. You know, it’s like, and it’s like, Henry Rollins talked about this too. You know, maybe if we’re nicer to each other, things might be better in this world. You know, and I’m not saying that you overlook bad stuff. You know, like if somebody’s a child abuser or a husband cheats on a wife and you find out about it. You don’t overlook bad stuff. It’s just, you put it in perspective and you try to work around the bad stuff that you can work around. You know, like maybe Uncle Gene, maybe he’s just weird. So you just don’t spend as much time. But if he calls up and says, hey I’ve got a broken pipe, will you come over and help me? You go over and help. I just have that where a lot of people in my family just don’t talk to each other anymore. It’s sad. It’s sad. I get texts and they’ll say, tell your mother this. And it’s like, no, you tell my mom that. But they don’t, because they don’t talk to And it’s just, yeah. But it was good to hear Henry talk about his family, because that’s how I feel, is that families are different.
[13:13] No matter where you’re at or how, the Brady Bunch, that was an aspirational thing. When people talk about nuclear families, that’s aspirational. But the one thing you don’t want to do is you don’t want to force people to conform. Because that’s when you hurt people. It’s like couples shouldn’t be in a relationship if they’re not happy. And if they’re not happy, then they need to not be a couple anymore. It’s just, you know… And then, you know, and then some people will say, well, I had a child with this person, so we can’t… You know, we need to get married, or… No, you don’t! That’s society. That’s a social construct. You know, I was reading some religious conservative on Twitter the other day talked about… they were complaining about abortion, And they’re saying that people think it’s normal because society doesn’t frown on it. And it’s like, yeah, society still frowns on it. That’s why we still debate abortion in this country. But it still doesn’t matter. Your opinion does not matter what the decision a woman makes, between her and her doctor.
[14:32] If you hate abortion, you know the old song, if you hate abortion, don’t have one. You know, if you don’t like drag queen shows don’t go to one. You know, there’s another, you know, there’s another bill that’s going through the Ohio legislature that would limit drag queen performances. And I might have talked about this before, but it starts with the assumption that a drag queen performance is obscene. Just because it’s a man dressed as a woman dancing and singing, they think that that’s obscene because it’s a man dressed as a woman. You know, not so much a woman dressed as a man that they never hardly ever talk about that. They’re always worried about the men that are dressed as women. And, again, it’s not your opinion. Your opinion doesn’t matter whether or not you think it’s obscene. But we have that going on all the time. And so I really appreciate Henry Rollins’ stories about family. For more information about the topics in this episode, including links used, please visit the episode page, at glasscityhumanist.show.
[15:59] Here in Ohio, and I’m sure it happens in other states, They have a concept here called Release Time Religious Education, and what that means is that public schools are allowed to let public school students leave school during the school day, to attend a Bible school class. Usually it’s once a week for the whole year, and what they do is they have these outside groups start these Bible classes. They can’t do it inside a public school. That’s unconstitutional. But what they do is they set up a nearby church or another building, and they recruit these students to come to it. And then they transport the students, either walk them or bus them, to this off-campus location. They have their Bible school class. Then they get back on the bus, or they walk back to school and continue with their school day. Now, as a humanist and an atheist, I find the whole concept offensive.
[17:18] You know, a public school should be for learning basic skills to start with, reading, writing, arithmetic. They should learn social studies. They should learn how they live in the world. Now, if they want to study religion, I don’t have a problem with that being part of the social studies curriculum where you study, you’re like, Muslim, Islam started with Muhammad and Christianity started with Jesus, according to some records. And then you have the Quakers and the Amish. And you talk about it as a comparative thing. You talk about all the different religions that people have. You don’t favor one over another, and you don’t prophetize. You don’t, say, you know, here’s a Bible quote, and so it’s true. You don’t do that to public school students. And the reason why is because of past court cases where the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public school students are captive.
[18:18] They are required to be there. It’s compulsory attendance laws that are constitutional. So they are forced to be in that classroom. And so because they are forced to be in that classroom, the school cannot preach to them, prophetize. They can’t have Bible classes. They can’t pray. That is to be left for the parents, and at home and outside school except for release time education classes. And.
[18:51] What this is is this is just an end around to the separation of church and state. This is the way that religious believers are trying to get religion back into the school systems after they were after it was removed and it I almost I almost framed it like they do. Religion was not removed from the school. What they removed from the school district was that the school district would coerce students to comply and conform and pray a certain sect. Christianity. Mostly Christianity. Unless you’re at a public school that are full of Catholics and they would study Catholicism. If you want to go to a private school, you want to be homeschooled and learn the Bible, more, power to you. But in the public school, the school is supposed to be neutral when it comes to religion.
[19:50] And I know what you’re saying. You’re saying, but Doug, you get off for Christmas. You have Christmas pageants and all that stuff. Yeah, that’s how it used to be. You know, I don’t think, knowing what we know now with the court cases and everything from the 40s onward, I don’t think we would have, because a lot of these things are like traditions. This is stuff that was done in the early days and nobody thought anything of it. And now if you try to get rid of it, people complain. It’s kind of like the statues of Confederate generals. You know, Confederate generals should not have statues. They lost the war. You know, the forts, the army forts being named after Confederate generals. You shouldn’t be naming stuff after Confederate generals. They lost the war. But that’s how they thought in the early 1900s when they put all this stuff up. You know, if it was today, we would know not to do that. Anyway, so that’s what a lot of these religious observances that we do in the public realm, that’s how they got their start. They started a long time ago before any, most of us were born and it just kind of gets endemic and they just keep doing it and keep doing it. And then when you try to stop to do it, then people complain because it’s tradition.
[21:08] So these religious people try to do this end around to try to get religion back in the schools, by setting up these Bible classes outside of school. Now here in Ohio, there’s a major player that’s called the LifeWise Academy, and it’s strictly Christian-based, and they have a lot of money that they spend on this, even though that they raise money locally, it’s based on donations. The donations pay for teachers, pay for transportation, for location. And so what they do is they go into an area, it’s supposed to be grassroots.
[21:49] And so you might have like a group of people, like five or six people in an area that want to bring it to their local school. So they’ll form a committee and they’ll get other people, volunteers to help out. They’ll raise money and then they’ll go to the school district and try to get it approved. Now, according to Ohio law, school districts do not have to approve release time, education, religious education classes. It is up to the school district whether or not to approve it. But most of these school districts, they just don’t want to mess with it. They don’t want, because they’re going to get phone calls, they’re going to get protests if they refuse. So a lot of times they cave and they approve it. Now, the other thing to remember, too, about these things is that the school district is not allowed to fund it, they are not allowed to promote it, the staff, the school district staff are not allowed to work on it, they’re not allowed to recruit students. It’s all up to the LifeWise Academy Committee that forms, that are not made up of district personnel.
[23:00] But, I have seen examples, many, many, many examples of school districts violating that policy. Either they promote it, like they have let them set up a table outside a school event, or they have the superintendent that promotes it and sends out an email to parents, or teachers try to get their kids to sign up. And there’s just a lot of violations. Now, how you deal with those violations is, normally you would file a lawsuit, and go through the course, and then the courts would say, you know, that’s illegal. Well, in this era of the Trumpian flip-flop on religious freedom, that’s not a sure bet that a court’s gonna rule that it’s unconstitutional or that it’s illegal or violating anything.
[24:03] And so the other thing to remember too is if you file a lawsuit, you better get some other people with you because it’s gonna be a lonely process for you. If you’re a parent and you’re just so fed up, you wanna file a lawsuit, you better look for other people to go along with you. Trust me, it is a lonely existence to buck the majority religion in this country. You get death threats. Every case you can find where somebody complains about Christianity in the schools, you can also hear a story about a family being threatened with death. That’s how good these Christians are, is they will threaten a family with death. They’ll say, we know where your kids are. We know your home address is blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
[24:58] You know, it’s intimidation. Yeah, people are gonna say, well, Doug, they’re not gonna really kill them. Well, we also know that people complained about some kind of pizza conspiracy in Washington, D.C. That involved pedophilia, and some guy showed up at a pizza shop with a gun, to deal with the pedophilia. So, there’s enough people that aren’t very stable that will hear stuff like this and take it as gospel, pardon the pun, and people might get hurt. You get a rock through your window, or maybe they set fire to your car. Usually the stuff doesn’t get that. I mean, when we had abortion clinic bombings because somebody didn’t want to go through the whole legal process of going to court, so they just decided to bomb these abortion clinics.
[25:55] So what I tell people, what I advise people when they tell me about these violations, any kind of church-state violation is, especially if it involves a public school, make sure it’s an actual injury. Make sure that your child was actually forced or not forced to do something because of religion. Like the teacher said, you know, Billy, you need to go to this class. And if Billy didn’t go to that class, then they got like a lower grade, or ostracized, or put in a room, or something like that. There has to be a physical, injury. You know, if it’s something that they do that you just don’t like, that’s, not gonna… most courts won’t do that. They don’t do that anymore. They don’t do feelings anymore. Because it’s just easier for them to rule against you unless there’s an actual, you were forced to do something. Now, on the other side, if it’s a conservative religious person complaining about their rights being violated, it’s almost always a feeling. See, that’s how it’s flip-flopped since Trump got in office and replaced three of the Supreme Court justices.
[27:09] You know, before, secular people or people that wanted secular government could do something, and based on a feeling, like it’s made me feel like a second-class citizen. But now it’s the religious conservatives that are doing that.
[27:27] So what I advise people to do before they get into this is document everything. If they’re putting flyers in a book bag, take a picture of the flyer inside the book bag. If they’re coming to, if they’re setting up a table, Take a picture of it at school. If they have posters up, take pictures of everything. Document everything. Talk to the school principal and note, you know, diarrhea out, diarrhea, no. Write it all out, what happened. Then if you don’t get any satisfaction, go to the school board and do the same thing. Many school boards control what the public can say or when they can say it. So there might not be an opportunity for you to complain, but what you need to do is keep a, well, you should do this anyway, keep track of what’s on the agenda, and if there’s any public speaking period, and then make sure it fits something that’s on the agenda because a lot of time it’s not on the agenda, they’re not going to let you talk about it. So send a letter to them with your issues and maybe they might create an agenda item to speak to you.
[28:46] So do that, then complain to the school board. If that doesn’t help, go to the media, write a letter to the editor, call, if you have a TV station, call TV stations, radio, do a press conference and highlight all these violations. A lot of times, a stiffly worded letter, threatening letter that you’re gonna go to court something, usually they can get a public school to change their mind or to correct their behavior, sometimes. If all that doesn’t work, try to find other parents that are also concerned. They don’t have to be atheists or secularists. They could be Catholics. They could be Jewish, because a lot of times these religious Bible schools are about Christianity, and it’s, about Protestant Christianity. So if you can find religious, parents of religious, that are different religions than Christianity, bring them on board. Then what you wanna do then is you wanna find a national group who can help you file a lawsuit.
[29:59] ACLU, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Humanist Association, they have a legal department. CFI, the Center for Free Inquiry, they have lawyers. You know, go to them and say, this is what’s happening. This is the complaint. They’ll write a letter. And in some cases, if they think you have a strong enough case, they will help you file lawsuits and they will defend you or represent you or at least set it up to where you can find representation. Because filing a lawsuit, it may cost several hundred dollars to file, but it costs more money as you move on because you got to pay the lawyer. Every time the lawyer does work for you, you have to pay them. You have to pay copy prices to do discovery. You know, if you do a Freedom of Information Act request at a public school for all their emails with LifeWise, they’re going to charge you for printing those out. You know, because that’s what they do. That’s part of the intimidation. They don’t want you to rock the boat.
[31:13] Some things that you don’t wanna do is you don’t wanna harass the staff. You don’t wanna harass the school principal or the school board. You don’t wanna do what we call doxing. You don’t want to publicize their home address and phone number and encourage people to call and visit them. You do not want to do that because that sets you up for harassment charge. And that will not help your cause. Because the thing that really concerns me about the state’s ability to approve these religious.
[31:48] Religious time outside the school is that there’s really no enforcement mechanism, You know it says what what what the school can do and you have some of the court cases, But it doesn’t say well if a school violates this act what this is what you can do, Because they didn’t put it in So it’s going to be a high hill to crest to get legal satisfaction. That’s why I always encourage shaming them in the media, social media, protest at school board meetings if you have to. Just do it legally. Don’t harass people. Don’t confront them. Don’t physically touch them or threaten them in any way. And then if people threaten you, make sure you record it, if you can, and document every threat and call the police and fill out a, police report. Because you will get death threats depending on how religious the area is that you’re fighting.
[32:54] So, that’s what I wanted to talk about today, that you know, and I am collecting some information about that. So, I’m going to have a link up in the show notes. If you have a story about LifeWise in Ohio, If you know some violations that you’ve personally witnessed, or you would be interested in joining up to form a bigger group to go after these charlatans, let me know, and I’ll put a link up to a form that you can fill out, and I’ll get that information.
[33:31] Thank you for listening. For more information about the topics in this episode, please visit the episode page at, glasscityhumanist.show. Glass City Humanist is an outreach of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie. Surely can be reached at humanistswle.org. Glass City Humanist is hosted, written, and produced by Douglas Berger, and he’s solely responsible for the content. Our theme music is Glass City Jam, composed using the Amplify Studio. See you next time!
Transcript is machine generated, lightly edited, and approximate to what was recorded. If you would like perfect transcripts, please donate to the show.
Written, produced, and edited by Douglas Berger and he is entirely responsible for the content. Incidental voice overs by Shawn Meagley
The GCH theme is “Glass City Jam” composed using Ampify Studio
This episode by Glass City Humanist is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.