Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Epidemic of Teen Christian Suicides

To the Editor:

There has been an alarming cluster of teen suicides centered around two local public high schools and connected to the Christian youth group “Young Life.” As The Gazette reported on February 24, 2017, Discovery Canyon Campus (DCC) recently suffered its sixth tragedy in thirteen months. The paper noted that “at least” three of the victims were involved with Young Life. Then on February 28, 2017, Scott Harrison reported two more suicides on KRDO’s website.  These tragedies involved a high school senior and a sixth grader who both were enrolled at The Classical Academy (TCA). For those keeping count, that’s three student suicides in our community in a span of two weeks. Mr. Harrison’s reporting added that “several of the students who died were active in Young Life.” A parent quoted in The Gazette article stated: “The Web is littered with Young Life suicides.” Finally, I have it on reliable authority that one of the recent TCA victims may have attended the funeral service for the most recent DCC victim where attendees heard a supposedly uplifting message about the victim “leaving the darkness and entering the light” or words to that general effect. Those words are chilling in the context of what appears to be a copycat suicide cult that is ensnaring even sixth graders (whose veins are not typically coursing with teenage angst).

What is going on at these two public schools? What are the local & state authorities and the school district doing to investigate and address this emergency? A suspicious curtain of secrecy seems to be descending around these events. As Mr. Harrison’s article stated, “few details [are] available.” This crisis must not be swept under the carpet. The public is entitled to answers. The local media must stay on this story.

It is an open secret in our community that TCA is a de facto Christian school operating under a public charter and receiving public funds. Like the ubiquitous Christian fish, which has been a symbol of Christianity as far back as the second century, the school’s official logo evokes the ancient cross-on-shield symbolism employed by soldiers of the Emperor Constantine as they marched on Rome. It was also a well-known symbol used by medieval Christian crusaders.  Do the staff and families at TCA see themselves as warriors for Christ?

Events that TCA would surely like to characterize as “ancient history” give the question renewed urgency.  In 2009 the school was embroiled in a scandal that, according to a May 2009 article in The Gazette, involved numerous parental complaints of an “insular community . . . where racism and religious intolerance were allowed to go unchecked.” An outside investigation led to a report to the Colorado Department of Education that cited the school for, among other things, a failure to take corrective action in responding to “a pattern of racial and religious discrimination.” Given that teen suicides often involve bullying against gays or other persecuted minorities, the media should be investigating whether TCA has put its scandalous past behind it.  The undeniable link to Young Life in so many of these recent suicides only heightens the concerns.

Even with the limited information released to the public, one must wonder if the problem is a toxic mix of both religious persecution and religious doctrine. Christianity teaches that death is an illusion – an artificial barrier between the darkness of this fallen world and the light & eternal bliss that await every devout believer in heaven. For any troubled teen suffering discrimination or persecution at a devoutly Christian institution, these beliefs offer a bleak invitation.

Our community should also worry about similar trends at the national level.  Betsy DeVos, the new Secretary of Education, has long been a vocal champion of using public funds to support Christian schools through vouchers and the charter school ruse under which schools like TCA operate. As troubling as these recent local events are in their own right, the prospect of any major move towards an even greater role for evangelical Christianity in what should be public-secular schools ought to be raising alarm bells.  The Colorado Springs Chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation calls on all responsible authorities to ensure that the wall of separation between church and state remains impregnable.

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