This is a troubling issue for me, because I believe very much in freedom and this kind of censorship does initially strike me as unfair. As an atheist, I’m no fan of religious material in schools, but I do recognize that Valentine’s day has a religious origin and it seems quite backward that a card acknowledging the historical figure of St. Valentine as the origin of the holiday would be censored. In fact I’ve written articles about how more religious literature and history should be included in schools (though from a historical and literary point of study, not a theological one). So I can understand Catholic objections.
But I think it’s important to delve into the issue further. The card was not merely an acknowledgement of the historical figure of St. Valentine. The card claimed that God loved the recipient and included a Bible verse that has nothing to do with St. Valentine. The purpose of including those elements is clearly for proselytization. This is where the card crosses a line. Schoolchildren are welcome to express how they feel, but children should also be welcome to go to a school without fear that they will be evangelized. The school is not the appropriate place to spread religious messages. Children are required by law to go to school, and if evangelizing religious material is allowed there, that is the same as forcing them to hear it. I’m sure that no there was no ill intent on the part of the parents or children, but imagine Christians were the minority and your child were forced to listen to Arabic incantations about Allah. In a Muslim school, fine. In a pluralistic school that has legal protections against religious proselytization, not fine.
I think religious people can proselytize all they want. Hand out religious material on street corners. Walk door-to-door. Run businesses that broadcast religious material on 10 different radio stations and 10 different cable TV stations. Spread the message as loudly as you want, because this is a free country and that is no mere platitude to me, but an important ideal to be upheld. But evangelization in a school, where non-Christian Christian children are required by law to be, makes a pluralistic, secular realm of learning into a place of religious insiders and outsiders. If Catholics want non-Catholics to respect their beliefs, they should show respect for the beliefs of others by allowing them to be free from evangelization in school.
I suppose I also feel strongly about this because we are talking about children. Mine will soon be in first grade. 1st-graders lack the ability to read critically and judge material for themselves. They are not equipped to understand the implications of Jesus’s sacrifice and make discerning judgments about whether or not they believe it. If Christian parents want to present such complicated religious material to their children as truth, (which an atheist considers to be indoctrination), that is fine–it is their right as parents. But it is not acceptable to me for Christian parents to subject other people’s children to it, and even less acceptable to use innocent first-graders as the means of doing so.
All this being said, I return to my original point that it seems unfair to censor this Valentine’s Day card. The holiday has religious origins and if the school is going to celebrate the holiday, they should not be surprised to find that that celebration has a religious component. This leads to a separate discussion about the awkward combination of religious and secular aspects of holidays like Valentine’s Day and Christmas. Despite their religious origin, those holidays have clearly taken on a life of their own that has no religious significance (“Hallmark holiday” is an appropriate term), and so they do have cultural significance even for nonreligious people. This is a tough line for schools to walk when they want to acknowledge shared community traditions and values without giving preference to any particular religious viewpoint. I suppose the answer would be to skip celebrating the holiday in a pluralistic school and just keep the kids focused on learning, though admittedly, that seems an unsatisfying answer as well. This complex issue has no easy answer.