Talking Points Memo reports:
Extremists on the Right constantly complain that religion has been banished from public school classrooms. This, of course, is inaccurate: what the Establishment Clause prohibits is proselytizing–imposing religious beliefs or observances on the “captive audience” that is the public school classroom.
The courts have been careful to distinguish between official endorsement or sponsorship of religion, which is unconstitutional, and instruction about religion, which is not only constitutional, but entirely appropriate. (Try teaching history, or art history, without reference to the immense influence of religious beliefs.)
One of the problems caused by low levels of civic and constitutional knowledge is that some schools have become skittish, avoiding even the appropriate study of religion for fear of lawsuits, while at the other end of the spectrum, schools have simply ignored the line between proper and improper instruction.
But some schools have gotten it right. Modesto, California is one of them.
The course’s inclusive curriculum ensures that it meets constitutional standards. It’s obvious from the design of the course and from emerging evidence that it succeeds in providing a thorough and objective education in world religions. For that reason, it’s a useful example of how religion ought to be taught in schools, if it’s going to be taught at all. And it’s sharply distinct from the Religious Right’s various attempts to insert sectarianism in public classrooms.
Modesto’s course and curricular proposals stand in sharp contrast to the Bible class designed by Hobby Lobby’s owners that has been proposed for use in Mustang, Okla., public schools. Steve Green, the corporation’s current president, called the class “the fourth leg of my personal ministry” and stated that it’s intended to complement his planned Bible museum in Washington, D.C. Legal objections from groups like Americans United have put the class on hold for now, but it could still be implemented in Mustang’s high schools.
If the goal is to have kids know about religion, there are perfectly legal ways to do that. The problems arise when your goal is really to impose your particular beliefs on others.
People for the American Way have posted a recent radio interview with former U.S. Senator and all-star culture warrior Rick Santorum.
During the discussion, Santorum said that Christians have allowed their faith to be removed from the public square and need to start fighting back, arguing that removing the Bible from public school classrooms is not neutrality but rather the promotion of the secular worldview. He suggested that conservative Christians should respond by “calling secularism a religion because if we did, then we could ban that too.”
Claiming that the absence of religion is itself a religion, Santorum said that Christians must reassert themselves and insist that Christianity “should be taught in the schools” instead of worrying about offending people.
Leaving aside the massive constitutional ignorance Santorum (once again) displays, I’m intrigued. How do you ban the absence of something?
Earth to Santorum: “secular” means “not religious.” It doesn’t mean “anti-religious.” An experiment in science class is secular; the study of the periodical table of elements is secular. English grammar is secular. History–even when it includes study of the influence of religious beliefs and movements–is secular.
Stuff that isn’t religious is secular. It’s a descriptive term, not an ideology.
The removal of religious doctrine from the public sector (government)(which is not at all the same thing as its removal from the public square, where religious expression is protected by the Free Exercise Clause) is simply a recognition that in a free society, the government doesn’t get to impose or endorse a set of preferred religious beliefs. The transmittal of religious doctrine is the prerogative of families and religious institutions.
There are a lot of culture warriors who really do understand the First Amendment, but choose to pander to the sizable number of Americans who don’t. I don’t think Santorum is one of those. I think he’s a true believer.
And not a very good thinker.
In fact, his diagnosis of secularism reminds me a lot of his diagnosis of Terri Schavo. He sees things that aren’t there.
During a conference call last month with the National Emergency Coalition, Rep. Steve King said that the U.S. needs to crack down on immigration because our nation’s borders were established by God. Disrespecting the borders, the congressman suggested, is disrespecting God’s will.
And then there’s this…bet you didn’t know that God doesn’t want coal regulated. Or that we have nothing to fear from climate change because in Genesis, God promised not to cause another flood. Or that God doesn’t want the woolly mammoth to be the South Carolina state fossil.
I think this is what you call “arguing from authority”–when you don’t have any rational arguments for your point of view, you can always claim that you’re listening to the Big Guy.
There was a reason this nation’s founders wanted to separate what James Madison called the different “jurisdictions” of Church and State–to make it harder for lunatics like King, Cruz, Bachman et al to pervert religious doctrine (their version of Christianity makes the fundamentalists look reasonable–or at least coherent) and insist that government legislate accordingly.
We’ve always had crazy people; we’ve always even had crazy elected people. But we haven’t usually had so many of them.
There are lots of things one might say about the Supreme Court’s immensely wrongheaded decision allowing closely-held corporations to deny birth control coverage to female employees in contravention of the corporation’s “sincere religious convictions.”
We could point to the hypocrisy of an owner who buys lots of merchandise from China, with its mandatory abortion/one child policy, but whose religious sensibilities recoil from offering birth control to female employees who want it.
We could note that, thanks to the Administration’s willingness to accommodate religious paternalism, the costs of coverage didn’t even come out of the corporate pocket–the insurers paid it. How does that “burden” the corporation?
We could certainly consider how this decision fits into the broader backlash against equal rights for women that has characterized American politics for the past decade. Reliable birth control gives women control of their lives, and it’s clear that a significant number of men resent anything that promises women personal autonomy.
We could observe, as one of my sons did, that America is devolving into feudalism–that this case is just one in a series of recent policies and judicial decisions favoring the rights of the powerful over the rights of their serfs. And we could couple that observation with growing dismay over the attribution of “personhood” to entirely fictional beings called corporations. Legal constructs created to facilitate economic activity have now been invested with freedom of speech and religion. (Ironically, this case confers religious rights on legal fictions while taking them away from real, human women.)
And we could–and should–point out that the Supreme Court doesn’t really have the final word: we serfs–i.e. consumers– do. Any woman who shops at Hobby Lobby after this is a traitor to her gender. There may not be legal recourse from a Supreme Court decision–at least, not until or unless we get better Justices and this decision is revisited–but we can certainly encourage fair-minded folks to boycott the theocratic corporate “person” called Hobby Lobby.
All of these thoughts–and some not fit to transmit–went through my head when I learned of the decision. But what really struck me was a warning from a 1992 book by Jane Jacobs. The book was Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics. It’s a slim volume, and an easy–and fascinating–read. I recommend it. The basic premise was that once we recognize the universal rules of moral conduct (“don’t steal, don’t lie, etc.) there are two very different moral “systems,” a commercial system and a “guardian” or governmental system, with rules that make sense only within the imperatives of that system.
When you apply the moral rules developed for one system to activities properly within the jurisdiction of the other, you really screw things up.
Corporations are not inherently good or evil; they are simply a useful fiction. A line of cases that invests them with human attributes is worse than perverse; it’s dangerous.
Feudalism was bad enough when the Lord of the Manor was human, and would die.