The horrific shootings at Sandy Hook have given all the usual political opportunists an opening. It isn’t just the gun culture apologists, either–Mike Huckabee and his fellow theocrats have seized the moment to renew their attacks on separation of church and state. According to Huckabee (and a number of people posting to Facebook) this tragedy occurred because we’ve taken God out of the classroom.
Not only is this sentiment unseemly, it’s demonstrably stupid, on multiple levels.
In this particular case, it’s wrong on its face–the deranged young man responsible for this tragedy turns out to be a product of Catholic School. A number of media outlets have used a photo of him taken when he was a student at St. Rose Middle School.
More significantly, the “cutesy” sayings that have been posted to Facebook in the wake of the tragedy betray an embarrassing lack of understanding of the First Amendment religious liberty clauses. (A sample: “God, why didn’t you stop this shooting and save those babies? ‘I would have, but I’m not allowed in school.’) God and “his” bible have not been “ejected” from public schools, as these pithy sayings suggest: students who wish to pray over the cafeteria meatloaf or before a math quiz, to read their bibles during study hall, or to “meet at the flagpole to pray” before classes are not only free to do so, that conduct is constitutionally protected under the Free Exercise Clause. What is forbidden is the imposition of religion by public school employees–the Establishment Clause prohibits teachers from proselytizing–from preaching or otherwise religiously indoctrinating the captive audience of children in their classes.
Despite the resolute obtuseness of the theocrats among us, truly voluntary prayer has not been removed from the public schools. What has been removed (imperfectly, given the number of school officials who simply ignore the constitution) is involuntary religious devotions imposed by school personnel.
Okay–so the whining here is doubly wrong: this kid didn’t go to one of those “godless” schools, and the schools aren’t quite as godless as the extremists would like us to believe. But there’s a deeper and far more troubling aspect to this recurring complaint, and it goes to the smallness of the God these people evidently worship.
Theologians and clerics who believe in a personal, intentional God are fond of describing Him (most ascribe gender–almost always male–to deity) as omnipotent, unknowable. God works in mysterious ways, etc. Yet despite giving lip service to His greatness and mystery, we have people thanking God for letting them win football games (God evidently didn’t like the players on the other team); we have starlets thanking God for giving them talent (!), and preachers on my flat-screen TV promising that God will make me rich if I just follow His ways–beginning, usually, with a nice contribution to that preacher. We have ostentatiously pious scolds who assure us that they know what God wants, and we’d better fall in line or suffer God’s vengeance.
We have Mike Huckabee telling us that this senseless human tragedy occurred because America didn’t do things God’s way.
The arrogance is overwhelming.
I have no idea whether God exists, but if She does, those who anthropomorphize Her have to be the ultimate blasphemers.