Sunday, October 17, 2010

Separation anxiety

Church sign Halloween A recent big story in my area was about a local school district, Fairfield, that was sued by the ACLU for offering a Bible study class on school time. A local news station asked a question on their Facebook page: "Should religion be offered in public schools?" The comments came fast and furious, and I was happy to see that the majority of my fellow Hoosiers said that no, such things should stay out of public schools and left to parents and churches. Of course, there were the usual scripture-quoters, and a troll who seems to either hate me or have a fascination with me was doing his best to engage me, by saying things like "Beth won't be happy until all schools teach are socialism, evolution, and the misinterpretation of the Constitution." (I'm surprised he didn't spell it 'evilution.') You should all be proud of me for not taking the bait and completely ignoring him! It's not often I can show such restraint, but I'm not wasting my time on that guy any longer.

I mentioned the question on my own page, and it also generated a good discussion. WSBT worded the question poorly, because you could interpret that a couple of ways. I took it in the context of the story about the Fairfield district; this was an actual Bible study class given by someone coming in from a local Christian church, and it was done during school time. The child whose mother generated the lawsuit was given no educational instruction at all during this time. This is unconstitutional based on the First Amendment, which states that the government cannot promote any religion over another. The Supreme Court has upheld the spirit of separation of church and state in stating that religious instruction cannot happen in public schools during school hours. Of course, various groups can offer such study groups after school hours, and can do so in taxpayer-funded facilities like public schools.

School prayer It can also be taken as whether or not any studies of religion should take place in public schools. This is different from religious instruction; a comparative religion course, for example, would include many different world religions, and teach about the effect of religion on cultures; a course in religious literature would look at various religious texts. This could be beneficial to any child, by teaching them that there are many faiths and many ways of worshiping. It could do a lot to reduce the rampant xenophobia we're seeing lately, and go a long ways towards reducing intolerance.

However, in rural areas like mine, I see a massive can of worms being opened. Which religions would be included, and which wouldn't? Would there be discussion of atheism and agnosticism? Of course, those aren't religions (although some seem to think that they are...they are completely misunderstanding not only the concept, but also the meanings of the words), but shouldn't any discussion of religion and religious practices include the fact that there is a significant portion of the world's populace that practices no religion whatsoever? This is not to say that such a comparative religion class shouldn't be attempted in high school or even grade school. Of course, students in Bible Belt areas would probably be receiving a significantly different curriculum than those in larger cities and more multi-cultural areas. Could teachers manage to keep their personal views out of the discussion? Who would check these curricula to make sure that one religion wasn't being favored over another? Some people said that religious classes (and I assume they mean religious instruction, rather than a study of diverse religions) should be optional in public schools. Why should my tax dollars go towards religious instruction of any child when I believe such a matter is unconstitutional--and so does the Supreme Court?

One thing that I've noticed, and it has been borne out by the recent Pew Forum survey about religion, is that there are many people who believe that the Supreme Court sided with the godless heathens in saying that there can be no mention of religion or the Christian God at all in public schools. Less than one third of Americans polled knew that it's okay to read from the Bible as an example of literature; such an action is not religious instruction. A teacher stating that the only way to heaven is by accepting Christ as your personal savior is another matter entirely. I remember my Dad asking me if I thought it was okay that prayer isn't allowed in schools. I said, "That's actually not the case. Any kid can pray on their own time. But a teacher can't lead the class in prayer." He couldn't understand how I thought that was okay. I said, "Dad, not every person in this country is Christian. There are other religions. There are people who aren't religious at all."

People can scream all they want about religion being taken out of our schools. What has been taken out of our schools is religious instruction and indoctrination. Here is an example of why that is a good thing. The woman quoted is a parent of a child at the Fairfield school in question:

Last year they were told that Halloween is the devil’s birthday, and that is not right.

The kids learn things, such as the meaning of the snake symbol on ambulances. It comes from when Moses lifted up the serpent to help heal the Israelites. I didn’t know that.

Rod of Asclepius You didn't know that because it isn't true. It came from the rod of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. The Bible may have used similar stories (it seems to be big on serpents), but many are the same myths and memes that have been handed down throughout centuries and throughout civilizations. Things like the virgin birth. And Halloween is the devil's birthday? THAT is what these people were telling these kids? How much idiotic information did they pass along in three decades, and how much damage did they do? (At least this woman understood that it was false information, and I hope she told her child so.)

For anyone who says, "Oh, it's really harmless," I would ask you this: do you think it's harmless to purposefully pass along misinformation to kids? Letting them believe in Santa for a while is one thing; teaching them false facts about mythical creatures in school when they should be learning facts is something else entirely!

Anyway, it was a very interesting discussion, and made me think about a lot of things. One of the things that the troll who is fascinated by me mentioned a couple of times was that all of us commenting on the thread were completely misunderstanding the separation of church and state thing. Not only does it not appear in the Constitution, it was actually intended to protect religion from the government, not the other way around.

Church and stateThis shows a real misunderstanding on a couple of levels. It’s true that the exact phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution, but the wording is pretty clear in its “freedom of religion” phrasing, and even a cursory reading of various papers and letters from Jefferson, Adams, et al, shows that their intent was very much to keep both the government out of religion and religion out of the government. They saw the connection between the Church of England and the monarchy; they knew that just as those in charge of a government should not dictate how people should worship, neither should any sort or sect of religion dictate how government policy is made and government affairs are conducted.

If you didn't read the linked article, the Fairfield school board voted 5-0 to discontinue the Bible study; they were greeted with boos from many of those attending the school board meeting. Apparently some attendees, when speaking before the board, began to say derogatory things about the woman who contacted the ACLU to file a lawsuit. I applaud the school board for their appropriate vote, and I applaud the woman for having the courage to say that what was happening was not right. I would hope that the attendees who booed the decision will take a little time to step outside their rather narrow world to read the Constitution as well as the Supreme Court decisions that resulted in their own school board’s unanimous decision. No one is stopping anyone from teaching their kids any sort of religious instruction. They can indoctrinate them to their hearts' content. But do it at home. Do it in your church. Do it after hours in our schools, even. Just don't do it in our schools during time that should be used for proper education. gotta keep 'em separated. (Thanks for the inspiration, Darren!)

The Offspring - Come Out And Play


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. i can tell kids that they are making baby jebus cry but that's because i DONT teach in a public school. i try to not pull religion into it because i think that's a mean way of me taking advantage of their sincere and heartfelt beliefs, which happen to be beliefs i dont share. ( i know, the irony...) i just try to get them to do the right thing because it's right, and leave the god thing out of it as much as possible. part of me is really looking forward to doing something different next year, posts like this make me feel like there really could be a place for me in the public schools.


  3. lelocolon said...
    Thank you for the post! I have a co-worker of mine that in the middle of the lesson she always say you are making god cry. And she is a good person she has always treated me with affection, but I feel so uncomfortable with that remark specially when she is addressing the students. I tried to ignore it but I know someday I will have to say something to her because I have all kinds of students in my class.

    And this is why? When I was in the third grade my parents decided that I should receive Communion. So every Saturday I will go to Catechism. It was during the same era that Kung Fu was popular so me and my brother used to watched it. My brother was more interested in the series than me, but nevertheless I used to get a good feeling about the Kung Fu fights. My brother was a book smart, I was illiterate so one day he mentioned to me that China had the amount of people to populate the earth three times. And I responded, that is a lot of people. So on one occasion Sister Ana my Catechism teacher said that those that do not believe in God will not go to heaven. And I immediately in my mind started doing the math so I asked her, what about the people in China they do not believe in God? And the response that I got was “forget about the Chinese people.” For months after that I was an angry child. The idea of not caring about the future of others bothered me a lot.

  4. So pleased Elkhart did the right thing, unusual for this area.

  5. Hearing that the school board got it right gives me the slimmest of hopes, but a hope nonetheless, that the teabaggers won't romp all over the contests they've entered for November. Perhaps Americans still have memories and a modicum of sense.

  6. How about just teaching some basic science and math? Or is that too anti-christian?

  7. Very interesting. I admire the woman for calling the ACLU also. I wouldn't want public schools attempting to give my children religious instruction. That is my (and Thomas') job until they are old enough to make their own decisions about such things. Now I could handle comparative religious studies, and we do that (Eler Beth and I) to the extent we are able. There are plenty of resources available to study other religions, and we have plenty friends of other faiths whom we can tap for information. A point I would like to make and wish I could force everyone I encounter to take to heart -- if you do want to learn about a particular religion and what it teaches, what its members believe or are supposed to believe, then go to a member of that very religion. Don't ask someone who isn't a member of that religion or who USED to be in that religion and who may have very biased opinions about it. Be fair to the religion and get the facts from a practicing member. (Sorry, that's a pet peeve I have.)


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