15 July 2005

Teaching the Preaching (CS)

Ever since our last general elections, talk in this country has been hinged around a lot of phrases and ideas pertaining to a developing culture war within the country. Blue vs. red, “values”, faith-based initiatives, evangelism, the Ten Commandments on federal property. These phrases and those related are in the headlines on an essentially daily basis. More and more we see politicians pandering to religious sects and organizations. A friend of mine said not too long ago that you couldn’t get elected Dog Catcher in this country if it got out that you’re an atheist, and I would agree that this country is approaching a political climate that I find borderline scary. And so, I think it’s about as good a time as ever that we had a little talk about our good friend, The Establishment Clause.

The Establishment Clause, for those of you that are Constitutionally uninitiated, is the portion of the First Amendment that states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It’s a phrase that comes across to me as smart and elegantly phrased. And it’s also highly debatable (or at least ignorable), especially in reference to our schools.

Governor Jeb Bush of Florida would apparently like to bring the Bible straight into the public classroom with a Christian-based program “to promote the belief that "the father is the head of the household" and that men should rely on God to help them be better parents and keep their marriages intact. It also encourages Bible reading.” Even ignoring the obvious sexism of the program, it still poses so many problems in breaking down the barriers between church and state that I simply can’t believe that it’s already been “used in about 60 locations in 20 states.” Even on the subject of school vouchers, various courts across the United States have commonly found government funded voucher programs as Unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause. Essentially, a voucher program would see money raised by the government funneled into the propagation, preaching, and indoctrination of religion. Perhaps a community that is largely Christian (of one sect or another) could rally behind such a measure, making it the will of the people. But what of the inevitable minority within the community that doesn’t prescribe to this belief? As the money gets sucked out of the public schools, will they be forced to enroll their children in a parochial one? Are we to fall pray to the “Tyranny of the Majority” that Alexis DeTocqueville feared in democracy? Please, let’s not prove a Frenchman right. Not on this.

Now I can hear the typical complaints thrown at anyone that should challenge religion in government. He’s anti-religious! He has no values! He wants to restrict/destroy/prohibit our freedom to practice! Can we for once calm down and realize these claims as rediculous? Do ethics and values HAVE to come from religion? Isn't it better that I don't need a book to tell me that it's wrong to kill another person or to steal? And in the end, I'm all for the free practice of religion and I think keeping religion out of our schools (and politics) only strengthens that aspect of society.

If we look at the issue of bringing Christian Creationism into science classrooms, we can see a flaw that even Inherit The Wind didn't explore. If we are to bring in the Christian viewpoint of Creation, then why not the Wiccan view? Or the Hopi story of creation? Or any number of creation stories from various religions, cultures, or civilizations? One of my favorite books when I was younger was In The Beginning, a collection of creation storys from different cultures. Maybe we can just hand that out alongside our science textbooks.
HuffPost blogger Cenk Ugyur makes a similar point. If we're to open the door to religion, which sect is it going to be? Even within Christianity there are probably more different sects than you can count on all your digits. And at least one that even allows gay marriage. If we're going to legislate by religion, even solely Christian religion, which specific church wins the prize? It's a headache that I'm not sure even the most fervent of evangelicals would be willing to take on.

2 Comments:

Blogger ORF said...

I agree that far too many people believe that morality and values, virtue and righteousness all started with the Bible. Who says JC gets all the freaking credit?

Civilization was around for several thousands of years before that and much of what is written in the Bible is very similar in letter to the Code of Hammurabi, which was one of the first legal codes on record. To my knowledge, it was not necessarily tied to any particular religious sect, but was adhered to quite strictly and hung all over the kingdom so that no one could plead ignorance to it.

7/18/2005 5:09 PM  
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