Skip to comments.Freedom of Religion is its Own Enemy
Posted on 06/01/2005 9:24:53 AM PDT by Fester Chugabrew
It's a common claim of libertarians, liberals, atheists and skeptics that religious conservatives use the public schools to promote creationism. I believe that claim is incorrect. The truth is that libertarians, liberals, atheists and skeptics use the public schools to promote atheism. Public schools are bad of course, and all schools should be private. But if there are going to be public schools anyway, they should be for all people, for evolutionists and creationists, for atheists and theists. Public schools should teach both evolution and creationism, and students should be given the choice which of those courses they want to take. It's the libertarians, liberals, atheists and skeptics that want to take away people's free choice, in the name of religious freedom, so as to make sure that everybody is forced to learn scientific truth and nobody gets exposed to pseudo-scientific heresy. That idea is based on a mistaken view of what separation between Church and State means.
Separation between Church and State means, or at least should mean, that government will not takes sides promoting one religion over the other. Or religion over nonreligion. Or nonreligion over religion. Forbidding creationism in public schools is itself an attack on the separation between Church and State. It means the the State promotes education the way atheists want it and hampers eduction the way theists want it. My opponents will counter that public schools do not promote atheism. They're supposedly neutral and teach only science, while they teach neither atheism nor theism. Nonsense. What a school teaches is never neutral and can never be neutral. Every choice a school makes on what courses to give and how is a value jugdement on what is good. Therefore, the conflicts public schools create about what to teach can never be solved. They're inherent in the very idea of a public school and can only be solved by privatizing all public schools. The best public schools can do for now is cater to as many needs as possible, especially needs carried by large proportions of students. Not doing that, for example by teaching evolution and not creationism, is not a neutral choice.
If one interprets the Separation between Church and State more strictly, so as to mean government must not even have any indirect connection to religion, then one might indeed argue that public schools should not teach creationism. (One might then even be able to argue that people on welfare should be forbidden to spend their welfare money on religious goods or services.) But such a strict interpretation would be unfair as long as there is no Separation between School and State. For if there is this kind of a separation between Church and State, while there is no general separation between School and State, religious education is put at a severe disadvantage to any kind of other education. Why should all schools of thought about what kind of education is appropriate get a say in the public school system, except if there is a religious connection? Separation between School and State is a great idea, which would depolitisize education, via privatization. But a very strictly interpreted separation between Church and State is simply not possible or desirable, as long as government controls public schools. If they control public schools they should try to cater equally to all education needs and education philosophies, whether they be scientific, atheist, religious, or whatever.
In this regard it's the religious right that stands on the side of freedom of religion and free scientific inquiry. They fully respect the rights of atheists to teach evolution in public schools, even though they think it incorrect. Their opponents, on the other hand, do no respect the rights of theist to teach creationism in public schools, because they think it incorrect. It may be that strictly speaking evolution is not atheism while creationism is theism. That doesn't remove the unfairness of the public schools in that they do teach what many atheist want taught (evolution) while they do not teach what many theist want taught (creationism). One might argue that the principle involved is that public schools should teach science and that therefore evolution is an appropriate subject to teach while creationism is not. There are two problems with that view:
1. Many creationists believe creationism is scientific.
2. It's not true that public schools only teach science.
As to 1, I agree that creationism is bad science, or nonscience, while evolution is good science. But it's not appropriate for government to make judgements about what is science or not science. For government to do that is a violation of well established principes of free scientific inquiry. The fact that evolution is true and creationism is false is besides the point. Government shouldn't decide what scientific truth is and tell people what to do or learn based on that judgement. Using government power against religious scientism is just as bad as when the Church used force against Galileo's secular science, and this is so for the same reasons. Therefore, the most neutral position to take is that everything should be taught in public schools if there is a big enough demand for it being taught.
As to 2. Most people think public schools should teach certain things other than science, such as physical education, moral education, sexual conduct, political ideas, social skills. Therefore one may not disallow the teaching of creationism on the grounds that it's not science, even putting aside the fact that not everybody agrees creationism isn't science. The same argument would disallow many things that are currently being taught in public schools. If we single out religion as something nonscientific that cannot be taught, while say political correctness can be taught, then we are using the first amendment in a way opposite to how it was intended. Instead of protecting religion now it's being used as a bias against religion.
Creationism is just one of many subjects that could be taught by public schools. And if that's what many people want taught, it should be taught, at least as an optional subject. Allowing creationism taught does not require any law which would respect an establishment of religion nor does it prohibit the free exercise of religion, and so there's no first amendment conflict. Quite the opposite. Taxing people to pay for public schools, and then forbidding them to teach religion, limits people's funds and options for exercising religion. Precisely a law forbidding creationism in public schools prohibits to some extent, or at least hampers, the free exercise of religion.
Let me be clear that I don't think it's good that schools teach creationism, intelligent design, or other pseudoscience such as astrology, withchraft, ESP, etc. If I were to create or fund or support a school, I would argue against it doing those things. So it's not that I think it's appropriate for schools to teach falsehoods and pseudoscience. My point is that it is not for me to judge what is appropriate or not for other people. When I own my own private school, it's my own business to make those judgements. But when it's a public school, the school should serve the purposes of everybody. Not only should it serve the purposes of both those in favour of pseudoscience and those in favour of science. But, more importantly, it should recognize that not everybody will agree on what is science and what is pseudoscience. In a free society everybody is allowed to make his own judgement on that. For goverment to make that judgement for people is authoritarian. Therefore, governments should not forbid subjects being tought based on the fact that they are pseudoscience. If you give government the power to forbid something because it's pseudoscience, then they are bound also to forbid something genuinely scientific and true at some point, on the arguement that it is pseudoscience. We are all fallible, and so is the government. Power given to government to protect us against illness, unhapiness and bad ideas, even with the best of intentions, will eventually turn against us and control us.
The state is used to supply education the way atheists want it, while it cannot be used to supply education the way theists want it, but they do pay part of the taxes. The reason this is done is not because atheists value religious freedom. I'm not saying atheists don't value religious freedom. I assume they do, I'm saying that's not the reason they control the public schools in this manner. Atheists do this for the same reason that in Islamic states all education is religious. They do it because they want to force people to live wholesome lives and do and learn what is good for them. Science is good, religion is bad, ergo people must learn science and the teaching of religion must be made difficult. Every group uses state power to enforce their way of life on others. This will be so as long as there is a state. Only the theists are more honest about it. These conflicts can never be solved except by privatization of schools. But as long as there are public schools any special restrictions on any kind of teaching, whether such teachings are defended on religious, scientific, cultural or moral grounds, is inappropriate and in conflict with the spirit of the first amendment. I'm an atheist, by the way.
You can document this, of course?
Is separation of church and state prescribed by the United States Consitution or not?
The best thing to do is be selective, but not overly so, when establishing a cirriculum. Besides, how do you know the earth is not hollow? Did you come from down there, or did someone who's never been down there tell you about it?
I see no such implication. In fact, the Madison quote is quite clearly stated to be an observation, and therefore no reasonable person would infer it was in the Constitution.
Of course. This is a nice piece, from one of my favorite conservative writers.
Correction. The Constitution states that Congress shall not establish a Federal Religion. It also states that it cannot meddle with State action on the subject. In other words, although I do not advocate it, the Founders were perfectly tolerant of the idea of a State Church--and there were such at the time.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
That depends how you define "separation of church and state". If you mean public funds can't be used to advocate particular religious beliefs, then yes. If you mean that people aren't allowed to advocate their own religious beliefs in a public forum, then the principle goes blatantly against what the Constitution says. Both halves of the clause need to be respected.
Is separation of church and state prescribed by the United States Consitution or not?
Yes. 'Separation' is in effect directed [prescribed] in three different places. --
States are directed to have republican forms of governments, [no theocracies allowed].
- No religious tests for office are to be allowed.
Nor are laws to be made that respect any of the establishments [teachings/precepts] of religion.
Too bad that so many people simply can't accept these simple principles inherent in our Constitution. -- Freedom of religion, & and freedom from religion are of equal concern.
If a school teacher places the 10 commandments on the wall... congress has made no law respecting an establishment of religion
If the congress or the courts (by legislating from the bench) declare that a teacher can't place the 10 commandments on the wall.. then the government has prohibited the free exercise thereof.
seems pretty cut and dry to me
only a liberal with an agenda could see it otherwise.
Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase in a letter to the Danbury Baptists, as I recall. Religion - the institutional denominational church structure - should be kept separate from government. God, however, should not and cannot be kept out of government.
I suspect that, in those days, most people were more anxious to keep government out of the church than church out of the government.
It can hardly be argued today, given the use of the constant use of the phrase in political discourse, that "separation of church and state" is regarded by the general public as a constitutional provision put in place by our Founders.
Funny how the Articles of Confederation, Constitution & Declaration of Independence all fail to explicitly mention this. The available historical citations of the era just don't back this assertion.
Not every Founding Father was a Christian (Jefferson & Franklin were self-proclaimed Deists). The religious views of the Founding Fathers were as varied as religion itself.
"All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue. Confucius, Zo- roaster, Socrates, Mahomet, not to mention authorities really sacred, have agreed in this.
If there is a form of government, then, whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness than any other form?" -John Adams Thoughts on Government 1776
It is clearly implied that the phrase is in the First Amendment, along with the familiar phrases "freedom of religion", "freedom of speech", and "freedom of the press." The less familiar "free exercise" clause is what is referred to, but the more familiar "separation of church and state" clause replaces it.
No argument from me there. If the teacher starts using paid salary time in class to preach them, though, I think they've crossed a line. (I'm not backing any draconian measures should it happen; but it is inappropriate.)
A voluntary Bible study on their own time after school is a different story, though; the federal/Supreme courts have repeatedly upheld that viewpoint, if I'm not mistaken.
Oops - where I wrote "free exercise clause", I should have written "establishment clause" - that's the clause they revised.
> do you know the earth is not hollow?
Science and logic. Seismic and sonar studies have shown it to be quite solid/liquid apart from some surface-level caves.
"The academy has been under investigation because of complaints that evangelical Christians have harassed cadets who do not share their faith, in violation of the constitutional separation of church and state."
Ummm, can you see it now?
So you merely believe what those studies have preached to you. Why not dig a big hole and find out if it's really true? It may be inconvenient, but unless you do so you are only believing what other people have told you.
Now you're moving the goalposts. We were discussing whether people claim the constitution literally contains the words 'separation of church and state'. Of course it doesn't, and nobody has come up with a quotation where anyone said it did. Now you're discussing whether it entails the idea of a separation of church and state. People differ over that.
...leaving one to believe either the words of multiple reputable sources or intricate, open-ended and unfalsifiable conspiracy "theories" implying an impressively successful suppression of the truth throughout history. I'll give you, if you actually put much stock in the latter, there's really no use in trying to get an education at all. (Interesting train of thought, though...)
Hehe. Everything you've ever been told has been a conspiracy to make you believe you exist. Is it working?