Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Religionists attack religious liberty

“For the Bible tells me so.”

If the “Student Religious Liberties Act” passes, that answer will get you an A+ on an exam. It was thankfully defeated this session, but that is only a temporary reprieve. It’ll be back.

Suppose a science teacher asks, “How old is the earth? Explain your answer.”

Suppose one student answers by quoting G. Brent Dalrymple, a geologist who won the National Medal of Science and wrote “The Age of the Earth.” This student might say, “In the early twentieth century the Earth’s age was unknown. This question was answered after more than half a century of scientific investigation. The age of the Earth can be measured from the relative abundances of radioactive uranium and lead, leading to a calculation that the Earth is 4.55 billion years old.”

That student earns an A+.

Another student might respond by quoting Dr. John Lightfoot, a 17th century Hebrew scholar who published his calculations earth’s age in 1644. Based the Old Testament Lightfoot declared, "heaven and earth were created all together, in the same instant,” and "this work took place and man was created by the Trinity on October 23, 4004 B.C., at nine o'clock in the morning."

Under the proposal this student would also be entitled to an A+ though the answer is based not on any accepted science but a religious belief that “the Bible tells me so.”

If a 1st grader is asked to add 2+2 and says it’s 5, he would deserve an A according to evangelical Pastor Peter LaRuffa, who said, “If somewhere within the Bible I were to find a passage that said 2+2 =5, I wouldn’t question what I’m reading in the Bible, I would believe it, accept it as true and then do my best to work it out and understand it.”

HB77 “protects” religious rights already protected under the Constitution including the right to pray in school. Despite evangelical wailings to the contrary, students have that right even without this bill.

However, the proposal contains a “Trojan Horse” provision saying, “Students may not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of their work.” Accordingly, if a psychology exam asks students to explain how to treat schizophrenia and a student answers, “with prayer,” that student is entitled to the same grade as one whose answer describes talk therapy and medications.

The proposal is an attempt to put the Bible on the same bookshelf as acceptable academic science and history, making scripture the new “Core Curriculum.” Sponsors attempt to make an end-run around the Constitution, authorizing prayer over the loudspeaker during school days as well as during assemblies, sporting events, and graduations.

This bill isn’t just another bad idea concocted by Wyoming legislators. It’s the terrible idea of the American Family Association. The AFA’s website says its goal is, “to be a champion of Christian activism.” It continues, “If you are alarmed by the increasing ungodliness and depravity assaulting our nation, tired of cursing the darkness, and ready to light a bonfire, please join us. Do it for your children and grandchildren.” 

No thanks. I’ll be the one to teach my children and grandchildren about faith. For the Constitution tells me so. Giving that right to schools is the sort of big government idea these folks usually disdain.

The AFA position paper on the “model law” opines nostalgically, Once upon a time in America, the school day opened with prayer. Public school curricula often included the Bible. Football games and graduation ceremonies started with prayer, often led by a teacher or coach or pastor invited from the community.”

Place bets on whether Muslim prayers are as welcomed at the opening of each school day, at football games, or graduation ceremonies as evangelical Christian forms of prayer.
The bill’s supporters should explain their wont to turn public schools into forums for teaching religious values. Apparently their churches failed to do so. Schools can provide them with a captive audience not available to them on Sundays.

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