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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Instruction on religion in public schools

Today my "faitheist" friend Chris Stedman wrote
In high school, I washed dishes and mopped floors at "Taste of Scandinavia Bakery & CafĂ©." (I'm from Minnesota.) It was not a job that played to my strengths, but my manager—a supremely kind and intelligent young man—made it tolerable with his dry sense of humor and incisive commentary.  
One day, after a discussion about LGBT activism and how he took his children to a gay pride event, he told me he was a Mormon. "Really? I've never met a Mormon before," I said. "My old church told me that Mormonism is a cult." A coworker, overhearing us, added: "A cult? Like in 'Children of the Corn'?" He patiently explained more about his beliefs, but my coworker and I mostly pretended to listen because we both had a crush on him. (He was very handsome. He should probably do one of those "I'm a Mormon" ads.)  
A few days later, my coworker pulled me aside and said she talked to her mom and, upon further reflection, didn't really feel comfortable working for a Mormon. I didn't know what to say, so I just took a bite of my cream cheese kolache. 
Public schools should offer religious literacy classes.
In a word, yes. Yes, they absolutely should. In the 1963 case Abington School District v. Schempp, when the Supreme Court declared that school-sponsored bible-reading was unconstitutional, they took great care to note why instruction on religion itself is not:
It is insisted that unless these religious exercises are permitted a "religion of secularism" is established in the schools. We agree of course that the State may not establish a "religion of secularism" in the sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion, thus "preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe." Zorach v. Clauson, supra, at 314. We do not agree, however, that this decision in any sense has that effect. In addition, it might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment. But the exercises here do not fall into those categories. They are religious exercises, required by the States in violation of the command of the First Amendment that the Government maintain strict neutrality, neither aiding nor opposing religion. 
Finally, we cannot accept that the concept of neutrality, which does not permit a State to require a religious exercise even with the consent of the majority of those affected, collides with the majority's right to free exercise of religion.[10] While the Free Exercise Clause clearly prohibits the use of state action to deny the rights of free exercise to anyone, it has never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to practice its beliefs. 
(emphasis mine)

1 comment:

  1. While having no problem with public schools offering a scholarly "comparative religion" class, I wonder if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints would fair well under the scrutiny of doctrinal discovery and historical analysis.

    While the majority of the world's faiths have the luxury of a "gauze filter" of ancient antiquity and cultural acceptance the poor Mormon's must bear the cold steely gaze of recent documentation and public record.

    Their founder, unlike the culturally revered two thousand year old God-Man, or the sixth century Arabian miracle working (militantly enforced) prophet Mohamed (peace be upon him), our boy Joseph Smith has a rap sheet in Illinois and New York state.

    I say this as a former Mormon, and son of parents that have made it their life's work to expose the Mormon church for the fraud that it is.

    That said I think all religions are fraudulent. It's just easier to demonstrate the sordid and mendacious underpinnings of the Mormon Church due to it's geographic and chronological proximity.

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