Monday, January 24, 2011

Four Thousand Upward

A southwest Virginia school district [Giles County] is reposting copies of the Bible's Ten Commandments in all county schools, despite concerns that doing so is unconstitutional. ....  The decision came even though the board's attorney had previously advised that such Christian displays represent unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. - ZINIE CHEN SAMPSON, Associated Press
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LA School Board Approves Posting of Texts from Upanishad, Qur'an, Tao Te Ching, The Analects of ConfuciusScience and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Book of Mormon, The Divine Principle, Zend Avesta, Kojiki, Dianetics, and Zhuan Falun
LOS ANGELES, Ca (MP) - This Californian school district is posting texts from the Upanishad, the Qur’an, the Tao Te Ching, the Analects of ConfuciusScience and Health with Key to the Scriptures, the Book of Mormon, The Divine Principle, Zend Avesta, Kojiki, Dianetics, and Zhuan Falun in all classrooms in the district, despite objections that doing so violates the Constitution.
The seven-member Los Angeles School Board voted unanimously to post the framed three-foot-wide-by-four-foot-tall texts after parents and local ministers, rabbis, gurus, monks, healers, teachers, elders, and other religious leaders demanded space equal to that of Christians, who recently pressured the board to hang copies of the Ten Commandments in the district’s classrooms.  
Monday night’s board meeting was packed with supporters from the various faiths, who sat in separate sections to avoid contamination and reduce the chance of violence.  Speakers from each faith rose to shout over the objections of the others, telling the board that the schools had a moral obligation to reinforce God’s/Allah’s/the Supreme Being’s/Vishna’s/the Tao’s/Mohammed’s/Confucius’s/et cetera’s teachings.  
“After hearing from these members of our community,” said perspiring Superintendent Donald Madison, “we just felt this was the right thing to do.  It will take us a while to get copies of all the texts printed and framed, but we think we can have them in the classrooms by mid-April, at the latest.”  
Madison noted that other faith traditions, not represented at last night’s meeting, might also demand to be included.  Preliminary research by a reporter for the Herald indicates that while the precise number of religions in the world cannot be determined, the best estimates range from four thousand upward.
Harried teachers said after the meeting that they were concerned about whether there was space to incorporate that much moral obligation in their classrooms.  “Right now we’re looking at a hundred and ninety eight square feet of wall space devoted to religious texts, with more likely” worried Aakifah Ali, who teaches geography at Jefferson Middle School.  “I don’t have space now for everything I’d like to display.  I’ll have to take down my maps, posters, material on current events, and student papers.  Even then I’m not sure all the religious texts will fit.  Maybe they can mount them on the ceiling,” she joked.
One segment of the audience which left dissatisfied was a sizable contingent of secularists/non-religious parents.  Daniel Brinkman, spokesperson for the group, had risen to point out that one in six Americans have opted out of organized religion and consider themselves non-believers.  He asked about having one-sixth of available space allotted for his group to post their absence of belief, but was rebuffed by Madison, who said that the blank, transparent windows in the room already fulfilled that function.
Christians, who had earlier succeeded in having the Ten Commandments posted in classrooms, were furious at news that they would have to share wall space with groups they regard as heathens.  “It’s blasphemy, pure and simple,” asserted Rev. Randall Snodgrass, a leader of the group who had previously won the right to insert their religious text into the classroom.  
When reminded that he had earlier argued that the Ten Commandments belonged there because of their historical rather their religious value, and that each of the subsequent groups had argued for inclusion of their texts on the same grounds, he had to be restrained by security personnel.  “That was just a legal maneuver cooked up by our lawyers to get our faith in the schools where it belongs.  This farce tonight is all the work of the ACLU, the ADA, the Democratic Party, and other hate groups!” he yelled as he was being escorted out by half a dozen guards.
Constitutional scholars, almost unanimously, expect the courts to reverse the board’s actions.  Taxpayers will foot the bill for all legal expenses incurred.
© Tony Russell, 2011


Tony Russell said...

I understand that the Ten Commandments are found in the second of the five books of the Torah and Hebrew Bible. Christians consider the Old Testament as part of the scriptural foundation of their faith, however, and it is Christians who have repeatedly attempted to post the Ten Commandments in schools, courthouses, and other government facilities. Offhand, I can't recall any instances of Jews demanding that the Ten Commandments be displayed in such sites.

wildfire said...

Good one, Tony, This one made me laugh. But you have so outrageously left out paganism--don't you know that's the fastest growing religion? I demand a poster with Beltane or Samhain invocation of the goddess and god.

Anonymous said...

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Could somebody point out where the first ammendment states that no governement establishment can have anything pertaining to religion posted publically? I'm no constitutional scholar, but what is stated above does not give the governement the ability to repress religious expression anywhere, it does the exact opposite.

Tony Russell said...

Mary -
You're not the only one who had some fun with that. A friend who is a Methodist pastor sent me an e-mail saying, "I'm always stunned that people who argue for the Ten Commandments or prayer in the school don't seem to consider the consequences if schools started including religion. Would they want voodoo chants echoing through the halls just before recess?"

Tony Russell said...

To the anonymous poster who quoted the First Amendment -
Thanks for your comment. I'm not a constitutional scholar either, but I think the courts--including the Supreme Court--have come to consistently interpret the "establishment" clause to mean any action by a governing body that would serve to promote a particular religion.

Courts and lawyers are all too familiar with the use of tiny exceptions to create wedges that grow larger and larger. That, I suspect, is why something as relatively innocuous-looking as posting the Ten Commandments is looked upon (in my opinion) as just the opening wedge in an effort to insert more and more Christian material and practice into schools.

I can remember--given my advanced years--actually opening the school day in our elementary school with the Lord's Prayer. One day a week our third grade class also marched down the street to a Lutheran church for religious instruction. It may say something about the impact of that practice on children that I can still remember, more than sixty years later, the name of the only kid in the class who didn't attend--a Greek Orthodox boy whose parents refused to have him go.

Part of what I was hoping to do with the column was show people that we need to consider that this is a more diverse country than we might experience in our separate communities.

Laura said...

I like this one, Tony, especially the part about the windows.

We had a weekly bible class in my public elementary school in Franklin Co., VA in 1978. The next year, the preacher's wife who taught "bible" came to our classroom only once. I remember it because she was crying. She said that they weren't going to let her into the school anymore, but that she was going to fight and she'd be back someday. I didn't know what the heck she was talking about, but she never came back. I remember the name
of the one German Baptist boy who left the classroom
when "bible" started.

Then there was the painful evangelical assembly in high school. If you came back later that evening, you could get free pizza and Jesus. I skipped it, but I remember hearing about who got saved that night.

If we lived a couple miles north of here across the county line, my kids would have been invited to the current version of "Bible", an off-campus Christian activity that is an excused absence from school. Over 90% of the kids participate. They get lots of candy and are instructed to flaunt it to specific kids whose families opt out. I am not exaggerating.

This is a hot topic with me, I guess. I don't like the power/ territorial messages in the need to display. I'm happy to laugh about it a little bit.

Tony Russell said...

Laura -

Thanks for the recollection of your own experiences. The fact that we remember the kids who didn't participate says a great deal about the way in which state-sponsored religious education scars children on both sides of the religious divide. Why would we want to do that to children? And why do people feel that the state is obliged to prop up religious teaching that in other times and other instances they themselves have insisted is the responsibility of parents and the church?

This debate has drawn a greater distortion of American history than any other court issue I can recall. You would think that Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation between church and state" was a "brick sidewalk between church and state," or Madison's reference to the "strongly guarded... separation between Religion & Govt. in the United States" was part of a denunciation rather than a celebration of the disconnect between the two.