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February 13, 2005

Jesus Wants You To Pay Your Taxes!

They are shocked, shocked to find bible studies taking place in this rural establishment.

When Heather and Logan Ward's son entered public kindergarten last fall, they were shocked to learn that pupils were taken from class to a nearby church for weekly Bible lessons.

The Wards moved to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley from New York four years ago, and were unaware of the tradition that has remained in Staunton and other rural schools for more than 60 years.

''My reaction is exactly like the reaction of those who come here from a different place -- shock and disbelief that we have Bible classes in public schools," Heather Ward said.

Now the Wards and other parents are asking the school board to eliminate or modify the program, which shuttles students in first through third grades to churches during class time for voluntary half-hour Christian lessons and activities.

They'll almost certainly succeed, which is both good and bad. Good, because shipping off students to a church for Bible study when they should be engaged in academic pursuits is stupid, regardless of whether or not it is an unconstitutional example of government sponsored religion. When it comes right down to it, I want public schools students to spend their time on Math and History, not on Paul's Letter to the Galatians.

Bad, because it doesn't address the religious blindness that allows such a situation to arise in the first place. Staunton's conservative Christians won't see this as an inspiring re-emphasis of the needed division between church and state. They'll see this as secular humanists forcing their godless Yankee values upon an unwilling populace--kind of like how the Democrats view the Bush administration in Iraq, aside from the "godless" bit.

If you really want to teach recalcitrant rural Christians about the value of a wall between church and state, you don't sue to remove their religious studies from the school system. You sue to add yours. You'll be amazed how quickly otherwise obstreperous followers of Jesus will rediscover the value of a secular education when faced with the possibility that Billy Ray and Jenny Sue are associating with children who spend half an hour a day studying voodoo, or Unitarianism.

I know, I know. How do you tell the difference? Unitarians have less chicken blood and more expensive liquor, is my understanding. In any case, voodoo is the bigger threat. Ask any red-blooded Virginian boy which he'd rather be doing, studying the travails of Ezekiel, or slitting the throats of small animals?

Christians today are right when they say that The United States was founded by Christians, but they forget that those Christians were intimately familiar with the oppressive hand of state religion. Where do you think the Baptists of today would stand on the question of church and state if their taxes were still being used to pay the salaries of Anglican ministers?

Or for that matter, other Baptist ministers? Not all Baptists possess the same beliefs, you know.

Those who call for the U.S. to return to its roots as a "Christian" nation always assume that their particular flavor of Christianity is the one that will reign supreme once that blessed day occurs, but there's no guarantee that will be so. Even if they do manage to impose their chosen theology, the practice of it will immediately become a hollow sham as people begin to partake in it out of duty, fear or a desire for conformity, rather than out of belief. In the long run, every state religion is doomed.

Just ask the Anglicans.

Posted by Bigwig at February 13, 2005 06:51 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
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Comments

Your argument that state sponsorship of religion inevitably destroys religion is absolutely correct, at least in the instances where it is correct. State sponsored Catholicism and Shinto appear to have done alright.

On a larger point, you are using the language of the Right Rev. Barry Lynn, leader of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Mr. Lynn, based on the lawsuits he has filed, will not be happy until it is illegal to say the word "God" in public, whether it involves an act of worship, a curse, or mentioning that NBA'er God Shamgod just hit another three. Toward that end, he has sponsored lawsuits to end church tax exempt status, to ban even the ceremonial use of religion (think the graven image of Moses along with the other lawgivers on the Supreme Court building) and lawsuits to remove chaplains from the military - something our dying servicemembers would surely appreciate. He is against prayer where it is most needed - at the start of legislative sessions; and although he is described as a minister, he is a Unitarian, which as far as I can tell hews to the dogmatic belief system, "hey, whatever you believe is cool, as long as it ain't that old time religion. Presumably, he's against churches using the publicly owned airwaves to proselytize as well.

Lynn has stated that when religion is fully driven from the public square, then it will be a completely personal matter, and a much more satisfying and fulfilling, and indeed religious experience for those who practice it.

There is a familiar word describing the achievement of that status: persecution.

I don't suggest that you are proposing Lynn's course, only hinting that you need to be careful in advancing Lynn's arguments - they are lions in sheeps clothing, to which to feed the Christians. (I'll note that Lynn has never had much problem with the establishment of Islam or Judaism, except to the extent that citing a couple of radical Islamic Army chaplains made good fodder for his anti-chaplain lawsuit. Funny, that.)

Posted by: Blackavar at February 14, 2005 06:39 AM

Yeah, those dopes in Staunton have it all wrong. Instead of hauling the kids out of school to church, they should hold the church services at school, like we do: http://www.thecof.org .

Posted by: KevinM at February 15, 2005 12:45 AM
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