January 7, 2013

"The Elvis Problem: Defining Religion Under The First Amendment."

Instapundit weighs in on the Kwanzaa question I brought up yesterday.

And I want to drag something I wrote in my own comments section up to the front page. The Madison School District portrays Kwanzaa as something that belongs in government-run schools because it's a "culturally relevant practice," but:
Religion is a "culturally relevant practice."

It just doesn't belong in public schools.
And:
I mean practicing it doesn't belong in public schools.

It's fine and even desirable to teach children about the various religious traditions. It's part of history and social studies, and it should be taught competently and with a fact-based approach, not infused with promptings to feel inspired and devoted.
I think this is such a solid point that the definition of religion — for these school-based Establishment Clause cases — should be built around the idea that the compulsory attendance coerced in the name of education should not be exploited to capture the part of the child's mind that turns to God when the child is religious. All human beings have this aspect of their minds, whether they are religious or not, and the state's power does not belong there. When we see devotional exercises in public schools we should be revolted.

Background note: In the most relevant Supreme Court case (which is in a somewhat different context), the Court spoke of religion as "a sincere and meaningful belief which occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of those [religions] admittedly qualifying for the exemption." (The context was conscientious objection from the military draft.) The value of the Court's definition was that it avoided making distinctions and favored equal treatment under the laws.

49 comments:

Seeing Red said...

Religion is a "culturally relevant practice."

It just doesn't belong in public schools.
And:

I mean practicing it doesn't belong in public schools.





Schools should be open Christmas week. They can be the 1st 2 weeks of the New Year which includes MLK day.

traditionalguy said...

With all due respect for traditional American practices, today's Government/Media complex practices capturing the minds of children 24/7 and has no shame at being caught doing what they see as their very raison d'etre.

Ann Althouse said...

When schools are closed on Christmas, it facilitates the private celebration of Christmas. My problem is with the government performing devotional exercises.

Government accommodation of private needs is a different matter. Required school attendance is a govt-imposed burden on the free exercise of religion, and easing that burden is a very different kind of Establishment Clause issue.

Rich B said...

Aren't we being twisted into knots only because the original meaning of the first amendment was changed into "separation of church and state"/

TMink said...

Kwanza fine. Islam wonderful. Bahai, beautiful.

Christianity, not in our schools!

That is the bottom line of the so called separation between church and state, it is to minimize the Christian influence on this nation.

Trey

mccullough said...

Under the Barnette pledge of allegiance cases, requiring fealty, oaths or other such bullshit is a violation of the First Amendment's right to speech.

Although the establishment clause blocks any prayer in school, you can't compel students to pledge themselves to any doctrine.

TMink said...

Praying in school =/= the feds establishing a religion.

Trey

Hagar said...

A religion is a religion when I say it is, and not otherwise.

Mitchell the Bat said...

This stuff was easier way back when the concern was getting taxed to pay for someone else's church.

Synova said...

I'm sure that I'm not the only one that sees the compulsory public school as "...exploited to capture the part of the child's mind that turns to God when the child is religious."

It's just aimed at emotionalizing and spiritualizing environmental right thinking, dedication, and activism.

"Environmental" Science is politicized Earth or Natural Science. It's also considered the science to take for an easy A. It's easy to learn the right opinions. It's harder to seriously study Biology, Chemistry, Physics or Geology.

AllenS said...

Re: Kwanza

Does anyone who comments on this blog know any black people? If so, or if you don't know any, the next time you see a black person, tell them "Happy Kwanza". Let me know what their response is. I used to say that to blacks that I worked with, and they seemed embarrassed. No, not red-in-the-face embarrassed, but they knew it was bullshit.

Shouting Thomas said...

The Elvis problem in schools presents an interesting dimension, too.

Music education, no matter where it occurs, must acknowledge that the history of music is religious. That's where it all came from.

The popular music of the U.S. grew from the great tradition of sacred hymns. Classical music grew out of the patronage of the Church.

I'm far removed from the elementary or secondary schools in terms of teaching music, but I wonder how they could teach music the way I was taught as a kid. Nobody worried much when I was young about whether we explored the religious roots of music in school.

The Elvis part of the problem is deeper than Instapundit suggests.

edutcher said...

Hey, Elvis wasn't the only religion in them thar days.

There was also the Kingston Trio and the Beatles.

Ann Althouse said...

When schools are closed on Christmas, it facilitates the private celebration of Christmas. My problem is with the government performing devotional exercises.

But that's in the context of the Warren Court. If they'd decided the other way, would you still think that?

AllenS said...

Re: Kwanza

Does anyone who comments on this blog know any black people? If so, or if you don't know any, the next time you see a black person, tell them "Happy Kwanza". Let me know what their response is.


When Kwanzaa was first invented, I heard all over the place the proper greeting was, "Good Kwanzaa".

That said, I have yet to meet any black people who ever observed it. I have a feeling it's observance is limited to white and partially white college professors.

Seeing Red said...

It's closing on a holiday it doesn't want to promote because of American cultural history. School openings should not revolve around this holiday.

SteveR said...

Synova: Quite correct although its understandable as an elective in high school on up, its ubiquitous appearance in elementary education is farciful.

And rather than be an opening to teach science, as applied in real life, its used to "preach" the litany of "bad" humans, global warming, bad energy vs good energy, etc.

Synova said...

Compulsory education by the State is incompatible with liberty.

This is why attempts to legally require state education only (was that Pierce vs. Society of Sisters or was that a different one?) has resulted in rulings that affirm that the state can not compel students into state run schools.

Except that economically the state still does that.

And being compelled into a state run school is hostile toward religion and faith, or why isn't the Constitution satisfied if the Society of Sisters are just told to have a Sunday School program and quit their whining?

If public schools were funded but voluntary, I don't see the same problem. If vouchers were paid to parents for schools that recognized the unique responsibility of parents to watch over and make choices for their children's character and spiritual selves, that ought not be a problem either, except that some would howl because they really do have overtly hostile intentions toward the religious instruction of other people's children. (Ought to cap that like OPM... OPC... other people's money, and other people's children.)

The famous part of the Pierce vs. Society of Sisters ruling: "The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations."

Seeing Red said...

Aren't we having this discussion about the Catholic Church & birth control?

Why should Christmas be different?

If the state can and did aim a dagger at the Catholic Church, Professor, I think it's hard to chip away at 1 and leave the other.

Synova said...

That is another thought, isn't it.

If not paying for something is banning it and taking away other people's rights and freedom...

What is not paying for those church schools but banning religion?

Scott said...

...the Court spoke of religion as "a sincere and meaningful belief which occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of those [religions] admittedly qualifying for the exemption."

So progressivism is a religion.

Quayle said...

"a sincere and meaningful belief which occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of those [religions] admittedly qualifying for the exemption."

So Global Warming is every bit a religion as we suspected

So is modern leftism in America.

Or as the visionary Mormon leader Maxwell (now dead) put it back in 1978:

"[I]rreligion as the state religion would be the worst of all combinations. Its orthodoxy would be insistent and its inquisitors inevitable. Its paid ministry would be numerous beyond belief. Its Caesars would be insufferably condescending. Its majorities—when faced with clear alternatives—would make the Barabbas choice, as did a mob centuries ago when Pilate confronted them with the need to decide."

...

"Am I saying that the voting rights of the people of religion are in danger? Of course not! Am I saying, "It's back to the catacombs?" No! But there is occurring a discounting of religiously-based opinions. There may even be a covert and subtle disqualification of some for certain offices in some situations, in an ironic "irreligious test" for office."

"However, if people are not permitted to advocate, to assert, and to bring to bear, in every legitimate way, the opinions and views they hold that grow out of their religious convictions, what manner of men and women would they be, anyway? Our founding fathers did not wish to have a state church established nor to have a particular religion favored by government. They wanted religion to be free to make its own way. But neither did they intend to have irreligion made into a favored state church. Notice the terrible irony if this trend were to continue. When the secular church goes after its heretics, where are the sanctuaries? To what landfalls and Plymouth Rocks can future pilgrims go?"

"If we let come into being a secular church shorn of traditional and divine values, where shall we go for inspiration in the crises of tomorrow? Can we appeal to the rightness of a specific regulation to sustain us in our hours of need? Will we be able to seek shelter under a First Amendment which by then may have been twisted to favor irreligion? Will we be able to rely for counterforce on value education in school systems that are increasingly secularized? And if our governments and schools were to fail us, would we be able to fall back upon the institution of the family, when so many secular movements seek to shred it?"

jimbino said...

Yo Scott:

Playing to win in Las Vegas is more religious than religion. Bingo too. Lottery too.

Satisfying a spouse in marriage, etc., too. Rearing rugrats, too.

DADvocate said...

The huge majority of blacks I have spoken to about Kwanzaa consider it religious and baloney. Many won't have anything to do with it because they consider Kwanzaa pagan, thus celebrating it is a violation of their Christian belief.

Of course, most liberals beleve that whatever they say is the truth because they said it. Thus, Kwanzaa in school isn't a religion, but out of school it is. Culturally relevant? Barely, at most. It's only existed for about 45 years. I've never had a black person tell me they celebrate Kwanzaa.

roesch/voltaire said...

Part of the problem is that a "fact-based approach," to the teaching of anything seems to be a problem for some who are "religious."

Seeing Red said...

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

--John Adams

Seeing Red said...

Well when 2+2 started equaling 5.....

Oh, that's not what you meant, is it RV?

Seeing Red said...

The 20th century exposed socialism for what it really is, but this time it will be different, FORWARD!

AllenS said...

Ann Althouse said...
When schools are closed on Christmas, it facilitates the private celebration of Christmas.

Once again, you're full of shit. When I went to school, it was called Christmas vacation. It's only been relatively lately when it's been changed to an observance of "the holiday season". Christmas was celebrated at school.

Just because the courts have ruled differently, doesn't mean that it once wasn't so.

Seeing Red said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sparrow said...

The real problem is with the state running education in the first place.

Seeing Red said...

We even put on "A Charilie Brown Christmas" in our classroom for the parents, Jesus & all when I was a kid.

And sang Christmas Carols.

A few years ago we went to The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Christmas show. The audience sings along with the Choir. The words to the songs are in the program. On the way out, I heard a teenager remarks she never heard of most of those songs.

It was sad.

Revenant said...

All human beings have this aspect of their minds

A common assertion, but a false one.

Certainly some atheists have some substitute for the "higher power" -- e.g., Communists have the state itself in the role of "god". But it appears to be the case that some people genuinely lack any sense that there is "something greater" out there. I certainly do.

Why would this even be surprising? There are people who lack all sorts of personality traits that are overwhelmingly common in humanity. There are people with no sex drive; surely people with no "god drive" can't be that weird a concept. :)

Synova said...

"Part of the problem is that a "fact-based approach," to the teaching of anything seems to be a problem for some who are "religious."

Because facts have a liberal and an atheist slant? Hm?

In truth it's usually the religious sorts calling for fact based teaching, back to the basics, teach skills and Historical data like names of people and dates of events.

That's why "environmental science" in high schools bothers me (and OMG Polar Bears! in grade school is even worse). Instead of having the students take a hard core biology class and learn how cells work and get the basics and the *facts*, they get what all students understand is a light-weight course.

aberman said...

Public schools often make decisions such as vacation day planning based on religious holidays because their populations practice those religions. Thus, it is for expediency.

On the other hand, there seems to be no child in Madison, WI who participates in Kwanzaa outside of school. Thus, the Madison School District's decision is a perfect example of not only respecting an establishment of religion, but of actively establishing it.

roesch/voltaire said...

Historical data without a narrative is incomplete. It is like memorizing facts(dates) about Athens without reading Thucydides or discussing the implications of hubris in Oedipus the King. Teaching based on evidence is a challenge just consider for example the genetic proof of evolution, or historical roots of liberal Islam in 1013 which then went into decline.

Revenant said...

Because facts have a liberal and an atheist slant? Hm?

Because the list of religion-related facts is short and uninteresting. The list of religious opinions, firmly *believed* to be facts by adherents, is very long.

What's more, whatever that opinion is, it is a minority opinion. A fact-based overview of religions will be definition expose kids to the fact that most of the world thinks those kids' parents and pastors are full of hooey. Which, to put it mildly, ain't what most religious parents are looking for.

When I was in school, the school got outraged calls from parents because one teacher had *mentioned* she was a Buddhist. Such is life in the land of the Southern Baptists. Imagine what it had been like if the school had (correctly) mentioned that the factual basis of Buddhism is as solid as that of Christianity.

chickelit said...

AllenS observes: Once again, you're full of shit. When I went to school, it was called Christmas vacation. It's only been relatively lately when it's been changed to an observance of "the holiday season". Christmas was celebrated at school.

Ah but those were the bad old days--probably the 1950's and 60's. Those times are anathema to leftists who want nothing to do with 50's economic prosperity and the 60's cultural hegemony.

The Godfather said...

I'm a Christian. I believe it, and try to live it.

I don't want the public schools trying to indoctrinate my grandchildren in Christianity -- and only partly because I know the schools will do a lousy job of it. Mostly it's because the great gift to Christianity in this country has been that we don't have state-sponsored religion. Compare the vitality of Christianity in this country to any European country -- other than those that used to be behind the Iron Curtain -- and you'll see what I mean.

The quasi-religious or pseudo-religious stuff, like Kwanzaa or Gaia or whatever, doesn't belong in public schools because it is not the business of government to inculcate such values in our children.

Look, here's an example: I believe in equal rights for gays. I want them to be able to marry. I want them to be allowed to serve as ordained clergy in my church. I don't want them to be persecuted as they used to be. But I don't think it's the proper role of public schools to teach children that homosexuality is OK -- Heather Has Two Mommies -- that's the family's job. And if the family thinks being gay is wrong, that's the family's judgment to make. Of course we expect schools to discourage bullying, but that doesn't require that the Government use its power to indoctrinate children into ideas their families don't agree with it.

Kwanzaa and stuff like that is a camel's nose of indoctrination under the tent. I'd be happy to give up all Christian references in public schools -- no Christmas or Holy Week holidays, no carols, no creches in the classroom -- in return for no indoctrination of the children in trendy environmentalism, leftism, "social justice", etc.

X said...

sounds good in theory and I'm in favor of getting more for our money but try and take a government worker's holy days away from them and even the atheist ones would go apeshit.

Phil 3:14 said...

The Madison School District portrays Kwanzaa as something that belongs in government-run schools because it's a "culturally relevant practice,"

White Christians don't have culture.

Mick Havoc said...

There is only one commandment in the Church of Elvis:

DON'T BE CRUEL!

Revenant said...

Because, of course, a kid in America today probably never has any exposure to how white Christians celebrate Christmas.

... provided that the aforementioned kid speaks no English and lives in a sealed plastic bubble without TV, radio or internet access.

mariner said...

When schools undertake to promote understanding of Christianity in schools I'll take your argument seriously.

It seems we should understand every religion EXCEPT the one held by the great majority of people who built our country.

THAT one (and the Judaism it grew from) are obviously beyond the pale.

Synova said...

"When I was in school, the school got outraged calls from parents because one teacher had *mentioned* she was a Buddhist. Such is life in the land of the Southern Baptists. Imagine what it had been like if the school had (correctly) mentioned that the factual basis of Buddhism is as solid as that of Christianity."

That's a separate issue.

RV said that it was the religious people who disliked "facts" in schools... but IME it's religious people who would like kids to learn skills like "the three R's" and leave the ideology out of it.

In the early 90's I was online a lot and participated in discussions about homeschooling and opponents were not in the least bit shy that they believed that the most important part of public school was rescuing kids from their parent's belief systems. The people saying this had no concept even that someone might object to their oh-so-reasonable opinion about the ideological purpose of education. (Sort of the way Ayers wasn't/isn't shy about getting them while they're young.)

No, parents, atheist or religious, don't want teachers telling their children who-knows-what about faith or politics.

So let the market solve the problem.

Revenant said...

but IME it's religious people who would like kids to learn skills like "the three R's" and leave the ideology out of it.

That's fine if you're talking about first grade, but schools teach a lot more than the "three Rs".

I'll believe religious folks are interested in "just the facts" when the shut the fuck up about the teaching of evolution in public schools. :)

Revenant said...

It seems we should understand every religion EXCEPT the one held by the great majority of people who built our country.

You're missing the point. You can't live in America and not receive a basic understanding of Christianity. Christianity permeates every corner of American culture. There isn't a place you can live or a job you can hold where you won't constantly encounter Christian concepts and idioms. That's what makes it so hilarious when the door to door missionaries ask "have you heard the good news about Jesus Christ". Well, yes. I live in America, I speak a European language, and therefore yes, I've heard it. :)

Revenant said...

Let me give a trivial example of the kind of thing I'm talking about:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XOm6tRSABs

This is a sitcom with the usual coastal left-wing sensibilities. It is in no way religious and the only openly religious characters on the show are Ted's weirdo sister and her family. The show is aimed at 20-something Americans, i.e. Americans who grew up during the much-maligned Atheist Dark Ages when American schoolchildren were tragically denied a formal education in the specifics of Christianity. It is, in short, a show that makes fun on religion when it mentions it at all. Exactly the sort of thing social conservatives like to rant about.

Yet the writers assume the audience will know who Jesus is, that he supposedly died and came back from the dead, that this took 3 days, that he's a figure of veneration who shouldn't be made fun of, and even why it is silly to think Christians would have been "in church" a few days after Jesus died.

Think about that, and think about how comparatively little the average American knows about any non-Judeo-Christian religion. And that, quite simply, is why there is some value in exposing kids to other cultures -- they pick up OUR culture by virtue of living in it.

TMink said...

Rev wrote: "You can't live in America and not receive a basic understanding of Christianity."

I see your point, to a point! 8)

It is imporssible to live in America and not have ideas about Christianity, but I think a basic understanding of Christ's teachings is fairly elusive in our populace and even some of our churches.

Many Christians focus on legalistic, slavish following of the law and fear of God turning on them. Many other Christians are pluralists and ignore Jesus' teaching that he was the only Messiah and way to peace with God.

I would say that a Biblical understanding of Christianity is fairly rare.

But that is just my observation. 8)

Trey

As my whimsy leads me.. said...

In the Church of Elvis, today would be a holiday. Happy Birthday to the King!

Toy

city said...

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