Sunday, March 14, 2010

So Much For 'Separation..."

Two troubling items from this week concerning the deterioration of the Separation of Church and State.

Number One:
In California, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled that "under god" in the Pledge of Allegiance is constitutional.  This is the same Circuit Court that ruled it unconstitutional in 2002.  Writing for, Nichole Belle states one of the troubling aspects (for the record, I do not agree with her first statement about even saying "under god"):

The ruling itself is not so much an issue with me; I don't have a problem with saying "under God". But I do have an issue with Judge Carlos Bea's reasoning in his decision:
Bea wrote that the pledge is indeed a patriotic exercise, and the words "under God" must be viewed in that context.
"The pledge reflects many beliefs held by the founding fathers of this country -- the same men who authored the Establishment Clause -- including the belief that it is the people who should and do hold the power, not the government," Bea wrote. "They believed that the people derive their most important rights, not from the government, but from God."
At the risk of being crude - bullshit.  That is pure, unadulterated bullshit.  God granted me the rights I have in this country as much as the Trix Rabbit,  Harry Potter, and Captain Ahab granted me those rights.  PEOPLE granted me those rights - intelligent, caring people.  Some of those people worked on the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, others worked on later Amendments, and others worked through the Court system (sadly, it appears no system is infallible).  And, of course, the armed forces personnel who have fought to keep this country free.

The other aspect of this ruling is that, should the courts here in my home state of North Carolina decide to follow the Ninth Circuit Court's ruling, children in public schools will be directed to state a belief in a god every school day.  (Circuits outside of the 9th are not obligated by this ruling as nothing done in the Ninth Circuit sets a direct precedence in other Circuits, although it is not uncommon for one Circuit Court to lean on other Circuits' prior decisions.)  A few years back, the State of North Carolina passed a law that stated that the Pledge MUST be said in class every day.  Children do have the option of sitting out the Pledge, but how many 6, 7, or 8 year olds could contradict their teachers and the pressure laid on them by their peers to do this?

I have a niece that felt the U.S. was not worthy of her pledge due to the treatment of the Indians and other injustices.  In junior high decided she would not say it with her class.  Her teacher tried to force her to say it, sending her to the Principal when she continued to refuse.  The Principal was prepared to punish her for not stating the Pledge.  Fortunately, her parents were intelligent folks and were able to talk some sense into the school officials.  How many parents would go to bat with a school like that for their kids?

Basically, a state law requiring that children state a Pledge with "under god" in it grants state sanction to the existence of a god - which is clearly against Separation of Church and State.

Number Two:
Feel for the children of Texas, for they (in the words of the BadAstronomer) are DOOMED.

The Texas "Education" Board has just approved guidelines for textbooks to be used in the next 10 years.  If you were to name the five people most influential in the American Revolution and our system of government, Thomas Jefferson would HAVE to be on that list.  What did they do with Jefferson?  They removed one of the major basis of his actions - Jefferson's impact in the Enlightenment will no longer be taught.  John Calvin's religious viewpoint?  Yep - that's been added.  Jefferson and the idea of Separation of Church and State?  Nahhh.

Per a live blog during the dreadful meeting when that was decided (h/t The Loom and Carl Zimmer):

Here’s the amendment Dunbar changed: “explain the impact of Enlightenment ideas from John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Jefferson on political revolutions from 1750 to the present.” Here’s Dunbar’s replacement standard, which passed: “explain the impact of the writings of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau,  Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and Sir William Blackstone.” Not only does Dunbar’s amendment completely change the thrust of the standard. It also appalling drops one of the most influential political philosophers in American history — Thomas Jefferson.

A majority of that Board considers themselves religious fundamentalists.  Their ultimate guide is not the Constitution, but their bible.  Their leader is so out of touch with even his Texas constituents that he just lost his bid for reelection - but that will not keep him from taking one last shot at true liberty and the ideas that lead to it. "We are adding balance," said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. "History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left."  His solution to that "skew"?  "They added apologetics for the McCarthy hearings.  Yes, you read that right. They added to the standards that America was being infiltrated by Communists, and therefore McCarthy was right."  (again, courtesy of Phil Plait of BadAstronomy)

Textbook publishers tend to give more weight to desires of big states when it comes to the content of their textbooks.  Large states such as Texas (as well as California, NY and Florida) have a huge impact on textbook content, so what those states demand the other states will get.  I just have to hope that most of the other states have sense enough to force the textbook publishers to create two sets of textbooks:
For Texas - "US History - GOD and country" (with a forward by Edith Hamilton)
For the rest of us - "US History - Mythology Free Version"

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