Friday, March 07, 2008


Political Piety

Okay, I missed this somehow. In August 2007, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law something called the "Religiuous Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act." According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

The law requires every public school in the state to adopt a policy guaranteeing students' right to religious expression. It mandates that schools create "limited public forums" for religious and other types of speech. A student could, for example, read the morning announcements over a loudspeaker and then lapse into a prayer or mini-sermon.
As Americans United points out, this is just an attempt by the Religious Right to draft students as evangelists to preach to a captive audience of their peers. Indeed:

One of the drafters of the law, a Houston attorney named Kelly J. Coghlan, urges students to lead their peers in prayer before the beginning of the school day as well as before football games, graduation ceremonies and other school events.

"For many years, students have been reluctant to stand up and express their faith in public schools for fear of being disciplined," Coghlan writes on his Web site. "Students should no longer have such fear. Schools are not religion-free zones; school officials are not prayer police; and students of faith are not enemies of the state. The new law makes this clear."
What is clear is that this is state sanctioning of evangelical activity during school hours. School administrators know that it will be a huge headache for them and a distraction from the real business of the schools:

Charles Perkins, Abilene Independent School District's assistant superintendent, told the Abilene Reporter-News, "I really do feel like the state law has been very confusing. It's opened some doors that no one thought to go through."

Perkins added, "Really and truly, we're just trying to have school, and I think this is a complicating factor."
Now it seems that Oklahoma is on the verge of shooting their schools in the foot as well. The Education Committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives has approved a bill identical to the Texas legislation. According to Dave McNeely in the Edmond Sun, the bill is expected to pass the full House, and then to go to the Senate. Mr. McNeely also recounts some of the experience Texas has been having in the months since it chose false religiosity over its children's welfare:

The consequence of the bill will be to create havoc and promote discord in the public schools. That's already happening in Texas, where the bill has been law for several months. Denton, Texas Independent School District, responding to the law, has decreed that no students may ever speak in assembly, to graduation, to the crowd at an athletic event or in other group function. As reported in The Denton Record Chronicle Sept. 1, the superintendent there said if no students are ever allowed to speak, then there will be no discrimination and no basis for lawsuits.
In other words, instead of being concerned with encouraging the maturation of the young people in their charge, school administrators must limit students' educational experiences in a (likely vain) attempt to avoid litigation that will drain even more resources away from the schools and opportunities away from the children.

These legislators should be ashamed.

Any chance of a Jewish/Muslim/atheist student getting to deliver their spiel once in a while?

If not, any chance of suing the school into behaving themselves?

(Yeah, I know: no parent wants a rock through the window from the local Christian yahoos).
... any chance of suing the school into behaving themselves?

I'm sure the school administrators are just as concerned about being sued by the local Christian yahoos as the secularists / Jews / Muslims / atheists. The bad thing about this law is that it won't be restricted to the boonies where most everybody is the same religion. You'll have the evangelicals demanding their "right" to proselytize in the relatively cosmopolitan parts of Texas, like Dallas, Houston and (gasp) Austin, where there'll be all hell to pay.
What will happen when someone decides to recite the "Hail Mary"?
I'm teaching at the University of North Texas in Denton, and I bet some of my students pray that they don't fail my exams. But I suppose as long as they do it quietly and to themselves, it's all good.
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