The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Anatomy of Sect Education:Examining Bible Classes in Public Schools and Religious literacy

Tim Mitchell
April 26, 2007

A few weeks ago, Time magazine ran a cover story entitled "The Case for Teaching The Bible," which was written by Time's senior religion writer David Van Biema. Van Biema's basic argument is that the Christian Bible should be taught as a class in public schools, but with careful precautions taken to ensure that the class remains "secular" and constitutional. As Van Biema summarizes in the beginning of his article:

There aren't that many (Bible classes). But they're rising in popularity. Last year Georgia became the first state in memory to offer funds for high school electives on the Old and New Testaments using the Bible as the core text. Similar funding was discussed in several other legislatures, although the initiatives did not become law. Meanwhile, two privately produced curriculums crafted specifically to pass church-state muster are competing for use in individual schools nationwide. Combined, they are employed in 460 districts in at least 37 states. The numbers are modest, but their publishers expect them to soar. The smaller of the two went into operation just last year but is already into its second 10,000-copy printing, has expressions of interest from a thousand new districts this year and expects many more. The larger publisher claims to be roughly doubling the number of districts it adds each year. These new curriculums plus polls suggesting that over 60% of Americans favor secular teaching about the Bible suggest that a (Bible class) may soon be in a school near you.

Even though America is a largely Christian nation, Van Biema cites poll statistics that say only half of the adults know the title of even one Gospel, most can't name the Bible's first book, and even only 44 percent of whose teens from evangelical Christian families could identify a particular quote as coming from the Sermon on the Mount. Apparently, the 5000 billboards being erected across America by the National Bible Association and the Bible Literacy Project that say "An Educated Person Knows The Bible" are simply not enough.

Other writers have already commented on Van Biema's article; in particular, Bruce Wilson provides a detailed examination of the arguments featured in this article and their implications at his site, Talk To Action. Nevertheless, I thought I would contribute my own perspective, particularly within the context of the issue of "religious literacy" in America.

Government-Funded Sunday School
Conservative Christian evangelicals have been smarting since mandatory prayer and Bible recitation had been removed from American public schools in the 1960s, and they've been trying to get such activities back in ever since. Many have equated the removal of Christian teachings from taxpayer funded education as a victory for moral decay, decadent liberalism, and unrestrained atheism. For example, the book Clergy in the Classroom, which was published by the conservative Summit Ministries, makes the argument that the secularization of American culture has resulted in the new "religion" of Secular Humanism. Clergy describes Secular Humanism as a religion that "promotes theological atheism, philosophical naturalism, biological spontaneous generation/evolution, moral relativism, legal positivism, and political globalism." On the basis of this definition, Clergy states that Secular Humanism is "the only worldview granted privileged access to our government-funded public schools" and that "The 'wall of separation' between church and state has effectively established Secular Humanism as the official religion of America's public schools." To take this conservative evangelical position seriously, it would mean that even the promotion of religious neutrality results in the endorsement of religion (?), leaving the promotion of the "true" religion of Christianity as the only justifiable option. Van Biema does not mention this perspective in his article, but the fact that it exists among the proponents of putting Bible classes in public schools is hardly reassuring.

One of the recurring "secular" arguments behind the movement for teaching the Bible in public schools is that because Christianity is the dominant religion in the West, references to the Bible are found throughout Western literature, art, and political discourse. Hence, in order for students to understand both classical and modern Western thought, they must understand its majority religion�regardless of whether the students in question are Christian (or not) or are even interested in practicing Christianity (or not). Van Biema clearly endorses this argument. In the print version of the article, he even includes a chart titled, "The Bible in Pop Culture," which says "Even our superficial pleasures are enhanced by a background in the Good Book." (His selections here are mostly biased: either they make explicit references to the Bible, such as the movies Babel and Pulp Fiction and the stage musical Spamalot, or they are claimed as Christian entertainment anyway, such a The DaVinci Code, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Left Behind books. How controversial books such as The DaVinci Code and the Left Behind series can be considered "superficial" is beyond me.)

What struck me first about Time's Bible class article was Van Biema's usage of language, which skewed heavily towards an evangelical viewpoint�so much so that I was baffled over how Van Biema could become a senior religion writer for ANY publication that isn't openly Christian. Yes, he does include some commentary from people and groups that oppose Bible classes in public schools, but he mostly focuses on people, groups and court rulings that favor such classes. Below is a sampling of some of Van Biema's article, as well as quotes that he chose to include (with italics and emphasis added):

* Van Biema's summary of the Bible class advocates' argument: The Bible so pervades Western culture, it says, that it's hard to call anyone educated who hasn't at least given thought to its key passages. � it claims that the current civic climate makes it a "now more than ever" proposition.

* A quote from evangelist Chuck Colson, who favors Bible courses: "Would I prefer a more explicitly biblical Christian teaching? � Of course. But you can't do that in public education. What you can do is introduce the Bible so that people are aware of its impact on people and in history and then let God speak through it as he will."

* From the article's conclusion: � what is required in teaching about the Bible in our public schools is patriotism: a belief that we live in a nation that understands the wisdom of its Constitution clearly enough to allow the most important book in its history to remain vibrantly accessible for everyone.

Such language about making the Bible accessible to everyone (particularly "now more than ever") could easily be used by any evangelical/missionary organizations to endorse what they do. For example, Wycliffe Bible Translators, Inc. states as their vision on their Web site to make "God's Word accessible to all people in the language of their heart." Then there is the International Bible Society, an evangelical organization whose goal is "to use the resources God provides to reach as many people as possible with accurate, readable, understandable translations of His life-transforming Word." For something more directly school-oriented, there is the Truth for Youth Bible Project, which is sponsored by Tim Todd Ministries. According to its Web site, the Truth for Youth Bible Project aims to provide Bibles to every teenager in the United States "to restore religious freedoms in public school" and "bring the message of the Gospel to America's young people so they might receive Christ and become His disciples." (There's even a "Bible Not Bullets: The Truth About School Violence" comic book that emphasizes the importance to keeping Bibles in schools in order to reduce gun violence.) Unfortunately, Van Biema ignores such explicit evangelical efforts to get the Bible back into public schools, and he appears to think that he's somehow being neutral and fair to both the ends of the issue by putting the Christian Right on the religious, pro-Bible class side and everyone else on the secular, anti-Bible class side.

On the basis of his lopsided dichotomy, he suggests a "modest" solution: the Bible class should be an elective for only junior and seniors, and it should be paired with a world religions course (each course taking one semester). For the Bible course, Van Biema recommends the following:

Within that (Bible class) period students could be expected to read and discuss Genesis, the Gospel of Matthew, a few Moses-on-the-mountain passages and two of Paul's letters. No one should take the course but juniors and seniors. The Bible's harmful as well as helpful uses must be addressed, which could be done by acknowledging that religious conservatives see the problems as stemming from the abuse of the holy text, while others think the text itself may be the culprit. The course should have a strong accompanying textbook on the model of The Bible and Its Influence but one that is willing to deal a bit more bluntly with the historical warts. And some teacher training is a must: at a bare minimum, about their constitutional obligations.

Unfortunately, Van Biema doesn't specify what qualifies as the Bible's "historical warts" or its "harmful" uses. (There are passing references to the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Salem witch trials in the article, but not much more than that.) He also doesn't explain how his two-course plan is fair to other religions: it appears to me that one class would be devoted to the detailed study of the holy text of one religion, while the other class would be little more than a summary of all the other major religions and no mention of minority religions. This issue would become more complicated if Christianity is included as part of the world religions course, meaning that students would be exposed to Christianity in two consecutive courses while other religions only get a small fraction of one semester. Oddly enough, Van Biema cites Christian fundamentalist pastor John Hagee's complaints about Bible classes, that they somehow "could convince a student that polytheism is as valid as monotheism". However, under the First Amendment, the American government must regard polytheism as valid as monotheism if it is to treat its citizens' diverse religious practices fairly, so it would logically make sense for students�as American citizens�to do exactly what Hagee fears. Van Biema says absolutely nothing at all about that notion.

For Van Biema, his moderate solution is best represented by a Bible class taught by Jennifer Kendrick at New Braunfels High School in Texas. He provides snippets of Kendrick's Bible lessons, which include teaching about the Beatitudes from the Book of Matthew, the Ten Commandments, and the Golden Rule. From these examples, it appears that Bible class teachers can talk about the Bible as long as they do not assert that Jesus is the son of God (or any god) and do not require the class to engage in any act of religious devotion. Yet I've attended Sunday School throughout my childhood and adolescence and the lessons being taught by Kendrick sound very similar to the lessons I was taught in Sunday School. Learning about Jesus is an essential part of the act of worshipping him, and to learn about Jesus includes learning about his teachings�which is what Kendrick is encouraging her class to do. From this perspective, the Bible classes may not demand that the students practice Christianity, but it does bring them halfway there. For example, from the article:

Explaining why Jesus' famous sermon took place on a mount, she (Kendrick) reminds the students that Matthew was writing for Jews, and a mount is where Moses received the Ten Commandments. "So, supposedly," she says, "Jesus is the new covenant, the new law, for the Jewish people."

Speaking completely from a secular viewpoint, why should students care about who the ancient Jews recognized/did not recognize as a legitimate religious leader/covenant? Why should students care if some upstart named Jesus tried to convince the Jewish people some 2000 years ago to engage in some kind of reformation of their faith, a reformation that to this day failed to take hold within the collective Jewish community? (Comparatively speaking, Egypt was at one time the world leader of intellectual and technological accomplishments, accomplishments that set the stage for future civilizations; ergo, why aren't students taking classes on the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead?) Once Jesus is taken out of the context of being the focal point of a major world religion, his significance to world history does not have a strictly secular analogue. In other words, the only reason why anyone remembers Jesus (or publishes and buys the book of his teachings, the New Testament of the Christian Bible) is because of his religious significance; how can anyone plausibly secularize that fact? For as secular as one might make the Bible appear, it is impossible to ignore that it is the central text of a major world religion that has an unrelenting evangelical streak�although that's exactly what Bible class groups such as the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, groups with clear ties to the Christian Right, claim they are doing. To give credence to such nonsensical claims leaves one to conclude that the only way a religion can be taken seriously by others in America (namely, mainstream media and the federal government) is to repeatedly attack the separation of church and state, not to politely abide by it.

The Secularization Flimflam
When I first heard about the authorization of so-called "secular" Bible study classes in public schools, the first thing I thought of were all the hokey attempts by the Christian Right over the years to make displays of the Ten Commandments and nativity crèches on public, taxpayer funded land First Amendment-compatible. To quote baseball legend Yogi Bera, "It's déjà vu all over again." For example, in the cases ACLU of Kentucky v. Mercer County (2003), Christian v. City of Grand Junction (2001), and Colorado v. Freedom From Religion Foundation (1995), courts decided that displays of an unmistakably religious nature such as the Ten Commandments could be "secularized" if they were surrounded by displays that are secular in nature. In the case of the Ten Commandments, secular displays could include the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights; in the case of nativity crèches, secular displays could include Santa Claus and snowmen. Such blatant attempts by Christian conservatives to hide their proselytization efforts behind such a flimsy premise would be laughable if courts didn't take them seriously, and yet somehow they do. Mind you, this hasn't always worked�see ACLU v. McCreary County (2005)�but it's been validated enough by the legal system to make one wonder what on earth court justices were thinking when they rule in favor of such arguments. (Then again, court rulings didn't matter to Congress in 1999 when, as a response to the Columbine High School shootings, the U.S. House voted 248-180 in favor of posting the Ten Commandments in schools and other government buildings.) When a display features a religious icon such as Jesus or states that one deity�and ONLY one deity�should be worshipped and that a particular day of the week should be considered holy, no amount of secular, non-religious trimming will change the religious content of such displays. It would be like arguing that a picture of naked people explicitly engaging in sexual intercourse, complete with visible genitalia, could be rendered non-pornographic if it is surrounded by pictures of clothed people.

Such absurdity also calls into question the necessity for such "secularization" in the first place. As Van Biema himself asserts, America is an overwhelmingly Christian country, with churches outnumbering schools and government buildings in community after community. Ergo, there are plenty of places where the Bible could be taught and the Ten Commandments and nativity crèches could be displayed with nary a legal challenge. According to the 2006 article that appeared in The New Yorker, "The Good Book Business", the Bible itself has spawned an extremely lucrative niche publishing industry. Not only is the Bible is the best selling book of the year, every year, but that the amount spent annually on Bibles has been estimated at more than a half a billion dollars. Studies have shown that 91 percent of Americans own at least one Bible, and that the average household owns four. Below is a list of Bible titles featured in the article that are intended to appeal to specific demographic groups:

* The Family Foundations Study Bible

* The Woman, Thou Art Loosed! Bible

* The Grace for the Moment Daily Bible

* The Super Heroes Bible: The Quest for Good Over Evil

* Good News for Modern Man Bible

* The Holman Christian Standard Bible

* The Contemporary English Version Bible

* Today's New International Version Bible

* English Standard Version Bible

* 2:52 Boys Bible: The Ultimate Manual

* The Soul Surfer Bible

* The Rainbow Study Bible

* The Outdoor Bible

* The Promise Bible

* Psalty's Kids Bible (featuring Psalty, the famous singing songbook)

* The Personal Promise Bible (not to be confused with the Promise Bible)

* The Story Bible

* The Men of Integrity Bible

This does not include the countless audio Bibles, which feature the vocal talents of celebrities such as Charlton Heston and Johnny Cash; one of the latest audio Bibles, "The Bible Experience," features an all-black celebrity cast that includes Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson. Here's also a list of some of the Bible magazines (or "BibleZines") that are currently in print:

* Relevant, for twentysomethings
* Revolve, for teens
* Refuel, for boys
* Blossom, for tweens
* Real, for the "vibrant urban crowd"
* Divine Health, for health issues.

In light of such overrepresentation, the argument that public schools should be teaching the Bible in an environment where institutions openly devoted to the Christian faith are in abundance and where the Bible is a consistent bestselling book available in multiple demographic-specific editions is completely ridiculous. Moreover, churches are already tax-exempt; to burden taxpayer funded, secular institutions such as public schools with teaching about the Bible (something that churches already do) will only take time and money away from other subjects that schools should be providing (something that churches don't do). Perhaps the best way this could be handled is to remove the tax-exempt status of churches in communities where Bible classes are taught in public schools, since it's clear that the public schools are being used to provide a service that churches are not and therefore they should not be allowed to use their failure as a tax shelter. But I digress�

The real problem with teaching the Bible in public schools is that by only emphasizing the holy writings of one religion and no other, the school gives the student the impression that Christianity is the ONLY religion worthy of recognition and adherence. Even if the Bible classes are offered only as an elective choice in public schools, the fact that students would have no other religious text to choose from as a subject of study will nevertheless impact how the students view the world around them. Students may not leave the class with any greater desire to join the Christian faith, but it nevertheless leaves that student with an understanding that Christian-based monotheism of ancient Middle Eastern origin is the only religious viewpoint that educated adults take seriously. By extension, all other religions become negligible, if not disposable, and are viewed as unworthy of devoted practice and belief, let alone serious academic study. The whole point behind the government's neutrality on issues of religion is to allow citizens the freedom to choose whatever religion they prefer without repercussions that would negatively impact their citizenship, which includes the right to employment, the right to run for and hold public office, and so on�the same rights should extend to students in public schools. It's bad enough that many minority faiths are underrepresented within countless American communities; it's even worse that Bible classes in public schools further marginalize non-Christian faiths into second-class status. To reiterate what I discussed in my previous article, "Living in a Missionary World", Bible classes will mold students into the kind of people Christian evangelists want to see: people who can only measure their knowledge of all of religion by what they are taught about and/or what they have personally experienced in Christianity.

Furthermore, for as often as Bible class advocates argue that Christianity is part of America's heritage, the indigenous tribal religions that inhabited America before the arrival of Europeans were not Christian at all and often faced prejudicial treatment from the American government for their non-Christian beliefs and practices. To follow the resulting analogy: "Christianity" is to "Be American" as "Traditional American Indian Religions" is to "Not Be American". Thus, issues regarding the ongoing struggle to preserve lands that are sacred to the Indian tribes will not be covered in the Bible classes, leaving students completely unaware of the difficulties and injustices faced by religions that are rooted in the very continent they themselves call home.

On the other hand, the (willful?) ignorance of indigenous religious struggles further confirms my personal suspicion that land ownership is one of the reasons why members of white American culture�especially the Christian Right�do not take Native American religious concerns seriously. I believe they are subconsciously afraid that if they do, they may discover that the traditional non-Christians religions imbue the American Indian tribes with a spiritual connection to the North American continent that is far deeper and more legitimate than any belief in Christianity could equal, hence calling faith-based claims to America as a Christian nation (the "New Jerusalem" or "the city on a hill" as some evangelists have said) into question. Of course, discussing the injustices faced by indigenous American cultures at the hands of Euro-Christians has already sparked controversy from conservative Christians, who argue that such lessons are "teaching students to hate their country". It would also run counter to Van Biema's assertion that "there should be one faith test. Faith in our country."

Promoting Religious Literacy� by Ignoring Minorities
The Christian Right's efforts to put the Bible back into American school rooms under the pretense of contributing to secular education does have supporters from academic circles. One particular example mentioned in Van Biema's article is Stephen Prothero, chair of the Boston University religion department and author of a new book, Religious Literacy. Prothero has been published in several newspapers in articles discussing the lack of religious literacy in the United States. (If you feel at all compelled to test your knowledge of world religions, be sure to go to Prothero's site. However, of the 15 questions asked, only two ask about Eastern religions; the rest of the questions only cover the Western religions of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Mormonism.) While I couldn't agree more that most of mainstream America is very illiterate and uninformed when it comes to the issues of religious freedom and diversity, the problem with Prothero is that he, for the most part, measures religious literacy by how well people know the Christian Bible. In fact, whether he is writing commentary for The Los Angeles Times or being interviewed by USA Today, he bounces back and forth between the importance of teaching the Bible and the importance of teaching world religions in his discourse about religious literacy so much that it's hard to ascertain how Prothero measures religious literacy in relation to religious freedom and diversity.

A good example of such confused priorities was when Prothero debated the Rev. Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, for the On Faith Web site. During the debate, Prothero stressed that "ignorance about the world's religions is a major CIVIC problem in our country." He feels that if it were left up to only religious institutions to provide education on religion, "America's young people would be learning only about ONE religion � and from one sectarian perspective" and that "the public schools can contribute � a non-sectarian perspective on one of the most powerful forces in the world, namely, religion." However, he also says the following about why he demands that a Bible class should be taught in public schools:

Why should the Bible have its own class? � The answer is because it is the key scripture in American political rhetoric, and has been since before the founding of the nation. I understand that � strict separationists think that this is a bad thing. And I agree that there are a lot of deleterious effects�on both politics and religion�from mixing the two. But wishing something does not make it true, and the fact of the matter is that at least during my lifetime politicians are going to talk about religion, and when they do their touchstone will be the Bible. The same is true of American literature. Here the touchstone is not the Upanishads of the Hindus (which I teach my college students) but the Bible. As for "which one" to teach, I'm up for bringing various translations into the room. That makes the point that the Biblical books were written in other languages, which is a good history lesson in itself.

In Prothero's view, only the holy text of America's majority religion should be taught in detail, thus reinforcing Christianity's majority status and implying that the only religions that matter are those that wield sizable political clout. (From that perspective, you could argue that American history should only be told from the perspective of white, rich heterosexual men, since they have traditionally held most of the social/political/economic power in America's history.) His suggested usage of Bibles that were written in different languages to provide a "good history lesson" would show to students just how much of a majority Christianity is in other counties, not just America, thus further emphasizing Christianity's supremacy at the expense of others. It astonishes me to consider that a religious scholar such as Prothero, whose studies have included Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, fails to understand that by insisting that public schools teach the Bible, he is fostering further misunderstanding and devaluing of non-Christian, non-majority religions. It's also troubling that the author of a book such as American Jesus appears unaware that through his advocacy of Bible classes in public schools he making himself a spokesperson for the evangelical Christian Right, a movement that, in his own words, "slowly turned Americans away from religious learning, which increasingly was seen as secondary and maybe even dangerous." I would even go so far to say that Prothero is actually arguing that religious minorities would HINDER, not advance, religious literacy education when/if they were included in public school curriculums on religion.

(It should be noted that Prothero does say in his debate with Lynn that "religious institutions ought to teach their children about the Bible or other scriptures. But they are not doing a particularly good job." However, he also does not explain why secular public schools have to compensate for the failures of religious institutions.)

Teaching the Three R's: Religion, Reflection and Rights
If public schools are intended to prepare students to become both productive citizens and active members of a democracy, then religion should be included as part of the curriculum. Indeed, religion�as a collective human phenomenon�has had an unmistakable impact on civilizations all over the world and throughout the ages and students should be aware of this. However, schools should not focus the students' attention on one religion (or the scripture of one religion), because that decision should be made by the students' parents and no one else. Schools should instead be more comprehensive and ONLY comprehensive�as opposed to Van Biema, who argued along with Prothero that elective Bible classes "should be twinned mandatorily with a world religions course, even if that would mean just a semester of each". I would also suggest that curriculums go beyond the larger world religions to include issues facing smaller religions; otherwise, it would be like teaching a biology class with no mention of endangered species, or teaching a world economics class that only covers First World countries and none of the Third World countries. The focus should be on the intersection between religion and law, and how religions legally impact each other�two issues that MUST be taught if the concept of religious freedom that is summarized in the First Amendment is to be fully understood. Such curriculums should ask questions akin to the following suggestions

* Some religions choose to worship multiple gods; others assert that only one god exists and that the belief in other gods is wrong; and yet others do not include the belief of anything that could be considered a god. How should a government moderate such differences? Should it allow for opportunities of free expression for each faith system (such as federal recognition of different religious holidays and protection of lands deemed sacred by each of the faiths involved) or should it avoid them altogether and let the religious communities work it out between each other on their own? If the government chooses to stay neutral and a conflict ensues, what can the government do to ameliorate relations between harshly conflicted faiths?

* Even though certain religions may not be in a state of violent conflict with each other, there nevertheless remains a state of 'competition' between religions all over the world with an outcome that has led to increasingly limited autonomy and socio-political representation of smaller, less competitive faiths�if not complete extinction. How should governments that endorse religious freedom and diversity handle this problem? If laws are passed to protect minority religions, that could be considered a violation of the freedoms of the majority religions to expand their memberships. On the other hand, if the government does not intervene, minority religions could cease to be practiced due to dwindling membership and thus the freedom to practice them will disappear as well, resulting in the reduction of the overall population's freedom to choose different, less prominent faiths instead of the larger faiths. Discuss.

* If certain religions view competition with other religions as antithetical to their beliefs, how can the government respect their decision to not be competitive while at the same time ensure recognition of their rights when dealing with larger competitive religions? If a non-competitive religion does lose its membership when a competitive religion succeeds in converting the majority of its youth, how can the non-competitive religion keep itself alive and yet remain non-competitive? Is state-protected religious freedom even working if a non-competitive religion has to make such a decision?

* Most religions discuss eternity and immortality, yet many religions are no longer practiced by anyone. Do you think that religions reach a point where they deserve to become extinct? If so, why? If not, why? If religions become extinct because of violent, aggressive action instigated by other religion(s), what do you think that says about the beliefs of the aggressor(s)?

Likewise, comprehensive religion curriculums should include examinations akin to the following situations:

* One of the more recent, egregious examples of Christian evangelicals harassing a religious minority in America happened in the late 1990s, when thirteen conservative evangelical organizations decided to use a boycott to pressure the Army into banning Wicca on all of its posts. This attack against Wicca even included U.S. Representative Bob Barr (GA-7) , who stated that by allowing Wicca in the military "sets a dangerous precedent that could easily result in the practice of all sorts of bizarre practices being supported by the military under the rubric of 'religion.'" The subject of military Wiccan discharges even came up during the 2000 Presidential election, when each candidate was asked, "With religious diversity increasing, what are your thoughts on the protection of religious freedom and the separation of church and state? Should religions like Wicca be banned from recognition by the military, as some legislators suggest?" Even though then-Governor Bush said he supported religious freedom, he also said that "I do not think witchcraft is a religion, and I do not think it is in any way appropriate for the U.S. military to promote it." When Vice President Gore responded, he too supported religious freedom�and completely dodged answering the Wiccan half of the question at all. The answers from third party candidates followed similar patterns: the conservative candidates openly bashed the Wiccans, while the more liberal candidates voiced their support of religious freedom but said nothing specific regarding the harassment of Wiccans by evangelical Christian fundamentalists. How can a country such as the United States consider itself an advocate of religious freedom for all when its politicians either a) openly bash a minority religion while at the same time saying they support religious freedom or b) refuse to openly defend said minority when it is under attack from other religious groups?

* In 1882, the American government passed the Indian Religious Crime Code, which outlawed Native American spiritual practices. The law remained in effect for 50 years, during which tribes were ordered to surrender objects used in spiritual rituals, which were in turn sold to collectors and museums. During this period, the government also subsidized and implemented Christian missionary efforts in Indian communities. Laws such as the Indian Religious Crime Code are considered by American law to be treaties. According to American law, unless a treaty provision threatened the rights or interests of American citizens, there is no constitutional reason not to allow it, and in this context the Indian tribes are considered foreign, sovereign nations. Does this mean that religions of other nations are not worthy of the protections granted by the First Amendment and if so, how can the American government consider itself to be an advocate of religious freedom while passing laws that trample on the religious freedoms of others? Furthermore, if the First Amendment is supposed to guarantee religious freedom for all in the continental United States, why did the American government support the passage of such legislation as American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) in 1978, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in 1990, and the Native American Free Exercise of Religion Act in 1993? Would the Supreme Court justices ruled the way they did in 1988 case of Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association if the First Amendment adequately protected indigenous nature-based religions within the United States?

* In 2004, North Carolina District Court Judge James M. Honeycutt wrote to county officials requesting that bailiffs stop use of the phrases "God save the state and this honorable court" (used by bailiffs in their calls opening court sessions) and "so help me, God" (used in courtroom oaths). He also removed the requirement that witnesses be sworn in using a Bible. Honeycutt wrote, "We are seeing in our court system an increasing number of people from cultures around the world, cultures that are not necessarily Christian in background. � I believe that the burden should not be on those individuals to speak up and request an oath that does not mention God or use the Christian Bible." Honeycutt requested that the changes take place by April 5. As the result of a complaint filed by county officials, the North Carolina Supreme Court ordered Honeycutt to reinstate references to God in his courtroom. If the U.S. government is not supposed to endorse a particular religion or religious belief, how can a state's Supreme Court legally order a judge who is trying to accommodate as many different religious beliefs and perspectives as possible within his courtroom to do otherwise? In an angry response to Honeycutt's actions, former member of a local County Board of Commissioners Rick Lanier was quoted as saying, "He's a judge. He should be subject to complying with the bylaws that we established and founded for our nation." How can a former elected politician like Lanier accuse Honeycutt of not complying with the bylaws established by America when in fact Honeycutt was trying to adhere to the First Amendment?

* According to recent article by The Christian Post, Americans can support overseas Catholic evangelization efforts through the use of a new credit card, the World Missions Visa Card, which is sponsored by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. The article states, "With the card, one percent of all purchases will be donated to the Propagation of Faith, which they would use to support the church's evangelizing mission in more than 120 countries throughout Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands and Latin America. It would also help support educational and healthcare efforts. More than 90 percent of the gathered funds by the Propagation of Faith go directly towards mission efforts, according to the group." How do you think religious freedom and equality can be maintained between religions that can amass large amounts of wealth to support their evangelization efforts and those that cannot?

* According to a 2006 article from The New York Times, Christian missionaries from America have inserted themselves into the community of the Samburu, a tribe in Kenya. The missionaries seek to use their conversion efforts to end the unequal treatment of Samburu women, who are treated as lesser tribal members and undergo female circumcision. "They (the missionaries) want to elevate the lot of women," says the article, "to end the ways women are treated as property." However, the Amish in America also treat their female members as second-class citizens, and Christian evangelists do nothing to intervene. Such an uneven treatment between the Samburu and the Amish implies that as long as sexism is practiced in the name of Christianity, it is acceptable. Is this fair? Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the Samburu will dismiss their sexist traditions once they adopt Christianity; therefore, are the missionaries being less than honest when they use the sex discrimination issue as a means of encouraging conversion, since (as the Amish example would indicate) the spread of Christianity is their only major interest?

If students are to study religion and religious issues seriously, then the curriculums in public schools need to cover these areas from as many different perspectives as possible�not merely compensate for the students' unfamiliarity with Bible trivia. Otherwise, it is a serious mistake to hand secular religious education over to evangelical Christians, who have shown time and time again their willingness to contort and undermine constitutional law in order to ensure the dominance of their faith.

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At 4/30/2007 03:46:00 PM, Anonymous Bell Work Online said...

We couldn't agree with you more. Many schools in Ohio already teach biblical literature -- just not in isolation. The stories have plenty of literary value, but as you say, let's keep the christianity out of it.


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