Thursday, September 04, 2008

ACLU fights to keep religion in public schools

The ACLU has a long history of fighting to keep religion out of public schools. Of course, sometimes we should not blame them for failing to do this, they cannot fight every case. But now they are fighting to keep religion in a public school.

Sally Ferrell is an open Quaker. As such, her religion preaches pacifism. And she is taking this religion to a school in North Carolina. In a bizarre twist, the ACLU is citing her right to preach her religion in public school and claiming it as a first amendment issue!

The CNN article is pretty clear about the Quaker roots of Ms. Ferrell's pacifism:
Ferrell knew she would never let their son enlist. Growing up in a Quaker household, she remembered her mother, Anna Schuder, espousing nonviolence.
And again when she looked to a source for pacifism:
She began collecting materials from anti-war groups like the Quaker House in Fayetteville.
So the origin of her fanatical religious views are not in questions.

That is all not to say that the views are not admirable, many religious views are. Take the Jewish sabbath. Who cannot admire a day where one just has to relax and divest themselves of toil, labor, and many of the trappings of modern life. But that is still a religious view, and preaching that in school is unconstitutional and should not be defended by the ACLU. And if a man with a long beard and yarlmuka walked in to a public school and demanded that he have the first amendment right to preach taking a day to unplug from their wiis and X-boxes in a public school, we would accuse him of trying to foist his religious views on our impressionable youth; and rightfully so.

(The same is of course true for Gandhian pacifism. Though he might have had some admirable beliefs about resisting tyranny, Gandhi was a pacifist because he had some bizarre belief about the purity of the soul being diminished by the performance of violence. Clearly these views were pernicious when seen in the light of his exhortation to Jews to merely allow themselves to be killed by Nazis rather than resist.)

When creationism is taught in high school by a fanatical evangelical Christian, no one pretends that the creationism and the Christianity are independent. One can try to argue that their teaching of creationism is motivated by a yearning for finding the truth about human biology completely independent of their biblical beliefs, but no sane person would believe that.

The same is true in the pacifism case. One can try to argue that Ms. Ferrell's views are independent of her religion, but she is pretty open about the source of her Quakerian pacifism, and she should be treated as the religious fanatic that she is. Someone like that should not be allowed in to public schools to force her religion down the throats of the students - and the ACLU should not be defending them.

In Quaker schools it seems appropriate to let them preach their religions there. But in public schools, which are run by the government, perhaps only the government should be allowed to preach. And the government is not allowed to make any law favoring one religion over another. Presumably, there can be little objection to the government promoting agendas favorable to the country in government schools, providing it doesn't unfairly stigmatize a political party that it out of power, or its members.

But one can argue that by allowing the Army in they are favoring non-pacifist religions over pacifist ones like Quakers. And this would of course be true. It would be about as true as saying that since all school lunches are neither kosher nor hallal, they are promoting all other religions over Judaism and Islam. This is of course true, but beside the point. In both cases the government is simply not taking in to account any religious beliefs - not about food or war, it is merely promoting its interest in the absence of any religious input.

So the ACLU should not be defending this. And, as an aside, Ferrell seems to have many complaints about recruiter tactics. However, one should keep in mind that whatever recruiters do to get people to sign up, they are apparently not as bad as the tactics the ACLU uses to get people to donate. (You know something is wrong when even the Village voice is complaining about the ACLU!)


Joclyn said...

"One can try to argue that their teaching of creationism is motivated by a yearning for finding the truth about human biology completely independent of their biblical beliefs..."

Brilliantly put. I love it!

bec said...

i have one question....
why is it called specifically the theory of evolution???? do we teach the THEORY of gravity? so is it a definite fact or not?
sorry, i'm just saying and all. i'm too tuckered out to debate this.
damned quaker pacifists ruining this country and all the schools too..! (i'm soooo kidding.)

Anonymous said...

We do teach relativity theory, germ theory, the theory of plate tectonics. . . Theories are not facts. A theory is what a scientist has in mind when he finds some framework for a lot of facts, explanations, laws of nature, causal relationships, inferences, and the occasional bit of speculation.

So a theory is not a fact so much as a collection of things that all seem to fit together well. Evolutionary theory fits together a lot of stuff we know about geology, genetics, biology, anthropology, zoology, and a zillion other things.

Anonymous said...

I had to think about this for awhile because something about your argument doesn't sit right. Then I revisited it and I still have that feeling but I can't quite pinpoint why. But I was thinking that if a christian teaches just war theory in a high school history class, would he or she be bringing religion into schools? But a secular person teaching the same theory would not be? Because then, if this woman cited a secular rationale for pacifism it would be ok, but since she's a quaker it's not ok?

I'm a bear of very little brain....


Karl said...

I am not sure how seriously one should take this post. I suppose the ACLU is not really defending religion in public schools. But on some level it is coming close. Lets see if my point can be clarified:

Let us make the following crucial distinction: Teaching the theory of just war is different from preaching the theory of just war. One can dispassionately talk about St Agustine, and what he thought a just war was. One could probably also teach the flaws in Just War Theory, and explain that it was motivated by his own version of Christianity. . . .

But preaching Agustinian just war as an alternative to, say, U.S. foreign policy is something very different. It is telling students that there are values that are supported by the teachers that are somehow "scientific" or right (otherwise why would they be taught in schools?), as opposed to values that they have at home.

Now, when those values that they are preached at in school are religiously motivated, they are putting religion in to public schools.

I suppose that some version of non-religious pacificsm is possible, and that kind of preaching should also banned from schools, but on different grounds. So should advocating for war.

Offering jobs in the Military, on the other hand is not advocating war. It is offering a profession that presupposes not one's affinity for war, but as a civil servant who currently is involved in a military engagement that some might find morally objectionable. The recruiters are not advocating for war, nor are they preaching peace. They are simply saying that they have jobs. If your private morality (that belongs out of the school) is against the military or their current preoccupations in Iraq or Afghanistan then you shouldn't take the job, and politely say "no thanks" to the recruiter.

Anonymous said...

ok, I feel much better now :)