It is contended by many that ours is a Christian government, founded upon the Bible, and that all who look upon the book as false or foolish are destroying the foundation of our country. The truth is, our government is not founded upon the rights of gods, but upon the rights of men. Our Constitution was framed, not to declare and uphold the deity of Christ, but the sacredness of humanity. Ours is the first government made by the people and for the people. It is the only nation with which the gods have had nothing to do. And yet there are some judges dishonest and cowardly enough to solemnly decide that this is a Christian country, and that our free institutions are based upon the infamous laws of Jehovah.
—Robert Green Ingersoll, apparently not referring to George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.
More on church-state separation today. First off, Howard Dean by way of Slate (fourth item) informs us that Bush’s 2001 education bill states that “every school has to certify there’s constitutionally protected school prayer in your local public school.” (Dean’s phrasing) Which leads me again to ask, have any of our legislators even read the constitution? Or have all the copies in Washington been removed to the Ashcroft residence to be used as toilet paper?
My concern is that even if the courts don’t recognize constitutionally protected school prayer now, they will in the near future given the way Bush is stacking the courts. (This will be especially true if the plans to eliminate the filibuster rule go through.) Is school prayer a more dangerous problem for education than standardized testing? Well, no. I honestly don’t think the slippery slope goes very far. It’s just a waste of student time, and alienates the Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, etc.
(Off-topic – David Brin once made the argument that our society benefits from the social stigma that accrues to intellectuals, especially in schools. The idea being that those branded as nerds are discouraged from socializing, so they end up spending their free time studying, and later in life, making new discoveries. The reason I bring this up is that the rate of atheism among scientists is much higher than in the general population – 50% versus 10%. Maybe the alienation of atheists will be good for scientific discovery – however, the increase of religion in education is overall very bad for science.)
This provision in the education bill illustrates the three-pronged attack that religious conservatives are making on church-state separation. Enact laws that push the boundary of acceptable religion in government, selectively enforce existing laws through Ashcroft’s Justice Department in a way sympathetic to Christians, and appoint judges who will uphold these actions. The article linked last Friday from The American Prospect focused more on the latter two points.
So how far are they going to get? My guess is that Abrahamaic monotheism will become the de facto state religion of the United States; for example, the kind of school prayers that will eventually be allowed (or mandated!) will be ones with vague references to “God” in a way that satisfies Jews, Christians, and Muslims (but no one else). Those people who have the silly fixation with posting the Ten Commandments on every available wall (under the absolutely ridiculous pretense that “they are the basis for our laws”) will be allowed to do so. There will be some backsliding on women’s rights and gay rights, but I don’t think it’s the slippery slope scenario leading to the Talibanization of America that some people envision. Certain rights are enjoyed by too large a fraction of the populace to be overturned. (Sorry, Rick Santorum – I don’t think contraception is going to be outlawed anytime soon.) In other words, the tyranny of the majority only extends as far as the majority.
Still, it’s going to suck if this comes about – maybe not so much for those atheists who are lucky enough to be straight and male, and thus just have to grind our teeth through the latest government-sponsored prayer, but mainly for the ones the religious right really has it in for – gay men, and women of all orientations.
(Off-topic again – couldn’t the Democratic presidential candidates make a dent by attacking Bush on women’s rights? Some of the judges he’s nominated are on record with severely misogynist comments. Then there’s that international treaty on women’s rights that the Bush administration refused to support. I’m sure there are more examples; maybe I’ll go look around Google News later.)
Another area that will suffer, as I’ve repeatedly mentioned, is American science. In fact, it’s already suffering. This is a big enough topic to merit its own post, though, so I’ll deal with that in an upcoming entry.