Dispatches from the Creation Wars

I know, that’s like figuring out which day Mike Tyson was the biggest jerk on. But I think it might be true. This story tries to tie every bad guy in their universe together in one single narrative – Bill Clinton, the ACLU, Muslim terrorists and separation of church and state. Here’s their claim:

A man arrested as a terror suspect for allegedly trying to transport $340,000 from a group tied to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and who reputedly had connections to Osama bin Laden, helped write the “Religious Expression in Public Schools” guidelines issued by President Clinton during his tenure in office.

And that could explain why students at a California school were told as part of their required classes they would become Muslims and pray to Allah – and a federal judge approved that, and why an Oregon school this year is delivering similar lessons to its students, as WND has reported.


Well maybe, but only to someone who is a congenital moron. Now let’s drop a little reality into the conversation, shall we? The document they refer to is available online. It was developed at the request of Clinton’s Department of Education and sent to every public school in the nation when it was completed. But here’s the part they always leave out of this story (this is actually a resurrection of a story from almost 3 years ago, see here and here): the guidelines were developed by a large number of groups with different agendas, including religious right legal groups.

So while they’re trying to tie the ACLU to terrorists because one guy involved with one of those groups appears to have ties to them, why are they not tying the Christian Legal Society to them? Or the Baptist Joint Committee? Or the National Association of Evangelicals? I think the answer to that is obvious. The document was subtitled “a joint statement of current law”, and all of the 30-odd groups who signed on to it agreed on what current law said at the time even if they disagreed with what it ought to say.

One of those groups was the American Muslim Council, and one person involved with that group is now up on charges of aiding terrorists. Only in the mind of fevered demagogues would that discredit either the content of the document or the other groups involved in drawing it up. And only a baldfaced liar or first-rate idiot would claim that it discredits some of the groups involved – the ones they disagree with, naturally, not the ones they agree with. This really is about as dumb an argument as one could possibly find.

Look how far the Worldnutdaily is willing to go to create the false impression of impropriety:

When Clinton issued the guidelines, he announced that they had been developed by “35 religious groups” but didn’t disclose that many of those were civil rights organizations such as the ACLU, and committed whole-heartedly to the separation of church and state.

How exactly are they suggesting such “disclosure” be done? The document was signed by all 35 organizations and listed at the end of the document. And if it’s a sign of impropriety that he didn’t specifically mention that some of the organizations were committed to separation, why isn’t it a sign of impropriety that he also didn’t specifically mention that some of the organizations are religious right groups committed to accomodationism? Because, of course, that would get in the way of the false impression they’re trying to give. This is what liars do. And it gets worse:

But under those guidelines, California, and now Oregon students, are allowed to be told as part of their public schooling: “You are beginning a simulation of the history and culture of Islam. It is important to study the origins of this religion and how it has affected mankind. … It is impossible to study Islam without understanding the relationship between the teaching of Prophet Muhammad and the entire Mid-Eastern culture….

But that’s nonsense. If any of these waterheads bothered to actually read the document, they’d see that it says nothing whatsoever on the subject. The word “islam” doesn’t even appear in the document. Indeed, here is the entire section of the document dealing with teaching about religion in public schools:

Students may be taught about religion, but public schools may not teach religion. As the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said, “[i]t might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion, or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization.” It would be difficult to teach art, music, literature and most social studies without considering religious influences.

The history of religion, comparative religion, the Bible (or other scripture)-as-literature (either as a separate course or within some other existing course), are all permissible public school subjects. It is both permissible and desirable to teach objectively about the role of religion in the history of the United States and other countries. One can teach that the Pilgrims came to this country with a particular religious vision, that Catholics and others have been subject to persecution or that many of those participating in the abolitionist, women’s suffrage and civil rights movements had religious motivations.

Boy, one can certainly see why that would lead to teaching Islam in one California school district, eh? The bottom line, schools can teach about religion, but can’t endorse any religion. And these guidelines were sent to the schools for information purposes, they played no part whatsoever in the court case being objected to. They were intended simply to give schools guidance on what is and isn’t legal, and there is absolutely nothing in the document that suggests that the above is legal.

Whether the curriculum in California dealing with Islam crosses that line, I simply don’t know. I’ve not seen any of the court documents in the case or what was actually testified too. Virtually every report I’ve seen on it has come from religious right sources and I frankly assume, based on vast experience, that they are probably exaggerated. But perhaps not. Perhaps they are accurate, in which case the ruling is wrong. But to blame that on this document, which says nothing at all about it and which, if the reports are true, actually argues for the opposite result – well that’s just stupid, stupid, stupid.

Naturally, then, STACLU picked right up on it and pasted it all over their page. “Jailed Terror Suspect Helped ACLU Draft School Religion Rules”, screams Jay’s headline. Now Jay, I know you read this blog. Please come here and explain why it doesn’t say, “Jailed Terror Suspect Helped Christian Legal Society Draft School Religion Rules.” Because the CLS was just as involved with drafting that document as the ACLU. You even go so far as to claim that the ACLU “wrote the religion in school rules with a little help from a terror supporting friend.” But that’s a lie, Jay. The ACLU was one of 35 organizations, including several you would no doubt support, and all of them collectively wrote the document and agreed to its contents. So why aren’t you talking about the National Association of Evangelicals writing those rules “with a little help from a terror supporting friend”?

Perhaps more importantly, why don’t you ever mention the actual content of those guidelines? Because in your fevered little mind you think the ACLU is behind them, you think you have to object to them and demonize them, but in fact I doubt there’s anything in them you’d disagree with. Those guidelines point out, for example, a wide range of situations in which students can express their religious views. They endorse the legality of events like See You At The Pole, the right of student bible clubs and prayer groups to use school facilities and the right of outside religious groups to use school facilities as well. Are those guidelines now “tainted” because one person in one of the 35 ogranizations that endorsed them is a bad guy? Seriously, this is really stupid, Jay. You have to know that.

The 9th circuit court ruling may well be wrong. The Supreme Court may well have been wrong to deny cert in the case. I don’t know because I haven’t seen the actual material used in the curriculum or the court documents. And yes, the ACLU may well be wrong for not complaining as hard about that as they do about similar things involving Christianity in public schools (again, it depends on the actual facts in the case). But none of that has anything at all to do with either the document linked to above or to the fact that one person in one of the 35 organizations that developed it turned out to be a bad guy.

Comments

  1. #1 KeithB
    October 20, 2006

    Here is a Snopes page on that curriculum:

    http://www.snopes.com/religion/islam.htm

    Snopes seems to think that the curriculum might actually *violate* the guidelines, though they don’t put it in those terms.

  2. #2 JohnJB
    October 20, 2006

    Anybody got a cite for the 9th circuit case? I’d like to read it.

    And I’ve been meaning to ask – isn’t all the whining about the ACLU misguided? I was under the impresion that much policy and the decisionmaking was up to local chapters. Is this true? (I ought to know, I’m a card-carrier).

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    October 20, 2006

    John JB wrote:

    And I’ve been meaning to ask – isn’t all the whining about the ACLU misguided? I was under the impresion that much policy and the decisionmaking was up to local chapters. Is this true? (I ought to know, I’m a card-carrier).

    This is primarily true, and there have actually been cases where two ACLU chapters were on opposite sides of a case. And sometimes the local chapters don’t agree with the national board (witness the current dustup between the national ACLU office and the Connecticut branch office).

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    October 20, 2006

    KeithB-

    My suspicion is that even if one strips away the hyperbole from the various news reports, there probably is a constitutional problem with what is being taught in at least some school districts regarding Islam. I’ve not read the original material, so I can’t know that for sure, but what Snopes says about it is pretty much what I’ve assumed from the start. And if that’s true, then I think it does violate the guidelines discussed above. Which would only make the argument from STACLU and the Worldnutdaily that much more ridiculous.

  5. #5 KeithB
    October 20, 2006

    Ed:
    Yup, my feelings exactly, though it is a *really* tough nut when the culture and religion identify so closely, such as Arab culture and Islam.

    I imagine you would have the same problems with the Shaker’s or the Amish.

  6. #6 Ross
    October 20, 2006

    I can see there may be problems with teaching about any religion other than christianity and that stopes page touched on it as well.

    Since Christianity (including various forms) is the dominant culture in the US you can teach a comparative religion lesson without needing to provide many detals about the religion as most of the class will know the main doctrinal and social points. When it comes to islam (or any other world religion) the teacher will have to provide a significant level of detail to the student prior to any discussion which may, of course, look unfair to an outside organisation reviewing the course. I’ve no idea how much detail was provided in those Californian schools and whether it was necessary to meet the needs of the course but surely there are monitoring and review processes.

    An example of this kind of difficulty – pretty much all UK schools do a nativity play (every bloody year – it doesn’t change, doesn’t get any better and by the thrid child you’re hitting the whisky before the show!) and the details are so seared into parental awareness that costumes are minimal (snotty-nosed kid with paper crown = magi, snotty-nosed kid in dressing-gown = shepherd etc etc) and we all know the script off by heart (And so it came to pass…..). However when my wife taught at a school that was over 90% muslim the costumes, script and scenery were out of this world as they had to transmit the whole story to people for whom it was generally unknown. No issues of constitutional breaches, of course, but an example of requiring differing amounts of information for cultural reasons.

  7. #7 mark
    October 20, 2006

    When I went over to check it out, another headline caught my eye–”The Good News about Nuclear Destruction.”

  8. #8 Felix
    October 20, 2006

    “But under those guidelines, California, and now Oregon students, are allowed to be told as part of their public schooling: “You are beginning a simulation of the history and culture of Islam. It is important to study the origins of this religion and how it has affected mankind. … It is impossible to study Islam without understanding the relationship between the teaching of Prophet Muhammad and the entire Mid-Eastern culture….”

    I don’t know anything about this case, however the above description sounds very reasonable to me.

    Is there anything in the above quote that is problematic?

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    October 20, 2006

    No, but that’s not what was challenged in court. Apparently, the unit includes having them memorize Muslim prayers , genuflecting toward Mecca, and so forth.

  10. #10 Felix
    October 20, 2006

    This sounds to me like a thorough introduction.

    If you are doing this for, say, Islam, Judaism, and Budhism then whats the problem?

    As long as your not teaching that “this is the one true faith. This is what you should believe”, then thats teaching _about_ religion not preaching, isn’t it?

  11. #11 Ed Brayton
    October 20, 2006

    No, I don’t think so. If they were forced to memorize and repeat the Nicene creed and the Lord’s Prayer as a way of teaching them about Christianity, I would certainly object to that and I suspect you would too. Making someone actually behave like a given religion requires is not the same as teaching about that religion. I think this pretty clearly crosses the line, even if the book includes the same thing for other religions.

  12. #12 Skemono
    October 20, 2006

    I don’t know. Being “forced to memorize” these things may mean, in the real world, “these things will be on the test and you should know them,” or “here’s a list of important Qu’ran verses,” which I wouldn’t really find objectionable. Of course, I don’t know that’s what it means–could be that the complaints are accurate and the kids were being indoctrinated with particular suras.

  13. #13 PennyBright
    October 20, 2006

    The case in question is Eklund vs. Byron Union School District, 05-1539 . It was heard by Judge Phyllis Hamilton, in the Northern District of California. Unfortunately, the text of the ruling does not seem to be available online.

    The 9th circuit courts affirmation of the ruling can be read here: http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/coa/memdispo.nsf/pdfview/111705/$File/04-15032.PDF

    And an amici curiae brief filed with the 9th circuit court appeal on behalf of the defendants can be read here: http://www.nsba.org/site/view.asp?DID=34136&CID=889.

  14. #14 Felix
    October 20, 2006

    ‘Being forced to memorise’ … like one is forced to memorize multiplication tables, french verbs and the dates of important world events? Sounds like school to me. :-)

    If the school undertakes ‘role-play’ of Muslim practices in order to allow the students (who obviously have not encountered this) to have a better understanding of the subject, is that bad?

    The same could be done with the Communion ceremony.

  15. #15 kehrsam
    October 20, 2006

    In the role-play, did any of the kids get to be the religious police enforcing sharia law? Personally, at that age, I would have wanted to be the suicide bomber. I just hope all facets of the muslim experience were covered.

  16. #16 dogmeatIB
    October 20, 2006

    As an educator, who happens to teach social studies, and this year World History, I have had complaints that “they are teaching religion.” I can see the lure of teaching a comprehensive “scenario” where one tried to get into the mind of a practicing Muslim, but I wouldn’t teach such a role playing scenario for precisely the reasons Ed points out. I personally don’t even do tests when it comes to subjects revolving around faith. I will do other assessments, comparative projects, discussions, etc., but not a test.

  17. #17 Russell Claus
    October 21, 2006

    I have to say, assuming the school is having the genuine role-playing of various world religions as apparently they did I am genuinely impressed. I am a member of the ACLU and am refreshed that somebody would take the time and interest to give something more than a “In 1492 Columbus sailed the Ocean blue” treatment of world religions. I can see how having your kids role-play being a Muslim for an hour or role-play being Catholic when you are not would be highly, highly unpleasant – but than again, it is this xenophobia and fear of the unknown that classroom material like this seeks to overcome.

    I do not see anything inherently promoting religion by having students learn religious creeds and prayers from around the world.

    However, however, this is also a program that is so open to abuse that I don’t think it could gain wide use because of it.

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