In my ongoing discussion with the commenter King of Ireland, he has expressed confusion over where I stand on various church/state issues. I wrote a comment in response but I want to move it up here so everyone can see it. Here it is.
When it comes to separation of church and state, I’m actually a moderate not a strict separationist, and I recall spelling these things out to you in a comment very recently. Let me try again. What makes me a moderate rather than a strict separationist? First of all, I fully admit that the non-coercive accommodationism of Washington and Adams is a valid historical and legal interpretation of the first amendment. So is the strict separationism of Jefferson and Madison (far too many folks on my side like to pretend that only the Jefferson/Madison position is legitimate). But I would add that the fact that we are a far more diverse society today than we were in the 1790s is a powerful argument for preferring the Jefferson/Madison position.
There are several issues on which I disagree with most of the folks on my side of this issue. For instance, I strongly believe that anti-gay speech should have the full protection of the first amendment, even by students in schools. I also believe that Christian student groups should be allowed to discriminate and control their membership standards regardless of anti-discrimination rules in universities. I believe that churches should be allowed to involve themselves in politics without the sham of distinguishing between issues and candidates and I would do away with the IRS rules in that regard. I believe that school voucher programs that cover religious schools are constitutional and do not violate the establishment clause.
When it comes to government and religion, I am in favor of allowing any government official to speak their mind about religion all they want, but I oppose all attempts to make any sort of official government statements of a religious nature. That includes putting “in God we trust” on the money, adding “under God” to the pledge of allegiance or making any sort of declarations of days of prayer and thanksgiving. Does that mean those things are unconstitutional? Under the Jefferson/Madison conception of the first amendment, yes; under the Washington/Adams conception, no. Both are legitimate legal and constitutional positions, but I think in today’s vastly more diverse world where Americans are not 99% Christian as they were 220 years ago but are a menagerie of different religious views, the former is the better interpretation.
When it comes to religion in schools, I am in favor of allowing maximum free religious speech by students. I am a big supporter of allowing the formation of Christian student groups and Bible clubs in schools, of allowing students to talk about religion, try to persuade their fellow students to believe as they do, and so forth, as long as they do so without disrupting the educational mission of the school. But when it comes to curriculum issues, which is government speech rather than individual speech, I think religion should be pretty much totally irrelevant. Schools should teach those views that are supported by the evidence and by the consensus of experts in those fields and it doesn’t matter whether it conflicts with someone’s religious views. We teach that the earth is round no matter what the flat earthers think the Bible says. We teach that the earth rotates around the sun no matter what the geocentrists think the Bible says. We teach that modern life forms share a common ancestor regardless of what the creationists think the Bible says. We teach that humans have been on the earth for only 200,000 years no matter what the Hindu creationists think. We teach that disease is caused by microorganisms and other physical causes no matter what the Christian Scientists think. We teach that earthquakes and hurricanes are caused by natural phenomena no matter what Pat Robertson or the Bible says. And that is how it should be. The fact that some religion may object to any of those ideas has no relevance whatsoever to whether they should be taught.