I’ve been having an amusing exchange with former Navy chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt on the religion law listserv. The man is almost impossibly ridiculous. The discussion began when someone posted a link to an article about the Texas State Board of Education refusing to issue guidelines for the Bible courses they’ve approved. I replied with the following comment:
Having seen some of the material already at use in many Bible courses in Texas, I can only say that the State board of education is being incredibly irresponsible in not spelling out exactly what can and can’t be taught in such classes. Local school districts are inevitably going to teach this course in constitutionally dubious ways without such guidance. Terri Leo claims that providing such guidelines might lead to a lawsuit; not providing them is going to lead to many such suits – and sooner rather than later. They are doing the same thing the Louisiana legislature is doing with the recent “academic freedom” legislation, inviting local schools into a “Dover trap.” The result is going to be very ugly and very expensive.
And Klingenschmitt, ignoring the fact that the purpose of the religion law listserv is to discuss the legal issues, replies with this idiotic screed:
Ed writes about teaching about the Bible (as an optional elective) in public schools, “the result is going to be very ugly and very expensive.”
Yet leading cultural indicators show that since 1960 in America, violent crime has increased by 560 percent, illegitimate birth rates have increased more than 400 percent, teen suicide is up over 200 percent, the divorce rate has more than doubled, and the percentage of families headed by a single parent has more than tripled.
It seems to me, thanks to courts and judges that enforce state atheism and Ed’s social experiment upon our families and children, by taking Bibles and prayer OUT of public schools, that…
“the result has already been very ugly and very expensive.”
In Jesus name,
Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt
As usual, he gets almost everything wrong. I didn’t say that it would be ugly and expensive to teach about the Bible; I said it would be ugly and expensive to teach about the Bible without clear guidelines for local schools to follow in order to avoid constitutional problems. His statistics are also miles away from reality; most of those measurements have in fact been going down for the past twenty years or so.
And of course, there’s his absurdly simplistic post hoc argument that blames all of this on “taking Bibles and prayer out of public schools.” He’s wrong about that too. Bibles and prayers are allowed in public schools and are found in every public school in the nation every single day. The fact that the school can’t require students to read the Bible or to engage in prayer does not mean they’ve been banned; Klingenschmitt seems to have a difficult time grasping the distinction.
I replied to his message with this:
This list is for discussion of the legal and constitutional issues, not for the imagined social consequences. I’m afraid you’ll have to peddle the myth that the country went to hell when we “kicked God out of schools” to a different (perhaps less educated) audience.
Which prompted this reply from him:
1) Brayton seems to be confusing “myth” with “statistical correlated fact,” that when we stopped teaching Biblical morality, children stopped behaving according to Biblical morality. Nobody here disputes violent crime, divorce, teen pregnancy, teen suicide, and single-parenthood have increased since 1960. If nobody here cares (as Ed supposes) about the social consequences of radical interpretations, we truly have become a cold, calloused, nation of selfish lawyers indeed.
2) Brayton’s view that Bibles should be banned from schools remains on the “atheist fringe” of constitutional legal scholars, including the U.S. Supreme Court has held that public schools may teach students about the Bible as long as such teaching is “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.” (6School District of Abington Twp v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 225 (1963). See Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39, 42 (1980) (per curiam)).
3) This permissive view Supreme Court view is endorsed by both liberal and conservative legal scholars, in Charles’ excellent document “The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide” (http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/about.aspx?id=6261) including:
American Association of School Administrators
American Federation of Teachers
American Jewish Committee
American Jewish Congress
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs
Christian Educators Association International
Christian Legal Society
Council on Islamic Education
National Association of Evangelicals
National Association of Secondary School Principals
National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
National Council for the Social Studies
National Education Association
National School Boards Association
People for the American Way Foundation
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
4) When Brayton places himself far left of People for the American Way, you can tell he’s on the fringe, and I’m in the mainstream. But at least he’s “highly educated,” unlike the rest of these organizations, who seem to agree with me.
Again, virtually every single claim in this is false. My reply:
When Mr. Klingenschmidt says that “nobody here disputes violent crime, divorce, teen pregnancy, teen suicide and single parenthood have increased since 1960” he is being quite presumptuous. I certainly dispute it; so, I suspect, do many on this list and so, unfortunately, does reality. On nearly all of those measurements, we saw a steady increase in the first half of that time period and a steady decrease in them over the last half. We can argue until we are blue in the face about the innumerable factors that contribute to such trends (economic factors, social factors, demographic factors, etc) but I would suggest that it is entirely too simplistic and, quite frankly, ridiculous to believe that the answer is as easy as “we took the Bible out of schools and the world went to hell.”
When he writes that my view is on the “atheist fringe” I’m afraid he is wrong on every possible facet of that claim. First, I’m not an atheist. Secondly, it is not my view that Bibles should be banned from schools at all. I certainly support the Supreme Court ruling banning mandatory Bible reading, but that position is hardly on the “atheist fringe” of anything. I am in fact a supporter of Bible as literature courses in public schools provided they are taught, as the law requires, in a scholarly and objective manner rather than in a proselytizing manner. Perhaps in the future before discussing “Brayton’s view,” Mr. Klingenschmidt might take the time to find out what that view actually is. It seems to me that is both the ethical and the intellectually honest thing to do.
Ethical and intellectually honest are not, of course, words one often finds associated with Klingenschmitt. And the best is yet to come. Klingenschmitt then posts a new message to the listserv declaring Appeals Court Bans Prayer ‘In Jesus’ Name’. It was a press release about an appeals court decision that upheld the authority of the city council of Fredericksburg, Virginia to require that prayers that open their council meetings be non-sectarian.
Doug Laycock, one of the preeminent church/state scholars in the nation, beat me to making the obvious reply: the appeals court banned nothing, nor did the city council. People no doubt pray in Jesus’ name every day in homes and churches around Fredericksburg. The appeals court only said that because the city controls the agenda, they can in fact set limits on the nature of the prayer. This, of course, is typical of Klingenschmitt’s need to distort every ruling that doesn’t fit his absurd viewpoint.
Part of me feels almost bad. After all, taking on Gordon Klingenschmitt in any contest that requires rational thinking is like challenging Stephen Hawking to a wrestling match.