STACLU has been busy adding new contributors lately. It appears that they've been seeking out every anti-ACLU crank they can find on the internet and asking them to post there. Unfortunately, the quality of the arguments and the level of intellectual honesty hasn't budged. A new contributor named davef, from Revealing the ACLU, has joined and this post shows it's more of the same. He's upset about an ACLU suit against a school in Tennessee for allowing a group called the Praying Parents to have access to school classrooms to proselytize. And he starts wtih a blatantly false statement:
When can a faith based organization get involved in the public school? If you ask the ACLU, that answer would be never.
It depends, of course, on what one means by "get involved" in the public school. The ACLU's position would be that religious groups must be allowed to rent or use public school facilities on an equal basis with non-religious groups (they filed a brief on behalf of the plaintiffs in Lamb's Chapel taking that position) during non-instructional time. This is required by Federal law and a long line of court rulings and the ACLU supports that position.
But when it comes to religious groups being given access to students during instructional time in order to hand out Bibles or hold prayer sessions, they would be opposed to that. And why shouldn't they be? It is clearly contrary to the first amendment for the government to mandate that children go to school and then, while they are a captive audience there, use the opportunity to engage in proselytization for a particular religious belief. And anyone who thinks it's okay for this sort of thing to go on should ask themselves how they would feel if it was a Muslim group instead.
He then quotes a UPI article that contains virtually no information, apparently without bothering to do any research at all:
This from UPI:
In legal papers, the ACLU says Lakeview Elementary School in Mount Juliet also marked National Day of Prayer by getting students to design posters and pick prayer buddies, and gave stickers that said "I prayed" to those who participated, the Nashville Tennessean reported. Non-praying students were left feeling "disfavored and isolated," the suit said.
The ACLU filed its suit representing the parents of a boy who attended kindergarten at the school last year. The group says the school not only endorses Christianity but a particular variety of Christianity.
According to the Lakeview Elementary webpage, this group is a parent organized and driven initiative. The meetings of this group do not appear on the school calendar, and the group claims no association with any specific group or religion. So what is the issue?
Perhaps if you'd done a little research, you would see. If you'd even read the Agape Press article, you'd find out that there's a lot more to it than that:
The suit claims "The Praying Parents" are endorsed in the school newsletter, their flyer is distributed to students, and group members enter classrooms to inform students that the group is praying for them.
Those are claims made in the actual court filings; if they are false, that would be very, very unusual, especially since they are so easily checked and must be supported under oath in court. Whether they appear on the school calendar is quite irrelevant. They are allowed to use school facilities during instructional time and they are allowed direct access to students during class time. That is clearly crossing the line. Would the school allow a Muslim or Wiccan group to do the same thing? Of course not. And giving access solely to one religion over others for such activities clearly violates the establishment clause.
He then goes on to claim that the ACLU is just biased against Christianity and supports other religions having access to governmental situations.
We are all well aware of the many examples of the ACLU blocking the public expression of Christianity, the removal of Christian Symbols from our state seals, courthouses and schools. Not getting as much press is the flip side, when the ACLU supported non-Christian religious expression. Here are just a few:
1. In July 2000 the ACLU supported a movement to remove a schoolboard ban on Wiccan religious expression.
2. In June 2002 the N. Carolina ACLU went to court to support the mandatory reading by UNC freshmen of a pro-Islam book and portions of the Quran. Can you imagine the response if UNC had assigned students readings from the Old Testament?
3. In July 2005 the ACLU, who had been fighting to remove the tax exempt status of Christian Churches comes out in support of such status for Satanic Churches.
4. In August 2006 the ACLU supported the rights of a Wiccan Priestess to pray at Richmond Public Board Meetings.
5. Earlier this week the ACLU fought to force the federal government to allow Wiccan Religious symbols on headstones in federal cemetaries.
Do you notice a trend in those cases? With the exception of #2, they all deal with the question of equal access. The principle is pretty simple: if the government is going to allow access to facilities or events and practices to one religion, they must do so equally and allow all religions that access. If they are going to allow people to open government meetings with prayer, they cannot limit that access only to Christians. If they are going to give tax breaks to religious groups, they have to give them to all religious groups, not just Christian ones. If they're going to allow other religious groups to put religious symbols on their headstones in Federal cemetaries, they can't deny access to religions other than Christianity. To give only Christians access to those things would be a de facto establishment of religion and that is clearly unconstitutional.
The 2nd example is a ridiculous tempest in a teapot. UNC has a freshman summer reading program every year, the point of which is to expose incoming freshmen to a variety of books on various subjects of current importance, which they then get together in groups to discuss once they're on campus. The whole point of the program is to get them used to the give and take of academic life, the clash of ideas and the exchange of views on important issues of the day. Clearly, having some knowledge of Islam and the Quran is a good idea today. The book in question, Approaching the Quran by Michael Sells, is not a pro-Islam book:
"The purpose of this book is neither to refute nor to promote the Qur'anic message," Mr. Sells writes. "Rather, the goal is to allow those who do not have access to the Qur'an in its recited, Arabic form to encounter one of the most influential texts in human history in a manner that is accessible."
The book was recommended by a non-Muslim member of the UNC Religious Studies department. And bear in mind that college environments are an entirely different legal matter than elementary and secondary schoools. The students are adults who choose where to go to school, not children forced to go there. There is an entirely different standard. The university has not only a right but an obligation to expose students to new ideas and to facilitate a clash of ideas; that is the very idea behind having a university in the first place.
The irony is that while he complains that these examples aren't getting enough press, he completely ignores the many examples of the ACLU supporting student religious expression in cases where the school is telling an individual student that they can't express their religious views (a very different thing from the school giving special access to Christian groups and not others). In fact he writes:
This paints a clear picture of the intent of the ACLU. It is not about freedom of religion or the separation of Church and State - it is about freedom from Christianity or anything close to it.
Well yes, if you ignore all of the examples of the ACLU supporting religious expression on behalf of individuals, you can paint that picture. But it's not an honest one. He ignores, for example, the fact that the ACLU has defended the right of street preachers to preach the gospel on public sidewalks and property all over the country. He ignores that the ACLU has often defended the right of students to wear religious clothing, hand out religious literature to their fellow students, write about religious topics when appropriate, use Bible quotes in their yearbook profiles, and so forth. He ignores that they have defended the right of Christian groups to have access to school facilties on an equal basis with non-religious groups. He ignores that they have defended the right of Christian churches to use public parks to perform baptisms. To see just a few examples, go to my previous posts on this subject, here and here.
New contributors, same old intellectual dishonesty. He presents only one side and ignores all evidence to the contrary so he can make a wildly inaccurate conclusion. Pretty much what we've come to expect from the STACLUless.
I noted in my blog last week that 'davef' also repeated the now-discredited accusation that the New York Times 'leaked' the use of the SWIFT database to track terrorist finances. He's not really picky what he lies about -- just like most of his fellow STACLU contributors.
I remember that Job was required reading in my freshman literature course, at the University of Texas. But the framework for discussion was not the fundamentalist assumption that we were reading "the literal and inerrant Word of God." Some individual students might have believed that. This is Texas, after all. But this was a literature course, and that assumption certainly wasn't part of the relevant academic framework for subsequent discussion and writing.
And that is the problem with the wingnuts who think that the second example above is some kind of liberal hypocrisy. There is nothing unconstitutional with academic courses, in public institutions, that require reading parts of the Bible, the Quran, the Talmud, or the Vedas. And liberals see nothing wrong with that. The world is our study, and everything in it, including the many things man has imagined and written. We object only when these are treated not as literature, but as scripture, and when the courses that require these readings advocate religious belief, rather than critical reading.
I suspect every major, public university has a variety of courses that include religious texts as part of what is studied. The ACLU doesn't object to this.