I don't believe President Obama is a Muslim, either, and even if he was I wouldn't care. I know plenty of good Muslims--good Jews--good Mormons--and good Evangelicals, too. I'm also old enough to remember a time when people said we couldn't elect John Kennedy president, because he'd be loyal to the pope and not the U. S. Constitution.
Religion, of course, has been mentioned frequently in all the recent Republican presidential debates. Rick Perry ran a commercial accusing President Obama of leading a war against religion. Michelle Bachman wants to be president so she can uphold Biblical truths and stop gays from marrying. Newt Gingrich is promising, if elected in 2012, to set up a commission his first day in office "to examine and document threats or impediments to religious freedom in the United States." I'm waiting for Mitt Romney to insist we follow the Biblical admonition to stone adulterers.
I just want to see Newt's face.
Sometimes, though, I wonder if all this talk isn't distracting us from serious issues. Kind of like saying, "There's a boogie man under the bed," to scare little children.
You may have heard the usual complaints: the Bible has been driven from our schools, Christmas vacation is now referred to as Winter Break, and the imposter in the White House, the guy without the birth certificate, is forcing schools to focus on Islamic teachings. But the lines here are fairly clear and state and federal courts are tasked quite often to make them even clearer.
I was an American history teacher for many years, and near the end of my career taught Ancient World History. So you have to talk about religion to get a grip on human history. The Pilgrims crossed an ocean to practice their beliefs and so did the larger Puritan body that settled in New England ten years later. In fact, before we bewail our modern, godless society we should keep in mind that the Puritans whipped Baptists and executed Quakers for bringing their interpretations of the Bible into the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
And where was Rush Limbaugh when we needed him in 1711? Our Puritan forebearers banned all Christmas celebration!
Three centuries later, what can public schools actually do in the realm of teaching religion? In Ancient World History we were expected to examine five world religions (Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam), not because President Obama said so, but because the Ohio Department of Education gave us a curriculum. In American history we included material about the Quakers, who settled Pennsylvania, the Mormons, who settled Utah, and for fun I did a lesson on the Shakers. For those who might not remember: the Shakers were a millenialist sect, started by Ann Lee, who believed the end of the world was imminent. In order to focus attention on matters of the spirit all Shakers were celibate. Membership peaked at 6,000 in 1860, for obvious reasons, and has been declining ever since.
No insult intended to the nine Shakers still remaining.
You can discuss religion in public schools. (I did go out on a limb, when we mentioned the Aztec practice of human sacrifice; I said that that was wrong.) I once organized a debate on religion in my Ancient World classes and asked five kids in every class to volunteer. They would be required to outline their own beliefs and explain their positons on various issues. The only ironclad rule would be: No insulting other students' beliefs. And they would be graded only on how they laid out their beliefs and not on what those beliefs might be. I used to do projects in my classes--a project counted as a test grade--and this debate would be a project. The kids, all volunteers, were incredible. The other students were allowed to ask questions, and I asked a few, but the thirty students (five each in six classes) held center stage for the entire period. They made their classmates think and had to examine their own beliefs.
They even made me think.
In other words, have no fear, freedom of religion is alive and well in America, and if you want to join the Shakers, they'd be happy to have you, I'm certain. And if you're worried about gay marriage, and you're really conservative, don't let it ruin your holiday celebrations. God is going to get those homosexuals in the end and they're going to burn in hell.
|Chirstmas is alive and well.|
If you believe the U. S. government is forcing schools to teach Islamic ideas exclusively, you're really worrying about the boogie man under the bed, or, rather the Muslim under the bed. The U. S. government is blocked in all attempts to force religious teachings of any kind on students.
State governments determine curriculum and state governments are similarly blocked from imposing any particular religious views.
With that, let me say to all, conservative and liberal alike: "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."