Thursday, December 22, 2011

War on Christmas: The Muslim Under the Bed

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a liberal.  So you figure I'm not worried about what Fox News likes to call the "War on Christmas." 

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.
I don't believe that, by the way, but that's just my opinion; and so here's what you can't do in public schools.  If a student says gays are going to burn in hell, you can't tell him he's wrong.  If a gay student in the same class speaks up and says the other student is incorrect, you can't tell him to shut up, either.  If I'm a Catholic teacher in the public schools, I can't read to students every morning from the Latin Vulgate Bible, because that version differs in important points from the King James version, preferred by Presbyterians and others.  If I a Jewish teacher, I can't tell a Mormon kid his religious book is bogus; and if I'm a Mormon, I can't tell a Muslim kid the Koran is rubbish.  If mom and dad are Scientologists, and a student brings up L. Ron Hubbard for discussion, I have to bite my tongue and can't tell that child to be silent.  Nor can a teacher say to a child who professes to be an atheist or an agnostic that his or her ideas are wrong.

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."


  1. I was pretty impressed when my son brought home a booklet he made (2nd grade) that told of holiday traditions of different faiths. It was neat because there is one I had never heard of called Las Posadas.

    The only "war" on Christmas I was able to see was the government said officials cannot send out Christmas greetings on the taxpayers dime. I totally get that- postage for some of those fancy cards can be expensive. Is that a war? Nah- just good sense.
    Lori Chisman Barber

  2. And they were charged 5 shillings for any celebration practices!

    Great piece John. When I teach religion in my 7th grade classes I never walk around them. I am still amazed how many of my kids are taken with the notion that the 3 great monotheistics all follow the same just that it gets a little muddy around the practicing and interpretation part. It helps that my lessons during Greece, Rome, and Middle Ages are all John Viall ver. 2.0......


  3. I am a conservative Christian and actually agree with you completely. Unfortunately, many of my fellow Christians walk a very thin line between practicing Christianity and practicing hate. Many, unfortunately, do not see the hypocrisy in their actions. That said, however, some liberals are taking it to extremes. When I taught a few years ago, I was cautioned against teaching the novel Night due to the religious discussions that would inevitably arise. I mean are we supposed to seriously avoid topics just because a Muslim, agnostic, or Christian mat be offended?

    Shonna Starnes Beaver

  4. I enjoyed your post very much and know (because you taught me) that, "you march to your own drum beat". There was a list circulating a while ago about who our favorite teachers were at Loveland. Of course, I can't just name one but you are certainly top three. All that being said, I appreciate your approach to this topic. Sadly, it's your peers at Miami University and other militant liberal schools and universities who have declared war on Christianity. They are the ones who have banned prayer by valedictorians and who have made people feel awkward saying, "Merry Christmas". True educators, like you, are the ones who can still be very effective teachers even when they may differ (in some cases drastically) with the personal beliefs of their students. I hope this has come across in the way it was meant. I am not nearly as eloquent as you. I have nothing but respect for you and appreciate what I learned in your class. You helped me develop a great love of history even though you are a selft described liberal and I am an evangelical Christian! I hope you have a Merry Christmas!!!!

    Kevin Mann