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"Separation of Common and Sense"

Should we allow teachers to inspire their students with the highest ideals they know, whatever they are? Or censor them, leaving students with the lowest values society can tolerate?

Tell me what you think of a law like this:

Iowa 256.11(6) The test of whether facts and theories, relevant to the subjects listed in subsections (1) through (5), may be taught without hindrance, shall not be whether or not they affirm or discredit a particular religion or culture, but whether or not they are verifiable or can withstand scientific scrutiny.

The test of whether a teacher of these subjects may freely draw upon the highest principles he or she knows, to inspire students to excellence and good behavior, shall not be whether or not they are associated with a particular religion but whether or not they succeed in their purpose without patently and deliberately insulting the faith of an individual student or the student's parents.

There are natural restraints upon abuse of such freedom. But are they enough? More importantly, if they are not, are there restraints which could be added by the legislature, which would be less burdensome yet as effective as the draconian restraints imp- osed by the U.S. Supreme Court, and which the Court would probably not overturn? What prevented public school classrooms from becoming religious battlegrounds, before the Supreme Court redefined "separation of church and state" in 1963?

One natural restraint is the same as what exists in private sector jobs: you are hired to do a job. When an employee does enough proselytizing to take time from the job he was hired to do, or if he drives away customers, he is fired. I can't imagine that direct proselytizing was ever, or ever should be, part of a public school teacher's job description. If all court-imposed censorship of religious expres- sion among public school teachers were lifted tomorrow, I would expect greater religious expression in only two categories:

(1) Greater academic freedom to teach the facts of history without censoring its powerful Christian influences; (in today's anti-Christian environment a bill in the Iowa Legislature is even considered controversial because it encourages study in the pro- Christian Declaration of Indep- endence! and

(2) Freedom to motivate students to good behavior and excellence by appealing to the very principles which inspired the teacher.

Category one should never have been a problem, even under current court rulings. Censorship of the relevant facts, in order not to favor Christianity, influences children towards a religious view as surely as any other form of indoctrination. Censorship of facts was never demanded by any court, but results from court rulings indirectly, by importing, from the legal world into the academic world, the mean-spirited disregard of law and precedent necessary to interpret the 1st amendment protection of "religious expression" as censorship of religious expression. Only the same hatred of Christianity which motivates a judge to prosecute Christians based on the First Amendment, could account for an academic censoring relevant historical facts because the facts favor Christianity.

Category two, motivating students, needs to be done with more sensitivity to a student's individual receptivity than any other teaching task. For this reason the "highest common denominator" must be sought when motivating entire groups, lest the result in a particular student is counter-productive. More specific motivation can be done with an individual student. But the only legitimate "state purpose" is motivation; not conversion. If it alienates the student even farther, it is counterproductive. If it alienates the parents, that is even worse; because that will make the child more openly defiant, and may cause friction with the school board.

In fact, it is natural for a teacher to speak to a student in the student's spiritual language, rather than his own. For example, although I am a Christian, if I wanted to motivate a Hindu student, I might consider it more effective to quote the Bhagavad Gita than the Bible.

These natural restraints may explain why people who were in school before 1963 are still wondering what great need the Supreme Court thought it was addressing in 1963, by outlawing prayer. Few schools sponsored prayer before 1963. Although teachers and students were completely free to express their faith before 1963, it didn't happen much, because it was seldom relevant. History was taught with greater accuracy. Music classes enjoyed the wonderful rich heritage of classical music, most of which was Christian. We had Christmas programs. We had a week of vacation for Easter. The music department performed Handel's "Messiah", if they were good enough.

Yet for all that, there was virtually no awareness of any teacher using their position to proselytize students to their own faith.

Even if the Supreme Court steps back, would it be practical to return to those days? Now that our teaching staffs include a significant number of Hindus, Moslems, and professing witches? I believe it would

I would have no fear, in category 1, of what facts a non-Christian might present. As long as they are facts. If they are not true, then let academic dishonesty be the grounds for firing, not whether or not the facts favor one religion over another.

I would have little fear, in category 2, of a non-Christian attempting to motivate students by the highest principles he knows. I would think students would be better off than if the teacher must share even baser principles. If a teacher is to be fired for presenting his faith, let it be not for the faith presented, but for the insensitivity with which it was presented, such as by a blasphemous attack on the faith of the student or his parents.

My Christian friends will say "But why allow non-Christian teachers to express themselves? Isn't it better to not allow anyone to express his faith, than to allow a satanist to?"

Of course, in real life, that is not the choice before us. The satanists and witches already have freedom to share their "Harry Potter" type literature. Only Christians are censored. One teacher is fired for having his Bible inside his desk drawer, while another teacher is commended for "getting students excited about reading" the Harry Potter series. We hear of school officials who let their facilities be used by atheist clubs and witches, but not by Bible clubs until a lawsuit is threatened. "Secular Humanism", recognized by the Supreme Court as a "religion", and psychiatry, identified by the 1993 Daubert decision as a non-science, have entrenched themselves in the vacuum left after Christianity was driven out.

So the real life choice before us is whether Christians should have the same freedom of religious expression as non- Christians. But even if we had the political power to censor every non-Christian and promote only Christianity, I would be only mildly interested in exercising it. In a fair forum where Christian teachers have equal opportunity with non-Christians to express their faith (as it is relevant to the presentation of facts, or to motivation), I'm not worried about the result. And if our real-life choice were really between every teacher having freedom of religious expression, and every teacher having none, I have no doubt, speaking as a Christian, that students would benefit more from understanding their choices, than from not understanding them.

When teachers are censored from expressing whatever are the highest values they know, students are left to learn the lowest values teachers can tolerate.



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