A right to ignorance.
I'm referring to an effort by Colorado State Senator Dave Schultheis to introduce into law what he terms a "Religious Bill of Rights." This is interesting to me in that the actual Bill of Rights, which supercedes Colorado law, specifically protects religious freedom. So what on earth could he be worried about?
Well, as it turns out, he wants to "protect" religious freedom from an increasingly hostile public school system. No shit. You can read the text of the bill here, if you have the patience and a .pdf reader. For those who don't have that kind of time, let's hit the highlights.
First, we have the preamble:
Establishes the "Religious Bill of Rights for Individuals Connected to Public Schools Act" ("act"). Requires the state board of education ("state board") to adopt a religious bill of rights for public school students and parents and a religious bill of rights for public school teachers and employees ("religious bills of rights"). Directs the state board to distribute the religious bills of rights to school district boards of education ("local boards"). Requires each local board to adopt policies and procedures to implement the act, including the annual distribution of the religious bills of rights to students, parents, teachers, and employees of the school district. Directs local boards of education to provide opt-out provisions to individuals for classes or course materials that are in conflict with the individual's religious beliefs.
Makes individual members of local boards personally liable for lawsuits brought under the act if the local board fails to adopt policies and procedures to implement the act or to ensure compliance with the act.
So, already we seem to have a winner. Let's dig a little deeper into the provisions of this bill, however, shall we? The bill indicates that, among other things, students have inalienable rights to do the following:
(I) EXPRESS HIS OR HER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS ON A PUBLIC SCHOOL CAMPUS AND AT A SCHOOL-SPONSORED EVENT TO THE SAME EXTENT AS HE OR SHE MAY EXPRESS PERSONAL SECULAR VIEWPOINTS;
Asking your teacher, "Do you realize you're going to hell?" during biology class: PROTECTED!
(III) EXCHANGE AN ITEM WITH A RELIGIOUS THEME WHEN GREETING CARDS OR OTHER ITEMS ARE EXCHANGED AT A PUBLIC SCHOOL;
Passing around a dismembered chicken foot during Santeria holidays: PROTECTED!
(IV) SING RELIGIOUS SONGS ALONG WITH SECULAR SONGS AS PART OF A SCHOOL-SPONSORED OR CURRICULUM-RELATED PROGRAM;
"Onward Christian Soldiers" in place of "The Star Spangled Banner:" PROTECTED!
(V) USE A RELIGIOUS GREETING;
I'm not entirely sure what the hell this means, unless there are a lot of public school students with a hankering to refer to each other as "Brother Tom" and "Sister Isabelle." In any case: PROTECTED!
(VI) WEAR RELIGIOUS GARB ON A PUBLIC SCHOOL CAMPUS, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO CLOTHING WITH A RELIGIOUS MESSAGE;
"God hates fags" shirts: PROTECTED!
And then, of course, there are a whole lot of provisions indicating that a student can write about, or give an oral presentation on, a whole lot of subjects while using religious material so long as it "fits the educational objective of the lesson." So, in a speech class feel free to proselytize.
What's most interesting however, are the following:
Teachers have the right,
(VII) NOT BE REQUIRED TO TEACH A TOPIC THAT VIOLATES HIS OR HER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND NOT BE DISCIPLINED FOR REFUSING TO TEACH THE TOPIC;
And school boards must provbide a way for...
(a) A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT TO OPT OUT OF ANY CLASS OR THE USE OF SPECIFIC COURSE MATERIAL THAT IS INCONSISTENT WITH HIS OR HER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS; OR
(b) A PARENT OR GUARDIAN OF AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, MIDDLE SCHOOL, OR JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT TO EXCUSE HIS OR HER CHILD FROM ANY CLASS OR THE USE OF SPECIFIC COURSE MATERIAL THAT IS INCONSISTENT WITH THE PARENT'S RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.
And if that isn't enough, in addition to yearly providing students and parents with copies of the religious bill of rights:
(3) IF A LOCAL BOARD OF EDUCATION IS AWARE OF A CLASS OR SPECIFIC COURSE MATERIAL THAT ROUTINELY ENCOUNTERS STRONG RESISTANCE BY EITHER STUDENTS OR PARENTS OR GUARDIANS BECAUSE OF CONFLICTS WITH RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, THE LOCAL BOARD OF EDUCATION SHALL DIRECT THE PUBLIC SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION TO NOTIFY PARENTS OR GUARDIANS AND STUDENTS OF THEIR ABILITY TO OPT OUT OF SUCH CLASSES OR SPECIFIC COURSE MATERIALS PURSUANT TO SUBSECTION (2) OF THIS SECTION PRIOR TO THE FIRST DAY OF SUCH CLASS.
So, whenever a class is coming up that is deemed likely to cause religious conflict, the school must specifically point out to parents that their child doesn't have to take it. I pity schools that have adherents from a wide variety of religions because they're never going to be able to teach a class that won't run the risk of offending someone.
Now, I don't have a problem with folks learning about religion in school. So long as it isn't forced, so long as it isn't that religion is encouraged, so long as one religion isn't elevated over another we're okay. I do, however, have a problem with enabling the religious intimidation of students in schools. I have an issue with legally protecting the right of students to harass and attempt to convert their peers- who are simply trying to gain an education as mandated by law. I also have an issue with what amounts to a right to be ignorant. This bill gives students the right to close their minds to whatever they choose or, realistically, for their parents to close their minds for them.** That I have a problem with. This country is saturated with religious messages- they're on our currency, in every speech given by a public official, stretched out on banners during disasters, and held up on placards. There are magnets lionizing jesus, bumperstickers, lapel pins, jewelry and door-to-door proslytizers. It is impossible to live in this society and not be confronted by religious messages on an essentially daily basis. Hell, for that matter, it's not exactly unknown for religion to be a pretty major part of public school teaching itself:
Before David Paszkiewicz got to teach his accelerated 11th-grade history class about the United States Constitution this fall, he was accused of violating it.
Shortly after school began in September, the teacher told his sixth-period students at Kearny High School that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah's ark, and that only Christians had a place in heaven, according to audio recordings made by a student whose family is now considering a lawsuit claiming Mr. Paszkiewicz broke the church-state boundary.
“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he's saying, `Please, accept me, believe.' If you reject that, you belong in hell.”
Yes. Obviously, the public schools are inimical to religion.
With all that, with our citizens effectively stewing in religion, passing a bill to give people the legal right to simply refuse to hear science because they believe it conflicts a priori with their religious views is amazingly self-absorbed and small minded. It's also dangerous: when a democracy legally enshrines a right to be ignorant, we are in for a rough ride.
Learning is about growing, it's about confronting new ideas and new ways of seeing the world. There's no requirement that you necessarily accept these new ideas, but by at least grappling with them you become more able to deal with a complex world. All this bill does is protect the right of the people to be intellectual cripples who are incapable of thinking and reasoning.
God bless America.
* Specifically, given my views of humanity, this more or less means, "When we destroy ourselves through sheer stupidity and are replaced by a race of telepathic cockroaches."
** Come to think of it, given how adolescents respond to parental control, this provision may be the biggest boon to science in the U.S. since Sputnik.
As a side note: I find it ironic that the people who push the rights of students to not learn about science are likely the very same people who want to deny immigrants the ability to learn anything in their native language. Evidently our own domestic religions are too fragile to withstand scrutiny, but foreigners are so smart that they can learn math in a language they don't even speak. The insanity simply boggles my mind.