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Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment

Religious freedom in the U.S. rears its head…again!

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United States ConstituitionMuch has been made during the last election several election cycles regarding religion. With the rise of TEA party candidates such as Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell as well as controversial Islamic mosques, many arguments surround religious freedom in the U.S. Historically, here is what the founders thought.

A Bit of History

Prior to the various state constitutions, parishioners of all church sects were forced to pay “taxes” to support individual State churches. During the state constitutional conventions, people of differing sects petitioned their representatives to eliminate that tax, stating that they were being discriminated (taxed without representation) against. They were being forced to pay a tax to support a church to which they did not adhere. They found those taxes unfair, unjust, and just plain wrong. If memory serves, Patrick Henry spoke eloquently before the Virginia legislature about people of other religious beliefs having to pay taxes to support the State religion and how much that reduced freedom and freedom of religious expression.

Values did not enter into the conversation, since most held the same WASP values. But the idea of being taxed to support a church to which they did not belong did.

As a result, Virginia and Massachusetts, in particular, wrote into their state constitutions that the state would not interfere with religion nor would religion become a state affair. Separation of church and state, for the first time in human history, would exist, giving the maximum freedom to church goers of every creed.

When the Constitution of the US was being drafted, the men who had worked on state constitutions – men such as Madison, Jefferson, Adams – chose the same methodologies they had found so desirable – and approved of – by the populace in their states.

Of course, these men knew the history of religion in Europe: the Inquisition in Spain, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France in which hundreds of thousands of Calvinists were slaughtered over the course of a week, the several Bishops Wars in Scotland up to and including Culloden, and the burning of Protestants in England under Mary.

Nevertheless, these uniquely Americans’ primary motive in choosing to separate religion from the state was not what had occurred in Europe but their motive was to provide the maximum amount freedom of religious expression in the U.S.

They essentially said no matter what your religious persuasion, the state will not discriminate against you, by levying taxes against you or prohibiting you, in any way, from worshiping as you choose.

Essentially our Founders in writing the First Amendment stated, as Queen Elizabeth I told her Protestant ministers who urged her to prosecute Catholics, “I am not the conscience of mens’ souls. That is between them and their God.”

Therefore, our Founders stated the Federal State will not take sides between one religion or another. All religious expression from whatever church or belief will be treated equally and none will take precedence in the law. Each person may practice their religion as their conscience dictates and as they believe, but no one religion will take precedence in the law of the land.

NOTE: For a more complete explanation of the Founders’ thinking as noted in the Federalist Papers, concerning the establishment of the Constitution of the United States, as its primary doctrine, go to this site.

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Written by Valerie Curl

October 19, 2010 at 6:10 PM

Will your child get into MIT after the Texas School Board rewrites their text books?

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Less than a month after the NY Times published a long expose on the Texas School Board’s attempt to rewrite texts books to reflect their conservative, fundamentalist Christian ideology, the Board passed the changes they wanted. Those text books, according to the February NY Times article, affect more than 95% of the country’s schools. According to the Times, text books approved by Texas are used in nearly every state, except California, as a result of the state’s large population, thus enabling book publishers to control costs. Due to California’s large population of students, it gets its own set of text books.

After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.

The vote was 10 to 5 along party lines, with all the Republicans on the board voting for it.

The board, whose members are elected, has influence beyond Texas because the state is one of the largest buyers of textbooks. In the digital age, however, that influence has diminished as technological advances have made it possible for publishers to tailor books to individual states.

In recent years, board members have been locked in an ideological battle between a bloc of conservatives who question Darwin’s theory of evolution and believe the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles, and a handful of Democrats and moderate Republicans who have fought to preserve the teaching of Darwinism and the separation of church and state.

Since January, Republicans on the board have passed more than 100 amendments to the 120-page curriculum standards affecting history, sociology and economics courses from elementary to high school. The standards were proposed by a panel of teachers.

The conservative members maintain that they are trying to correct what they see as a liberal bias among the teachers who proposed the curriculum. To that end, they made dozens of minor changes aimed at calling into question, among other things, concepts like the separation of church and state and the secular nature of the American Revolution.

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”

Other changes seem aimed at tamping down criticism of the right. Conservatives passed one amendment, for instance, requiring that the history of McCarthyism include “how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.” The Venona papers were transcripts of some 3,000 communications between the Soviet Union and its agents in the United States.

Mavis B. Knight, a Democrat from Dallas, introduced an amendment requiring that students study the reasons “the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others.”

It was defeated on a party-line vote.

After the vote, Ms. Knight said, “The social conservatives have perverted accurate history to fulfill their own agenda.”

Even the course on world history did not escape the board’s scalpel.

Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”)

“The Enlightenment was not the only philosophy on which these revolutions were based,” Ms. Dunbar said.

So, here’s the deal: if you live in Vermont or New Jersey or Washington state or Nebraska, your school text books will be written to satisfy the conservative, fundamentalist Christian bent of the Texas school board. Your children will learn nothing about Darwin’s theory of evolution or about global climate change. They’ll learn nothing about the Enlightenment and little about Thomas Jefferson. And they definitely won’t learn about the First Amendment’s separation of church and state and why James Madison argued in the Virginia House of Representatives and in the Federalist Papers that government and church must be separate to preserve both church and state. Your children will take one giant leap backwards in education. U.S. education already rates below most of the world, apparently just below Kazakhstan.

Way to go, Texas, towards educating American children to be able to compete against Chinese and Asian students in a global economy. I wonder how many of these “well educated” students will get into MIT?

Maybe Texas governor Rick Perry is right: Texas should secede.

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