The other half of the story...

When did “The law applies to everyone” become “persecution”?

Increasingly, when laws restrict Christians from imposing their childish beliefs upon others, or practicing their bigotry, they claim to be persecuted.  Recently this cultivated whining was in the spotlight, when Kim Davis was jailed for actually persecuting gays when she refused to sign their marriage licenses.  Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee even tweeted at the time that her jailing was proof of the “criminalization of Christianity” because of his entitled view that laws apparently don’t apply to Christians.

This tired claim that not getting their way amounts to persecution has reared its ugly head once again, as Airline High School (a public school) in Louisiana has been openly teaching creationism in science class.  In addition, students have been forced to learn Bible verses in class, and Principal Jason Rowland has encouraged students over the PA system to pray.  Students at Airline High were subjected to a talk by a “born-again virgin” during health class, to learn the supposed evils of contraception and abortion.

An email from an Airline High School science teacher (who can’t seem to spell her boss’s last name) to Principal Rowland.

Some students who rejected the Bible’s teaching actually had Bibles thrown at them by students—who were never penalized for those awful acts—but the most astonishing part of this story is the school’s defense of its blatant proselytizing.

The ACLU sent a letter to the school, notifying them that the promotion of Christianity is a clear violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.  However, the Bossier Parish School Board passed a resolution that defended the school’s actions.  Among other things, the resolution states:

     The Bossier Parish School Board is committed to honoring the state and federal law as it relates to the rights of all students, regardless of their religious beliefs. Within the last week, the ACLU has complained about alleged practices at Airline High School relative to prayer, the principal’s monthly messages, prayer boxes and the content of the school’s website. The system has also received Freedom Guard’s open response to the ACLU’s allegations and legal analysis.

     The Board’s counsel has investigated the allegations raised by the ACLU and found them to be without a factual or legal basis. At the same time, the Board wishes to publicly reaffirm its intent to operate a successful school district in which equal access is recognized and the legal rights of all students are respected, including those of its students who wish to engage in student-lead, student-initiated religious expression….Decisions in the best interest of our students can never result from threats and intimidation.

The School Board continued:

…religious liberty is the “first freedom” guaranteed by the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution, and that our history and tradition respect the “freedom of religion,” not the “freedom from religion;”

Mike Welch, the local Pastor, perfectly summed up the entitled Christian view: “I flat refuse, in America, to be forced into hiding as a Christian!”  Despite the fact that nobody is persecuting Christians, they complain and continue to pretend that they are above the law.  Even though their actions are very clearly in violation of the United States Constitution, the Christian right expects to be treated differently from how everyone else is treated—including the atheists they blame for trying to interfere in their school.  They demand a special status that they don’t deserve, and they shouldn’t get to be exempt from obeying laws.  They routinely confuse “religious freedom” with “special privilege” to do whatever they want to, and to get away with it.

To be clear, I’m not trying to say that Christians can’t enjoy their religion if it comforts them—nobody is seriously making that argument—but the fact is that it is illegal to proselytize in public schools.

I don’t have an issue with what you do in the church, but I’m going to be up in your face if you’re going to knock on my science classroom and tell me they’ve got to teach what you’re teaching in your Sunday school. Because that’s when we’re going to fight.

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

This isn’t a complex issue at all, and yet the Bossier School Board had the audacity to claim that the ACLU was “without a factual or legal basis” in this case.  In the end, it’ll cost Bossier Parish thousands of dollars to fight a court case that they have no chance of winning.  The locals (who have been holding prayer rallies on the grounds of Airline High) will continue to tout Principal Rowland as a “Prayer Warrior” who was persecuted by the liberals who want to outlaw Christianity.  But the truth is, their school board will be spending taxes on a losing battle, all because they can’t see that the laws apply to Christians and non-Christians equally.  As long as Churches are exempt from paying taxes, they don’t get to also claim that they are being discriminated against.  They can’t have it both ways, and any whiny attempts to play the Persecution Card just make them look like this:

The fear of death is a perfectly normal thing, and I can understand how it must be comforting for the many people who imagine that after we die, we will get to see our loved ones again and live happily for eternity.  However, wishful thinking doesn’t make it any less preposterous (or immoral) to tell children in public schools that believing in a genocidal, vengeful, petty dictator—who also happens to be a homophobic, misogynistic, sky-dwelling wizard—is in any way scientific, fact-based, or even logical.  When told that they can’t impose their beliefs on others without consent, Christians love to claim that this is a country that was founded by Christians, and that the United States is a Christian nation.

As usual, these special privileges are only meant to apply to God-fearing Christians though, as Ben Carson showed when he claimed that a Muslim shouldn’t be President of the United States.

The truth is that the United States was actually intended to be a country that had full religious freedom, and the reason was that if there were many competing religions, this would prevent any single one from becoming dominant.  The Founding Fathers were either atheists or at best vaguely believed in Deism, but they were certainly not Christians.  Even George Washington, who attended church to appease his constituents, always left before Communion was offered.  When Reverend James Abercrombie complained during a sermon that high-ranking officials were setting a bad example with their refusal to take communion, Washington’s response was to stop going to church.

After he left the presidency, Thomas Jefferson spent the last seventeen years of his life as a private citizen.  Once out of office, he was finally free to be honest about his views, and he did so in his regular correspondence with his many friends.  In a letter to Horatio Gates Spafford (dated January 10, 1816) Jefferson wrote:

You judge truly that I am not afraid of the priests.  They have tried upon me all their various batteries, of pious whining, hypocritical canting, lying and slandering, without being able to give me one moment of pain.  I have contemplated their order from the Magi of the East to the Saints of the West, and I have found no difference in character, but of more or less caution, in proportion to their information or ignorance of those on whom their interested duperies were to be plaid off.  Their sway in New England is indeed formidable.  No mind beyond mediocrity dares there to develop itself…

Any claims that the United States was founded as a Christian country are simply lies.  Jefferson derided the Holy Trinity as “a hocus-pocus phantasm.”  In fact, it was our Founding Fathers who deliberately ensured that this would be a secular country, with the world’s first secular constitution.  The U.S. Constitution entirely avoids any mention of Jesus Christ, and this is no accident.  The only mentions of any supernatural beings are in the form of vaguely Deist phrases.  In 1797 Congress unanimously ratified the Treaty of Tripoli, a document containing the line “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion”.

It is ironic that our Constitution was written to protect this country from the religious fanatics who worship our Founding Fathers, and yet try to torpedo our education system by violating the Constitution, because in their minds it doesn’t apply to them.

If it were up to the fundamentalists, future generations of Americans would be taught lies in school, and it would cripple our ability to function as a world superpower.  As Lawrence Krauss said, “The purpose of education is not to validate ignorance, but to overcome it.”  It is our duty to prevent the fanatics from bullying their way even further into our education system and our politics.  If we don’t stop the onslaught of ignorance, we can expect to see science classes that teach this as astronomy:


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