Thursday, June 9, 2005

Separation Farewell?

You may have missed the June 9th Lehrer News Hour report about the fight being waged by an Oregon public school official to get more than a 1,000 home-schooled kids into his classrooms. His reason isn’t at all that he feels these youngsters would be better off in a learning environment that includes something more than parents and siblings. His primary concern is that each of these non-attending students represents a loss of state revenues for the school. Without being judgmental about that narrow premise - I certainly understand his concern at a time when funds for education are so short and the need so great - I am deeply concerned about the price he is willing to pay to get these kids, and more importantly their parents, aboard.

Introduce creationism into the school curriculum and have the teachers let all the students know that this is a Christian country and perhaps we can talk, say the home schooled parents. In other words break down the barrier between church and state. This case of course only echoes what has been happening in many different places around the country specifically around replacing Darwin with Genesis – theory with truth. Considering it’s been eighty years since Clarence Darrow defended young Mr. Scopes in Dayton Tennessee, it is remarkable we're still talking about this. It is as if no science has taken place since, certainly none worth considering. The information age notwithstanding, we seem to be retrogressing. That bridge to the 21st Century is fragile indeed.

But the real concern here is that recent elections have emboldened Christian social conservatives and indeed fundamentalists of all faiths to engage in a frontal attack on one of our most cherished and long standing American traditions – keeping church and state apart. By undertaking an assault on this separation in many different places at one time, all of them seemingly involving the kind of localism that Tip O’Neill understood so well, they largely pass are under our radar. This doesn’t mean that they are inconsequential. Quite the reverse, put enough locals together and you begin to have something national.

I have long felt that there are those among us who don’t simply want to break down the barriers between church and state; they really seek to supplant the pluralistic society we cherish with an American theocracy. That may seem far fetched, even alarmist, but I think to ignore this threat would be a big mistake. The Schiavo debate wasn't merely an example of social conservative excess, it was another salvo in this ongoing struggle in which many scared members of the Senate and House were unwitting pawns. Forgive them, they know not what they do. I wish it were that simple. Let's not give ourselves the same pass.

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