from Preacher’s Boy
by Katherine Paterson
Clarion Books, 1999
When I was in Kindergarten, I learned to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. My teacher, Miss Kimmack, showed us all how to put our little hands over our hearts, because we meant every word. That was just a few years after Congress voted to include the phrase “under Gd” after the words “one nation,” and President Eisenhower enacted it into law. A controversy simmered, but we Kindergartners didn’t know about that.
On Flag Day, 1954, (June 14) Americans recited the new form of the Pledge, presumably to underline our differences with the godless Russians during the Cold War. And to instill patriotism.
The Supreme Court has been weighing in periodically ever since, trying to create a useful definition of the separation of Church and State.
Last month, (November, 2019) the Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 164, called the “Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019.” According to the sponsors, the bill will better protect students’ religious liberties at school.
The bill states that students can’t be marked down or penalized for providing information on a test or essay that aligns with their religious beliefs. Students will be permitted to express their religious beliefs during the school day, too, instead of restricting those views to lunchtime and other free time, as it is now.
That raised the hackles of the bill’s critics, including the Ohio chapter of the ACLU. Up for discussion are questions like,
“How old is the earth?”
“Describe the current climate change.”
“Write an essay about an historic figure.”
Bibliographic citations can include religious texts.
Is this part of a trend?
At the UN Summit in New York last September 23, Trump opined, “the ‘immortal truth’ that human rights come from God is proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution’s Bill of Rights,” https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/09/23/un-trump-pence-religious-freedom-global-agenda/2389704001/
Really, the Declaration of Independence says “governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” That is, the government’s powers come from the consent of the people, not anyone’s or any one group’s particular definition of Gd, or even the assumption of Gd’s very existence.
The Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791, provides specific freedoms to citizens and limits the power of the government. https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/Bill%20of%20Rights
The First Amendment’s establishment clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” protects our right to religious beliefs and practices, and prevents the government from creating or favoring any one religion over another, or no religion at all.
So the tricky part comes when we try to balance our beliefs with the beliefs of others. Minority beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, but it seems like the majority, or those in the majority with the loudest voices and most power, say they feel threatened by the very Constitution they swore to uphold.
Back to school and the Student Religious Liberty Act of 2019. The children in our society are some of our most vulnerable citizens. Allowing religious dogma to stand equal with science is dangerous, for the students and for our society. The Act has passed in the House of Representatives. It will work its way next to the Senate, and presumably, then to the governor who will also weigh in.
In this day and age of “who knows what is *really* true?” our public attention is being hurled from one crisis to another. From heretical alliances with enemy countries to feelings of powerlessness in a Climate Catastrophe to attacks on our personal freedoms, it is hard to know what or even how to pay attention.
For me, I choose to volunteer in a first grade classroom, listening to children as they learn to read. I bake cookies for my grandchildren. I eat right and exercise.
I express my concerns, but more and more, I think my words add to the cacophony and contribute to the din, rather than provide meaningful insight and achievable steps in the direction toward wisdom and common sense.
I’ll use this week to re-focus.
-—stay curious! (and involved)