Friday, April 18, 2014

155.5 - The Little Thing: Tennessee says religious beliefs trump facts in schools

The Little Thing: Tennessee says religious beliefs trump facts in schools

Now we have one of our occasional features, one about times when there is something in a news article that gets little or no comment but I think it’s important or revealing or sometimes just annoying. We call it The Little Thing.

Recently, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill claiming to "protect religious liberty” for students in public schools. It passed overwhelmingly;it passed the state House by 90-2 and the state Senate by 32-0.
The bill says that student-organized religious exercises such as student prayer groups and religious clubs will have the same access to school facilities as any other non-curricular group - without, as far as I can tell, anyone claiming that they can't now. It then says, quoting,
a student may express beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. A student would not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of the student’s work.
American Civil Liberties Union says the law “encourages religious coercion” and would allow students to express their religious beliefs "in a variety of inappropriate settings, from the classroom to school-day assemblies and school events."

That is, the law is less about protecting religious liberty than it is about establishing a religious tyranny of the majority and opponents concerned that the law opens the door to anti-LGBT bullying and discrimination under the guise of "religious freedom."

All of that is true and all of that is more than enough reason to condemn the measure as another attempt by right-wing wackos, particularly right-wing religious wackos, to force their own biases, their right-wing wacko fundamentalism, into civil law.

But there's still the little thing. Maybe you've already noticed it. It lies in the last sentence of the part of the law I quoted: "A student would not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of the student’s work."

Do these people even think about what they're saying, what they're writing, in these laws? By this law, a student could turn in a paper to a science class studying geology and claim the Earth is 6,000 years old and they couldn't be marked down.

They could turn in a biology paper saying evolution doesn't exist and the grade could not be lowered.

They could declare the Sun revolves around the Earth and it could make no difference in their grade.

They could go to history class and insist on the reality of Noah's ark, they could argue that slavery is morally acceptable, that women should be submissive to men, that gays and lesbians should be stoned to death - and none of it could matter.

Apparently, Tennessee, still ticked off that John Scopes did not wind up in prison, has now decided that "religious liberty" involves students in public schools being able to ignore the unpleasant facts of modern knowledge. Like the man in the play said, "fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy and needs feeding." Tennessee is ready to open a buffet.

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