God in Our Classrooms
Joseph C. Phillips
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Such was our founder’s belief in the preeminence of God that when the First Continental Congress convened in 1774, Massachusetts delegate Thomas Cushing suggested to the assembly that together they pray for divine guidance and protection. The historical events that would forever change the world were preparing to unfold: war loomed on the horizon; the Declaration of Independence would be signed, and a nation “conceived in liberty” would be born. In this moment, men of varied religious beliefs -- Presbyterians, Episcopalians, some Quakers, others Baptists or Congregationalists – were led in prayer by an Episcopal priest in an appeal to the almighty that was described as “extraordinary…filling the bosom of every man present.”
It would not be the last time the founders appealed to the Almighty God.
James Madison acknowledged God’s favor in our founding in Federalist 37 referring to “a finger of that almighty hand, which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.” I dare say that men like Madison and Cushing would not recognize the America of today, filled with politicians afraid to confess their faith or educators fearful of offending the sensibilities of their students with any mention of God.
Math teacher Brad Johnson of Westview High School of the Poway School District in San Diego, California, is a case in point.
In 2007, Westview Principal Dawn Kastner ordered Johnson to remove banners hanging in his classroom because they contained the words “God” and “Creator.” According to media reports the banners, which had hung in his classroom for 25 years, measured approximately 7 feet long by 2 feet wide and carried the phrases: "In God We Trust," "One Nation Under God," "God Bless America," "God Shed His Grace on Thee" and "All Men Are Created Equal, They are Endowed by Their Creator."
Kastner objected to the banners, claiming that they promoted a Judeo-Christian viewpoint and might make some students feel uncomfortable. The school district agreed. Oddly enough neither Kastner nor school district officials were concerned with posters hanging in other classrooms containing Buddhist, Islamic, and Tibetan prayers or those containing anti-religious messages that might make Christians uncomfortable. What remains unclear is why those that preach diversity and tolerance seem incapable of practicing those same virtues when it comes to Christians and the role of Christian faith in our American history.
Kastner and Poway district officials might argue that they are simply enforcing the Constitution’s wall of separation between church and state. The U.S. Constitution, of course, recognizes no such wall. There are roughly 4,500 words in the original unamended document and not one of them was written to imply that God – specifically the God of Abraham – should be hidden from school children.
The Bible – Old and New Testament – was the most common piece of household literature of the time; it was the primary textbook from which children and adults learned reading, writing, and morality. The first American dictionary contains biblical references on just about every page.
Moreover, the founders believed religion and religious teaching to be essential to the maintenance of a free society. The great patriot Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania wrote, “All its [Christian revelation] doctrines and precepts are calculated to promote the happiness of society, and the safety and well being of civil government.” Therefore, reasoned Rush, “the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.” In short the founders recognized not only the nexus between virtue and happiness, but also virtue and liberty.
We should not be surprised when those that endeavor to erase God from our history also seek to shackle us to the administrative state. Man will “either be governed by a power from within or controlled by a power from without.”
In his farewell address, George Washington said, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
The founders would find the mushy multi-cultural political correctness of the 21st century to be outrageous.
The first round of the legal battle was won by Johnson. U.S. District Court Judge Roger T. Benitez delivered a scathing rebuke to the Poway School District, correctly reasoning that “recognizing that God places prominently in our nation's history does not create an Establishment Clause violation requiring curettage and disinfectant for Johnson's public high school classroom walls. It is a matter of historical fact that our institutions and government actors have in past and present times given place to a supreme God."
Not content to leave well-enough alone, the Poway School District has appealed the decision, which will be heard by the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Heaven help us!
Big Government Crushes Christians
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
In the era of the leviathan state, we need the Constitution more than ever. When most citizens think of our obviously expanding government, we think of the direct, obvious costs. The deficit hits record levels, bank bailouts costs $1 trillion, the stimulus nearly matches that, and total government spending - as a percentage of gross domestic product - reaches numbers not seen since the nation's life-and-death struggle during World War II. We're staggered by those numbers, worry about the debt we're passing on to our children and wonder if we live in a nation in decline.
But there's more.
Massive spending means massive government - a system that reaches into virtually every corner of our lives. From house loans to student loans to light bulbs to toilets and even to the cars we buy and drive, we feel the government's direct hand. Corporate executives worry about "pay czars," doctors worry about government-set prices for their services, and we all wonder if the Internal Revenue Service will be monitoring our health insurance choices.
Massive government means government control, the strings attached to money, to participation and even to expression as the government goes beyond the original purpose of its multitude of programs and attempts to alter social outcomes, favor certain viewpoints and - most ominously - suppress others.
One such example is a case that will be heard before the Supreme Court on April 19.
In 2004, the University of California's Hastings College of Law decided to "de-recognize" the Christian Legal Society, a decision that denied CLS the right to meet on campus, denied it access to a student-fee fund that its own members paid into, and even denied it access to campus message and bulletin boards. CLS' crime? The group, like most Christian groups, has rules that limit its leadership and voting membership to people who the share the group's beliefs and agree to live their lives accordingly. In other words, no stealing, no lying, no cheating, no drugs and no extramarital sex.
To Hastings, these common-sense rules were evidence of "discrimination" on religious and sexual-orientation bases. When CLS had the temerity to complain of its treatment, the university had a ready response: We're not depriving you of your rights, we're just limiting your access to "government benefits."
To stay on campus, CLS had to sue, and it did so through its attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund and CLS Center for Law & Religious Freedom. After all, there was no democratic safeguard upon which the chapter could rely. No one actually votes for the dean, and bureaucracies are often several steps removed from even the most cursory legislative oversight. The trial court ruled against the students, buying the school's "benefits" argument, and the 9th Circuit affirmed in a two-sentence opinion. Because this decision conflicted with decisions in other cases (actually every other case outside the 9th Circuit) and because it deals with vital issues regarding the limits of government authority, the Supreme Court took it up to review.
So, is it really the case that CLS is merely crying over lost "benefits?" Can a university attach such coercive strings to after-hours access to empty classrooms? Philosophically and legally, the answer should be a resounding "no."
Philosophically, the Hastings argument runs directly against the very notion of a government "of the people and by the people." It is simply not the case that the government exists and owns assets separate and apart from its citizens - assets that it can use to accomplish whatever agenda it chooses. In fact, Hastings is denying students access to their own classrooms and funding - classrooms they pay for with their tuition dollars and funding they create with their own money. The proper role of the government is to safeguard the citizens' assets, not to exclude some from public property for the sake of approving or disapproving religious beliefs.
Legally, the Supreme Court has long understood this reality, even to the point of holding in 1972 that a potentially violent student organization - the Students for a Democratic Society, a group that had shut down campuses from coast to coast - had a freedom-of-association interest in access to university facilities. The court also held that the government cannot do indirectly those things that it's prohibited from doing directly. This 1972 case, called Healy v. James, should govern the Christian Legal Society's case.
After all, if the government can't directly tell a religious organization that it is not allowed to limit its voting membership or leadership to people who share its faith (who has ever heard of a Muslim rabbi?), then it can't do so indirectly by denying citizens access to their own classrooms and their own money.
How much can our leviathan government use its control over public property and your money to control your speech? To suppress your beliefs? We will soon know the answer.