Hoosiers, Hate, and Homosexuality

When Charles Barclay, Miley Cyrus, Hillary Clinton, and Apple all attack Indiana, you know something big is going down. Many liberals have condemned Indiana’s new religious liberty law as a thinly veiled attack on LGBT rights. Not so fast, says Boston University’s Stephen Prothero. He raises a key question for all of us interested in culture-war issues. Who gets to define what is and what isn’t a religious act?

Defending liberty?  Or spreading hate?

Defending liberty? Or spreading hate?

Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been reviled as a sneaky way to impose a kind of cultural segregation on gay couples. If a baker does not want to bake a cake for a gay wedding, for example, or if a photographer refuses to shoot the pictures, this law gives them some legal protection to do so.

With these intentions, it certainly seems like an intolerant stab at the rights and dignity of LGBT people.

Yet liberal scholar Stephen Prothero defends the law. He is a supporter of full equality and rights for LGBT citizens, but he thinks conservative religious types have every right to refuse service to religious ceremonies of which they disapprove.  Not to refuse service in secular affairs, but to refuse service to religious ceremonies.  As he puts it,

There is no excuse for refusing to serve a lesbian couple at a restaurant and to my knowledge no state RFRA has ever been used to justify such discrimination. But if we favor liberty for all Americans (and not just for those who agree with us), we should be wary of using the coercive powers of government to compel our fellow citizens to participate in rites that violate their religious beliefs. We would not force a Jewish baker to make sacramental bread for a Catholic Mass. Why would we force a fundamentalist baker to make a cake for a gay wedding?

Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Professor Prothero’s work. I’m looking forward to his upcoming book, Why Liberals Win. In this op-ed, Prothero raises a key question that ranges far beyond the narrow issue of Indiana’s RFRA and discrimination against LGBT couples.

Namely, who decides when and if something is a religious act? If a lesbian couple gets married in a secular ceremony, is that a religious act? Or, to be specific, is it fair for a religious person to define such a ceremony as a religious act, even if the people involved don’t see it as one?

Here’s another real-world example: Is the teaching of evolution a religious act, even if the teacher does not see it as such? That is, if such teaching has religious meaning to a religious student, does that make it a religious act?  Obviously, public-school teachers have no business committing religious acts in their classrooms.  But what if they don’t think it is a religious act?  Who decides?

These cumbersome distinctions matter. As Professor Prothero points out, no one wants to force a Jewish baker to do anything to affirm a Catholic ceremony. But traditionally, legally, and historically, it has been acceptable to force a Jewish baker to do things that are perceived as non-religious, such as following health codes or serving customers of all races.

Defining the boundaries of religious activity thus takes on enormous political heft. If your actions are religious to me, even if they do not feel religious to you, who gets to decide?

In the checkered history of America’s public schools, time and again these disputes have been resolved against the claims of religious minorities. As I argue in my upcoming evolution book with philosopher Harvey Siegel, in the nineteenth century Catholic activists were told by Protestant school leaders that their complaints lacked merit, since the Protestant Bible could never be objectionable. Similarly, in the early twentieth century, Native American students had their religions suppressed in government boarding schools, since their religious objections were not seen by school founders as legitimate. In light of this history, shouldn’t religious minority groups, including creationists, be allowed to define for themselves if certain topics count as religious?

So far, conservative religious folks have not had too much luck in arguing in favor of their rights to discriminate. Perhaps most famously, Bob Jones University lost its Supreme Court case against the Internal Revenue Service. BJU had had its racial segregation challenged. BJU insisted its stance was religious. BJU lost.

If Indiana’s law is intended to protect conservatives’ right to discriminate, will it go the way of racial segregation? Do conservatives have the right to define the nature of religion, even if other people disagree? Is it fair for conservatives (or anyone) to insist that something is a religious act, even if the people engaged in that act don’t think so?

Enablers of Doubt: This Afternoon!

For those of us lucky enough to live in scenic Binghamton, New York, don’t forget that tonight Binghamton University hosts Professor Michael Berkman from Penn State. Tonight’s talk is part of the regular Monday seminar series at the Evolutionary Studies Program.

Professor Berkman will be sharing his new research into the ways pre-teachers learn to avoid and water down evolution education.  These “enablers of doubt,” Professor Berkman argues, do everything they can to avoid ruffling feathers.  Most new teachers, Berkman has found, are more interested in learning ways to control classrooms than in learning the details of scientific theories.

The sophisticated and good-looking regular readers of ILYBYGTH (SAGLRROILYBYGTH) will remember Professor Berkman’s earlier ground-breaking research into the goings-on in science classrooms nationwide.  Along with his colleague Eric Plutzer, Prof. Berkman studied the ways science teachers do and don’t teach evolution.

Required reading for anyone interested in evolution/creation issues

Required reading for anyone interested in evolution/creation issues

For those in the area, come on over to campus.  The talk will take place in Academic Building A, basement room G-008.  It will begin at 5:05 and will include time for a Q&A session afterward.  Admission is free and no registration is required.  The event is open to all.

Briefing from the Evolution Mission Field

HT: BM

There is apparently more going on at the University of Kentucky than basketball.* Professor James J. Krupa has offered a description of his trials and travails as he tries to cram evolution down the throats of creationist students on that historic culture-war battlefield.

Teaching or preaching evolution?

Teaching or preaching evolution?

I’m all for evolution education. But Professor Krupa’s missive shows some of the dangers of an old-school attitude among some mainstream scientists, what I’ve called the “missionary supposition.”

First, though, let me acknowledge that I don’t have any street cred when it comes to science education. I’m a mild-mannered historian. My only experience teaching science came during one short year in which I taught middle-school science, along with reading, history, math, swimming, and camping. So when I critique Prof. Krupa’s approach, I have to do it with the full knowledge that I don’t really know what I’m talking about.

Professor Krupa shares what he calls his “relentless efforts” to teach introductory biology classes to non-majors at the University of Kentucky. As he notes, the university has had a long history as a front-line institution in the fight over evolution education. Back in the 1920s, Kentucky’s state legislature barely defeated an anti-evolution law. Prof. Krupa explains that the leaders of his school led the fight for evolution. He doesn’t seem aware of how much they gave away in that fight. The only reason Kentucky’s anti-evolution lawmakers agreed to let their bill die, as I related in my 1920s book, was because they received a solemn promise that evolution would not be taught in the state’s schools, even without the anti-evolution law.

That tradition lingers in Kentucky’s K-12 schools. Professor Krupa is quite right in his assertion that few of his students these days have had much evolution education. He shares his experiences with hostile students. Across the course of a semester, the door of his lecture hall often bangs shut as protesting students storm out.

Though I imagine he’d deny it, Krupa seems to derive some satisfaction from these creationist protests. He writes off the large section of his students whose

minds are already sealed shut to the possibility that evolution exists, but need to take my class to fulfill a college requirement.

More interesting to Krupa are students on the fence, students who are “open-minded” about evolution. If he can just explain evolution in all its power and beauty, Krupa implies, he can win those students for real science.

Krupa carefully avoids describing his mission as one to get students to “believe” evolution. Among many scientists, such language is frowned upon. After all, we don’t try to get people to “believe” in gravity or germs. Rather, since these things are inarguably true, the attitude goes, we only want students to “accept” and “understand” them.

This is just as it should be, sort of. As philosopher Harvey Siegel and I argue in our upcoming book, teachers too often seek to change students’ beliefs about life and divinity. It seems to make sense, at first, that if students understand evolution, they will come to believe that it is the best way to understand the origins of diverse species. But students’ beliefs should be beyond the purview of science teachers. The goal for evolution education should be for students to know and understand evolution. What they believe about it is their own business.

Professor Krupa nods to this distinction. At the end of his semester, he writes, he discusses the notion that evolution need not conflict with religious belief. Many Christians accept evolution. There is no need to assume that evolution somehow implies atheism, or leads to atheism.

So far, so good. But Prof. Krupa suffers in two ways from the missionary supposition among mainstream scientists. First, he takes it as his mission to preach the truths of evolution. As he puts it,

I’m occasionally told my life would be easier if I backed off from my relentless efforts to advance evolution education. Maybe so. But to shy away from emphasizing evolutionary biology is to fail as a biology teacher. I continue to teach biology as I do, because biology makes sense only in the light of evolution.

Krupa took the job, he explains, inspired by the mission laid out by biologist EO Wilson. These introductory classes, Krupa believes, might be “the last chance to convey to [students] an appreciation for biology and science.” And in spite of setbacks, Krupa maintains the clear-eyed self-assurance of every missionary. As have all sorts of missionaries, Krupa assumes that the truth of his message is so powerful that simply hearing it will blast away all resistance, at least among the “open-minded.” As he explains,

After a semester filled with evidence of evolution, one might expect that every last student would understand it and accept it as fact. Sadly, this is not the case.

Such a result should not be surprising to anyone who knows the history of missionary work. Too often, old-school Bible-toting missionaries plopped down among local populations and set to work enlightening them. The truth of the Bible, many felt, was so compelling that non-Christians only needed to have it explained clearly in order to convert.

Like these old-school missionaries, Prof. Krupa is well-intentioned but surprisingly naïve. He repeatedly notes his hostility toward creationism, yet he complains that creationist students and community members seem hostile back. He describes creationists as having their “minds sealed shut.” He notes that they “take offense very easily.” The explanations creationist students offer are mind-blowingly ignorant and laughably simplistic.

What does Professor Krupa want? In spite of his careful insistence that he is not trying to change students’ beliefs, he clearly hopes to do more than simply help students to know and understand what evolutionary theory says. He wants his students to get “an appreciation” for evolution, not just an understanding.  In some cases, he relates, his evolutionary lectures are “a message that . . . gets through.” One evangelical student came back to visit after taking Krupa’s class. Though this Christian student had resisted, he eventually thanked Krupa for “turning his world upside down.”

To Krupa, such moments savored of sweet success. Missionaries, after all, have the ambitious goal of changing worlds, of “opening . . . eyes,” and of blowing minds.

With those goals, it is no wonder that Professor Krupa has had a difficult time of it. He has suffered from more than just inadequate K-12 teaching. He has suffered, it seems, from his own missionary supposition.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach evolution to creationists. We should. But it does not help if we assume that creationists are idiots. Instead, we should endeavor to learn all we can about the creationists in our classes. As with all students, we should treat them respectfully and even lovingly.

Many of the sophisticated and good-looking regular readers of I Love You but You’re Going to Hell (SAGLRROILYBYGTH) have real experience teaching science at the college level. Am I off base here? To get students to understand science and evolution, do teachers need to share Krupa’s missionary supposition?

________________________________________________________________________________

*For you nerdwads out there, that is a humorous reference to a popular sporting event going on right now, the NCAA men’s basketball championship. Kentucky has a historic winning streak going on.

Getting Stoned at Bob Jones University

Is it now okay to be gay at fundamentalist Bob Jones University? Last week, former president and current chancellor Bob Jones III apologized for vicious anti-gay rhetoric from 1980. But this does not mean that homosexuality is now an accepted thing at BJU.

Time to celebrate?

Time to celebrate?

For those like me outside the orbit of fundamentalist colleges, the cultural politics of BJU can come as a shock. BJU has a long history of holding out against progressive social trends. Until the twenty-first century, for example, the South Carolina university proudly opposed interracial marriage.

As I’m finding as I research Bob Jones and other fundamentalist colleges, BJU has always been an outlier. The family leadership has a long tradition, when challenged, of doubling down on its own opinions as God’s Truth. Any criticism from within or without merely strengthened the leaders’ resolve. Again and again, this has led to purges of dissenting faculty, students, and administrators.

For those in the know, then, the recent apology for anti-homosexual rhetoric seems like another welcome change. In a press release, BJIII responded to a petition from a gay-rights group at BJU. In 1980, at a White House press conference, then-president BJIII suggested that the appropriate punishment for homosexuality was stoning. Here’s what he said back then:

I’m sure this will be greatly misquoted. But it would not be a bad idea to bring the swift justice today that was brought in Israel’s day against murder and rape and homosexuality. I guarantee it would solve the problem post-haste if homosexuals were stoned, if murderers were immediately killed as the Bible commands.

In his recent apology, BJIII distanced himself from such shocking language. As he put it,

I take personal ownership of this inflammatory rhetoric. This reckless statement was made in the heat of a political controversy 35 years ago. It is antithetical to my theology and my 50 years of preaching a redeeming Christ Who came into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Upon now reading these long-forgotten words, they seem to me as words belonging to a total stranger—were my name not attached.

So can gay people at BJU now come out of their fundamentalist closets? Apparently not. As anti-fundamentalist Jonny Scaramanga noted, BJIII’s apology still condemned homosexuality. The statement apologized for the threat of stoning, not for labeling homosexuality a sin. BJIII carefully noted that he did not believe stoning was the appropriate punishment for “sinners.” He never apologized for considering homosexuality itself a sin.

Nevertheless, as the response from the gay-rights group BJU Unity makes clear, homosexuals are part of the BJU community. As I’m finding in my current research, they always have been. BJIII’s apology is not nothing, but it does not welcome homosexuals openly into BJU’s fundamentalist family.

Creationism in the Land of the Bible

Quick: When I say “creationist,” whom do you picture? Ken Ham, the Australian-American creationist impresario of Kentucky? Or Arye Dary of Israel’s Shas Party?

Is THIS the face of creationism?

Is THIS the face of creationism?

As Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education pointed out recently, the question of Palestinian statehood received the lion’s share of attention after the last round of elections in Israel. But those elections could also have significant impact on the teaching of evolution in Israel’s schools.

In a nutshell, the new government will likely be dominated by conservative parties. In Israel, that means a significant political presence for the more conservative religious factions. Many of those groups oppose the teaching of evolution.

...or is THIS?

…or is THIS?

As Rosenau relates, the topic of evolution only recently became a required part of the middle-school curriculum in secular Israeli public schools. Arye Dary of the Shas Party, a likely government partner, made no bones about his opposition to evolution education. “As an ultra-orthodox party,” Dary explained,

that believes that our forefathers were Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that our holy matriarchs were Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, we refuse to teach our children that they originated from apes.

For those few who continue to believe that creationism is uniquely American, or peculiar to conservative Protestantism, this serves as a healthy reminder of the truth.  Creationism as a political and educational impulse is strong worldwide.  Conservatives of many backgrounds in many countries insist that there is more to “truth” than can be divined by human scrabblings.

Required Reading: Rich Parents Are Better

You remember the old joke:

Q: What’s the best way to have a million dollars by the time you’re thirty?

A: Inherit ten million dollars when you’re twenty.

A new book by sociologist Robert Putnam underlines the traditional wisdom: The best way to succeed in life is to pick the right parents. According to reviews in The Economist and New York Times, Putnam amasses solid evidence to demonstrate that the class gap between rich and poor parents is huge and increasing.

Graphic inequality

Graphic inequality

The relationship between parenting and poverty has been a culture-war flashpoint for fifty years. As historian Andrew Hartman relates in his new book, back in the 1960s sociologist and sometime-senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan raised hackles with his study of the causes of African-American poverty.

The problem with too many “Negro Families,” Moynihan argued, was that a destructive anti-family culture had set in. Kids were no longer being raised in stable two-parent households. Fathers were absent or abusive. Mothers were overworked and under stress. The result, Moynihan concluded, was that poor families—especially African American poor families—could not raise successful children.

Critics charged that Moynihan attacked poor people, not poverty. He was accused of a new crime: “blaming the victim.”

The numbers in Putnam’s new book offer some sobering suggestions that Moynihan’s warnings were correct, but not just for African American families. The real divide, Putnam says, is not between black and white parents, but between well-to-do college-educated parents and not-well-to-do parents with less education.

Some of these statistics are truly mind-blowing. Consider, for example, that a poor eighth-grade student who does very well in school still has a worse chance of completing college than a rich eighth-grade student who does very badly in school. The numbers of children living with two well-educated parents has stayed relatively stable. The number of children in single-parent households has shot up among parents with no more than a high-school education.

Traditionalists and conservatives, no doubt, will point to Putnam’s work as more evidence in favor of traditional families. The best way to fight poverty, they might say, will be to encourage stable two-parent households.

Progressives and liberals, meanwhile, will point to these numbers as proof of America’s un-level playing field. Children of parents with fewer educational advantages need extra assistance from government in order to stand any sort of chance.

The long-standing dream of American education has been that education can lead to success. Since the days of Horace Mann, education has been offered as the key to the American dream. Putnam’s study offers more evidence that education is part of the structure of inequality, not the sledgehammer to demolish that structure.

Watch a Conservative Lawmaker Abort a Progressive Ed Project

For a hundred years now, progressive educators have pleaded with teachers to help their students learn by doing. In New Hampshire recently, a bold teacher who tried to do so with a fourth-grade class got a brutal public smack-down from a conservative legislator. The vicious culture-war politics of abortion took over.

Teacher James Cutting had helped his fourth-grade class engage with real-world issues. The students, he told NH1, took the initiative and proposed a bill to make the red-tailed hawk the official state raptor. They delivered their bill to the state house and watched as it moved through committee. When the bill had a hearing in the full legislature, the students were in the gallery to watch the proceedings.

What they saw there might have blown their minds.

One conservative legislator, Warren Groen of Rochester, took the podium to denounce the bill. The students’ choice for state raptor, Representative Groen intoned, was a vicious bird.

It grasps [its victims] with its talons then uses its razor sharp beak to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.

This was not the first time that Representative Groen used his time in Concord to fight against abortion. In an earlier speech, Groen compared abortion to slavery.

GOP Race Kicks Off…at Fundamentalist U

…and they’re off! Senator Ted Cruz of Texas plans to announce his formal candidacy for president today, according to the Houston Chronicle. And he’s making the announcement at Liberty University.

Why Liberty? As the Sophisticated and Good-Looking Regular Readers of ILYBYGTH (SAGLRROILYBYGTH) are well aware, I’m working on a history of fundamentalist higher education. These schools–places like Liberty, along with more liberal cousins such as Wheaton College and Biola University, and more conservative ones such as Bob Jones University—are central institutions of American conservatism.

Cruz at Fundamentalist U

Cruz at Fundamentalist U

Not only do they represent conservative evangelical belief, but also a vaguer (and politically powerful) sense of cultural traditionalism. The campuses of Wheaton, Liberty, and Bob Jones are not just in-your-face religious environments, but also places where you wouldn’t see until recently a man with long hair or a woman with a short skirt.

Not only that, but college campuses also represent cutting-edge learning. Fundamentalist and evangelical colleges are not only religious, not only conservative, but also forward-looking places. By hosting scholarship and teaching, evangelical schools represent the future.

For all these reasons, at least since Reagan, GOP candidates have made it a point to campaign at these campuses. As CNN noted this morning, everyone from Romney to McCain, Rick Perry to Michele Bachmann has put in an appearance.

It makes sense. And it leads us to an interesting question: If you planned to run for president, where would YOU make your announcement? I have an idea of what I’d do.

Who Cares about Adam?

I don’t get it. Even after all these years studying conservative Christianity and creationism, I still don’t really get it. I mean, I understand the logic and history, but I have a hard time making sense of the ferocious emotion that goes into debates over the existence of an historical Adam & Eve. An author interview in Christianity Today outlines some of the tricky questions involved.

Who cares?

Who cares?

But first, a primer for those like me on the outside looking in: The debate over the historicity of Adam & Eve has a long history in conservative evangelical Protestantism. For us outsiders, making sense of this issue will go a long way toward helping us understand the theological underpinnings for young-earth creationist belief. Without making sense of this theology, it can be easy for mainstream scientists and observers to conclude mistakenly that young-earth creationism is nothing but some kind of cult of personality, a quirk of history.

At least since the 1960s (of course it is an ancient belief, but in 1960 it gained popularity among conservative American evangelicals as a vital theological notion central to orthodox belief), conservative evangelicals have insisted that the obvious meaning of Genesis is that God created two first humans in the Garden of Eden. These two, Adam & Eve, became the progenitors of the entire human race. Theologically, creationists have insisted, our belief in an historical Adam & Eve underpins our trust in the Bible. As Simon Turpin of young-earth ministry Answers In Genesis expressed it,

The debate over whether Adam was historical is ultimately a debate over whether we trust what the Scriptures clearly teach. If we cannot be certain of the beginning, then why would we be certain about what the Scriptures teach elsewhere? The uncertainty of truth is rampant in our culture partly due to the influence of post-modernism which is why many believe the issue over Adam’s historicity is unimportant.

For many creationists, believing the plain truth of the creation story in Genesis means believing in the trustworthiness of Jesus Christ. As Andrew Snelling of the Institute for Creation Research explained,

It is impossible to reject the historicity of the book of Genesis without repudiating the authority of the entire Bible. If Genesis is not true, then neither are the testimonies of those prophets and apostles who believed it was true.

Of course, for mainstream scientists, the notion that human genetic diversity came from only two original humans does not fit the evidence. In order to have today’s genomic sequence, I’m told, humanity must have begun with thousands of original humans.

John Walton of Wheaton College explains to Christianity Today why evangelicals can accept this science while still remaining true to a conservative reading of Scripture. In his new book, The Lost World of Adam & Eve, Walton argues that Adam & Eve can be read as the “priests” of early humanity, not the only two first humans.

Again, for those of us outside of conservative evangelicalism, the controversial nature of such claims can be hard to figure. Recently, theologian Peter Enns was booted from Westminster Theological Seminary for advocating similar ideas. Walton explains in this interview why it is possible to respect the authority of the Bible while still reading Genesis in a way that is not contrary to modern science. Walton insists that

You can affirm a historical Adam, but that doesn’t have quite the implications for biological human origins that are often assumed.

The key, Walton argues, lies in reading Genesis as the original readers would have. To them, Walton says, creation would be more about how the world of Adam & Eve was “ordered,” not just how it was “manufactured.” We can understand Adam as both a real person, a real creation, and as an “archetype” for humanity. Though there may have been other early humans, Walton explains, Adam & Eve served as the ones in God’s sacred space.

Why do such ideas matter? Again, for folks like me trying to understand conservative Protestantism from the outside, it can be difficult to make sense of the ferociously controversial nature of such arguments.

Yet they are at the heart of conservative evangelical Protestantism. As I argued in my 1920s book, conservative evangelicals have never agreed on the proper relationship of Genesis to either modernist theology or science. From J. Gresham Machen in the 1920s to Harold Lindsell in the 1970s, conservative intellectuals battled to affirm the notion that any compromise is deadly to faith.

And as I’m finding in my current research, these battles have long sent shock waves through the world of conservative higher education. Recently, Bryan College has firmed up its insistence that faculty members affirm their belief in an historical Adam & Eve. In 1961, Wheaton College did the same thing.

And fundamentalists are not the only ones who will spring to repudiate theories like Walton’s. Leading atheist pundits, too, agree that Genesis requires an historical Adam & Eve. Jerry Coyne, for example, laments the apologism of folks like Walton. Of course, Coyne does not want people to reject mainstream science in favor of a belief in an historical Adam. Rather, he hopes people will simply accept the obvious conclusion that the Bible is a book of myths.

If all of these whirling debates make your head hurt, join the club. For those of us outside the circle of evangelical Protestantism, it can be very difficult to understand the ferocious feelings at play in the Adam debate. But that ferocity lies at the heart of evangelical belief. Historically, any attempt to rationalize our reading of the Bible, any attempt to explain away the most obvious interpretation of Scripture in favor of one that accords with modern science, any effort to bring our faith into harmony with science…all have been seen as the beginnings of apostasy.

For evangelical readers, Adam & Eve matter. For those of us trying to understand conservative Christianity, this complicated debate will be a good place to start. Why would professors lose jobs over it? Why would Christianity Today dedicate a major article to this interview with John Walton? Why will Walton’s position provoke such furious responses?

A Liberal Leader Pushes Religion in Public Schools

They say only Nixon could go to China. Maybe now they’ll say that only de Blasio could get religion back into New York’s public schools. According to the New York Times, Mayor de Blasio has been irking his liberal allies by his repeated efforts to chip away at the wall of separation between church and state. With greater success than many conservative activists, this liberal mayor has been able to push religion in the Big Apple.

Public religion: Texas style

Public-school religion: Texas style

No one doubts de Blasio’s left-of-center politics. The Washington Post called his leadership “a laboratory of sorts for modern progressivism.” Yet this progressive politician has done more to integrate religion and public schools than many of the conservative politicians we’ve studied in these pages.

For example, in his quest to expand pre-kindergarten classes to all of New York’s children, de Blasio has included religious schools. As the New York Times relates, the Mayor has welcomed the participation even of very conservative religious schools, as long as they agree to include children of all religious backgrounds. This plan, of course, would funnel tax dollars directly to religious organizations.

Similarly, Mayor de Blasio has added two Islamic holidays to the New York City public school calendar, precisely because they are religious holidays. Muslim leaders celebrated, but civil libertarians point out that this act violates a long-standing principle of church-state separation.

The Mayor has long supported the use of school buildings by religious groups for services, though conservatives accuse him of reversing himself. One case might soon end up before the Supreme Court. If SCOTUS bans this traditional practice, will de Blasio protest? Will the Mayor take the side of religious groups against a constitutional clarification of the required wall between religious groups and public education?

Public-school religion, New York style

Public school religion, New York-style

New York Times writers Michael M. Grynbaum and Sharon Otterman call New York a “famously secular city.” But we need to be careful when we say such things. As Grynbaum and Otterman note, de Blasio’s success has come partly with support from conservative religious New Yorkers, “a substantial portion of the city.” As we’ve explored in these pages, New York, like many big cities, is not secular, but rather riotously religious.

Indeed, that ferociously diverse religiosity might be the key to Mayor de Blasio’s success. Conservative activists have tried time and again to push evangelical Protestantism in the public schools of places such as Kansas and Kountze, Texas. In New York City, on the other hand, the Mayor can make a good case that he is not pushing any one sort of religion. In his efforts to improve public schooling for all, he has the liberty to open the door to religious groups in ways a more conservative politician might not.

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