Anti-Evolution IV: Minority Rights

ANTI EVOLUTION IV: RESPECT MINORITY RIGHTS

 

Finally, the bar of proof here should be very low.  Anti-evolutionists these days are not trying to ban the teaching of evolution. Rather, they usually argue that both evolution and creation should be taught as viable explanations of the origins of life.  Even if all the arguments above leave you cold, even if you find the science of creationism ridiculous, you can still
admit that it makes you uncomfortable to have public schools force children to agree to an idea that their parents find religiously intolerable.

Consider the same argument from the 19th century.  Catholics in America’s big East coast cities often objected that the public schools ought not to force their children to read from the King James Bible.  In spite of the arguments of their Protestant enemies, it was not because they did not want their children to hear the truth.  Rather, the version of the Bible that was
being used contained disparaging commentary about Catholicism and the Pope.  In Philadelphia, New York, and
Boston, these disagreements led to riots in the streets.  From a twenty-first century perspective, it seems a matter
of simple bigotry.  The public schools of those cities should not have forced Protestantism and anti-Catholicism on their
students.  Many Protestant school leaders at the time did not see this as religious indoctrination.  They argued that the Bible was simply being read without comment.  The Bible itself, they believed, was not a religion per se but simply God’s book.  There could be no legitimate complaint against it.

There are other examples. Consider the spate of boarding schools for American Indian children that proliferated at the end of the 19th century and first half of the 20th.  Children at these schools were expected to be educated out of their Indian ways.  As
the founder of one of the most famous of these schools put it, they hoped to kill the Indian to save the man.
Students were forced to speak only English, to wear only Euro-style clothes, and to adopt Euro culture enthusiastically.  Some did. Some didn’t.  But the relevant point here is that such cultural indoctrination belongs in a bygone era.  American schools should be as pluralistic as American society.  The children of creationists should not have to abandon their beliefs in order to attend a public school.  They should be allowed to sustain their home culture even while learning about mainstream culture in the public schools.

Those who are not being hurt by the forced inclusion of some idea in public school curricula should not be the ones who decide if it is hurting other people.  Short hair for boys and use of the English language seemed like obvious requirements for Anglo teachers in American Indian boarding schools.  Reading from a Bible that mocked Catholicism and the Pope seemed
unobjectionable to early Protestant school leaders.  They did not see these things as offensive.  To protect against this
danger, we should offer people a low threshold of proof to claim that they believe an idea is hurting them or their children.  Otherwise, schools will continue to force majority culture down the throats of students and families who feel threatened
by it.

Consider one opinion of the US Supreme Court in this regard.  In 1981, the Court heard thecase of Thomas v. Review Board of Indiana Employment Security Division.  The plaintiff, Eddie Thomas, was a Jehovah’s Witness who had been denied
unemployment benefits from the State of Indiana.  Thomas had worked in a sheet metal factory and had been transferred to a division that made tank turrets.  Thomas requested another transfer, or to be laid off.  Those requests were denied, so
he quit.  He did not believe he could ethically build weapons.  The case is not a perfect parallel, since one of the deciding factors for the Supreme Court was that Indiana could pay his unemployment benefits without itself supporting his
religion.  But one line of Chief Justice Burger’s majority decision is telling.  “It is not for us to say,” Burger wrote, “that the line [Thomas] drew was an unreasonable one.”

The same is true with evolution education.  Those who do not find it dangerous or offensive should not be dictating that those who do find it offensive are being unreasonable.  Such ideas are often invisible and utterly inoffensive to those who share them.  But they can be literally damning to others.  The decision should be left to those who feel threatened.

 

ANTI EVOLUTION IV: FURTHER READING

Carl F. Kaestle, Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society, 1780-1860 (New York: Hill & Wang, 1999); David Wallace Adams, Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875-1928 (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1995).

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