I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

From Missouri Satanists to Alabama racists to Kentucky fundamentalists, this week saw it all. Here are some ILYBYGTH-themed stories that came across our desk:

If Christians can refuse to bake cakes, can Satanists refuse to wait for an abortion? Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta talks with Lucien Greaves about the case at Missouri’s Supreme Court.

Can a university expel a student for a racist rant? The ACLU says no in a case from Alabama, at IHE.

Indian evangelicals and the changing face of the American megachurch, by Prema Kurien at R&P.Bart reading bible

“Truth Decay:” Chester Finn spreads the blame for fake news beyond civic ed, at Flypaper.

Fundamentalists were right! College really does endanger children’s faith, at IHE.

Texas judge says God told him to interfere with a jury, at Americans United.

What do Americans “know” about evolution? Glenn Branch reviews the latest numbers, at NCSE.

Online School of Tomorrow closes today, leaving Ohio students scrambling, at CPD.

Want to earn millions? Resign in scandal from presidency of Michigan State, at IHE.

Curmudgucrat Peter Greene on the difficulties of healing the country’s racist past.

Should evangelicals defend Trump? Mark Galli critiques court evangelicals, at CT.

The quandary: Conservative intellectuals in the Age of Trump, at WaPo.

  • Best line: “Trumpism has torn down the conservative house and broken it up for parts.”

What makes Ben Shapiro tick? At Slate.

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Florida Christians Speak Up for Satan

Have you seen them? Conservative religious folks these days like to push new school laws that would protect students’ rights to be religious in public schools. And it has led to some pretty odd bedfellows.

These laws, often called Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination Acts, generally insist that students can’t be stopped from expressing their religious ideas in class assignments and school activities. Several states have passed or considered similar bills.

No one disagrees that students in public schools have every right to be religious. They can pray, wear religious symbols, and join religious clubs. These bills want to take those rights one step further. If cheerleaders in Texas want to hold up Bible-based placards, for example, these laws would protect their rights to do that. If valedictorians in Tennessee want to lead a prayer at graduation, these laws say that’s okay.

On my recent trip to sunny Gainesville, Florida, some of the edu-gators (ha) were talking about a similar new bill in Florida. The state Senate just approved it, and the House will be voting next week.

Opponents are dismayed. One high-school biology teacher worried that this bill would smash any protections against religious preaching in public schools. “Does this mean,” he asked,

That a teacher or school personnel can then talk about stuff like the age of the Earth and evolution from a religious perspective, and if someone was to try to counsel them not to do that, would that be discrimination against the teacher?

Americans United for Separation of Church and State shared similar worries.  As they argued,

A student, for example, could use every assignment that includes a class presentation as an opportunity to convince any non-believers in the class that they need to accept Jesus to achieve salvation. Alternatively, students in science classes could try to turn every class discussion into a debate about evolution vs. creationism.

Supporters of Florida’s bill put it in a different light. Senate sponsor Dennis Baxley said his bill “protects everybody.” He was especially concerned about students such as Erin Shead.  As SAGLRROILYBYGTH* may recall, ten-year-old Erin was asked to write about her hero. She picked God. Her teacher asked her to pick someone else.

In Florida, and around the country, conservative Christians are pushing these types of laws in order to clarify Erin’s right to admire God in class. But the Florida debate is producing some weird rhetoric. The selling point of these bills—at least one of them—is that they are not meant to push Christianity, but rather to protect students’ rights to practice any religion.

And one Florida activist isn’t shy about spelling out what that means. Pam Olsen of the Florida Prayer Network told Florida lawmakers that the bill wasn’t just a Christian power play. Everyone, she insisted, would be protected. As she put it,

That means Christian, it means Muslim, it means Jewish, it means the Satanic people. Because that is a religion now.

Okay, so, hrmmmmm…I can’t help but wonder what would happen if a group of Satanists really did speak out in favor of this law. Or if a group of Satanist students started a “prayer circle” at their local Florida public school.

Would the Florida Prayer Network support them?

*Sophisticated and Good-Looking Regular Readers of I Love You but You’re Going to Hell, of course.

 

Shout at the Devil

Can religious groups pass out religious literature in public schools? How about if the religion is Satanism, and the literature is The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities?

What's good for the goose...

What’s good for the goose…

Apologies: This news came out about ten days ago, but I’ve been wrapped up in book research and somehow missed it. Better late than never, right?

So here’s the story in a nutshell: In Orange County, Florida, the Satanic Temple has announced plans to distribute its children’s book in public schools. Why? Because evangelical Protestant groups plan to pass out Bibles and Christian literature.

According to the Satanic group’s announcement, the plan hopes to attract attention to the need for secularism. As in other high-profile cases—such as plans for a Black Mass at Harvard—the group insists it does not really worship Satan, but rather wants Americans to shake off their religious blinders.

As the temple’s spokesperson, Lucien Greaves, explained,

if a public school board is going to allow religious pamphlets and full Bibles to be distributed to students — as is the case in Orange County, Florida — we think the responsible thing to do is to ensure that these students are given access to a variety of differing religious opinions, as opposed to standing idly by while one religious voice dominates the discourse and delivers propaganda to youth.

Indeed, the book uses Satanic imagery to promote notions of pluralism and anti-bullying. The Satanic children are represented as the only ones able to use “patience and open-mindedness” to understand kids who are different. The smiling Satanic children in the book use “inclusive language” and “[spread] knowledge … to dispel fear and ignorance.”

All sounds pretty innocent, right? And, indeed, for secular folks, this publicity stunt might indeed seem to be what one journalist called “a hilarious response to a pro-religion court ruling.”

Spreading knowledge?  Or fueling fundamentalist fears?

Spreading knowledge? Or fueling fundamentalist fears?

Personally, I agree. This effort seems to make a powerful statement about the true possibilities of religious freedom in public schools. In other cases, we’ve seen parents protest against evangelical outreach to public schools. And we’ve wondered if Jesus-loving cheerleaders would really accept similar sorts of religious free speech from other religions. If public schools are really going to work, they don’t need to ban religion. But they can’t support just one sort of religion, either.

In the end, though, I can’t help but wonder if this sort of exposure does more harm than good to the very cause the Satanists claim to espouse. They came to Orange County in an effort to support the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Satanists want to make the point that no religious literature should be permitted in public schools; no religious evangelists should be allowed to target public-school students.

As regular ILYBYGTH readers know, I’m an outsider to the world of conservative evangelical religion. But after having spent some time with conservative evangelicals and “fundamentalists,” I’m now wondering if the Satanists’ tongue-in-cheek deviltry might backfire. With this Florida campaign, the Satanic Temple is literally putting the devil on the side of the atheists. Conservative pundits can and will point to the Satanists’ efforts as evidence of the evil tilt of atheists.

So here’s the question: Is this Satanic Temple effort genius? Or self-destructive?

Does it make the point that “religious freedom” must really mean religious freedom for ALL religions? Or does it simply fuel conservative warnings that secularism is just a front for Satan?

Hell and Harvard

It looks as if Harvard will not host its Black Mass after all.  The school had planned to allow a Satanic group to perform its signature ceremony as a gesture toward inclusion and free speech.  Conservative reaction to the event tells us something about conservative ideas about higher education.

Naturally, many Catholics, conservative or otherwise, protested the plan.  The Black Mass, after all, is a deliberate inversion of the most sacred Catholic ritual.  According to some reports, Satanists in the Harvard mass boasted that they had acquired a consecrated Eucharistic wafer to mock and humiliate in their performance.  Harvard alumnus Father Roger Landry pleaded with Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust to cancel the ceremony.  Harvard, Landry argued, would not allow a mock lynching in the name of free speech.  Nor would Harvard allow racist verbal assaults.

But other conservatives criticized the event for different reasons.  This sort of bizarre public performance, some conservatives argued, demonstrated just how deeply elite colleges have veered out of the cultural mainstream.  Schools such as Harvard, some conservatives say, have lost all sense of what is normal in real life.

In the pages of National Review, for instance, AJ Delgado did not attack Satanism.  But he did attack elite higher education.  The perverted reasoning that led Harvard to accommodate such a hateful attack on Catholicism, Delgado argued, demonstrated the ways “the Ivy League continually sinks to shockingly low depths.”

Oklahoma representative Rebecca Hamilton elaborated on this theme.  “Harvard,” Hamilton insisted,

and its little troupe of elite schools are not healthy for this country. They create a 1% that is disconnected from and hostile to the rest of us. They are, in many ways, predatory.

As I argue in my upcoming book, educational conservatives have long insisted that elite colleges had lost their way.  At times, historians have accused conservatives of being “anti-intellectual” due to this tradition.  But that’s not the case.  Conservatives in general are no more anti-intellectual than anyone else.  But throughout the twentieth century conservative activists and intellectuals specifically lamented the perverted ideas dominant at elite universities and institutions.

In the 1930s, for example, conservatives attacked schools such as Columbia University for coddling communists and subversives.  It was not “college” in general that had gone wrong, conservatives argued.  But elite schools in particular had strayed from educational tradition.  US Congressman Hamilton Fish, a founder of the American Legion and dedicated red-hunter, listed in 1935 the schools that had become “honeycombed with socialists, near communists, and communists.”  Watch out, Fish warned, for Columbia, New York University, City College of New York, the University of Chicago, the University of Wisconsin, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Pennsylvania.  Such elite schools had gone off the rails.

Harvard’s flirtation with Satanism seems to have confirmed this theme among conservative activists and intellectuals.  Higher education is a good thing, most believe.  But the kooky garbage on offer at elite schools such as Harvard demonstrates the problem with the upper crust of academia.