Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
I was recently introduced to a far right-wing Constitutional revisionist group called The Wall Builders. Wall Builders was started by David Barton, self-identified Constitutional historian who believes the US is actually a Christian nation, formed by Evangelical Christian Founders, intended to bring Christianity into all aspects of our society. Aside from the fact that the Constitution that I am familiar with, the one that actually is in use today, makes no mention of God or Christ, Barton claims what we really need is to know the religious intent of the Founders, and that the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment, weren’t meant to form wall of separation between church and state. That, he claims, is a myth. According to this incredible website, the Founder’s intent was to create a United States as Christian theocracy.
I plan on checking in with the Wall Builders from time to time to see how their wall is coming along. I am a bit late to the Wall Builder’s party, as David Barton was hired by the RNC in 2004 to help motivate from the political pulpit (and leverage others to do the same), and has been roaming freely in Texas long before that.
The website is ripe for ripping apart. There is so much bile and hate flowing from their views on non-Christians, homosexuals and anyone seen as ‘other’. It is the insidious kind of hate, slipped in with shady wording, tangible lies, and divisive ideology. Some of their historical references are successfully debunked on hosts of other websites, and of course by actual history. But, for this post, I zeroed in on a letter from founder, David Barton, entitled “Calling Muslims to the Capitol?”. For my purposes, owing to my rabid obsession with the Religion Clauses lately, I have pulled this phrase from a particularly interesting paragraph as it allows me to research case-law – a hobby. Taking just this brief phrase from what is an awful assault on Muslim Americans as David Barton’s reaction to their Day of Prayer in Washington D.C., is a microcosm of how these people work. Anyway, here it is:
“…Christianity is being knocked down and Islam is being elevated. For example, a federal court of appeals ruled that public schools in nine western states can require a three-week indoctrination to the Islamic faith in which all junior high students must pretend they are Muslims and offer prayers to Allah…”
As a firmly left leaning democrat, this reeked to me of right-wing fear mongering. There is so much to love about this simple excerpt:
The Title – “Calling Muslims to the Capitol?” is not a question. It is a rhetorical statement as reaffirmation of the far right wing’s dedication to de-legitimizing President Obama. “Muslim” is the call to arms “Capitol” is the direct line to Obama. One wouldn’t have to read any further to understand exactly what this letter was about.
Semantics – Take the word indoctrination for instance. An objective reading (believing it to be sound and based in fact) would assume that using the word indoctrination meant something was terribly, terribly wrong. Indoctrinate is synonymous with brainwash. And, couple the word indoctrination with Islam and you have a real shit-show on your hands. As I read and researched further I of course learned that this was a blatant semantic manipulation to cause fear. Scare them then rope them in – perfect.
Sources/Lack there of – As usual when reading any article purported to contain facts, I scrolled to the bottom of the page, dying to see what federal court allowed such a blatant violation of the Constitution to happen in our public schools. What public school was force-feeding young minds religion – let alone Islam? Color me shocked when there were NO sources cited. Not a link to the case Mr. Barton vehemently held up as proof that “Christian America” is under attack. No information on what states were being inundated with the Muslim Menace. Getting on the stick, I immediately sent an email to firstname.lastname@example.org asking for further information on the case Mr. Barton referenced, what states were affected and if there were any other sources I could research.
As I patiently waited for what I was sure to be a quick response with all the pertinent information to support their claim, I did a little Googling. I did a quickie search, something like “federal court, Islam, indoctrination case”. It didn’t take but a moment to dig up Eklund v. Byron Union School District – (this is the full PDF of the brief filed on behalf of California School Board Association). Excellent. Now I could see how these Radical Islamist/Californians violated the Establishment Clause. Except, they didn’t. The court found that teaching about Islam (or any other religious tradition) within the proper context – history – does not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. If you take a moment to download and read the brief I have linked to in the case, you will find a treasure trove of information. Here is just one snippet:
from page 11: (citing the court decision in Brown V. Woodland Joint Unified School Dist. (9th Circuit Court 1994):
Some student participatory activity involving school-sponsored ritual may be permissible even under [the Establishment Clause] where the activity is used for secular pedagogical purposes. For example, having children act out ceremonial American Indian dance for the purpose of exploring and learning about American Indian culture may be permissible even if the dance was religious ritual. Similarly, a reenactment of the Last Supper or a Passover dinner might be permissible if presented for historical or cultural purpose.
Lack of context:
David Barton falsely claims the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals advocates the Government’s right to indoctrinate school children into Islam via the public school system. That would truly be horrifying. Just as horrifying as if the Government forced indoctrination of any religion via public schools.
He has done it with semantics, source-less grandstanding, and selective and false reporting as fact. The umbrella under which all this crap sits, safely out of the rain of truth and the American way is the lack of proper context. Context of anything quite frankly, but, specifically, the educational context in which Islam was being “indoctrinated” and the legal context of the ability of a school to teach religious traditions. The problem with context is that it tends to shed light on what may appear to be black and white.
Again, from the Eklund v. Byron Brief:
California Education Code section 51511 provides: “Nothing in this code shall be construed to prevent, or exclude from the public schools, references to religion or references to or the use of religious literature, art, or music or other things having a religious significance when such references or uses do not constitute instruction in religious principles or aid to any religious sect, church, creed or sectarian purpose and when such references or uses are incidental to or illustrative of matters properly included in the course of study.”
If he had pulled back and shown that an educational company called Interact supports schools and teachers by providing “Learn Though Experience” packs on various educational topics. The linked brief above lists Interact as the educational tool in question in Eklund v. Byron. It is noteworthy that Interact also has units called “Christendom” where students are indoctrinated into Christianity by dressing up as Lords and Ladies, serfs and Monks in Monasteries, and “Joan of Arc” another Christian hitmaker. (Please note - I need to do further research into Interactive and it’s role in this case. I plan on calling the attorneys in Fresno who filed the Amici Curiae on behalf of the CSBA and will post a follow-up).
Wall Builders is at best sloppy and negligent in its methods of collecting and disseminating accurate information, at worst, David Barton and his group are divisive bigots with a foot in the political door. I tend to agree with the latter.
Glossary of Words according to an actual Dictionary:
Indoctrination: To instruct in a doctrine, principle, ideology, etc., esp. to imbue with a specific partisan or biased believe or point of view. Random House Dictionary.
Christendom: 1. Christians Collectively 2. The Christian World 3. Christianity – Random House Dictionary
Glossary of Words According to David Barton:
Indoctrination: The teaching of any religion apart from Christianity – especially that creepy Islam.
Further Reading & Sources:
• U.S. Constitution - when is the last time you took a gander
• Interact – the educational company promoting “Learning Through Experience”
• J. Brent Walker – A Critique of David Barton’s Views on Church and State – Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Freedom
• Right Wing Watch – a fun page on all their David Barton goodies
NOTE: I can only assume Eklund v. Byron is the case he was talking about. I am sure they will get back to me soon, and I can confirm. Until then, I will continue with my assumption.
I just have to wonder how Jesus would feel about being used as a political device? That is a different conversation altogether…