Religious People Need to Speak Up Against Religion in Public Schools

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April 17 2013 10:30 AM

Baptist Pastor: Don’t Teach Religion in Public Schools!

Teach the controversy
This is not science. Nor is it legal to teach using public education money.

Image credit: Teach the Controversy t-shirts

I recently posted about Zack Kopplin, a young man we need to clone. He is tirelessly working against ridiculous religious overreach in his home state of Louisiana. You may remember that this state, spearheaded by its creationist governor Bobby Jindal, is giving out education vouchers that can go to schools that teach creationism, a clear violation of the First Amendment. Jindal is still defending this illegal law—he comes right out and says we should teach creationism in public schools—but it’s being fought by many people, including Kopplin.

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Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

I have a lot of opinions about this—and I’m usually pretty clear about them—but it does get a little delicate. When any group is seen fighting a law like this, naturally a lot of people get very sensitive about it since it’s a religious issue. They see it as an attack on their beliefs. That isn’t the case here; we’re talking about a legal issue, not necessarily the validity of the belief (for example, it is just as illegal to teach atheism as it is creationism). But it doesn’t matter if the law is blatantly and nakedly illegal and unconstitutional, once you mention religion you’ve opened a can of worms; folks self-identify with their beliefs, so attacking those beliefs is, in their eyes, attacking them.

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Some people might jump the conclusion that anyone fighting this law must be an atheist, or anti-Christian. Evidence of that isn’t hard to find. But that’s not true, and I have evidence of that as well.

It comes in the form of this wonderful OpEd by C. Welton Gaddy, Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana. He sees this law for what it is: a very bad precedent. People, especially religious people, fare far better when religion is allowed to be free, rather than mandated by the government in any way. When government starts to legislate religion, things get sticky fast.

I’m very glad to see this. To many religious people, simply being an atheist is enough to get your opinion not just dismissed, but rallied against—it is a Catch-22 of fighting religious overreach. But fighting this voucher law is not anti-Christian. It’s pro-American, in the truest sense of the phrase. It’s defending the First Amendment. We should all stand together when it comes to this.

That’s also why I support interfaith groups like Americans United for Separation for Church and State (run by the Reverend Barry Lynn). They do good work, and have people of many faiths—and no faith at all—as members. It’s a model of how things should be.

The use of vouchers to give public funding to religious schools is spreading from state to state (like Wisconsin, for example). We must stop it, and we can use the help from everyone who is willing to speak up.