The Separation of Reason and State

My first teaching job here in the city was at a small high school begun with the aid of a new visions grant. Although ultimately I lacked the chops to stay in the public school system, I have only great things to say about the New York City small schools movement, and, in particular, about the small school where I taught. Most people I met who wanted to start small schools had visionary ideas about education, and were willing to take risks to create non-traditional spaces where all kinds of learning could take place.

Of course, some schools were riskier than others: just ask Debbie Almontaser, who was just forced to resign from her school amid a storm of accusations questioning her patriotism and intentions. In some ways, the article tells the now familiar story of a progressive Muslim woman who critics attack based on poorly-substantiated stories about her ties to radical jihadist and terrorist organizations simply because she wears a head scarf. Naturally, this story infuriated me. But what I found even more maddening were the anecdotes in the article that critics used to prove Ms. Almontaser's radical bent, mostly because I've experienced all those things in the public school system...from Christians.

Take, for example, this lovely morsel:

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, critics of radical Islam focused largely on terrorism, scrutinizing Muslim-American charities or asserting links between Muslim organizations and violent groups like Hamas. But as the authorities have stepped up the war on terror, those critics have shifted their gaze to a new frontier, what they describe as law-abiding Muslim-Americans who are imposing their religious values in the public domain.

I'm sorry, imposing THEIR religious values in the public domain? Here's a chotti kahani for you. On my very first day of teaching in Texas, I attended an orientation for new teachers. So did a Catholic priest, who led us in a "nondenominational prayer." Translation? We thanked Jesus Christ (by name, no less) for a blessed summer and asked Him for help in surviving the year. My atheist friend and I squirmed in our seats as everyone else bowed our head. "At least you believe in God," she whispered to me. "Not like this," I hissed back. I thought of this service every morning when, after the pledge of allegiance (which, by the way, has the word "God" in it) when we had a "moment of silent contemplation." Translation: here's your time to pray, children. It was the only time during the morning announcements when I didn't punish kids for throwing paper airplanes at each other.

Let's face it: this is a Christian nation, and our students are reminded of it every day in multiple ways. And, if you're looking for a religion with a history of religious terrorism, Christianity certainly fits the bill. I personally find plenty of Christian groups terrifying - our current government is top of the list.

But wait... there's more.

Mr. Pipes places Muslims in three categories, he said: those who are violent, those who are moderate and those in the middle. It is this middle group, he argued, that now poses the greatest threat to American values.

Personally, I think you can place most religious people into one of these three categories - heck, you can place most people on this weird spectrum of insanity Pipes seems to be creating here. And isn't diversity something that Americans value? Don't we pride ourselves on supporting multiple viewpoints? Wasn't the separation of church (i.e. religion - another covert Christian reference there) and state written into the constitution? And didn't people first come to this country so they could practice their religion without being classified as a threat to the moral, emotional, and physical safety of a nation?

As for that middle group of Christians - which I personally picture as the people attending the evangelical events, and who will try to convert you if you give them the chance by asking you about their religion - I've certainly felt uncomfortable in their presence before. Just the other day a stranger approached me and invited me to a Bible study group. Does that count as dangerous? What exactly do these "middle" Muslims do that's so threatening? Let's find out:

“Are these people who are not using violence but who are not fully enthusiastic about this country and its mores, its culture — are they on our side or are they on the other side?” he asked.

I'm sorry, is taking sides a requirement for a having a passport? If so, I better hand mine in right now. Is being Christian / not Muslim a more? If so, you better take my social security number too. And as for being enthusiastic about this country - I wouldn't live anywhere else, but I'm hardly enthusiastic about anything our government has done for the past 8 years. I'd like to think that critical voices are what change this country. Mr. Pipes seems to believe more in blind faith - in Jesus, of course. Not in anything / anybody else.

A few more little gems:

“Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with Pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage,” he wrote, referring to the school as a madrassa, which means school in Arabic but, in the West, carries the implication of Islamic teaching.

First of all, Almontaser never called her school a madrassa. Second, every language is political. Especially English. Just take the way we talk about kids as "limited English proficient" rather than bilingual, or people as "illegal" rather than undocumented. English is laden with all kinds of baggage.

But opposition to the school mounted after critics learned that its advisory council included three imams (along with rabbis and priests), that there would be an internship for students with a Muslim lawyers’ association and that the proposal for the school suggested it might offer halal food. (The advisory council never met and has since been dismantled, and the school does not offer halal food, Education Department officials said.)

The hypocrisy in this paragraph is astounding. I have had plenty of Jewish students who have used Jewish professional networks to find internships. I have had plenty of Christian students who have used their churches to find professional connections. I have to admit, having religious figures on the advisory council sounds a little sketchy to me, but I do know of at least one public school in Texas where I taught that referred students to a local church for counseling, and depended on the local church to help organize after school groups.

And as for the halal thing...God forbid we provide students with food they can eat without compromising their morals (this coming from a girl whose childhood cafeteria memories involved a fruitless search for ANYTHING that didn't have meat in it or that wasn't touching meat). Oh, and by the way, the trend of serving fish in school cafeterias on Fridays has nothing to do with Christianity, right?

Clearly, I could go on. It's amazing how the separation of church and state in this country is a myth... until the religion isn't Christianity.

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It doesn't bother me if a

It doesn't bother me if a priest is called into a public domain to lead a few minutes of whatever. And it wouldn't bother me if a muslim cleric, hindu panda, wiccan priestess or buddhist llama was called in.

I actually like having a little consciousness of spirituality from time to time. It temporarily gets people's minds off their otherwise overly materialistic, self-centered lives.

But it would be nice to see other religions respected at least on par with Christianity. However, since that still is the majority religion, what can you expect?

I've worked with Debbie

I've worked with Debbie Almontaser before; she's the kind of person that makes sure you understand the distinction between being anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic and what the importance of that is. Daniel Pipes, on the other hand, is a joke, except for the amount of power that he can leverage through the kinds of idiots that got all in a huff about this school. The whole thing is absurd and there aren't two sides in terms of decency on this issue.

But it would be nice to see other religions respected at least on par with Christianity. However, since that still is the majority religion, what can you expect?

I can expect the Mayor's office to have a little more courage and a lot more commitment to the ideal of treating people decently and making sure that all of New York's residents are accorded the same kinds of human and political rights. This whole incident is such a joke, and I'm grateful that The Times has done a good job exposing that.

she’s the kind of person that

she’s the kind of person that makes sure you understand the distinction between being anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic

Because this is really hard to comprehend?

Because this is really hard

Because this is really hard to comprehend?

Evidently.

[...] Christians do it

[...] Christians do it because They Are Right Posted by plustwocharisma under Uncategorized   Pass The Roti passes on this thoroughly depressing article discussing the closure of a public school in New York [...]

But it would be nice to see

But it would be nice to see other religions respected at least on par with Christianity. However, since that still is the majority religion, what can you expect?

But of course they virtually never are. And the problem gets worse and worse as you get out of major American cities with big, politically powerful groups of religious minorities.

There are huge chunks of this country where Christianity is simply the state religion, regardless of what the First Amendment says. The ironic thing is that, in those areas, "freedom of religion" is often invoked as a rhetorical tool to prevent the expression of non-Christian faith traditions. Ie: We'll let the local church pass out pocket Bibles on your way to class, but we can't let a Buddhist speaker address even a voluntary group of students because we're suddenly scared of the First Amendment.

There are huge chunks of this

There are huge chunks of this country where Christianity is simply the state religion, regardless of what the First Amendment says.

Really? Where?

But of course they virtually

But of course they virtually never are. And the problem gets worse and worse as you get out of major American cities with big, politically powerful groups of religious minorities.

But in this dispute, the central problem is Zionism (mediated through the national Christian fundamentalist dialogue, perhaps)--which is, perhaps, a bigger problem in New York than any kind of Christian fundamentalism, and speaks to the importance of taking a regional look at these things in addition to a national one sometimes. And the other problem is a douchebag mayoral administration who sold out Debbie in the face of absurd, organized, anti-Muslim political opposition.

Fsowalla My high school in

Fsowalla

My high school in Central Florida had all sorts of teacher-led prayer and not-so-subtle encouragement to join a (preferably Protestant) church. That example with the pocket Bibles happened in my school, accompanied by daily prayer circles, "voluntary" lunchtime prayers, a moment of silence, and pretty open advocacy of Christianity by teachers after school hours.

In my experience, a lot of the South is like that (but it's not restricted to that part of the country). Again, as you get out of big cities with a powerful bloc of religious minorities, it gets less controversial for authority figures to openly flog Christianity.

Hmmm...odd, that. My school

Hmmm...odd, that. My school in the South often held discussions on the First Amendment, celebrated religious activities of various faiths and expanded it's faculty's religious diversity. Add to that that judges can get booted [http://www.cnn.com/2003/LAW/11/13/moore.tencommandments/] for not maintaining separation of church (and if you look at jurisprudence you'll see it's not always a steeple they're talking about when they say that word) and state, and I think your claims of "state religion" are a bit exaggerated, no?

Did you call the ACLU about the activities at your high school, btw?

If I'm being snarky, sorry. What does bother me is the incessant sniping that there is no separation between church and state in the US, overzealously incorporating any personal "insult" or experience as proof that that this is a Christian land. Are there Christian cultural and legal roots? Of course (though I find that the analysis of this particular example of Christian tradition and how it is connected to the idea of a government for the people woefully underdeveloped). Frankly, having lived in a number of countries with varying degrees of Christian influence, I find the US sometimes maddening, but most often refreshing vis a vis religion.

I agree with your

I agree with your interpretation of the current separation of Church and State status. It is disappointing to see how religious America has become. As an agnostic, it is interesting to study the religious movement in Europe compared to the U.S.. I personally believe religion was created to control populations, and is still used today to manipulate masses.

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