First up from the God Machine this week is a story out of Florida, where a local school district was confronted with an awkward dilemma.
When we last checked in with the fine folks in Orange County, home to Orlando among other communities, the school board had already agreed to allow an evangelical Christian group to distribute Bibles to school children. The Satanic Temple heard about the arrangement and asked for equal treatment – they had some Satanic coloring books they wanted to share.
If the board members refused, the Satanic Temple would sue and almost certainly win – the Supreme Court has already said public schools can’t discriminate based on religious viewpoints. If the doors were open to an evangelical group to distribute Bibles, then Orange County would seem to have no choice but to open the doors a little wider to accommodate every other religious group.
This week, Ian Millhiser explained the school board decided it’s time to close the doors altogether.
The school district, in other words, could allow Christians and Satanists alike to distribute literature to students. Or it could exclude both. But it cannot discriminate against the Satanists because it disagrees with the Satanic viewpoint. At a school board meeting Tuesday night, the board decided to go with a version of option B. Under their new policy, some literature may still be distributed, “but nothing that is religious, political or sectarian,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Every time these kinds of controversies arise, the underlying principle is always the same: when it comes to religion and public affairs, the government can’t play favorites. First Amendment principles demand that no American is treated as a second-class citizen.
The ideal solution, it would seem, is for public officials to stay out of the religion-promotion business altogether.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Right-wing evangelical pastor John Hagee, who campaigned with John McCain in 2008, predicted this week that tensions between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may lead God to destroy the United States. “I am a student of world history,” Hagee said, “and you can wrap up world history in 25 words or less and here it is: the nations that blessed Israel prospered and the nations that cursed Israel were destroyed by the hand of God.” He added that God “is watching what America does as it responds to Israel. If America turns its back on Israel, God will turn his back on America. And that’s a fact. It’s proven by history.”
* Unexpected in Iceland: “Asatruarfelagid, a neopagan organization, plans to start construction next month on the country’s first Norse temple since Christianity arrived in the island nation roughly 1,000 years ago…. While the temple will be dedicated to ancient Norse ideals, the leader of Asatruarfelagid said the context is a bit different in modern times.”
* Vatican intrigue: “The top aide to retired Pope Benedict XVI is insisting he resigned freely, amid conspiracy theories that Benedict’s resignation was forced and the election of Pope Francis was thus invalid. Monsignor Georg Gaenswein gave an interview to Italian daily Corriere della Sera on the second anniversary of Benedict’s announcement that he would become the first pope in 600 years to step down.”