First up from the God Machine this week is a look at a curious fight in Kansas, where religio-political conservatives believe science lessons violate the separation of church and state.
A Kansas-based group that “promotes the religious rights of parents, children, and taxpayers” is challenging the state’s science standards because they include the teaching of evolution, which the group claims is a religion and therefore should be excluded from science class.
As the AP reports, Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE) claims that public schools “promote a ‘non-theistic religious worldview’ by allowing only ‘materialistic’ or ‘atheistic’ explanations to scientific questions.” The group argues that by teaching evolution “the state would be ‘indoctrinating’ impressionable students in violation of the First Amendment.”
COPE’s challenge [PDF] states that the teaching of evolution “amounts to an excessive government entanglement with religion” and violates the rights of Christian parents.
As Simon Brown reported, the organization is filing a lawsuit on behalf of 15 local Christian parents. Steven Case, director of the science center at the University of Kansas, added that this argument has been tried before in court, and it’s always failed. “This is about as frivolous as lawsuits get,” Case said.
What I find especially fascinating about the argument is its implications. For COPE, the absence of religion is necessarily evidence of a “non-theistic religious worldview,” promoting “materialistic” or “atheistic” views. In other words, from their perspective, anything that’s secular should be seen as a rejection of religion.
By this reasoning, if you have lunch without a prayer, it’s an atheistic lunch. If you play baseball without including religion, it’s a “non-theistic” game. And a school teaches biology, it’s entangling itself in religion by omitting supernatural stories from science classes.
The Baptist Joint Committee says COPE is effectively pushing for “no science at all” in Kansas’ public schools, which I imagine is precisely the point.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Fox News host Bill O’Reilly is releasing a new book about Jesus, which he said is the result of God communicating with him in a dream. “All of the ideas come to me in the middle of the night and one night, I just woke up and I went, ‘Killing Jesus,’” he told CBS this week. “And I believe because I’m a Catholic that comes from the Holy Spirit. My inspiration comes from that … so I wrote ‘Killing Jesus’ because I think I was directed to write that.”
* In an interesting cultural shift, the faculty and staff at Moody Bible Institute will now be permitted to drink alcohol. That may not sound like much of a breakthrough, but the New York Times noted it’s “symbolic of a shift in evangelical attitudes away from teetotaling and the theological desirability of strict systems of rules.”
* David Lane, an influential evangelical and political operative, has created an evangelical group called the American Renewal Project, which contacted more than 10,000 U.S. pastors this week, urging them to join him in an effort to “save America.” The message argued, among other things, “Unless politicians see scalps on the wall, they will never respect our policies, marches, sermons or prayer rallies…. Registering the Christian constituency to vote, and getting them to vote is the game. Game on” (thanks to reader R.P. for the heads-up).
* And the Family Research Council, a heavyweight in the religious right movement, argued this week that there’s “nothing more Christian” than slashing food stamps for low-income families. I don’t think it was intended as a joke, though with the FRC, it’s sometimes hard to tell.