Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Good News, Everyone

Stated like the Professor.

This story about the effects of "Good News" clubs (via) in Public Elementary Schools really rang true to me. Not because it reflected personal experience -- my public educational experience was noteworthy for the degree of tolerance and ecumenicalism it evinced -- a quality which I associated with strong Church/State separation which in turn sparked my early zealotry on the subject. It was when I did research on the subject, and was exposed to locations where church and state could not be so easily disentangled, that I began to imagine what it would be like for me, as a Jew.* What view would I have had of school if I was told on the playground as a Kindergartener that I was doomed to Hell? If I was ostracized because my religion was wrong? If -- as far as I could tell -- the school itself was endorsing all of these views? I think it would be very hard to apply myself fully as a student. I think my education would have suffered immensely.

The article cites a Supreme Court case, Good News Club v. Milford Central School, 533 U.S. 98 (2001), as why many schools are so reticent to ban groups like this. The holding, as I understand it, was predicated off a blanket anti-religious group policy being a violation of the 1st Amendment. I wonder if a district instead made a more tailored finding that this group was sowing discord and having a negative impact on (certain?) students' ability to learn, whether it might be uphold even after Milford. It seems difficult to believe that schools would have to allow a "Bad News: Your Friends Are Inferior Hellbound Sinners Club" on campus. Yet, cheery name aside, that seems to be what the Good News Club does.

* One of the most illuminating pieces on this, for me anyway, was Frank Ravitch's "A Crack In The Wall: Pluralism, Prayer and Pain in the Public Schools," in Law and Religion: A Critical Anthology (Stephen Feldman ed., NYU Press 2000), pp. 296-314.


chingona said...

At first, I was having a hard time understanding how these clubs are different than the little girl across the street inviting me to church every week, putting my parents in the very awkward position of looking unfriendly when they told me I couldn't go.

But it does seem like they really blur the line in a way that would be confusing to young kids and in a way that would really undermine parents.

Conservatives - all for parents rights, as long as the parents are conservative evangelical Christians of the correct denomination.

chingona said...

One more thought. I was the kind of kid who kind of liked being on the outside and always identified with the underdog, so being Jewish fit very well with those aspects of my personality. My brother is pretty much the opposite. At some point in middle school, my brother decided he wanted to be Christian because all his friends were Christian. I don't need to tell you how upsetting his was to my parents, but my father handled it really well. He told my brother that if he read the entire Bible, new and old testament, and still wanted to be a Christian, my father wouldn't stop him from going to church. And ... that was the last we ever heard about that.

PG said...

Do you have any recommendations for good articles about how distinctions between religious speech versus other kinds of speech are collapsed in order to allow for more government support to religion? As the Independent article and the Milford dissents make clear, the only way that Thomas could reach his conclusion was by pretending that teaching religious doctrine is no different than teaching kids about the virtues of recycling.