Spread It Around

The whole issue of religion in school is one of those things that just makes me want to scream in frustration.  It’s like watching a car wreck as it happens, but in this case, both drivers are drunk.

The latest example to catch my attention concerns a case in Belle Fourche, S.D..

The mother of a Belle Fourche Middle School student has complained to the district after her son came home with a Bible that he said had been passed out in the school hallway.

“I was out of town. I came home, and it was sitting there in my house,” said Bonnie Matthews. “I questioned my son, and he said a man just handed it to him at school.”

When she contacted the school, an official said told her the Bible came from the Gideons International organization, which distributes Bibles throughout the world.

Matthews said the official told her school policy has allowed such distribution in the past, but that the school itself was not involved and did not sanction it.

Interestingly, the ACLU was OK with it.

Jennifer Ring, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in North Dakota and South Dakota, said distribution of religious materials in school is a form of free speech and religious freedom.

But it should only be done with clear conditions. School officials should not be involved, the school should not promote any religion, and there should not be restrictions on the types of religious beliefs expressed, she said.

“The ACLU is a big defender of religious freedom, as long as the regulation isn’t one that allows only one religion, as long as it’s open to everybody,” said Ring.

This caught my attention, because I was behind a pickup truck yesterday that had the phrase “ACLU is bound for hell” on the back bumper (and it wasn’t a bumper sticker, but instead was made from individual stick-on letters).  I know that the ACLU attracts a lot of detractors, but there are times when they’re a necessary evil.  I just wonder what they did to tick someone off so badly that they’d feel the need to make a sign on their vehicle.  I suspect it was something to do with prayer, given the message (and the other stickers on the truck).

My personal belief system is that I don’t believe, but I don’t necessarily disbelieve either.  I’m an agnostic (alternating between apathetic (‘I don’t care.’) and militant (‘I don’t know and you don’t either.’) ).  In any event, I will be up front and say that I have some antipathy towards organized religion of just about every stripe.  I distrust any organization that wants to control my life (and that includes government as well, so I’m an equal opportunity pain in the ass).  But over time I developed defense mechanisms (after once being “saved” as a naive youth by some evangelical door-to-door Baptist types, which East Texas is lousy with).  I’ve come to an uneasy truce with religion (or at least I don’t go into a frothing rage when people try this crap with me now). 

But regardless of my position on religion, I never minded when people gave me bibles.  Maybe that’s because I’m something of a bibliophile, and free books were cool (regardless of the subject).  Anyway, I think that both sides of this issue have a lot of crap to take the blame for.  The religionists bother me because they seem to think that just because a majority of the people (or so they claim) are on their side it makes it OK to have organized prayer in schools.  The anti-religionists bother me because they’re a bunch of whining crybabies who can’t be bothered to teach their children to resist programming.  This would have been a good chance for the woman in this article to teach her child how to evaluate ideas in the context of her own beliefs.

But ultimately this fight is unwinnable.  No one will ever be satisfied by the result, because they aren’t looking at the fundamental problem.  That problem, as I see it, is that public education has a fatal flaw.  What we’re seing in so many places (religion, sex education, testing, etc) is that the public school system cannot respond to market demand.  It must attempt to cater to all needs and all tastes (as well as all the additional crap that has been thrust upon it over the years).  What we’re seeing here is a frustration of market demand because of the government imposed monopoly in education.  If people’s demands are frustrated in the marketplace, eventually they will look for other routes to get them satisfied, by force if necessary (either the courts or the tyranny of the majority) if there are no other outlets.

If we’d get past the idea that education must be public, we can start to look at satisfying the needs of each stakeholder.  If some people want prayer and bible studies in their schools, that can be handled.  If others want ‘just the facts’, the market will provide for it.  But until then, we’re going to witness the various groups fighting over the public school agenda like a pack of crazed pit bulls over a hunk of meat.


  1. Stephen says:

    ***Insulting and obnoxious comment removed*** (CPE00485465359d-CM.cpe.net.cable.rogers.com) has been banned

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