Archive for Separation of Church and State

How Christian Fundamentalists Plan to Teach Genocide to Schoolchildren

Posted in Loon Pastors, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2012 by loonwatch

Child with Bible

While many in the West are myopically focused on Muslim extremists, another form of religious extremism is poised to reach thousands of children in public schools across the US.

Aside from the disturbing implications for those who advocate a clear separation between church and state, the alarming content of the curriculum begs a question about the sponsors: What if they were Muslim?

How Christian Fundamentalists Plan to Teach Genocide to Schoolchildren

By Katherine Stewart, Guardian UK

Good News Clubs’ evangelism in schools is already subverting church-state separation. Now they justify murdering nonbelievers.

The Bible has thousands of passages that may serve as the basis for instruction and inspiration. Not all of them are appropriate in all circumstances.

The story of Saul and the Amalekites is a case in point. It’s not a pretty story, and it is often used by people who don’t intend to do pretty things. In the book of 1 Samuel (15:3), God said to Saul:

“Now go, attack the Amalekites, and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

Saul dutifully exterminated the women, the children, the babies and all of the men – but then he spared the king. He also saved some of the tastier looking calves and lambs. God was furious with him for his failure to finish the job.

The story of the Amalekites has been used to justify genocide throughout the ages. According to Pennsylvania State University Professor Philip Jenkins, a contributing editor for the American Conservative, the Puritans used this passage when they wanted to get rid of the Native American tribes. Catholics used it against Protestants, Protestants against Catholics. “In Rwanda in 1994, Hutu preachers invoked King Saul’s memory to justify the total slaughter of their Tutsi neighbors,” writes Jenkins in his 2011 book, Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses (HarperCollins).

This fall, more than 100,000 American public school children, ranging in age from four to 12, are scheduled to receive instruction in the lessons of Saul and the Amalekites in the comfort of their own public school classrooms. The instruction, which features in the second week of a weekly “Bible study” course, will come from the Good News Club, an after-school program sponsored by a group called the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). The aim of the CEF is to convert young children to a fundamentalist form of the Christian faith and recruit their peers to the club.

There are now over 3,200 clubs in public elementary schools, up more than sevenfold since the 2001 supreme court decision, Good News Club v Milford Central School, effectively required schools to include such clubs in their after-school programing.

The CEF has been teaching the story of the Amalekites at least since 1973. In its earlier curriculum materials, CEF was euphemistic about the bloodshed, saying simply that “the Amalekites were completely defeated.” In the most recent version of the curriculum, however, the group is quite eager to drive the message home to its elementary school students. The first thing the curriculum makes clear is that if God gives instructions to kill a group of people, you must kill every last one:

“You are to go and completely destroy the Amalekites (AM-uh-leck-ites) – people, animals, every living thing. Nothing shall be left.”

“That was pretty clear, wasn’t it?” the manual tells the teachers to say to the kids.

Even more important, the Good News Club wants the children to know, the Amalakites were targeted for destruction on account of their religion, or lack of it. The instruction manual reads:

“The Amalekites had heard about Israel’s true and living God many years before, but they refused to believe in him. The Amalekites refused to believe in God and God had promised punishment.”

The instruction manual goes on to champion obedience in all things. In fact, pretty much every lesson that the Good News Club gives involves reminding children that they must, at all costs, obey. If God tells you to kill nonbelievers, he really wants you to kill them all. No questions asked, no exceptions allowed.

Asking if Saul would “pass the test” of obedience, the text points to Saul’s failure to annihilate every last Amalekite, posing the rhetorical question:

“If you are asked to do something, how much of it do you need to do before you can say, ‘I did it!’?”

“If only Saul had been willing to seek God for strength to obey!” the lesson concludes.

A review question in the textbook seeks to drive the point home further:

“How did King Saul only partly obey God when he attacked the Amalekites? (He did not completely destroy as God had commanded, he kept the king and some of the animals alive.)”

The CEF and the legal advocacy groups that have been responsible for its tremendous success over the past ten years are determined to “Knock down all doors, all the barriers, to all 65,000 public elementary schools in America and take the Gospel to this open mission field now! Not later, now!” in the words of a keynote speaker at the CEF’s national convention in 2010. The CEF wants to operate in the public schools, rather than in churches, because they know that young children associate the public schools with authority and are unable to distinguish between activities that take place in a school and those that are sponsored by the school.

In the majority opinion that opened the door to Good News Clubs, supreme court Justice Clarence Thomas reasoned that the activities of the CEF were not really religious, after all. He said that they could be characterized, for legal purposes, “as the teaching of morals and character development from a particular viewpoint”.

As Justices Souter and Stevens pointed out in their dissents, however, the claim is preposterous: the CEF plainly aims to teach religious doctrines and conduct services of worship. Thomas’s claim is particularly ironic in view of the fact that the CEF makes quite clear its intent to teach that no amount of moral or ethical behavior (pdf) can spare a nonbeliever from an eternity in hell.

Good News Clubs should not be in America’s public elementary schools. As I explain in my book, The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, the club exists mainly to give small children the false impression that their public school supports a particular creed. The clubs’ presence has produced a paradoxical entanglement of church and state that has ripped apart communities, degraded public education, and undermined religious freedom.

The CEF’s new emphasis on the genocide of nonbelievers makes a bad situation worse. Exterminist rhetoric has been on the rise among some segments of the far right, including some religious groups. At what point do we start taking talk of genocide seriously? How would we feel about a nonreligious group that instructs its students that if they should ever receive an order to commit genocide, they should fulfill it to the letter?

And finally, when does a religious group qualify as a “hate group”?

This is Why Radical Christians are One of the Greatest Threats to the US Constitution

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2012 by loonwatch

Santorum_Separation_Church_and_State

Rick Santorum on “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos

For the past several years Loonwatch writers have repeatedly made the very “significant” (and obvious) point that radical Christian Islamophobes seek to undermine the constitution of the USA by entangling church and state; i.e. undermining the separation of Church and State.

We have also pointed out that the fervent fear-mongering about “Islamization,” a fairytale concept, is nothing more than projection on the part of these radicals. (Propaganda about the “Islamization” of the USA is even more ridiculous when one considers history; the fact that America was forcibly “Christianized” by colonial settlers and their offspring.)

Many Radical Christians today believe America has changed too much and that the superior place of Christianity needs to be reasserted, i.e. re-Christianization. Not only does this thought permeate the GOP, it has infact captured the GOP. This much is clear from the ongoing reality TV circus known as the Republican primary debates.

Take Rick Santorum, it was recently revealed that he “felt like throwing up” when he first read JFK’s famous speech on the separation of church and state. He was questioned about this by George Stephanopoulos, Santorum replied that he felt like vomiting after reading the first substantive line of the speech in which JFK said, “Apparently it is important for me to state again, not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in. I believe in an America in which the separation between church and state is absolute. Santorum went on to say,

I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.

This is a leading Republican candidate for the presidency saying this, it’s not something that should be simply ignored. Can one imagine if Rep.Keith Ellison, a Muslim Congressman had said the above? For a surety the Islamophobesphere would be flailing wildly about “Islamization” and the impending Sharia take over in Ellison’s home state of Minnesota.

One must also ask where is the condemnation from loons such as Robert Spencer, a fellow Catholic? We can answer our own question, Spencer is not interested in condemning this threat because he likely agrees with Santorum. Spencer in the past has spoken in forums where he has agreed with other speakers attacking the Enlightenment. His attacks weren’t of the philosophical post-modernist variety either but couched in defense of the faith rhetoric. As I wrote at the time,

Spencer agrees with Professor Kreeft regarding the Enlightenment being a threat to Catholicism though he didn’t explicitly say that Islam was less of a threat. I can see how Ultra-Conservative Catholics may rail against the Enlightenment, it was the era which saw a secularist revolt in the name of reason against the Catholic Church and which led to formulas for the Separation of Church and State, it also witnessed the decline of the power of the Catholic Church in the temporal realm.

Coming back to the main topic, I don’t believe Santorum misspoke. I don’t believe Santorum misunderstood what JFK meant or the impetus behind why he gave that famous 1960 speech. I don’t believe Santorum was making a point about how voices of faith need to be heard in the public square, etc.

Santorum believes America is a Christian country, he believes the “founding fathers” meant for it to stay that way and in fact supported such a notion. I am not sure whether Santorum follows the Dominionist ideology, (an ideology that seems to plague Protestants mostly), but he clearly believes the Church has a part to play in the operation of government.

This incident reveals the deep hypocrisy and faux loyalty to the Constitution amongst many of the Islamophobes and the populist politicians who are riding the Islam/Muslim-bashing wave. Islam and Muslims are being used as a distraction that serves to 1.) make us lose sight of the real issues, and 2.) covers a darker intent of reconquista, rechristianization by any means necessary.

Lastly, I want to clarify that this post is obviously not an attack on Christianity and should not be understood that way. The great majority of Christians are as repulsed as any other citizen when they hear such inanities spewing forth from the mouths of politicians speaking in the name of their faith. They are also on the front lines actively fighting this scourge.

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A very good video from the Young Turks on Rick Santorum’s attack on the Separation of Church and State:

Asra Nomani: Government Should Tell Muslims How to Worship

Posted in Feature, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2011 by loonwatch

Freedom of worship is one of our most invaluable rights. It means that I have the complete freedom and the human right to worship God the way I see fit or to not worship, provided that I uphold the standards of civil law. Thomas Jefferson so eloquently wrote:

That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

[The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom]

This human right is the cornerstone of our democracy. It keeps the political conversation rational, among other things, and prevents our nation from degenerating further into partisan religious delinquency. So, naturally, I am dismayed when I see this most basic and cherished freedom become a casualty in our national discourse on Islam and Muslims.

Observe Asra Nomani, whom we’ve criticized before for supporting racial profiling, in her latest draconian suggestion; if mosques do not bow to the demands of her ideology, they should be denied tax exempt status (i.e. forced to shutdown from crippling taxes). How did she arrive at such a conclusion?

Nomani says she is fighting Gender Apartheid:

Our goal was to walk through the front double doors designated for “brothers” and pray in the forbidden space of the opulent musallah, or main hall, of the mosque.

She paints herself as a freedom fighter, a successor to Martin Luther King Jr. But the question is: why do Muslim men and women pray in separate spaces? Is it sexism?

Until a point in time when we live in a “genderless” society (maybe something Asra advocates?), men and women are generally considered distinguished entities and traditional religions tend to take this into account. In the case of the majority of Muslims, men and women pray in separate places for the five congregational prayers because the Quran says:

Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them… And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof… (24:30-31)

Pious Muslims are not supposed to gawk with lust at members of the other sex. This applies in daily life and even more so in the ritual prayer in which concentration and focus should be directed towards God and not the opposite sex. Separating men and women in the Muslim prayer is therefore considered a matter of modesty; not that women are inferior or have less rights. Thus, separate prayer halls in themselves are not an indication that women are being mistreated or denied access to the mosque.

But perhaps the issue is that women have a less nice area to pray in or are being denied access to the mosque altogether. On this issue Nomani has a point, and she produces some statistics and studies, although mired by her sweeping generalizations:

In a 2005 publication, “Women Friendly Mosques and Community Centers,” written by two American-Muslim groups — the Islamic Social Services Associations and Women In Islam — the authors confirmed that “many mosques relegate women to small, dingy, secluded, airless and segregated quarters with their children,” some mosques “actually prevent women from entering,”…

It is true that some mosques have less than adequate facilities to accommodate female worshippers, but is it always a case of sexism? If you haven’t noticed, opening or expanding a mosque is not the easiest thing to do in America right now. There are other factors involved other than an alleged omnipresent sexism dominating the Muslim community. Some of these mosques do not have the funding to give women a bigger space; and perhaps, it may be the conservative culture of a particular mosque for women to normally pray at home with their children, usually coming to the mosque only on special occasions, and thus a bigger space is unnecessary.

Nomani could draw from Islamic tradition to support her legitimate goal of helping women increase their presence and participation in the mosque. She could, for example, mention how numerous authentic traditions record that the Prophet Muhammad gave women universal support to go to the mosque:

Do not prevent the maid-servants of Allah from going to the mosque.

[Sahih Muslim, Book 004, Number 0886]

She could engage in a respectful dialogue with notable Imams, scholars and activists, work for grassroots change in her local community, and help establish the model mosque she seeks with their help or of her own volition. Unfortunately, Nomani thinks strong-arm bully tactics and shouting matches in the mosque are the way to go.

First, she travels to different communities to whom she does not belong and demands to violate their sacred spaces. Then, she makes a ruckus in the media to bring pressure on Muslim communities from society at large. That hasn’t worked, so now she wants the government to step in and tell Muslims how they should organize their prayer halls:

I understand the difficulties in having the state intervene in worship issues. I believe in a separation of church and state, but I’ve come to the difficult decision that women must use the legal system to restore rights in places of worship, particularly when intimidation is used to enforce unfair rules.

Unbelievable! One Christian author took the words right out of my mouth:

That is an almost comically irrational paragraph, and yet it ran in a column published in none other than USA Today. Nomani says that she “understand[s] the difficulties in having the state intervene in worship issues,” but shows no such understanding at all. Then, she writes that she “believe[s] in a separation of church and state,” but then she calls upon the coercive power of the state to force doctrinal change in places of worship. She cannot have it both ways…

I am not worried that IRS agents are about to descend on the nation’s churches, mosques, and synagogues to force a new government-endorsed theology on our places of worship. I am very concerned, however, that this kind of argument, left unaddressed, implies a power that the government does not and should not possess.

Undoubtedly what Nomani is asking for is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution’s, First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” She would open the floodgates of government intervention into the most private area of our lives, our places of worship, our sacred spaces, and threaten to raise our taxes if we didn’t worship in a manner consistent with her ideology (a curious double-violation of Tea Party ideology but nonetheless will probably receive a free pass from many on the Right because of the fact that Muslims are Nomani’s target).

She warns us that in mosques “intimidation is used to enforce unfair rules” but she has no problem using the long arm of the law to intimidate Muslims and force them to construct their prayer halls in line with Nomani’s ideology or else be crushed by burdening taxes.  So, Asra, how are you not also using intimidation “to enforce unfair rules?” Can anyone else see the double standard?

Don’t get me wrong. Freedom and women’s rights are very vital issues for Muslims to tackle, but not so much for Nomani. She seems far more interested in getting her uninformed and sensational views published than in helping the Muslim community from within.

How else can we understand her aggressive assault on our most basic American freedom?