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June 5, 2005 - Does Teaching Science in Public Schools Violate the First Amendment?

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My conservative friend mentions now and then that the one conservative columnist he really likes is Charles Krauthammer.  I think I’m supposed to be impressed that Krauthammer is an MD of the psychiatrist kind.

A bit from Krauthammer’s biography


Charles Krauthammer was born in 1950 in New York City. He grew up in Montreal and was educated at McGill University (B A. with First Class Honors in Political Science and Economics, 1970), Oxford University (Commonwealth Scholar in Politics at Balliol College, 1970-71), and Harvard University (MD, Harvard Medical School, 1975).

From 1975-78 he practiced medicine as a Resident and then Chief Resident in Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital. His scientific papers, including his co-discovery of a form of manic-depressive illness, are still frequently cited in the psychiatric literature.

In 1978, he quit psychiatry and came to Washington to serve as a science adviser in the Carter Administration and, later, speechwriter to Vice President Walter Mondale. In 1981, he joined the staff of The New Republic where he was an essayist and editor from 1981 -88. In the mid-eighties he began writing a weekly syndicated column for The Washington Post, which now appears in more than 100 newspapers, and a monthly essay for Time magazine. …


But the problem is that every time I read on of his columns in the Post or Time I do wonder a bit about his mental health.  No, not that.  I question his judgment.

His days with Carter and Mondale are in the distant past.  He’s now a contributing editor to the neoconservative publication of record, The Weekly Standard.  He’s firmly in the reality-doesn’t-matter-because-we-make-our-own camp – those idealists out to remake the world the way it should be.  That would be unregulated free-market American – where the invisible hand of competition weeds out the weak and foolish and each and every person is alone with his or her keenly active sense of personal responsibility and no one gets any help that in any way might undermine that sense of personal responsibility (unless they happen to be an embryo).  People change over time.

But I read him nonetheless.  And Krauthammer’s latest essay, a web only item in Time is really startling - In Defense of Certainty.  This has the subtitle "It's trendy to be suspicious of people with 'deeply held views.' And it's wrong."

No, it isn’t.  The suspicion is warranted, even if perhaps trendy.

Krauthammer is working on that "fair and balanced" thing of course – that there are really two forms of "imposition of values" on society.  One is by secularists and one by Christians.  They are, in his mind, equivalent –


It seems perfectly O.K. for secularists to impose their secular views on America, such as, say, legalized abortion or gay marriage. But when someone takes the contrary view, all of a sudden he is trying to impose his view on you. And if that contrary view happens to be rooted in Scripture or some kind of religious belief system, the very public advocacy of that view becomes a violation of the U.S. constitutional order.


And that really ticks him off.  Evangelical Christians, who have a view that the words in the Bible are the only truth in the world, deserve protection.

I caught a bit of that on CNN this week – a woman lamenting that in Sunday School her children were taught that homosexuality is a choice some people made, and thus a sin these people choose to commit, for which they deserved the punishment of God and the condemnation of society.  Then in science class on Monday her kids heard a review of the scientific literature that homosexuality is most probably a biological condition and there may be no choice involved.  Why, she asked, was the government out to destroy her religion, and her family?  She was in tears.  She wanted freedom of religion – not a state that actively attempts to destroy hers.

One wonders, if her children were taught on a Sunday that in the nineteenth century one Bishop Usher proved, by a close reading of the Bible, that the earth could be no more than 6,300 years old at this moment – then would geology and biology class on Monday morning be another government assault on her freedom of religion?

Would Krauthammer leap to her defense?  It would seem so.  This is all an imposition of values.  And if her religion claimed, as a matter of faith, that the earth was flat?

The columnist Andrew Sullivan comments on Krauthammer’s no-one-should-impose-any-values essay here - and forgive him as he is gay, and a conservative Republican, and was born in Britain, and isgoing bald, and whatever (and those are my emphases below) –


It seems to me that this is the wrong formulation, and already concedes something that should not be conceded.

Christianism - politicized Christianity - argues for the imposition of one religion's values over the entire society. So, in this context, it would forbid gay couples from getting civil marriages or unions and prevent pregnant women from seeking an abortion.

Secularism is not the polar opposite. Secularism allows Christians, and any other religious faith, to affirm religious values, live exactly as they see fit, and avoid such moral outrages as abortion and gay civil unions in their own lives, if they so wish.

All secularism does is say that as a political matter, there will be as much government neutrality as possible because the government should represent all citizens; that the Church and the state shall coexist, but independently of each other.

Secularism is not only compatible with aggressive and proud Christian faith; in practice, secularism has fostered that faith.

The polar opposite of Christianism, in contrast, would be a government that actively suppresses religious faith, discriminates against Christianity and forbids Christians from practicing their way of life. No one is proposing that.

I'm really concerned that secularism is slowly becoming tainted with the same brush as "liberalism." But secularism is the great modern achievement of Christianity and of Western freedom. It is an honorable tradition, integral to the entire concept of Western liberty. The difference between secularism and Christianism, to put it bluntly, is that one side is happy to let people make their own moral choices; and one side isn't.

So who exactly is imposing on whom?


The answer is obvious.  But the evangelical literalists whine – and Krauthammer stands by them.

Shall we stop teaching science so they feel better?

That’s what they say is their right.  Deal with it.


But, as a humorous sally into what people believe, Amanda Marcotte over at Pandagon points to this –

Women's Suffrage Opponent Seeks Office
John Hanna, Associated Press - Wednesday Jun 1, 2005 - 8:13 PM ET


A state senator who once said that giving women the vote was a symptom of weakness in the American family now wants to be Kansas' top elections official.

Sen. Kay O'Connor announced Wednesday that she is seeking the GOP nomination for secretary of state next year. O'Connor, 63, has served in the Legislature since 1993.

In 2001, O'Connor received national attention for her remarks about the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1920, which gave women the right to vote.

"I think the 19th Amendment, while it's not an evil in and of itself, is a symptom of something I don't approve of," she said at the time. "The 19th Amendment is around because men weren't doing their jobs, and I think that's sad. I believe the man should be the head of the family. The woman should be the heart of the family."

On Wednesday, she dismissed the controversy — which included an unsuccessful drive to recall her from office — as "silliness." She said she does not believe voters will consider it a significant issue.

"I am who I am. You don't have to agree with everything I say," O'Connor said.

But Caroline McKnight, executive director of a group devoted to fighting conservatives in politics, said: "If she thinks it's going to go away because she's on a statewide ballot, she's living on another planet." …


Amanda Marcotte –


She now wants to be secretary of the state in Kansas, in charge of elections, no less. Granted, it's completely logical that anti-feminists would be against the vote for women. What's illogical is how conservatives immediately adopt all progressive views as their own once the legislation passes. Is there any doubt that if we had the same Congress but the year was 1915 we'd have Tom DeLay and Bill Frist holding forth on why the vote for women is wrong?


Oh, put her in charge of elections.  Maybe she would bring back the poll tax and keep those black folks from voting too.

Marcotte also provides links to other comments – my favorite being this open letter to Kay O'Connor –


I'm very conflicted about your decision to run for the office of Secretary of State. Your proven record of defending Blastocyst-Americans and your opposition to the Nineteenth Amendment make me want to scream hallelujah, but I'm repulsed by your willingness to reject your traditional role as homemaker in order to pursue a position more suited for a man.

I have to wonder just how committed you really are to ending women's suffrage. After all, if you're unfit to vote, how can you possibly be fit to serve in public office? Have you considered serving the people of Kansas in some other way? Perhaps your time would be better spent if you stood at the polls on election days and screamed the word "harlot" at every woman standing in line. Heck, I bet you'd end suffrage for more women that way. It's what the French call thinking globally but acting locally.

Heterosexually yours, Gen. JC Christian, patriot


Yes, that’s sarcasm.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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