Friday, February 3, 2012

Should schools teach Pastafarian beliefs?

Dogma, unlike science, is pronounced and codified by a single authority. Scientific pronouncements, unlike dogma, result from independent people making observations that can be proved or disproved by other independent people.

In conflicts between science and religion in America, the preferred dogma is, not surprisingly, Christian, except in Indiana where minority legislators this week included a requirement that creation stories from, but not limited to, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Scientology also must be taught. Why not the Flying Spaghetti Monster in Pastafarianism? (Look it up on Wikipedia.)

In 1925, lawmakers in Tennessee decided that discussions of the theory of evolution as it applied to man flew in the face of their Christian, biblical fundamental religious truth. They made it a misdemeanor to mention human evolution in public schools.

When science teacher John Scopes, a willing client of the American Civil Liberties Union, included humans in teaching Darwin's theory, his arrest set the stage for the iconic Scopes "Monkey Trial."

After that trial, the verdict against Scopes was overturned on a technicality. Tennessee was left looking like it was ruled by the ignorant. For decades, public schools have taught science, and religion has been left to the church. But in 2012, it is becoming clear that evolution can also move backward, especially when it comes to public policy.

Choosing to learn nothing from the follies of the past, legislatures and/or boards of education in Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas have all, one way or another, continued to find ways to keep alive the fight between religion and science in the schools. Unlike the old Tennessee law, which was repealed in 1967, policymakers are now trying to mandate that religious dogma be given equal time with science in public schools.

While a few might wish to keep their children safe and secure from what they believe to be the evils of secular humanism or paleoanthropology or string theory, most Americans want their children educated, not indoctrinated.

Choosing to spend time on religious dogma, time taken away from learning science, condemns students in these states' schools to second-class standing when they have to compete with the best and the brightest from all over the world.

In a free society, as long as they are willing to pay for it, people can choose any private or religious school. But the courts have ruled that public schools, schools paid for by all of us and open to all of us, are not a place to promote one's religious dogma, no matter what that dogma is.

It's good law and good policy that no state should subvert.

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