A Secular Education Is Not An Anti-Religious Education

This guest post is by Jesse Galef, who works for the American Humanist Association. He usually blogs at Rant & Reason.

I’d never heard of the Illinois Family Institute, but… well, watch this if you can:

There were too many things wrong with this video to count. I spent those 6-and-a-half minutes staring at it with a disbelieving rictus on my face. For those of you who can’t watch it, it’s a movie objecting to the way schools are “forcing” children to be tolerant of homosexuals. The video even shows the teacher tossing a student’s Bible in the trash, as if that’s happening all over the country:

“A closet is by no means a suitable place to live, but to abandon it only to force people of faith into it is not tolerance. In an age where good is called evil and evil good, concerned parents must inoculate their children from the cultural engineering of the Secular Humanists.”

Parents have the absolute right to teach their children whatever they believe. But as agents of our secular government, schools have the responsibility to provide a secular education independent of religious and supernatural claims.

I’ve made the joke that I celebrate an annual “John Stuart Mill Appreciation Year.” I figure that as an educator himself, Hemant might particularly appreciate this quote from Mill’s “Speech on Secular Education”:

There is not a better defined word in the English language. Secular is whatever has reference to this life. Secular instruction is instruction respecting the concerns of this life. Secular subjects therefore are all subjects except religion… Education provided by the public must be education for all, and to be education for all it must be purely secular education.

If a social code of conduct is to be taught in schools, it must be a secular one, and should “respect the concerns of this life.” We expect our schools to teach some degree of acceptable social behavior, punishing the disrespectful bullies and encouraging sharing or cooperation. Any decision on which behaviors to support must be based on our opinions and our thoughts here in this world. The believed approval or disapproval of a supernatural entity is irrelevant.

One line from the video I particularly liked was: “Tradition isn’t right because it is longstanding, but some traditions are longstanding because they are right.”

They get points for intellectual honesty — we should weigh the merits of a tradition, not simply point to its longevity to justify its continuation. America’s tradition of racial discrimination was longstanding not because it was “right,” but because people were too stubborn and pig-headed to recognize that a person’s skin color doesn’t matter. If the Illinois Family Institute wants secular schools to recognize the merit of their tradition of bigotry, they’ll have to come up with a secular reason.

I haven’t heard one yet. Have you?

(video via Andrew Sullivan)

About Dr. Denise Cooper-Clarke

I am a graduate of medicine and theology with a Ph.D in medical ethics. I tutor in medical ethics at the University of Melbourne, am an (occasional) adjunct Lecturer in Ethics at Ridley Melbourne, and a voluntary researcher with Ethos. I am also a Fellow of ISCAST and a past chair of the Melbourne Chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality. I have special interests in professional ethics, sexual ethics and the ethics of virtue.

  • Chal

    That was painful to watch.

    Six and a half minutes of pure strawman.

  • http://www.noonespecial.ca/cacophony Tao Jones

    I was once in a debate with someone over having prayer in schools. She said she didn’t think not having prayer in schools equated to freedom of religion because, as she put it, “how can atheist kids be allowed to go around not praying.” As if not praying was the atheist version of prayer.

    I told her that a blank piece of paper was a blank piece of paper, not an atheist manifesto. I’m still not sure she got it.

    (Though that hasn’t stopped me from handing out blank pieces of paper at major intersections downtown.)

  • Dave Huntsman

    That is exceedingly difficult to watch. All the worse knowing that some non-thinking people will actually believe it.

  • http://gaytheistagenda.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    The Illinois Family Institute is officially designated a Hate Group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. That puts them on par with the KKK, the Neo-Nazis, White Stormfront, etc.

    But then just seeing that video is enough to tell you they’re an official hate group, isn’t it?

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I guess those four kids were leaving to go beat up or taunt a gay fellow student (just like their parents did back in “the day”.

    Lovely.

  • Zach

    Of course, in the humanist dystopia, all agents of indoctrination will have unattractive lip piercings, just as the comrade in this video does. I applaud the Illinois Family Institute for their accurate portrayal of the oppressor.

  • Flawedprefect

    Jaw is still on the ground. It’s gathered dust, it’s been dropped there so long.

  • mike

    Nothing like a good old fashioned victimhood-off.

  • Leanstrum

    Incredible. Replace the words “same-sex” with “interracial” and you have an exactly equivalent argument that could be made by proponents of religiously-motivated racial bigotry (say, pre-’revelation’ Mormonism). No difference whatsoever.

    It’s ironic to the point of comedy that the conservative Christian right are playing the victims of oppression and intolerance in this argument. It’s a great way to obscure the fact that what they are advocating is indeed oppression and intolerance.

  • Justin jm

    The Illinois Family Institute is officially designated a Hate Group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. That puts them on par with the KKK, the Neo-Nazis, White Stormfront, etc.

    But then just seeing that video is enough to tell you they’re an official hate group, isn’t it?

    “I hate Illinois Nazis.”
    -Jake Blues

  • Tom

    Look, it’s really very easy to understand the world view of the target audience of these ads. Simply replace all instances of the word “secular” with the word “satanic”, and that’s what they year when they see this stuff.

    It’s not intended for people who think. We are not the target audience. And unfortunately, there are a LOT of people who are, and they’re going to see this garbage and fight all the harder against civil rights for gay people and protection of children (gay and straight) from anti-gay harassment. And thanks to them, that 11 year old boy who committed suicide the other week will not be alone.

  • Tony

    Ridiculous video. It’s unfortunate that this is going to influence a lot of bigots.

  • Jen

    I like the assertion that gay characters on TV or movies are always the punchline, never the villain, and that this is a way of making people love the gays. Actually, if you go on AfterElton or AfterEllen you will find numerous articles on how the gay or lesbian character is often the villain on your Law and Order/CSI/etc shows, and that that has a negative effect on the community. I also like that the teacher that is down with taping kids mouths just lets four kids walk out. I am pretty sure if she is willing to tape their mouths, which is assault, would be willing to wrestle those trash-pickers to the ground!

  • maria

    The main reason why kids are so disrespectful towards anything is because of this “God”. Basically all churchs will say that being gay is a sin. Catholic churchs and i guess others say its okay, but as long as you don’t practice homosexuality. Does this even make sense??? Before, romams practiced homosexuality until the bible came out and said it was a sin. That’s crazy! So if the bible said that heterosexuality was a sin, then everyon would stop? No. We are all animals, we all have sex. “God” or no “God”. Male dogs have sexual practices with other male dogs–but only because their animals. Well, aren’t we animas too?

  • http://www.jeremymilne.com Jeremy

    If we just spliced in some footage of the teacher laughing when she through out the bible, and atheists eating babies in the backgroung, I would have enjoyed this more.

  • Mad Top Hatter

    No wonder Gays are more likley to commit sucide, thanks to people like the Illinois Family Institute.

    I love the way the teacher has a piercing, so immoral. I wonder if the kids in the video had any idea of what they were doing?

  • http://www.anatheist.net/author/pamelot/ Pam

    @ 4:49: The skater kid looks out the window at the American flag, apparently realizing that the rights and freedoms it symbolizes are only for the heterosexual Protestant.

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  • dvsrat

    Notice that this guy can actually string some sentences together, enunciate them clearly, and sound like a professional narrator. The choice for black and white is interesting. The style very much like the old 16mm projector movies that we used to watch in school.

    The target is definitely an older audience. Probably geared more toward the grandparents of the children seen in the ad then the parents. This is meant to trigger nostalgic feelings for an older audience. Then he combines the dramatic scene of the teacher throwing the bible in the trashcan. The author knows how to present a paranoid fantasy. His target audience can actually envision this scenario. And oh-boy-oh-golly it pisses them off!

    I imagine a follow-up to this. Kids — whenever you see an evil homosexual just DUCK AND COVER!!!!


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