South Carolina Education Head Opposes ACLU’s Religious Freedom Campaign

The ACLU of South Carolina has launched a “Religious Freedom Goes to School” campaign in the state by sending this letter (PDF) to every district:

… the campaign seeks to ensure that schools do not impose or promote religion. Unfortunately, based on complaints received by the ACLU, many school districts are failing to honor this vital constitutional mandate. We have received a growing number of reports from students, parents, teachers, and others detailing clear constitutional violations in South Carolina’s public schools. In the last two years alone, those complaints have described, for example: in-class daily prayer led by teachers; the distribution of Bibles to students; prayer and scriptural readings at graduation ceremonies, athletic events, awards ceremonies, and other school activities; school-day assemblies featuring evangelizing and other religious content; coach-organized and coach-led prayer at football practices; opening prayers at school board meetings; school officials leading and participating in student religious clubs; and school involvement in the planning and promotion of religious baccalaureate services.

The ACLU has their work cut out for them, though. The State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais spoke to the Wall Street Journal Law Blog and showed us all how aloof he is when it comes to the law:

Mick Zais

“I support the rights of students and adults to pray or not to pray in schools. This misinformation campaign by the ACLU isn’t about religious freedom. It’s an attempt to discourage religious expression in the public arena by issuing threats of lawsuits and suggesting it is unlawful to pray in school. The Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. To those who choose to pray in school, I encourage them to keep praying.”

Umm… how is this hard to understand? The ACLU also supports the rights of individuals to pray or not pray. What they don’t support are people in positions of power using their influence to make students pray with them. There’s no misinformation; the ACLU is very clear on this.

Seriously, how did a guy this incompetent get this job?

He should be the first person in line supporting this campaign.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Gfhudyug

    My state never ceases to disappoint me.

  • Jose

    Honestly, I’m pretty sure I prayed less in Catholic school than they do in South Carolina public schools. We went to mass on Fridays for an hour.

    The best part? Mass was right before Life Science… and we were taught evolution.

    • Stev84

      For all its faults, the Catholic Church officially accepts evolution. Despite their past, they aren’t really that bad with science. At least when it’s not about reproduction.

  • http://www.travismamone.net/ Travis Mamone

    Reminds me of Condescending Wonka. “Oh, you want religious studies in school? Yours, or everyone else’s?”

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion, not freedom from religion

    Flaming imbecile.

    • Guest

      I’m sorry, you’re saying that the Constitution doesn’t guarantee the right to freedom of religion?

      • Stev84

        Flaming imbecile

      • Julanar

        No, R.S. is saying (not very clearly) that it’s stupid to say that “freedom of religion” and “freedom from religion” are incompatible. This isn’t true. The First Amendment clearly guarantees both: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” is freedom from religion, and “…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” is freedom of religion.

        What’s scary is that I’ve heard that exact same sentence – “The Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion, not freedom from religion”- many many times. From POLITICIANS. People whose JOB is to uphold the Constitution don’t even understand it!

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        If, in fact, one is so literal in reading the First Amendment that they believe it does not protect a right to freedom from religion, then indeed, it must also be read as not protecting a right to freedom of religion.

        However, the Constitution does not provide our laws, but rather the scaffolding on which our laws are constructed. The actual laws which define the limits of religious freedom are entirely separate, and tested by courts against the Constitution. And those laws, consisting of far more than the 16 relevant words in the First Amendment, make it abundantly clear that we enjoy extensive rights both to freedom of religious beliefs, and freedom from any government entanglement in religion.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    What we recognize as incompetence is seen in South Carolina as a virtue. Whenever education is mentioned in discussing SC (and many of the neighboring states) it should always be qualified with quotes. The office this guy holds is State Superintendent of “Education”.

  • Pete084

    If he pulled his head out of his arse he might actually be able to see where he’s going wrong.

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      I’m afraid that would amount to decapitation.

    • RobMcCune

      You can’t separate something from itself.

  • Sven

    School prayer is misrepresented 100% of the time by Republicans.

  • Guest

    “the campaign seeks to ensure that schools do not impose or promote religion.”

    There is one small phrase missing there, that if included, would probably eliminate about 85% of the resistance.  “The campaign seeks to ensure that schools do not impose or promote or prohibit the free exercise of religion” would have the vast majority of Americans behind it, saving a few radicals on both sides of the aisle.  As it is, anyone with half a brain has reason to be skeptical about such a righteous crusade that clearly leaves out one major portion of the Constitutional protection of religious liberty.  

    • Gringa

       I doubt it.  They were incapable of reading and understanding the first amendment.  What makes you think they can read and understand the difference in your sentence?

      • Guest

        I think largely because failure to read the first amendment seems to be pretty common on both sides.  Some seem to think it means Congress shall make laws establishing my religion while ignoring the religious beliefs of others thereof.  Others seem to think it says Congress shall establish a secular nation based on atheist philosophies by banning and censoring the free exercise of religion in the public domain thereof (with the occasional twist of Congress banning religions that don’t hold my beliefs about various social issues thereof).  If only both extremes could learn to read, it might help the discussion.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          So, assuming an individual with a religious status different from that practiced in each cited example, which of these would be an infringement on that individual’s freedom of religion?

          in-class daily prayer to Allah while facing Mecca  led by teachers;

          the distribution of Qu’rans to students;

          prayer and Qu’ran readings at graduation ceremonies, athletic events, awards ceremonies, and other school activities;

          school-day assemblies featuring evangelizing and other religious content;

          coach-organized and coach-led Buddhist chanting at football practices;

          opening prayers at school board meetings;

          school officials leading and participating in student atheist clubs;

          school involvement in the planning and promotion of religious baccalaureate services

  • Octoberfurst

     I love how those on the Right contantly and deliberately twist this issue around. When told they can’t  have teacher’s leading Bible study in class or having a prayer to Jesus during sporting events or over the school intercom they immediately say that those opposed are trying to “suppress” religion and that they have the right to pray. Well yeah, they DO have the right to pray—privately.  They won’t acknowledge the fact that there is a big difference between a person bowing his/her head to pray over their lunch and someone getting on an intercom and saying, “Let us pray.”  They are, in fact, being deliberately stupid about this.  

    • jdm8

      The rank and file might not know that it’s a lie, but I’m pretty sure those higher up generally know what they’re doing. There have even been cases where candidates reframe an Obama statement to say something different, then repeat a position that was basically what Obama really said.

  • Sue Blue

    To people like Mick Zais, it’s “persecution” if there’s even one single person in a room who’s NOT praying.  That one single person who’s not bowing their head and talking to themselves might piss God off so much that he won’t listen to all the other sanctimonious mumblers in the room!  So, the Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, agnostic or atheist person(s) are persecuting  Christians by making God mad!!  They are incapable of seeing an issue in anything other than black or white.  There are no individuals, with “rights” and “choices”.   No one can really NOT believe in their God; those who claim they don’t are just fools and rebels denying what they “know in their hearts” to be true.  Christians are always right, and their God is always right, and everyone else just better get behind them and put up or shut up. 

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I don’t think that Mr. Zais is stupid.  He’s counting on the stupidity of the people who listen to him by spinning this as a campaign against all prayer in school, rather than just school-promoted prayer. I’ve seen this disingenuous tactic done over and over by people who are smart enough to understand the difference. If he can dress himself in the morning, he’s smart enough.

    Assuming that he’s incompetent is a benefit of the doubt that he doesn’t deserve.  I think that with fundamentalist government officials, we should use the reverse of the old maxim about malice and incompetence. We should say:

    Never attribute to incompetence what malice can adequately explain.

  • http://twitter.com/moother moother

    christians have a lot more to fear than the ACLU…

    the internet generation of loud-mouthed kids are what’s gonna knock religion out of public life….

    (please post vids on YT)

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    ” school officials leading and participating in student religious clubs;
    and school involvement in the planning and promotion of religious
    baccalaureate services.”

    This is fraternization, and it’s a no-no in virtually every form of organization.

  • Margaret Whitestone

    He’s not incompetent.  He’s just a typical RW Christian who thinks it’s perfectly OK to stick his religion everywhere,  Constitution and rights of others be damned.  

  • David Warner

    prayer and Qu’ran readings at graduation ceremonies, athletic events, awards ceremonies, and other school activities………
    https://www.free-merchant.com

  • debra

    thanks.


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