Religion in Public Schools: What Does the First Amendment Allow?

Religion in Public Schools: What Does the First Amendment Allow? June 19, 2013

As a follow-up to my recent post about prayer in public schools, let’s look at what of religion is kosher in schools and what isn’t. As an authority, I’ve used Finding Common Ground: A Guide to Religious Liberty in Public Schools from the Freedom Forum, chapter four (“The Supreme Court, Religious Liberty and Public Education”). Thanks to a reader of this blog for the link.

For brevity, this summary must avoid the nuance and make some gray areas appear black and white, and it only focuses on religious freedom in schools. Remember also that this topic is in flux. It was only in 1940 that the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that religious free exercise should be included in the liberties granted to all citizens by the 14th Amendment (1868).

The First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty has two clauses.

First Amendment Establishment Clause

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion

The Lemon test, from a 1971 Supreme Court case, tests this clause. A negative answer to any of the three questions below means that the law is unconstitutional.

1. Does the law have a bona fide secular or civic purpose? The purpose of schools is education, so if the only purpose for a school activity is to celebrate a religious holiday (for example), it’s unconstitutional. On the other hand, allowing students religious exemptions from attending sex-education classes is constitutional.

Accommodating a student’s religion is valid, but promoting it is not. Permitting a student essay with a religious theme is valid, but requiring it is not.

2. Is the law neutral? That is, does the primary effect neither advance nor inhibit religion? Allowing students to be released from school to attend religious instruction elsewhere is valid, but promoting such classes is not. Religious groups must be allowed to use school facilities like any other group. Allowing a church to use a school building does advance religion, but an equal-access policy wouldn’t have advancing religion as its primary effect.

3. Does the law avoid excessive government entanglement with religion? The Supreme Court case Lemon v. Kurtzman, from which this test comes, found that a state law reimbursing nonpublic schools (mostly Catholic) for secular classes was an excessive government entanglement with religion.

First Amendment Free Exercise Clause

Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]

For this clause, the Sherbert test is applied. First, the student who claims that their Free Exercise rights were violated must meet both tests below.

1. The student’s actions must have been motivated by sincere religious belief. Religious beliefs are judged only by the student. From the standpoint of a teacher or any other observer, they don’t have to be popular, rational, or sensible; they only have to be sincere. For the purposes of this test, the belief system must “[function] like a religion in the life of the individual,” which would include secular humanism.

2. The student’s actions have been substantially burdened by the government. The focus is on substantial. Coercion would be substantial; incidental burdens would not be. Forbidding students from handing out religious tracts to classmates might be a substantial burden, but requiring that they do it at a reasonable time and place would not be.

If the student has a valid claim (both 1 and 2 are met), we move to on to see if the government has a compelling reason to impose that burden. The government will win its case if it meets both tests below.

3. The government must be acting to further a compelling state interest. A compelling state interest might be public health and safety, but “compelling” has limits. Compulsory-attendance laws are a compelling interest, but Amish families successfully argued that it wasn’t compelling enough after eighth grade. Teaching children how to prevent the spread of HIV through sex-education classes is a compelling interest, but this may not be compelling enough if parents object on religious grounds.

4. The government must have pursued that interest in a manner least burdensome to religion. The school should burden a student’s religious beliefs as little as necessary. If a student objects to an assignment on religious grounds, the school might be required to find an alternative, though one student’s religion can’t determine the curriculum for the rest of the class.

These First Amendment clauses are not in tension

It’s wrong to see one clause favoring religion and the other opposed to it. According to Finding Common Ground, “Both clauses secure the rights of believers and nonbelievers alike to be free from government involvement in matters of conscience.”

The bottom line

Let’s consider the court’s stand on typical questions.

  • Prayer, Bible reading, and expressing religious viewpoints are allowed if they’re done by the student. School-sponsored versions are not.
  • Teachers and outside adults do not have the right to pray with students. Students are the ones obliged to be there, and it’s their rights that are protected.
  • Moments of silence are okay, but not if they are used to promote prayer.
  • Religious clubs should be treated like other clubs, though religious groups are prohibited in primary schools because of the risk of younger students being unable to distinguish student speech from government speech.
  • Religious community groups that want to use school facilities after hours should be treated like other groups.
  • Outside adults may not pray at graduation or other school events, though the law is less clear about student-led prayer. The better approach is a privately sponsored voluntary baccalaureate event, separate from graduation.
  • Rules for students handing out literature must be even handed and not favor or discriminate against religious literature. Restrictions are allowed, but schools probably can’t ban all such distribution. Teachers and outside adults, on the other hand, have no right to distribute literature of any kind in schools.

If we are just a bunch of bitter old church people, grumpy at the world,
yelling at non-believers to get off our proverbial moral lawn,
that does not show forth light and preserve as salt.
— Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research at 2013 SBC

Photo credit: Kim Sacha

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  • Y. A. Warren

    We are all free to silently pray whenever we want to, and the Bible commands that this be done IN PRIVATE.

    • One reason why the National Day of Prayer seems a little off target to me.

      • Y. A. Warren

        All of the flaunting of religion for business and political reasons seems, at best, disingenuous to me. The Pharisees seem to speak louder than all others in these battles. i think it’s because they are afraid of being seen as “different,” so they try to gather everyone to their side.

      • “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut your door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6: 5-6

        So by this standard, not only is a “National Day of Prayer” hypocrisy, but public prayer generally is. How is it so many Christians apparently do not even read their own scriptures?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Now I’m hungry for some lemon sherbert.

    • Greg G.

      It took about 5 hours for the full meaning of your delicious post to sink in. Sherbert does produce brain freeze sometimes. I’m glad it didn’t make me testy.

      • Glad you liked it! This has been in the queue for a while. And thanks for alert commenter Rick T. for pointing out this useful source.

  • Rick

    Jesus prayed in front of crowds, in front of the disciples and also in private (a lot). Kings David and Solomon prayed in public, as did other kings. Many of the prophets and priests did. So did Martin Luther King, Bonhoeffer, and Mother Theresa, as well as many US Presidents and world leaders. Would you conclude ALL of these to be hypocritical? How can one conclude that praying in private is the only legitimate way to pray?

    • Are you responding to the post or to one of the comments?

      I would conclude that all these examples violate the letter of the law (as set down by Jesus). Where they violate the spirit of the law is the typical example of politicians attaching themselves to prayer–voting for the National Day of Prayer mandate, for example. Michael’s quote of Matt. 6 below makes that clear IMO.

    • Kodie

      I think what happened is that the free expression clause in the 1st amendment overrode the bible for some people. They feel they have to be obnoxious just because they can.

      As far as I’m concerned, your relationship with Jesus is between Rick and Jesus. I do not need to know about it. Why do so many Christians feel they have to make public announcements about it? I know you are not ashamed, and I don’t really expect you to be. What I do hear a lot is how some Christians think I’m offended to hear the actual words, that it’s having an effect like bleach and burns us clean and we hate to hear it, but you say it because you need to cast out demons wherever you go. Such a bizarre lack of self awareness and propriety and sense of reality.

      Have you ever known a couple who were just so handsy and gropey and making out in front of you all the time, and when you were just with one of them, all they ever talked about was the other one? It’s annoying like that. Not trying to split you two up, just shut up sometimes! Christians who are like that are unlikeable and in serious denial that I mean to censor them just because I don’t want to hear them talk all the time.

      Y’all don’t know your times and places, and it is self-absorbed to think you have to grab the attention of others onto yourself just because you’re saying what you want to say whenever you want to say it. If it’s disruptive, save it for later, save it for a more appropriate venue, save it for people who actually want to make time to listen. That’s about it.

      • I wish Christians would see the Great Commission as something given to the apostles, not ordinary Joes. They could then preach the gospel with honorable lives only.

    • Greg G.

      Would you conclude ALL of these to be hypocritical?

      According to Matthew 6, Jesus calls them ALL hypocrites. As you point out, Jesus doesn’t practice what he preaches so he includes himself. That’s the problem with using the big book of multiple choice as a guide for behavior. Do what you want by justifying it with verse A and ignore verse B that condemns it. You oppose gay marriage? Quote the OT. You like shrimp but the OT forbids it? Ah, that’s the old covenant.

      That’s one reason we don’t take the Bible very seriously and neither should you.

      • JohnH2

        No, he only calls them hypocrites if they are praying to be seen of men; If there internal intention was not to be seen of men to pray but to pray with the group to God then they are not hypocrits. The danger of public prayer is that it is easy to do so in order to be seen of others and not because one wishes to talk with God.

        • Greg G.

          Hi John

          In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul advises the brothers and sisters to warn the idle and disruptive. In verse 17 he says to pray continually, so it must be possible to pray while not appearing to be praying and idle. Therefore if one unnecessarily appears to be praying to others, it is an ostentatious prayer.

          You may wish that God factors intent into the equation, but the Bible doesn’t teach that. Matthew has Jesus teaching that unintended emotional responses are equivalent to murder and adultery. The poor sucker who steadied the Ark of the Covenant when the ox stumbled still got zapped for touching it with the best intentions.

        • JohnH2

          Matthew has Jesus saying not to let those things into your heart; meaning that intentionality is exactly and only the thing being discussed, which everyone not an atheist generally appears to recognize.

          Prayer is not idle, but work.

        • Greg G.

          Yes, the word used is heart but in pre-scientific times, the heart was thought to be where emotions come from. Doctors have been doing heart transplants for nearly half a century and found it’s just a blood pump. That’s why I paraphrased it as “emotional response”. The emotions are not necessarily in sync with one’s intentions. Not all Christians interpret it the way you do. So we can add contradictory interpretations to the multiple choice list.

          Jesus warns against calling someone a fool in Matthew 5:22 but calls someone a fool in Matthew 23:17. Apologists split many hairs to resolve this but it’s another case of Jesus not practicing what he preached.

        • JohnH2

          Greg G.

          In regards to the heart being a blood pump, what does that have to do with the Heart being the seat of intentionality? One has some control over ones emotions; it is true that one can not stop noticing that girl is beautiful, but one does have control of the further emotional response of lusting after her and of looking on a women to lust after her; both of which are intentionality and what Jesus is talking about.

          Not all Christians think I am a Christian either (ok, to some extent most don’t), what does that have to do with anything?

        • Greg G.

          The heart is not the seat of intentionality nor the seat of emotionality. When the Bible was written and up until recent times, many cultures believed one or the other but now it is usually understood as a metaphor.

          I would agree with your interpretation as the meaning the writer likely intended but not everyone agrees with us. I don’t think the writer was realistic because suppressing the sex drive is not an option. It’s been my observation that one is liable to end up with a preoccupation. Those thoughts are going to pop up every seven seconds.

          You aren’t being singled out. Catholics think you have to be in the Church to get to heaven. I’ve heard plenty of Bob Jones University preachers who are delighted to tell you Catholics and most other Protestants are hell bound. There’s over 40K Christian denominations who have split off over Bible interpretation issues while claiming to be guided by the same Holy Spirit.

        • JohnH2

          I realize it is a metaphor; I am mildly confused about what you are trying to say in regards to it being a metaphor; The heart (actual organ) is a blood pump, the heart when discussing things other than the actual organ is the sear of intention (and/or emotion).

          I have to disagree about the ability to control ones sex drive. It is entirely possible to do so, at least from my own personal experience and the reported experience of others I know. I doubt anyone would seriously consider (or have considered) me (or my premarried self) preoccupied with sex, and thinking about it every seven seconds sounds terribly unhealthy.

        • Jerry Lynch

          Greg, that is not exactly true about anatomy: the heart has a direct link to the brain. what that tells us is that those things which cause immediate stress or comfort is not a conscious thought but a felt experience that often defies verbalization.

        • Greg G.

          Hi Jerry

          I’m not sure what you mean by “a direct link to the brain”. The brain has some relationship with every part of the body. The heart beat is caused within the heart muscle. The brain stem can regulate the heart beat by causing adrenalyn to be released into the bloodstream. That’s about as indirect as it could get. Unless you are experiencing angina or having a heart attack, any sensation from your torso is coming from everywhere but your heart.

        • Baby_Raptor

          Talking to someone is not work.

          Further, your little dig at Atheists fails. There are plenty of Christians out there who espouse the same view of the verse we’re espousing now. Try making your points without attempting to insult people to for extra superiority.

        • Jerry Lynch

          Greg, this statement is wrong: “Matthew has Jesus teaching that unintended emotional responses are equivalent to murder and adultery.” Nothing “unintentional” about what Jesus is mentioning. How can having “ahte in your heart” be unintentional? How can lusting after a woman be “unintentional”? What are you trying to say?

        • Greg G.

          Have you never had a wet dream? Those ideas are in your subconscious and they often become part of your conscious thinking. By the time you realize it, it’s too late. You’ve already thought it.

      • Jerry Lynch

        Greg, I don’t know what you do for a living but perhaps you have had to enter into contract. You have a mortgage that demands a certain payment and perhaps other porvisos. You re-finance. The payment is reduced and the provisos dropped. Which agreement are you going to honor?
        I grant you that explanations like mine will give an atheist fits of laughter. It does not seem only gratuitous but also tautological. Unless one, like you, has an in-depth understanding of the myriad and substantive differences between the OT and NT, any attempt to explain will appear circular and self-serving.

        • Greg G.

          Your mortgage analogy would be for beachfront property in Shangri La and you don’t get to inspect it until you’re paid in full with no possibility of a refund.

          Remember that the Old Covenant was about having lots of kids and cattle vs getting smited and/or having a Jewish ruler vs a foreign one. The New Covenant is about life after death. The followers of Moses did it with no belief in the afterlife. Paul is talking apples and oranges in 2 Corinthians.

        • Norm Donnan

          Well done Jerry,the new agreement over rides the old doesnt it.They keep pulling out the old and saying “look here,it says”

  • Responding to related posts and an ironic coincidence: Sure wish Bill Donohue would get off of the “war on Christmas” bandwagon and on to the “war on Subsidiarity” bandwagon. Then maybe we’d notice that Article I Sections 8 and 10, and the 10th and 14th Amendments, as well as Roe V. Wade, all break the Sherbert test.

    • Tell me more. Why are the Sherbert test in conflict with all that?

      • They violate religious principles, and take extra power for the federal government to do so, with no compelling state interest.

        • Baby_Raptor

          1) Bodily autonomy, the mental/physical health of, the privacy of and the general rights/freedoms of women aren’t compelling state interests?

          2) Not all religions believe that a woman’s right to privacy (which was the deciding factor behind RvW) is wrong. And not all religions believe abortion is wrong, either.

          3) What power does it take from the government to say “If you think getting an abortion is best for you, then use your right to do so”?

          Edited for word fail.

        • 1. Those are compelling *INDIVIDUAL* interests, not State interests. I see you’re having almost as much problem separating the individual from the state as the libertarians have, but let me spell it out for you- women are not the state.

          2. Privacy hasn’t existed since 1978. Legal or not, the world we live in is a fishbowl and any expectation of privacy is now unreasonable in the extreme. In addition, the Sherbert test doesn’t require that all religions agree, only that somebody’s religion is violated by the existence of the law.

          3. But that isn’t what the government says. What the government says is “We think that we need a reduction in population, so we’re going to fund Planned Parenthood to do whatever it can to reduce population using your tax dollars”- which is a violation of the Sherbert Test. In addition, Roe V. Wade said “We don’t know if abortion is good or not, we’ll leave that up to Congress, but we need to stop democracy from happening so no individual state is allowed to outlaw it”- which is a violation of the Principle of Subsidiarity and thus a violation of the Sherbert Test.

        • Brian Westley

          Well, file a test case then, and let us know what happens.

          By the way, if the 10th and 14th amendments DO violate the Sherbert test, assuming that the Sherbert test relies entirely on the 1st amendment and the unamended constitution, the 10th and 14th amendments would take precedence anyway, being later amendments.

        • True, which is the fatal flaw. As long as they do it slowly, the frogs don’t know that they’re being boiled.

        • Brian Westley

          Well, I happen to like the 10th and 14th amendments.

        • I’m sure you do. The water is nice and warm, and it gives you a fuzzy feeling that maybe, just maybe, your government actually cares whether you (and even people not like you) live or die.

          But you never notice that they took the opportunity to make subsidiarity illegal and centralize just enough of the power to keep your neighborhood from defending itself.

        • Kodie

          Yeah, you’re not allowed to isolate yourselves outside the law like that. Your idea seems to support Sharia Law, and if people in a neighborhood want to cut off someone’s hands or stone them to death, you don’t live there, so why can’t they be left to exact their own kind of justice? Why should the federal government interfere in their citizens’ ideals?

        • “Yeah, you’re not allowed to isolate yourselves outside the law like that. ”

          Yep. And thus, the law itself is inconsistent.

          Yeah, my idea would certainly support Sharia Law for individual neighborhoods. And it would also support atheist utopias complete with a banning of all religious books and churches for other neighborhoods. It would support some neighborhoods have abortion clinics, and other neighborhoods where abortion is banned, and some neighborhoods where homosexuality is welcomed, and some neighborhoods where it isn’t.

          THAT is true freedom and true liberty. What you support, simply isn’t.

        • Brian Westley

          Neighborhoods? Why not shrink the authority down to blocks? Individual houses? Each person?

          Why, that last part is pretty much what we have now. If an individual wants to subject themselves to punishments handed down by Sharia law, they can voluntarily do that, in most cases (I assume the state would not allow voluntary execution, for one exception). If an individual wants an abortion, they can get one; if not, they are not forced.

          Why are “neighborhoods” the magic demarcation? Why not cities? Counties? States? The nation? Looks entirely arbitrary to me.

        • Except for it isn’t what we have now, is it? Thanks to the articles and court cases previously mentioned, we have on rule of law- the federal law- subsidiarity is illegal in the United States.

        • Brian Westley

          No, it is pretty much what we have now.

          By the way, why are neighborhoods the correct demarcation? Why not go all the way down to the individual, instead of letting other people who happen to live near me subject me to e.g. Sharia law? How is that in any way better than the current situation?

        • It’s better because you can choose to move, and there would be NOTHING stopping you from creating your atheist’s utopia elsewhere.

        • Brian Westley

          “It’s better because you can choose to move”

          Same is true of blocks, counties, cities, states, and nations. Your justification is arbitrary.

          “and there would be NOTHING stopping you from creating your atheist’s utopia elsewhere.”

          Except my neighbors, who might want e.g. Christian fascism.

        • smrnda

          I think that is great. I think the supremacy of federal law is a good thing, since it keeps tiny pockets of totalitarianism from popping up.

        • And instead we have one big pocket of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism can’t be avoided.

        • smrnda

          I don’t see any sign of totalitarianism. I see a diverse, pluralistic society where the government stays out of people’s religious businesses. I don’t see the prohibition establishing a local theocracy as ‘totalitarianism.’

          In your snappy little one sentence answers, you fail to actually make any sort of case that we have ‘totalitarianism.’

          All said, you’ve already gone on the record that you oppose liberty. Your position seems about as sensible and mature as that of a comic book villain.

        • “I don’t see any sign of totalitarianism. I see a diverse, pluralistic society where the government stays out of people’s religious businesses. ”

          Except, of course, where you want to dictate school curriculums to 300 million people, right?

        • smrnda

          Is it totalitarianism that you have to stop at a stop sign? Is it totalitarianism that food has to come labelled with its nutritional value? Is it totalitarianism that you can’t practice medicine without a license?

          On school curricula, is it totalitarianism that students need to learn maths and learn to locate the country they live in on a map? We’d be doing a disservice to children not to establish some standards for teaching them, and then we’d leave them without knowledge, power, or the prospects of gainful employment or entering certain professions. I’m sure you can find a kid who thinks it’s totalitarianism that they have to take statistics, but when they need to make choices, that will probably come in handy.

        • It can be, depending on how it is applied. If what you really want is full liberty- then the idea of rule of law, especially over a wide area, is simply incompatible with liberty.

          Establishing standards is just another form of mind control in that context.

        • smrnda

          If by ‘full liberty’ you mean anarchy, then yes, but I don’t think anarchy == liberty.

          If you think teaching facts and useful skills to kids is mind control, I’d agree that education is always problematic given the disparity in power and knowledge between adults and children, but we have to accept that things will be less than perfect. Young people are entitled to criticize the educations they received. However, if young people are not educated at all, then they will have less power and autonomy later as a result. I’m not really interested in a philosophically absolutist concept here of ‘liberty’ or ‘control’ as I consider these to exist on a spectrum, I’m more concerned with practical results.

          Example – vocational programs are inadequate in many schools. This is a disservice to employers (less skilled workers) and to students (they are missing out on particularly lucrative careers.)

        • Kodie

          All of that defies the 1st amendment. How are we supposed to be a united states if our communities are micro-nations with laws that defy our national ideals? Try seceding again, Ted. I have always said what’s wrong with Christians is that they hate America. You really hate America, you love totalitarianism, you just want the right to choose which totalitarianism won’t infringe upon your ideals. If you don’t want an abortion, don’t get one. If you don’t want to be an atheist, don’t be one. Hide underground or secede. You sound like an unsociable pro-tyranny paranoic though.

        • We shouldn’t be a United States if it means a dictatorship of relativism.

        • Kodie

          If you don’t want an abortion, don’t get one. You are a powerless little flea and you don’t like it, I guess. You can’t live in a world without “others” who think you are kind of paranoid and half-baked. You can’t stomach reality. If you don’t like this country’s principles, you choose to live here!

        • If you don’t want to kill Jews, then don’t kill one. What does it matter if the Nazis do?

          That’s what your statement looks like to me.

        • Kodie

          And yours looks like you want me to stop killing ants in my own fucking house, to me. Do you eat animals? Do you wear animals on your feet?

        • These days? I can’t afford animals on my feet, unless the nauga is an animal…..

        • Norm Donnan

          summed up nicely Theo,this is why Kodie is getting a bit rude,now babies are like ant’s to her.

        • Yep, everybody Kodie doesn’t like is just an insect to be killed. We’ve seen that attitude before.

        • Kodie

          I don’t think babies are ants. I say a fertilized egg isn’t a person and doesn’t have the obligation upon the person carrying it to become one. None of you have respect for life, and you don’t even have respect for humans. You have superstitious aversion to interfering, but you do not have regard for life.

        • Norm Donnan

          You would have an irrelevant point if all abortions were done in the first few weeks,even though the science that you all claim to trust is so easily ignored when it doesnt suit your agenda,or makes you responsible for your choices and obligations.And you talk of respect,if you had some basic respect for yourself and had any idea of your true worth, you might have something to say worth listening too,until then…..

        • So you have no problem with an abortion done in the first few weeks? Maybe we have some common ground.

        • Norm Donnan

          No Bob,we have no common ground what so ever on this issue,though on nearly every thing else we probably do.If there is any doubt that a fertalized human ovum will be anything other than a person,wait a few weeks.Killing them before they fit your personal criteria might ease your conscience ,but not mine.

        • The twinkle in my eye might one day become a person but it isn’t yet. “It will some day become a person” is true but irrelevant. If that’s the way you see things, that’s fine, just don’t impose that on the rest of the country.

        • Norm Donnan

          Actually it’s only been for the last few decades that abortion has been imposed on the country with highly educated intellectual arguments like “personhood”. Oh,the “twinkle” might become a pony,”one day”.When in fact science proves in a few short weeks exactly who it is your aborting.Call that my opinion,l call it science…and killing a person,and l love science.

        • Huh? It’s science that a single cell is a person?

        • Norm Donnan

          And thats why l call atheists denialists Bob.Why is Texas now limiting abortions to a mere 20 weeks now.Bob,mate,google a 20 week,its no differant to our children the day they were born.Now half it to a paltry 10week old,really no differance,only smaller,a little weird maybe but a new born doesnt look much like a 1yo.Hey if a 5yo isnt all you hoped she would be,line her up,she wont know whats going on. 5 week,5month,5 year,whats the differance,its only time.Oh by the way,a single cell will never become a person no matter how long you leave it,a science buff like you should know that

        • If you don’t want to kill Jews, then don’t kill one. … That’s what your statement looks like to me.

          It’s the equating of adult Jews with single cells that bothers me. I see an enormous difference.

        • smrnda

          You seem to be confusing the idea of liberty existing on an individual liberty, where no area can pass laws infringing on what are considered to be basic individual liberties, with the idea of ‘liberty’ as existing at the level of a community, where no rights are guaranteed.

          That’s a pretty shit definition of liberty but from all of your ranting, it seems that you believe that you aren’t free if people under the same jurisdiction as you get to do things you don’t like. This seems to be more like a ‘despotism of choice’ rather than liberty.

          Don’t worry, I notice that many religious people hate the idea of a pluralistic society and can’t stand the idea of peaceful coexistence or minding their own business.

          It seems like your basic point is that your fee fees are hurt if you can’t pass laws banning what you don’t like wherever you live.

        • As long as we don’t have the right to life, then no other right *can* be guaranteed. Liberty must come from a solid foundation, not shifting sand.

          The idea of a pluralistic society is crap if it can’t even guarantee the right to life, from which ALL other rights flow.

          And we’re better off without your junk “plural society” as long as we cannot guarantee every citizen a right to life from conception until natural death.

          Anything less, is just garbage.

        • Liberty comes (or doesn’t come) from society. That’s kind of a solid foundation, but if you want to call that shifting sand, I wouldn’t disagree. C’est la vie.

          The idea of a pluralistic society is crap if it can’t even guarantee the right to life, from which ALL other rights flow.

          Huh? I kill slugs, mosquitoes, and weeds without a second thought. Doesn’t trouble me at all.

          … maybe just because it’s alive isn’t sufficient to protect that life. I dunno—what do you think?

        • And slugs, mosquitos, and weeds *don’t have the right to life or any other rights*. At all.

          So, basically, what you are saying, is that you are an age-based bigot who considers the unborn fetus to be not sufficiently alive, and absolutely no different than a slug, mosquito, or weed. But when you apply that to a human being, you’ve just crossed the line into being a traitor to the species.

        • I’m tired of the name calling, thanks.

          Let me know if you’d ever be interested in discussing the topic at hand.

        • Kodie

          They don’t belong in the person category that you are forcing them into.

        • The person category is not relevant. A human being is all that matters for murder in a moral sense.

          Your government is not legitimate or valid.

        • A human being is all that matters for murder in a moral sense.

          And you protect a single cell as vociferously as a newborn, child or adult?

          Hey–if that’s how you want to view things, not a problem. Just don’t pretend that you’ve got it all figured out so that you’re justified in imposing that on the rest of us.

        • In other words, yes, you do have a problem with valuing human life above all else, and are thus willing to take the life of anybody who gets in your way, including your own children.

          Why pretend otherwise? Why lie to people about it?

        • Uh, no. I don’t kill children.

          Why pretend otherwise? Why lie about it? Because taking my arguments on their merits means defeat for your position?

        • I’m confused, which is it? “At a single cell, it’s a homo sapiens, no big deal, just kill it” or “Uh no, I don’t kill children”? It can’t be both. Either it matters to you how many cells are in a human body before you will grant personhood (and thus, by definition, are willing to kill less than your personal, completely subjective, threshold of person) or you aren’t. It is a binary decision. Pick one and stick with it.

        • Your confusion must be deliberate. This ain’t hard. A single cell is not a child.

          I’ve raised children, and I flatter myself to think that that makes me something of an expert. “If you need a microscope to see it, that’s not a child” is a decent axiom.

        • ” A single cell is not a child.”

          Only by some arbitrary standard your side made up without any evidence whatsoever.

          “I’ve raised children, and I flatter myself to think that that makes me something of an expert. ”

          Yes, you do. Where is the scientific proof of your arbitrary axiom of “If you need a microscope to see it, that’s not a child”?

          From my point of view, that is an irrational statement that you arbitrarily decide which human beings are children and persons depending on some unknown number of cell divisions.

          Don’t you see how foolish that is?

        • I was thinking of ridiculing your comments, but I think you beat me to it.

        • I thought this whole conversation I’ve been ridiculing your comments. Is it possible that we are dealing with such disparate axiomatic truths that you actually *believe* that an organism changes species and ontological truth depending on the number of cells in the organism?

          If so, I guess I’ve got to end with that proving to me that discussions with atheists on first principles are generally hopeless, which sadly enough, is exactly where I started. Too bad 56 million children have to die because you choose to believe in a bad definition.

        • you actually *believe* that an organism changes species and ontological truth depending on the number of cells in the organism?

          No, I don’t believe this that species change depending on the number of cells. I never have. I’ve never given any hint that I believe this. Let me suggest that you either stop making up stuff or (if you are genuinely confused about my position) read my comments more thoroughly. We’ll make more progress, and you’ll look less foolish.

        • ” I’ve never given any hint that I believe this. ”

          ” A single cell is not a child.”

          These two statements are NOT compatible. Please correct one or the other.

        • Translation: I disagree.

          OK, got it. Don’t pretend there’s an inconsistency on my part.

        • ” Don’t pretend there’s an inconsistency on my part.”

          What pretense is there in noting that this statement:
          ” A single cell is not a child.”

          and this statement

          “No, I don’t believe this that species change depending on the number of cells. I never have. I’ve never given any hint that I believe this.”

          Are not compatible? Which statement did you not write?

        • Is a single cell a child?

        • If the single cell is human, then it is a child, because the definition of a child is a less than adult human being. Claiming that the single cell is not a child, is equivalent to claiming that the single cell is not human.

        • I don’t play dictionary games.

          You’re determined to disagree and ignore the points I make. Not much of a way to learn new things or even to convince someone else of your position, but perhaps as long as you’ve got it all figured out, the world is a happy place.


        • “I don’t play dictionary games.”

          Your entire pro-choice argument is a dictionary game.

          “You’re determined to disagree and ignore the points I make. ”

          I’ll consider your point if you ever make a valid point.

          “Not much of a way to learn new things”

          Why would I want to learn new lies?

        • If it is a human being that is less than the age of majority (and -.75 is less than 18, unless you’re going to play dictionary games with mathematics as well) then it is a child.

          Any other definition is just irrational dictionary games.

        • Kodie

          I call human beings “people”, in the singular, “person”. I don’t consider the removal of a growth “murder”, because there isn’t a person being removed. There is no valid or legitimate reason to call any such thing a person or a human being.

        • The valid and legitimate reason is because it is a being. It is a unique individual example of the species homo sapiens.

          Deny the DNA evidence, and all you do is prove your side is irrational. Which is no news to me, that people like you practice human sacrifice because you are irrational.

        • Kodie

          You’re not a unique individual example of the species homo sapiens, and I suppose you already do have a central nervous system.

        • By what measure is my DNA not unique?

          I’m dying to hear how you have defeated DNA evidence.

        • Yes, it’s a Homo sapiens. Big deal.

          At the single-cell level, it’s not a person–that’s the point.

        • Brian Westley

          Well, as you constantly argue for Christian hegemony, I’ll stick with them and not you.

        • Interesting that you’d say that in a discussion where I just supported the exact opposite. One would think your reading comprehension may be a bit poor.

        • Brian Westley

          “Interesting that you’d say that in a discussion where I just supported the exact opposite.”

          Not in my book; if you happen to live in a state (or neighborhood?) where Christians want to outlaw X, X becomes illegal. That’s not religious freedom, that’s Christian hegemony.

        • “happen to live”? You mean you don’t choose where you live?

        • Kodie

          I choose to live in the United States. You want to wall off societies where I would not be welcome or protected by federal law, inside the United States? You are suggesting totalitarian regimes inside the United States, depending on the local culture. If you hate America so much, then you leave. I am so tired of being told to leave if I don’t like what you like. It’s ok to like what you like, but it’s not ok to wall out the rest of the country and live amongst yourselves under your own bizarre laws. You don’t belong in the United States if you want to act like you are some other country.

        • You *choose* to live there, exactly.

        • Kodie

          Have you ever been accused of treason?

        • TheNuszAbides

          i expect sooner or later i’ll stumble over Ted rambling about immigration and thoroughly shooting his “you live where you choose to live” pipe-dream in the foot.

        • Brian Westley

          I don’t move very often, no; people move into my neighborhood much more frequently than I move into a different neighborhood, so the neighborhood I moved into 20 years ago is very different now.

        • And in what way is that not a choice on your part?

        • Brian Westley

          I can’t choose who moves into my neighborhood, or even which properties are considered part of my neighborhood.

        • smrnda

          I was born in a particular city. Nobody asked me if that was where I wanted to live.

        • Kodie

          I think you’re onto something Ted. All you crazies just wall yourselves off, imprisoning people who are born there and whose parents choose to live within its confines. But don’t call yourself America.

        • smrnda

          Defending itself from what? Could you please tell me what horrible dangers await me?

        • smrnda

          By your 1. are you suggesting that individual liberty for women should not be a state concern? That a state should not be proactive in making sure citizens have liberty?

          That’s not exactly a government that I’d support.

        • I have become very discouraged with liberty as of late, especially the liberty to commit murder and be so selfish with our goods that we prevent the next generation from being born.

          I would not support a government that supports such liberty, and I’m almost to the point that I have to say liberty itself is an error.

        • Kodie

          You have the liberty to be a hypocrite.

        • I don’t want to be a hypocrite, thank you very much. I’ll leave that to the atheists.

        • Kodie

          What are atheists hypocrites about?

        • smrnda

          Glad to know that. I’m happy you are so honest that you actually think liberty is an error. I’m sure your fan club is growing. You’d fit in pretty well with the inquisition, and I have a feeling you aren’t going to be bothered by the comparison.

          Also, the belief that contraception is murder is factually inaccurate.

          Saying ‘contraception prevents the next generation from being born’ is granting rights to hypothetical people who don’t exist. There are people being born every day. They are the next generation. If I keep money in my pocket and don’t spend it on a pizza, I’m not preventing a future pizza from being made. The money in my pocket was never a pizza.

        • Why should the time axis matter to a mathematician?

        • smrnda

          Because the future does not exist, only the present does.I am a mathematical formalist, not a Platonist. The only people who exist are people who actually exist right now. By not having sex I am not depriving anyone of existing since you can only deprive a person who actually exists already of anything.

          We can choose our actions based on what’s likely to occur in the future. If I design a product that has not been sold yet, I do not have any customers, but I might make some assumptions based on what hypothetical customers would want, but at that time, there are no real customers. So, if my non-existent product still in the planning stage falls through, I can’t say “This will piss off the customers!”

        • Ok, now I’m a bit confused: Does free will exist or not? I thought it was the consensus among the new atheists that choice was an illusion.

        • smrnda

          My take is that even when we are making choices, our ‘choices’ are really influenced by factors beyond our control, but we tend not to notice and think we have more agency than we really do.

          Example – I did not really ‘choose’ to design software, early experiences that had nothing to do with any choice on my part pushed me in this direction.

          I don’t see what this has to do with the idea that not having sex, or using contraception, is depriving anyone of any sort of right to exist. If you do not exist, you do not have any rights. A person who hypothetically might exist in the future is not any more real than a character in a book. I cannot deprive Leopold Bloom of anything. He’s fictional.

        • If there is no free will, right and wrong itself can’t exist. All of our “choices” are fixed, and our duty to the future is equal to our duty to the past, for everything has already been decided.

          IF, however, we do have free will, then it is possible to make a wrong choice, and we have a positive duty to the next generation to provide them at least as good of a world as we inherited from our parents- and that requires an objective morality.

        • smrnda

          I don’t think it is possible to settle the question of free will outside of very extreme cases where it would be obvious a person had no choice, so I think that whole debate is worthless.

          I agree that we shouldn’t treat the planet like a shit can since people will be here in the future, and its the same logic that suggests that one does not shit on the floor of a public restroom. Its simple courtesy.

          However, I don’t think any consensus will be reached on ‘objective morality’ so we’re at best going to have to go with probable and not certain in terms of what actions we advocate for the good of future generations. A comparison would be that if I am designing a house, I might need to make some judgment calls as to what will make the house livable – a gas stove isn’t objectively better than an electric one, but I have to make some call there.

          I have a feeling that you and I would disagree with what should be done, and aside from expressing your own personal disgust with contemporary civilization, I have yet to see you make a rational case for any action you advise.

          You’ve criticized the use of contraception without supplying evidence that a decreasing birth rate necessarily causes problem. I don’t think it does because per person or per worker productivity is not fixed. If we just look at food, a long time ago most people worked in agriculture, and without this work, there wouldn’t have been enough food. As technologies improved, we reach a point now where a far smaller number of people can produce an abundance of food. So I see no reason to believe that a declining population would run into any problems there.

        • Solution 1: redefine abortion from “cold-blooded, heartless murder” to “medical procedure that kills something that’s not quite a person yet.”

          Solution 2: work on preventing unwanted pregnancies.

        • Solution 1: A lie just covers up the truth, but it does not exterminate the truth. Redefinitions are dishonest.
          Solution 2: Best way to do this is to actually, gasp, make motherhood a paying position.

        • 1. Calling something evil doesn’t make it so. Coming to your senses and correcting a misattribution is a good thing.
          2. I don’t know what this means. My vote: better sex education, using examples of programs that have a better track record (shouldn’t be too hard to find since our track record for avoiding unwanted pregnancy is pretty bad).

        • 1. I call something evil because it is intrinsically evil. Human sacrifice always is, and that is what true economic pro-choice abortion is, the magical thinking sacrifice of a child in hopes of a better economic tomorrow. It is magical thinking and it is to be condemned.

          2. My vote: More WIC (note, Republicans are anti-life economically!), realizing that children are our future and there is only one way to get to that future, sex education that includes that the sex act is for procreation only, and the utter elimination of the “unwanted pregnancy” lie (a healthy fetus always wants to be born and you wanted your mother to be pregnant).

        • 1. I agree that human sacrifice is always evil. However, God doesn’t agree. And I don’t call abortion “human sacrifice.”

          Tellya what I’d like to see from pro-lifers. I’d like to hear an argument like this: “OK, I’ll grant you that a woman’s life can be dramatically changed by a baby. I’ll grant that many of her dreams (of college, say) go out the window. I’ll grant that basically zero babies carried to term after an unwanted pregnancy are adopted. I’ll grant that many of these babies are born into homes with terrible conditions–unworthy parents, bad neighborhood, poverty, and on and on. But it’s still wrong.

          That’s an argument I can’t just dismiss. What I get more typically from pro-lifers makes me wonder what planet they’re from.

          2. A pro-life, pro-welfare Christian? I didn’t know you guys existed! But at least you have an expanded view and acknowledge the consequences of what you want, unlike many head-in-the-sand conservatives. But since everyone dislikes an unwanted pregnancy, I’d think that that should be the starting point.

          Perhaps you’ve never had sex. In the words of Steven Fry, it’s “jolly.” People do it for reasons other than procreation.

        • 1. No you don’t. You support the destruction of human life for economic purposes in the form of abortion, euthanasia, and unjust war.

          Here’s my form of that argument “OK, I’ll grant you that a woman’s life can be dramatically changed by a baby, but anybody’s life can be dramatically changed by any action. I’ll grant that many of her dreams (of college, say) go out the window, but so should the man who slept with her have to sacrifice all of HIS dreams to be a father. I refuse to lie and say that adoptions never happen, because they do and I’ve seen them, but I think that an adoption *even in the case of an unwanted pregnancy is the second best option to getting married and forming a family. I do not agree with the bigotry against unworthy parents, bad neighborhood, poverty, race, color, or creed when it comes to procreation, and I will fight that bigotry of eugenics with my last breath, even if it means I have to give up every luxury in life to provide for the so-called unwanted.”

          2. As for me being a pro-life, pro-welfare Christian, may I introduce you to this group:

          Who put in over $680 million dollars and 90 million volunteer hours in 2012 to try to help the lives of the poor.

          I would also suggest you read the encyclicals Rerum Novarum and Caritas In Veritate, to learn that the Catholic Church, which is definitely pro-life, has no problem with welfare at all, and in fact, strongly recommends a mix of welfare, personal charity, and most of all, living wages for the poor.

          I wonder how many “unwanted pregnancies” there would be if 10 year olds could be assured of a living wage job, and the standard expectation of any man for getting a girl pregnant was giving up your dreams of school and going to work?

        • 1. No you don’t. You support the destruction of human life for economic purposes in the form of abortion, euthanasia, and unjust war.

          Just throwing a lot of chaff in there to keep me from hounding you?

          It often makes you look foolish to tell someone else what he thinks—this being a good example. I don’t call abortion “human sacrifice.” And I call human sacrifice evil. No contradiction.

          So proponents of euthanasia bills have only economic considerations in mind? “Grandma sure is expensive, let’s just unplug her”? Wrong again.

          And what unjust war have I been backing?

          I refuse to lie and say that adoptions never happen

          Nor have I.

          Tell me: do you know what fraction of premarital births are placed for adoption?

          And I’m still puzzled why you don’t simply accept my quoted statement as something that you would agree with. (Here’s a tip: when you approach the conversation that way, acknowledging instead of ignoring or dismissing the other guy’s valid points, you get a better hearing.)

          I do not agree with the bigotry against unworthy parents, bad neighborhood, poverty, race, color, or creed when it comes to procreation

          Ah! So it’s bigotry and eugenics! That’s a weird spin.

          Or, you could actually address the issue.

          has no problem with welfare at all

          There’s a difference between this (which is fine) and solving the unwanted pregnancy problem with more welfare! Perhaps I need to just get with the program, but I’d’ve thought that reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies would be far wiser.

        • “Just throwing a lot of chaff in there to keep me from hounding you?”

          No, your support of the Obama Administration covers all three of those forms of destruction of human life.

          “. I don’t call abortion “human sacrifice.” ”

          Of course you don’t, because you like to hide your support for human sacrifice.

          “So proponents of euthanasia bills have only economic considerations in mind? “Grandma sure is expensive, let’s just unplug her”? Wrong again.”

          Wrong how? If it wasn’t for the expense of keeping Grandma alive, wouldn’t you do it?

          “And what unjust war have I been backing?”

          If you backed the Obama Administration, there has been the Drone War in Pakistan, the invasion of Libya, and now the up and coming invasion of Syria.

          “Tell me: do you know what fraction of premarital births are placed for adoption?”

          It’s less than 2%, but it does exist- having said that, that’s why (as I made this point earlier but you ignored it) I’m for *supporting poor families in being able to raise their own children*.

          “way, acknowledging instead of ignoring or dismissing the other guy’s valid points, you get a better hearing.)”

          First you have to have valid points. I saw none, and continue to see none.

          “Ah! So it’s bigotry and eugenics! That’s a weird spin.”

          No spin involved. You want to reduce the numbers of children born to the poor. That is bigoted and an argument from eugenics.

          “There’s a difference between this (which is fine) and solving the unwanted pregnancy problem with more welfare! Perhaps I need to just get with the program, but I’d’ve thought that reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies would be far wiser.”

          And thus, your subsconscious bigotry and eugenics shows itself- you are bigoted against the *children* of unwanted pregnancies.

        • No, your support of the Obama Administration covers all three of those forms of destruction of human life.

          That’s a common mistake. President Obama doesn’t check with me on every policy decision, and the continued war in Afghanistan is one of those.

          Of course you don’t, because you like to hide your support for human sacrifice.

          Ah … so I’m a liar now! Maybe even a liar to myself? Wow—I’m going to go away and be sad now. But it must be cool to be able to see in other people truths that they miss in themselves.

          If it wasn’t for the expense of keeping Grandma alive, wouldn’t you do it?

          Live with a disease that’s making every day torture and then get back to me on that. Some people find that God’s way of dying—another few weeks or months of increased agony and humiliation until a final death—isn’t their preference.

          It’s less than 2%, but it does exist

          At least we agree on this point.

          that’s why (as I made this point earlier but you ignored it) I’m for *supporting poor families in being able to raise their own children*.

          Uh … yeah. Sounds good to me as well. That doesn’t address the reasons I gave for someone legitimately wanting an abortion.

          And BTW, just to look at this from a higher standpoint, if you don’t like abortions, that’s great. If you want to stand on the street corner or have a blog or write letters to the editor and argue against abortions, that’s great. It’s when you conclude that your moral judgment trumps everyone else’s and you’d like to government to impose your views on everyone else that I disagree.

          First you have to have valid points. I saw none, and continue to see none.

          And this explains why people on the other side of the issue don’t quickly embrace your viewpoint. If you don’t care, that’s great as well. But if you do actually want to change minds, then you might want to reconsider my thoughts.

          You want to reduce the numbers of children born to the poor.

          Wrong yet again. Maybe you’d best let me state my opinions. I want to reduce births to women who don’t want them. And some of those reasons (“I’m not ready,” “The environment I’d be bringing a child into isn’t worthy of that child,” and so on) are pretty compelling.

          You know how we give a pretty large benefit of the doubt to parents? CPS comes in pretty late in the game to overrule how parents treat their kids. That’s what I’m suggesting for pregnant women. Let’s trust their instincts.

          And thus, your subsconscious bigotry and eugenics shows itself- you are bigoted against the *children* of unwanted pregnancies

          A liar and a bigot. Ouch—sucks to be me, I guess.

          But aside from the conclusion that I’m a bigot, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Please explain the bigotry. (Or is this just a way to finagle a loaded term into the conversation?)

        • Nox

          “We think that we need a reduction in population, so we’re going to fund
          Planned Parenthood to do whatever it can to reduce population using your
          tax dollars.”

          This statement illustrates, yet again, the danger of getting all your information from the catholic church (hint: it will cause you to say insane things which make it harder for others to take you seriously).

  • Jerry Lynch

    Thank you for this post; so nice to be clear on what can and cannot happen in our public schools. I work for a local Christain TV station. Today we had a staff lunch at PizzaHut. We all stood, held hands, and prayed as moved. I am already labeled as a “liberal” for my views on war, political involvement, and patriotism. Okay, let me state it plainly: I chickened-out from requesting quiet prayer.
    The person who runs the station is quite familiar with Scripture, yet he sees this as abnormal times calling for Christians to make public displays. He has no biblical backup for such a stance, and does not offer any, only to say that the “liberal agenda” is anti-christian. “We must be bold for Christ in all that we do!”
    After nearly six years working there, I have all but given up pointing out the disparities between the gospel and being a Conservative Christian, which seems to simply echo the heartless Republican line.

    • I agree about the Christian/Republican connection. I was listening to a UK podcast with 4 religious folks being interviewed. The American sounded just like a politician–it was all economic policy and how much society sucked. I felt embarrassed for the other Christians to see how much the Right has usurped Christianity.

    • onnesty

      Can you explain what you mean by “Conservative Christian”? Thanks.

  • teaching religion at an early age in Public Schools s no less than brain washing..
    I have to admit..