Last December, I wrote about a controversy in Albemarle County, Virginia, where right-wing Christians who sued for and won the right to distribute literature through the public schools’ “backpack mail” program were shocked – shocked! – to find out that there were other religions which then wanted to use that program for the same thing. At the time, the example I cited was a local Unitarian church which invited students to a pagan-inspired celebration of the winter holidays.
Now there’s a new wrinkle in this case. An even better group has stepped in and is distributing literature through the backpack mail program: Camp Quest, a summer camp explicitly aimed at children of atheist, agnostic and humanist parents. Of course, the conservative Christians who fought this case fully recognize that opening the school to one religious viewpoint means equal access must be given to all religious viewpoints, and they’ve stated that while they don’t agree with the beliefs of Camp Quest, they’re more than willing to allow atheists to distribute literature to children as well, and let families decide for themselves who is right.
In reality, the religious groups who shrieked about persecution when they were denied access to public schools are now shrieking just as loudly that the schools are “promoting atheism” by giving atheists the same access to a public forum as everyone else. Rick Scarborough called it “outrageous” that teachers have to hand out material with which they might personally disagree (a concern, I note, that was entirely absent when Christians like Scarborough were trying to force their way into the school). Some of the teachers are deeply concerned that handing out such material might imply that the school is officially endorsing or establishing atheism. Some are going even farther by refusing to hand out the flyers that they personally do not agree with.
As AU’s blog says so well:
I could not agree more. Teachers who use their official power to promote ideas that agree with their personal beliefs, and shut out ideas that do not agree with their personal beliefs, should immediately be disciplined or fired. Such an attitude is incompatible with the expectations placed upon every civil servant by the U.S. Constitution.
If public schools allow private groups to use “backpack mail,” they must prohibit teachers from deciding which messages are and are not worthy. It is absolutely unacceptable for public school teachers to decide that one religious belief is “offensive” and “outrageous” but others are not and then promote that perspective in their official capacity.
Judging by the facts of this case, one could be forgiven for thinking that the religious right simply lacks whatever part of the brain it is that allows the rest of us to comprehend basic notions of fairness and equality. When they are not allowed to use the coercive power of government to push their faith, they raise a hue and cry of discrimination, claiming they are being shut out; but when that power is extended to all religious groups, they scream that the government is officially endorsing beliefs that they do not agree with. It seems that nothing would satisfy them except special, preferential treatment for their own beliefs while all others are banned and shut out – which, of course, is exactly what they want.
This is yet another aspect of the selective wall, which I’ve written about many times before. The selective wall is what leads believers to conclude that special treatment for their beliefs is inherently fair and reasonable, while the same treatment for any beliefs different from their own is a gross injustice and a blatant violation of the separation of church and state. Such people hold an attitude of arrogant, condescending entitlement, believing that they themselves have a special exemption from the rules everyone else must follow, and that any attempt to hold them to the same standard as everyone else is an offensive insult. Doubtless, it is the certainty that they know God’s will and that everyone who disagrees is wrong that causes them to act in this way, which is just another illustration of the pernicious effects of faith.