Friday, March 10, 2006


Anyone who hasn’t heard the screed that a tenth-grade geography teacher in Aurora, Colorado, recently inflicted on his students ought to visit a website (like Michelle Malkin’s) and take a listen.

The “lesson” becomes a tirade—or more aptly, a jeremiad. Capitalism is transformed into an institutional Satan, Hitlerian traits are ascribed to George W. Bush, and America becomes the focus of evil in the modern world. Apocalyptic certitude permeates this rant presumably designed to get students to think critically about the nation’s foreign policy.

As a two-decade veteran of secondary education, I can assure readers that Mr. Jay Bennish isn’t alone. The only question is how many high school teachers go as far as he does when it comes to indoctrination. What is beyond reasonable dispute is that a very large number of individuals who graduate from schools of education share Bennish’s cookie-cutter political faith and regularly regurgitate that dogma to their captive audiences.

What Bennish’s sermon makes perfectly clear is the extent to which ideology, emotion, faith, and fundamental notions of good and evil permeate political thought. Moreover, the missionary enterprises of left-wing ideologues like Bennish are almost always more extensive, divisive, and offensive than any speech that the Supremes ever deemed an unconstitutional entanglement of the state in matters religious.

As numerous metaphors in the prior paragraphs suggest, no clear line of demarcation separates political conviction and religious faith. And if that is true, then a whole series of decisions that have come down from the Court in the last four decades are based on an untenable premise. That premise places religious speech in a completely different category from political speech and demands that the former be minimized or eliminated from public institutions.

Anyone who has pondered a Soviet May-Day parade, replete with iconic representations of the communist Trinity (Marx, Lenin, and, prior to his excommunication, Stalin) knows that true believers marched under the red flag with the same all-encompassing devotion that characterizes the most committed Christians, Jews, or Muslims. A similar spirit is observable at political meetings on college campuses.

The bottom line of this train of thought isn’t that religious rants should be permitted in public schools alongside political harangues. Instead, because political and religious discourse share fundamental characteristics, the same rules should govern both types of speech. Neither religious nor political discourse should be one-sided and arrogantly disrespectful of dissenting perspectives. Nor should a public school teacher ever take advantage of his or her position to cram a belief system down the throats of students.

As things stand now, however, the Court pretends that political philosophy is somehow less divisive, more rational, and less constitutionally restricted than statements that are traditionally connected to a religious tradition. In this way it leaves open the legal door to geography courses that are more dogmatic than a catechism class.

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