In going through Sean Faircloth's new atheist strategy, I have reached the seventh of his policy objectives. Here, he calls for no religious bias in schools.
My response to this policy objective - that there should be no religious bias in the schools - is going to be the same as my response to Faircloth's first policy objective - that there should no religious bias in the military. Nobody accepts this. Nobody wants this. Not even Sean Faircloth.
(See: Universal Tolerance.)
Let somebody try to argue that they have found some gold tablets in their back yard (that have since mysteriously disappeared) that calls on teachers to be sexually involved with their students as a way of creating a more spiritual relationship between them. How much religious tolerance will we argue for then?
Or let somebody argue for a return to traditional Christian values - those that held that God created the black race to be the slaves of the white race, or that if somebody should ever try to argue in defense of some other god the Christian is duty-bound to kill that person without hesitation. Let us argue for the universal tolerance of these religious practices, while stocking the supply cabinets with condoms and body bags.
We are not going to have universal religious tolerance.
There is a line beyond which religion becomes intolerable. Furthermore, we cannot use the standards of any religion to determine whether or not is on the near side or the far side of that line. We must find and appeal to an outside standard - a standard outside of religion.
A lot of people are uncomfortable with this fact - that there is a standard outside of religion that determines which religions are tolerable and which are no. We have lived under this principle for a couple of centuries now, while at the same time we deny its existence and pretend to some sort of "universal tolerance" that utterly fails to account for our actual behavior.
Here is another politically inconvenient truth: Science classes that teach evolution, a 4.5 billion year old earth, and that the earth is not the center of the solar system, are NOT religiously neutral.
The politically convenient lie is that they are religiously neutral. That is why they do not violate the constitutional prohibition on separating church and state. A state government that teaches evolution is not favoring some religions over others - or so we say. The fact is that these claims made in a science class favors those theist and non-theist philosophies that are compatible with evolution, old-earth, and a heliocentric solar system over those that are not compatible. When the science teacher in a public school tells a student that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, she is a acting as an employee of the state telling children of parents who do not share that view: "Your parents, your priests, and your religion are mistaken on this matter."
It does not matter that some people hold religious beliefs that are compatible with an old earth and biological evolution. That doesn't change the fact that some do not. When somebody steps up to say, "I am a Christian, and I accept evolution," it is absolutely absurd to say, "See, this proves that evolution is religiously neutral." The honest, logically consistent response would be, "What does that matter? This means that we are not talking about you. We are talking about those other versions of Christianity that are NOT compatible.
Where did we get this idea that you can make a logical leap from, "There exists a religious belief compatible with P" to "Therefore, P is religiously neutral"? It is invalid on its face. Yet, many people - many secularists - assert it as a self-evident truth.
Actually, we get this idea from the fact that we need a rug under which we sweep the contradiction that public schools must actually educate students about the real world and, at the same time, remain religiously neutral, when some religions make absurd claims about the real world. We sweep the contradiction under the rug of this absurd implication, then we all pretend to ignore the elephant-sized lump under the carpet.
If we were being honest, we would say that evidence and reason support some conclusions more strongly than others. The purpose of public education is education - which means teaching students these facts, and the evidence and reason that support these facts. Some of these facts will not agree with certain religious teachings. When that happens, that is a problem for the church, not for the school.
For example, I would argue that creationism should be taught in the public school class room. We are graduating students who think that creationism is science. This means that the public school system is not educating them on what science is and what science is not. The public school science teacher should present the claims and arguments of creationists and refute them - this should be a part of science education. In fact, we should judge the competence of science teachers by their ability to do just this.
Similarly, a competent history teacher should be able to explain the value of the Bible as a source in doing history research. The Bible is a part of history, and tells us something about ancient (and modern) culture. The same can be said of the Iliad and the Odyssey - both of which I read parts of in school. A competent history teacher ought to be able to discuss the Bible as a historic document.
Because facts are not neutral with respect to religious belief, the only way to have a religiously neutral school system is by having a school system that refuses to educate. There is a serious conflict between religious neutrality in public schools and public education. Rather than sweeping it under the rug, we need to confront it honestly and directly.
I would not argue for a public school system that is free of religious bias. I would argue for a school system that presents the facts supported by evidence and, where that favors some religions over others, that is a problem for those religions to deal with, not a problem for the school. That is the secular policy I would argue for.