A theocracy in America? Influential conservative group calls for injecting God into American public schools

Two days ago, the Washington Post ran an article warning of the dangers of theocratic incursions into American public education, “Influential conservative group: Trump, DeVos should dismantle Education Department and bring God into classrooms.”  Well, we don’t want that, do we? It certainly violates the First Amendment, and even a staunch originalist, like Scalia was and Gorsuch will be, would be hard pressed to say that the First Amendment allows dragging God into the classrooms.

The Post‘s fears come from a document (removed online, but archived here) produced by The Council for National Policy, a secretive conservative group that had Steve Bannon as a member and Kellyanne Conway on its executive committee. The  report is explicitly based on religion:

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-12-48-29-pm

Here are some of its goals, which include posting the Ten Commandments, teaching Bible classes, and removing “secular sex education materials” from schools:

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The document doesn’t explicitly mention evolution, but you know what would happen were these goals implemented.

There’s more religious palaver about Jesus at the end of the document, but you get the idea. This is to education as the infamous Wedge Document was to science: an embarrassing, religiously motivated plan of action that was removed from the Internet because it clearly conflicted with secular public education.

The Post wrings its hands over this a lot, but DeVos, not a known member of the Council for National Policy, has stated that she doesn’t favor elimination of the Department of Education, and in her confirmation said that she would “implement the laws as intended by Congress. That includes the provisions about the prohibition against religious instruction in schools.” Of course, she might be lying, as her history is in favor of religiously based charter schools. And although DeVos’s husband has expressed support for teaching creationism, DeVos herself has kept her nose clean on that issue. So we don’t know, and I think the Post is crying a bit of “wolf” on this one. Still, it’s worthwhile to see the aims of this group, and learn who belonged to it—just as it was worthwhile knowing about the Wedge Document.

Some have joked that the new logo for the Department of Education would be the one below, but that’s a bit premature:

34 Comments

  1. Craw
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    The nutters are not going away. But we have pretty robust legal precedents. Vigilance not panic is what we need, as usual.

  2. eric
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    “…for 300 years from early 17th century to Colonial times”

    Oh please, please make your letter public. I really can’t think of a better refutation for their educational policy than just to quote their own words.

    I also like that they have a list of things they’re going to prevent/eliminate, then a list of things they’re going to require and ending it with statement saying they desire to ‘succeed by acclaim, not coercion.’ Orwell would be proud (or horrified. But no matter, they probably won’t allow him to be read anyway).

  3. Steffen Toxopeus
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I would file this under unsafe injection sites

  4. ploubere
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I expect that under DeVos they will have some success in giving states more power over public schools. The result will be, unfortunately, not that different from what is already happening, students receiving substantially different education depending on where they live.
    The real divide however is, and will continue to be, between urban, suburban and rural schools. Inner city schools will get even less resources and will perform even worse, suburban schools will excel, and rural schools will teach religion more overtly without adequately preparing students.

  5. Randy schenck
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    If the FFRF has not said it already, When hell freezes over. The conservatives may well destroy education in this country but I don’t think it happens this way. They will simply remove the funding sources for public school to the point where none exist any longer. Most will be in private and charter schools by then and the remainder will just be running in the streets.

    • Mark R.
      Posted February 17, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I was going to comment that I’ll be increasing my donations to FFRF. They’re going to very busy.

  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Thomas Jefferson in Report to the President and Directors of the Liberty Fund
    “The want of instruction in the various creeds of religious faith existing among our citizens presents… a chasm in a general institution of the useful sciences. But it was thought that this want, and the entrustment to each society of instruction in its own doctrine, were evils of less danger than a permission to the public authorities to dictate modes or principles of religious instruction, or than opportunities furnished them by giving countenance or ascendancy to any one sect over another.”

    And from C.S. Lewis of all folks in “A Reply to Professor Haldane,”

    “Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point may be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely more because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations.

    And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches to Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the very ordinary human passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt. A political programme can never in reality be more than probably right. We never know all the facts about the present and we can only guess the future. To attach to a party programme — whose highest claim is to reasonable prudence — the sort of assent which we should reserve for demonstrable theorems, is a kind of intoxication.”

    =-=-=

    One problem here (implicity noted by James Madison) is that there really isn’t a single unified “Judeo-Christian perspective”.

    Christian Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island as a refuge for people fleeing religious persecution in Massachusetts, was a staunch defender of full church-state separation, making him one of the few Christians who routinely shows up on freethought hero lists. (I see him every year at Freethought Day in Sacramento, and one of the booths on such a list.) Similarly, 7th Day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses (the latter for silly reasons) are strong advocates of church-state separation. C.S. Lewis

    [I used to joke that the three best sources for news on church-state issues were Dan Barker’s Freethought Today, the 7th-Day Adventist magazine Liberty, and the monthly First Amendment column in Playboy magazine. 🙂 ]

    Does a Judeo-Christian perspective include Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Judaism with their disbelief in original sin and substitutionary atonement? Or are they only going to allow fundamentalists as “real Christians???

    • ploubere
      Posted February 17, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Nice, thanks for the quotes. I think these groups are largely evangelical, in particular southern baptist. They don’t regard even Catholics, much less Eastern Orthodox, as christian.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted February 17, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      “… the three best sources for news on church-state issues were Dan Barker’s Freethought Today, the 7th-Day Adventist magazine Liberty, and the monthly First Amendment column in Playboy magazine.”

      Growing up as an Adventist kid, I avidly consumed two of the above three sources (Dan Barker wasn’t around yet). To the limited extent that I retain some SDA tribal chauvinism, it would be around their clarity on the issue of church-state separation.

      While I’m in no danger of a religious relapse, watching Conway and Bannon does almost make me believe in the fantabulous drug-induced monsters hallucinated by the author of the Book of Revelation.

  7. sshort
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I was thinking Wedge Document as I started reading this. There you have it.

    And I’ve been around a lot of these people on the far right. Some are secretly, and some not so secretly, motivated by religious war. First of ideas, then of action. An absolute take-over of American society and all our public institutions. Then the world.

    And many have no qualms about using nukes to seal the deal. Imagine being in the small group that brings on the apocalypse as prophecized in the bible. Completing the work of god.

    Yeah, a few moments of blinding pain and misery. Then, bear-hugs and high-fives from St. Peter and Jeebus. For all eternity.

    • ploubere
      Posted February 17, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      Yes, the christian taliban. If they gain control the human race is screwed.

    • eric
      Posted February 17, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      Well, they have a long way to go. Even if they were to somehow make significant inroads into public HS education, Universities want to pump out academic researchers and alumni who will be prosperous enough to give them back donations. Employers will selectively draw labor from Universities that produce competent employees. These groups won’t care how much creationists want creationism to count as science, or even ultimately what the US federal government might say about it counting as science – they aren’t buying it.

      So, what happens when DeVos gets her Judeo-Christian biased history, science, and government taught? Unis and employers will respond. They’ll create new ACT or SAT tests to weed out the students who can’t tell the religious lies from the rest of the material. Or, they’ll do like UC does in CA and give some sort of application preference to high schools with Uni-approved curricula. Or maybe they just change their operating model, to take on larger first year classes and then fail out 20-40% of the students based on (in)competency.

      Ultimately, with education, you cannot coerce the world to respect you or give you a high reputation. And co-opting currently reputable organizations only works for a short time, before they suffer a loss of reputation. That’s what the fundies seem to not get. Sure, with the right SCOTUS you can put creationism back in public schools and lie and say Thomas Jefferson was a traditional Christian. But you can’t force a private university to take on the students you produce. Heck you can’t probably even force a public University professor to pass them. And you certainly won’t be able to force Pfizer or Genentech to hire them.

  8. Kevin
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Don’t forget troops on the ground: secular children and teachers. In my neck of the woods, pushing Xian values in school is all but non-existent and those who do think mythological figures like Noah lived for hundreds of years are viewed with heady skepticism.

  9. Tom
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Never mind America, the supporters of the ludicrous ersatz theocracy are rapidly approaching senility and will soon pass away. They had their turn in the fifties and screwed it up so badly that we all ended up in the age of Aquarius; now it is far to late for any plan B to succeed

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted February 17, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know. Conway is only 50, and if she follows in the footsteps of that demented troll Schlafly, she could be spreading the crazy for another 40 years. Mind you if Conway’s internals are wearing as badly as the exterior of her head, maybe not.

      • Mark R.
        Posted February 17, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

        Yes, she really looks haggard as of late. Perhaps there are real physiological consequences when one must fight reality with alternative facts. Having to spin your way through life is obviously taxing.

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    … even a staunch originalist, like Scalia was and Gorsuch will be, would be hard pressed to say that the First Amendment allows dragging God into the classrooms.

    I wouldn’t be quite so sanguine in this regard. Let us not forget that the law of the land was construed to allow school prayer until the early 1960s when the cases of Engel v. Vitale and Abbington School District v. Schempp were decided.

    Many conservative justices in the years since have expressed the view that the Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence under the religion clauses is too hostile to religion. In particular, they think the “free exercise” clause permits greater accommodation of religion in the public sphere.

    I wouldn’t expect there ever to be a return to the bad old days of compulsory school prayer. But if like-minded justices were to gain a solid majority on the Court, we could see voluntary prayer sessions in public schools once again. Plus, there are other insidious ways in which religion might creep into public education under the guise of religious accommodation, in terms of public funds and facilities used for religious proselytization.

    From what I know of Judge Gorsuch’s jurisprudence, religion is the area that gives me the greatest concern were his nomination to be confirmed by the senate.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 17, 2017 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      A lot of people consider belief in God to be virtually unanimous and uncontroversial. Separation of church and state refers to separating the individual churches or sects from promotion by government. They think teaching children about God, encouraging citizens to pray, and creating laws which explicitly favor belief over nonbelief won’t violate either the Constitution or the conscience of the average citizen. Patriotism involves reverence to God.

      Perhaps one of the best defenses we atheists may have against this argument is our growing numbers. As the “no religion” and nonbeliever groups become more visible in public surveys, the blithe assumption that “God” isn’t controversial will become harder and harder to maintain. While the theocrat-light types may want to use those statistics as a call to arms, unlike rising rates of crime or illiteracy, it’s hard to treat atheism as an obvious problem if one’s atheist neighbors are likely to push back by demanding evidence and making rational arguments.

  11. Posted February 17, 2017 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    “Immediate elimination of Common Core and all other DOE social engineering programs”.

    Aside from the fact that this group proposes “social engineering”, in a big way, I thought that Common Core is not a Department of Education effort, but is a joint effort of the states. Its Wikipedia page states that it “is sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)”.

    So the Council for National Policy starts out with an outrageously false statement. I’m stunned — Bannon and Conway involved in making false statements? Who could imagine that happening?

  12. Historian
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I agree that the banning of prayer in public schools is not a sure thing with a conservative court. As you note, it was not until the 1960s that the Supreme Court banned it. “Originalists” might say that since prayer in public schools was common for 150 years the Founders had no objection to it. I do not know if any of the current conservatives on the Supreme Court has opined on this topic.

    When I attended a public high school in NYC in the early 1960s, every assembly was started with an honored student reading a selection from the bible, almost always the Old Testament, as I recall, so as not to offend any faith. Attendance was mandatory. Perhaps the school authorities did not consider just listening to a biblical selection as prayer, since the audience said nothing. I don’t know. I zoned out when the reading took place, as I suspect was the case for most students, but, nevertheless, there it was. Certainly, the religious right would consider it a major victory if prayer should be returned to the public schools, voluntary or mandatory. That would be a dark day for secularism.

    • Historian
      Posted February 17, 2017 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      This is in response to Ken Kukec, #10.

    • Denise
      Posted February 17, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      I also went to public high school in NY in the 60s. May I ask which school that was? I find it very surprising.

  13. Joseph Carrion
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    The truth is, religious beliefs don’t belong in the school system. In fact, any type of religious beliefs belong in a church setting!

  14. Posted February 17, 2017 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    This is a fantastic idea! Let’s get god all up in that school system! A prayer mat and a Koran in every desk! Daily recitations from the Hadith! No more bacon, sausage, or ham sandwiches in the cafeteria!

    Oh, that’s not what you meant?

  15. DrBrydon
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    I always like how they talk about Judeo-Christian beliefs. I don’t think Jews are fooled about the fact that this brand of Christianity would turn on Jews (like Catholics) as soon as they had the power to do so.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 19, 2017 at 5:09 am | Permalink

      Yeah. I thought Jews were in the dogbox for having killed Jesus.

      (Not that I’m a Judeophile but heck, that’s one point in their favour as far as I’m concerned…)

      cr

  16. Posted February 17, 2017 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    I have been saying for years that the US is just one election away from theocracy. I guess we’re about to find out.

  17. Posted February 17, 2017 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    I think they should reconsider their goals 1 and 2 of phase II. After all, if any students actually read and think about the Constitution, a number of them may realize posting the 10 commandments violates its principals.

  18. Helen Hollis
    Posted February 18, 2017 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    I don’t know how they will pay for this wall they are putting up that prevents students access to education during the time they are not getting it. I thought that federal money could not be used for this type of thing.

  19. Posted February 18, 2017 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Who is the dragon rider?

  20. Mike
    Posted February 18, 2017 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    The US Taliban.

  21. Mobius
    Posted February 18, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Their fourth assumption…

    4. No civil government possesses the right to overrule the educational choices of parents and guardians.

    …destroys their own case. They are claiming that the government should inject God (only their God of course) into the classroom, which right there overrules the educational choices of parents.

    Somehow, they don’t see that their right to teach their children religion at home is enough. They want to teach everyone’s children their religion in school. Think of the hue and cry they would raise if their children had to listen to Islamic proselytizing at school.

  22. Heather Hastie
    Posted February 18, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    “Just as the Christian Gospel was designed to succeed by acclaim, not coercion …”

    I’m not sure that acclaim vs coercion had anything to do with how the New Testament was designed. Either way, it’s not how it was mostly spread.

    When it was spread by acclaim, Christianity got nowhere. In Europe the Church spread by converting political leaders who then forced their subjects to convert. In the New World it was the conquistadores etc. In places where they were unable to dominate militarily like Japan, they had little success.

    In Africa and parts of Asia it’s about the association with the colonial powers and now the power of the US.

    The point is conversion at first was mostly forced, not acclaimed.

    On a different note, I see the first thing they want is to remove all testing of students. Is this an admission that they know beforehand that students will get poorer results compared to their peers internationally if their regime is implemented?


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