Sunday, October 29, 2006

For School Board Candidates: Will This Be on the Test?

While we’re all focused on this year’s Congressional elections, let’s not forget that other positions—equally important—are up for grabs. Men and women all over the country are vying to become members of school boards. Whichever political team they’re on, though, their campaign literature is usually filled with nothing but safe blather. They want a superior education for our young people. Better pay and more respect for teachers. Improved testing that yields usable benchmarks. Comfortable and effective facilities. Adequate, modern supplies. Blah, blah, blah. The candidates may change a few words in the formula, but they’ll cover these points over and over and over, as if someone else running might be suggesting otherwise.

However, there are some really pressing questions that most candidates avoid. For one thing, there’s the critical issue of whether or not the game of tag should be allowed during recess. According to the media, the future of Western Civilization may hang on the answer to that one.

While the candidates scramble not to be "it," here are some other questions we ought to chase them with:

1. Do you support using the Bible as a science text? Which sciences would you use it for? Give examples of as many scientific breakthroughs as you can think of that were brought about through a close reading of the Old or New Testament.

2. Could a high school student’s future be endangered by reading a thought-provoking book that contains a few dirty words? If so, how? Including only those books that you have read yourself and been damaged by, list any books you would ban from the school library. For each book listed, explain specifically the kind of harm it caused you. Feel free to use any words that help you express yourself.

3. Can you reconcile the words “... under god ...” in the pledge of allegiance with the beliefs of every single child in every single classroom in your school district? Do you know the beliefs of every single child in every single classroom in your school district? List each child by full name, and describe in detail his or her beliefs. What evidence can you present to the children that god is interested in liberty and justice for all?

4. Do you think that people elected to ensure a quality public education should advocate giving tax-payer dollars to private religious schools? Really? Without quoting any Supreme Court justices, Republican politicians, or religious leaders, explain how you square your view with (a) the First Amendment and (b) the meanings of “public” and “private.”

5. In your opinion, which is more important in a child’s education: thinking or praying? As a school board member, which would you do more often?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

One Horse and One Carriage

Sinatra, apparently, did not know that marriage was the union of one man and one woman. He sang only that love and marriage went together like a horse and carriage.

Of course, you won’t find that rule in the bible: “Thy horse shall not lie with horsekind, as with carriagekind; it is abomination.”

Since the New Jersey Supreme Court has thrown the issue of gay marriage back to the state legislature, the bible-thumpers are vowing to keep the Institution of Marriage (hereinafter, the IOM) safe, not only in the Garden State but throughout the nation. The Republican leadership is anti-homobolizing the party’s base, particularly in the eight states deciding on constitutional amendments about whether or not to ban gay wedlock: The IOM must be safeguarded or civilization as we know it will disappear. In gay marriage, the GOP has once again identified a weapon of mass destruction.

But why does the IOM need protection? Is there some purely secular reason?

Don’t bother thinking about it; you won’t find one. The IOM is a religious construct. Laws passed to define marriage in sectarian terms, no matter how veiled, lead to an unconstitutional entanglement between church and state. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The zealots of the religious right need to put down Leviticus once in a while and read the First Amendment.

You don’t have to like gay marriage; no one can force you. You may have the same negative emotions about it that others of us have about two attractive blond people getting together; it’s not natural. Churches, synagogues, mosques, and ship’s captains would—and should—be free to decide whether or not to solemnize gay unions. But the government cannot make that choice. It is specifically enjoined by the Bill of Rights from establishing religion.

That’s why our homegrown taliban are pushing for a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage. Wouldn’t such a new amendment conflict—if not legally, then at least in spirit—with the long-established Establishment Clause? Wouldn’t it be an insidious step up the stairway to theocratic heaven? Before voting to enshrine the IOM, would-be ayatollahs need to ask themselves: WWJD? What would Jefferson do?

In the meantime, don’t be fooled by reference to “tradition.” The First Amendment is not fiddling around, on the roof or elsewhere. Religious fanaticism and opposition to gay marriage go together like a horse and carriage. As Sinatra sang, “You can’t have one without the other.”

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Blastocysts

For those of us who don’t give a laboratory rat’s ass about the Whirled Serious, there’s still good reason to be booing the Cardinals.

Missouri’s Amendment 2 is one of the big issues in the state election this year. Basically, the amendment pits modern science against medieval religion: It supports stem-cell research.

The Democratic Senatorial candidate, Claire McCaskill, wants this amendment to pass. The Republican incumbent, Sen. Jim Talent, does not. Talent is, of course, supported by all the usual suspects on the religious right.

A few nights ago, Michael J. Fox, the actor suffering from Parkinson’s disease, appeared in an ad for McCaskill. He asked the Missouri public to vote “yes” on Amendment 2.

The opposition, unhappy to have a well-liked star taking a stand on an issue that directly concerns him, put out the call for celebrities who did NOT have Parkinson’s disease to lend their talents indirectly to Talent. These luminaries were sought to appear in an ad produced and distributed by a group called Missourians Against Human Cloning. Looking for a smokescreen, the group’s spokesperson, the appropriately named Cathy Ruse, claims that the fine print of the amendment would make human cloning a constitutional right in Missouri (which would then, horrifyingly, become the Show Me, Show Me, Show Me state).

Patricia Heaton of “Everybody Loves Parkinson’s” responded, as did Jim Caviezel, who is not really Jesus but played him in the movies. You may have seen him in The Fascism of the Christ.

A few athletes volunteered their services as well. The one that has me rooting for the Tigers to win the pennant is Jeff Suppan, a pitcher for St. Louis. Suppan, as everyone knows, has been worried about human cloning ever since Dolly the sheep appeared.

The TV spot is scheduled to run in Missouri’s local market during World Series Game 4, in which Suppan will pitch for the Cardinals, both his teammates and the red–caped religious figures. That game, scheduled for Wednesday night, was—ironically—postponed due to rain.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Let's Skip Campbell

Skip Campbell is the Theocratic—oops, Democratic—candidate for Attorney General of Florida.

Campbell is running against Republican Bill McCollum, who was one of the House impeachment managers back when Bill Clinton was the anti-christ. McCollum has often worn his christianity on his sleeve, supporting a Constitutional amendment to allow school prayer and taking the expected “pro-life” stand against abortion.

He is clearly not a choice for those of us who believe strongly in the separation of church and state.

McCollum is not totally controlled by the Christian Right, however. In the past, he has come out in favor of federal funding for stem cell research. “That’s pro-life, too," he said.

The Republican candidate also once co-sponsored a U.S. bill to designate violence against gays as a hate crime. Of course, that stance offended the holy crowd, which believes that beating up homos is god’s wet dream.

McCollum is not as popular with the goddies as he could be.

Along skips Campbell, eager to seize an opportunity. Perhaps he can out-god his opponent. In a recent campaign ad, Skippy tells viewers, “I spent six years in the seminary ... My faith and my family are what I hold most dear.” A picture of a little girl clutching a teddy bear is flashed on the screen—accompanied by the caption: “protecting children.”

In Campbell’s mind, apparently, the words “seminary” and “faith” are supposed to get the electorate shouting hosannas in the voting booth.

But unless you’re brain-dead, you’re well aware that the seminary is not exactly the place to look for child-protectors. Go to your favorite search engine and type in “priest” and “pedophile,” or “Catholic” and “sexual abuse,” and you’ll get enough hits to keep you reading until the second coming. How dare Campbell couple the terms “seminary” and “protecting children.”

And as far as his faith being what he holds most dear: That could have been said equally well by the men who flew the planes into the World Trade Center.

Now, I’m certaintly not accusing Campbell of being either a pedophile or a terrorist. But his words don’t prove that he isn’t.