Friday, August 3, 2012

Pushing Religion in Public Schools: the hidden payoffs

Despite the First Amendment, powerful sectarian lobbies in Washington continue to push for teaching creationism and intelligent design in public school science classes. They also insist on the restoration of classroom devotions, prayer in school, the teaching of "Christian nation" propaganda in history classes, book bannings and school vouchers.

What's behind these combative initiatives? Clearly, these true believers want all of these things, and more. But that's not the end of the story. The clever among them also are in pursuit of the hidden payoffs that result just from conducting these fights.

What are these payoffs? Well, for one thing conflicts of this nature heighten the sense of "us" versus "them," sharpening both internal and external boundaries. Half-hearted commitment is no longer acceptable. The cause is rendered in sharp blacks and whites. One is either on God's side or in league with the powers and principalities of darkness.

Public school versus old-time religion conflicts also revitalize the protesting group's traditions, norms and values. Moreover, they heighten the value of group membership. Is "old time religion" losing its appeal? Create a stink by demanding that teachers grant equal time to intelligent design. Are old-time religious traditions losing their vitality? Get into a fight over preserving the high school football team's pre-game prayer. Are church members sleeping in on Sunday morning? Start a fight with the school board about those Harry Potter books in the library — they encourage children to consort with demons, you know.

Local fights such as these also have other payoffs. They inform movement leaders if bigger fights, statewide ones for instance, might be winnable. Plus they provide very useful intelligence about the reliability of individual group members and the power of possible internal challengers. When the Reverend notices that Brother Brown is suspiciously unenthusiastic about demanding equal time for creation science and seems to be developing a following, for instance, it alerts the Reverend that Brown must be "dealt with."

Ten there is the most vital payoff to be gleaned from vs Godless public school fights: the collection plate gets fuller. When the "Reverend," or some other quasi-religous right wing rabble rouser, can make followers fearful for the souls of their children, they can be relied upon to open their wallets wider.

In sum, there is a lot more to fights about allegedly devilish library books, creation "science," classroom devotions and the like, than meets the eye. When the Religious Right launches another of their many anti-public school offensives the objective is not just to impose their faith on other people. The more clever among them also anticipate all the payoffs that will be born of the conflic,t whether or not God's own actually win the day.
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