Ryan Walters dismisses the separation of church and state
Earlier this month, Ryan Walters, Oklahoma State Director of Public Instruction, went to Washington to advance his school agenda at the "Pray, Vote, Stand" Summit. This summit is a political event organized under the aegis of the Family Research Council. That fundamentalist Christian political organization promotes "Pray, Vote, Stand" as "a national gathering of spiritually active, governance engaged conservatives."
At this conservative Christian love-in, Walter expressed his position on the First Amendment. He is not a fan — at least of the part that says Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. He also dismissed Jefferson’s clear sentiment about the division of church and state that the Supreme Court referenced in McCollum v. Board of Education, (1948) when it wrote that, "in the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state.'"
Walters stated his view that,
“The Supreme Court has been wrong. There is no separation of church and state in the constitution or declaration of independence, it doesn't exist.”
Walters is on a crusade. He wants prayer back in public schools. And with today’s SCOTUS, he may have a shot at it.
Why Big Religion is like Big Tobacco
Big Religion, like Big Tobacco, knows the importance of hooking children on their product. Fully 90% of current smokers started before turning 18 — the average age for first trying cigarettes is 13. Similarly, most religious adherents started young — almost invariably because their parents introduced them to it. And few people convert from non-belief to faith as adults.
Religion, unlike science, is demographically clustered. Residents of the Bible Belt who are committed Southern Baptists would likely be as devoted to Islam if they had been born to Muslim parents in Indonesia. The “truth” of religion is in the eye of the believer. No objective measure allows one religion to be considered the “correct one.”
Moreover, if some event erased humankind’s scientific and religious memory, both would eventually reappear. However, the new science would be the same as the old one — physical laws of the universe exist as they are, regardless of any opinion. Whereas, God only knows what form the various religions would take.
Walters wants prayer back in schools
But objective truth is not a concern for Walters. He firmly believes that his religion — fundamentalist Christianity, iced with Christian Nationalism — should be forced on kids when they are most impressionable.
To give you a flavor of the man, consider Walters’ view of his academic mission
“As a public school teacher, I’ve seen the propaganda Democrats want in our schools. It’s sick. As state superintendent, I’ll crack down on their anti-American curriculum.”
Unsurprisingly, Walters’ plan to fight the imaginary Democratic propaganda involves him ramming his religious (and political) propaganda on innocent Oklahoma school children.
Today he tweeted
“We will bring God and prayer back in schools in Oklahoma, and fight back against the radical myth of separation of church and state.”
It is not the only path of indoctrination he is taking. Walters has been a vocal advocate of establishing the nation’s first taxpayer-supported religious charter school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School.
Civil rights groups will challenge the constitutionality of taxpayer-funded religious inculcation. It will go to the Supreme Court. And those sectarians may well bless this despicable theological hijack of education. It is one thing for parents to direct their children to the altar. It is another to get strangers to pay for it.
Organized prayer belongs in a faith community
If a group of people under the auspices of a religion want to periodically go to a building, or up a mountain, into a forest, or on a beach to pray, more power to them. But taxpayer-funded education should not be freighted with arbitrary belief.
Ironically, fundamentalist Christians largely agree with that (even though they would never admit it). I guarantee that if the Supreme Court opens the door for religion in schools, the Satanic Temple, the Pastafarians, or some other group (and who is to say they are not religions) will demand equal time and space. And in short order, we will discover that Walters and his fellow travelers are not interested inreligious freedom as much as they are in Christian supremacy.
Afterword: Be careful what you wish for
I went to Anglican schools in the UK — where the monarch is the head of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith. There were two chapels at my high school. And the rules required I went at least twice a week. I sang in the choir wearing a red cassock and white surplice. I was even a crucifer (cross-carrier) for the procession and recession. Divinity (bible studies) was a required course.
By 16, I was an atheist.
Note to readers: I have no issue with individual religious beliefs. People who find value in religion have found something that makes them happy — something we should all be. Even though non-religious, I was married in my mother’s church (mainline Presbyterian) — and had my children christened — because it made my religious mother happy.
I also told them they were free to believe or not — it had nothing to do with me. Although I answered their questions. Once, one of them asked me to take them to church, so I did. We have not been back (their choice). And another, who is also an atheist (at least claims to be) goes to my mother’s church once a month or so, because she enjoys the crowd.
But I detest people in positions of authority claiming the right to expose children to their superstition to enable their political power grab.