Thursday, December 06, 2007

I'm Going to be Controversial Now

Go read this article. It is about a Christian religious rally that took place yesterday during school hours.

I'm all for students being able to attend occassional religious events during school hours. I got out of school for a day in 9th grade for my Confirmation retreat. Pennsylvania, I know, had a law that allowed students to miss a day of school for religious holidays, religious instruction, etc., providing the parents signed a permission slip provided by the religious organization. I;m sure most states have similar laws in place.

Pennsylvania did not, however expect or allow public school districts to pay for the transportation. And I can't think of a single school or district that would make such an event a field trip for all of its students. They might allow it for a club or something, but not for an entire school, and not with using public funds for transportation.

I don't believe public funding should be used in any way, shape, or form to promote any kind of religious event. I'm not a strict separationist - I believe that it's OK for faith-based organizations that provide social services to receive some public funding, for example - but I don't think that public funds should be used to promote any one religion over another. And providing buses to take all the kids in the school to a "Christian" "field trip" is definitely promoting a particular religion by a public school.

Some would argue that giving the entire district off for Jewish holidays like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanna (and I apologize to any Jewish readers if I spelled either of those wrong) is doing the same thing. I disagree. In districts where there is a large Jewish population, it is a matter of practicality. In Pittsburgh, for example, there is a whole feeder system that is in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. On the High Holy Days, the schools in that neighborhood were mostly empty. Not to mention all the substitute teachers that had to be brought in to cover for teachers' personal days. It made sense to have those two observances off system-wide, just as it makes sense to have off on Christmas and Good Friday.

I guess that's a cultural adjustment I still haven't made to living in the South. Religion and public life are tied together more closely than they were up north (and Pittsburgh really is more of a northeastern city in that respect, than a midwestern one). And in Louisiana, I think it will become even moreso with the incoming administration - which is really the main reason I didn't vote for the new governor.

I believe that your faith (or pure philosophy if you are athiest or agnostic, I suppose) does and should inform every facet of your life. And I believe that politicians' platforms are naturally informed by their morals, which are informed by their faith or philosophy. That is how it should be, and what makes the freedoms afforded us in this country great. But for any government or any governmental entity (like a school district) to show any kind of preference or favortism is not on.

I'll step down off my soapbox now. Have a lovely evening.

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