Law, Race,Religion and Betsy DeVos

February 6, 2017 § 3 Comments

I have been trying to compose these ideas in my mind for several days.  My dilemma is to write carefully about religion and politics without attacking religion while expressing my sincere fears about the nomination of Betsy DeVos.  I am not a religious person but I respect the choices of others who find comfort and helpful guidance from their faith.  The narrow balance for me results from my hostility toward anyone or any government which considers his, her or its   particular religious belief to require enmity and forceful opposition to other religious beliefs, especially when that opposition  is translated into law.

I am aware of the often repeated retort to this distinction:  “I hate the sin but love the sinner.”  The history of this idea is long and bloody.  To an Evangelical Christian the fatal sin is the failure to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ and, for most members of that sect within the Christian church, the failure to believe in the literal infallibility of the Christian Bible.  This doctrine obviously envelops the corollary belief that adherents of other religions, who reject the tenets of Christianity entirely, are sinners.

In practice my observation and reading of history compels  me to regard that pleasant expression with profound suspicion.   The Inquisition’s proclaimed purpose was to identify and convert those who strayed from the Catholic Church’s teachings.  To the man on the rack it was of small consequence whether his inquisitor was loving him or hating his errant belief.  The Spaniards who “converted” the Indian population of Mexico by brutal punishment may well have believed they were trying to save the victims from eternal damnation but, again, the victims most certainly did not understand those benign motivations.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, the eleven million citizens of America who are either Muslims, Hindus or Jews should not be compelled to contribute their tax contributions to support religious instruction and political support of religious ideas at odds with their own.  When that occurs, democracy becomes a tyranny of the majority and America becomes, thus, not a democratic republic but a theocracy.  No adherent of one religious faith should be required to contribute money to support other sects or religions.

It is also important for our public schools be conducted in ways and in a manner welcoming children of all faiths or of no faith.  No Muslim, Jewish,  Hindu or atheist child should be educated in a classroom where his or her ideas about religion are treated disparagingly or condemned as sinful,  contrary to God’s will or destined for eternal punishment.

My Problem With Billionaire Bess

I believe Betsy DeVos is  more seriously perilous  for our country than any other Trump nominee.  She threatens our most valuable resource:  the minds of our children.  Unless one more Republican decides the future of America is more important than party loyalty, Betsy DeVos will realize her lifelong dream:  To covert the education of our children from a secular system designed to teach our children to learn how to think and relish the thrill of exploring new ideas and skills to a system designed to enclose our children’s minds within the framework of Christianity.  And not just any flavor of Christianity; the kind of Christianity that regards  any intellectual framework other than its own as logically flawed whose adherents are doomed to eternal damnation unless they repent and embrace its doctrinal imperatives.

Here is my bill of particulars;

1.  Betsy DeVos has never attended a public school  After graduating from a private school she obtained a Bachelors Degree in business from Calvin College in Grand Rapids Michigan.  Here is a statement from its web site;  “. . . Calvin’s excellent Christian faculty walk alongside you to ensure that you find God’s path for you in the world.”  Calvin boasts of a “252 full time Christian faculty”.  One of them, an English Professor, described education at Calvin as follows:  “At Calvin, faith and learning work together constantly . . . .”

2.Betsy DeVos is a strong advocate for private school vouchers for parents who chose to send their children to private schools.

3. Private so-called  charter schools compete with public schools for federal and state funding for public schools.  There is a long history of litigation and Supreme Court decisions concerning the persistent effort of religious sects to impose requirements for religious instruction in public schools and charter schools.  So far, the Court has thwarted that effort but it continues.  There is no doubt Betsy DeVos would be a vigorous advocate  for injecting religion into public schools and public funding for religiously oriented charter schools.

4. President Donald Trump, Ms. DeVos’ sponsor, has proposed the repeal of the “Johnson Amendment”, a law drafted and successfully submitted for enactment by President Lyndon Johnson.  It prohibits nonprofit tax exempt organizations from supporting or opposing political candidates.  Ms. DeVos is an enthusiastic backer of the proposed repeal.

5.  The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”  As stated, this prohibition has been the basis for several Supreme Court decisions preventing religious involvement with public education.

The origin of this part of our Bill of Rights was the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, proposed by Thomas Jefferson in the Virginia Assembly in 1779, ten years before the adoption of our Constitution in 1789.  The Assembly adopted the Virginia Statute in 1786.  Here is a link to Jefferson’s proposal and a description of its adoption:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Statute_for_Religious_Freedom.  It is an eloquent argument for preventing exactly what is now being proposed by President Trump and supported by his nominee to head our Department of Education.

 Secular Public Schools Are Vital For America’s Future

From its origin, the most damaging and shameful thread in the fabric of America is racism.  The founders, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others were slave owners.  The Constitution of 1789 included a provision treating negroes as 3/5ths of a white person.  Jefferson’s stirring rhetoric in the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal”  represented an aspiration requiring decades of slavery, a Civil War, bloody political struggles in the streets, lynchings continuing for two and one half centuries, several Supreme Court battles, several Congressional battles – and still remains an aspiration not a realization.

It is now apparent that, while the white man’s behavior can be constrained by laws, his mind and heart will require more decades and generations to become a reality.  I believe public education is the necessary remedy for the horrors of racism.  Children are not born with hatred based on appearance.  It has to be taught.  The most impressionable period of a person’s life is between birth and age twenty.  The most intense period of time is from birth to age six or seven.  During those periods of time, the sources of influence shaping the  child’s intellect are parents (not necessarily genetic parents, but those in loco parentis) and schools.

Children in kindergarten do not react with racism toward their classmates.  So it is important for the future of our country that the population in those classrooms are reflective of American population.  That means we must continue to work to integrate public schools; to insure those incubators of future American adults are free of separations based on race.  Privatizing schools is inimical to that objective.  It enables parents to “protect” and separate their children from the children of other races and religions.

If secular public schools are protected, adequately financed and designed to have student populations reflective of America’s racial and cultural diversity, the final solution to racism in America will eventually come about because, after puberty,  boys and girls will begin to select mates without regard to race and the problem will gradually disappear.

I do not believe we can or should wait patiently for all this to happen.  Far from it.  We should do everything we can to hasten the end to this plague.  I just don’t expect it will cease to be a concern until racism becomes too complicated to be practiced.

I regard Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos as stumbling blocks in the way of this process and, therefore I believe it is immoral for the Senate of the United States of America to consent to her appointment.

Post Script

This is not required reading.  I’m just including it because I found it interesting.

While researching the basis for some of this essay I encountered an essay by a PhD college professor from (of all places!) The University of California.  Robert A. Harris has written a series of essays he calls Virtual Salt.  One of them is an intellectual disagreement with just about all I’ve written here.  Here is a link.http://www.virtualsalt.com/int/intdef.pdf

Here is his conclusion:

“The integration of faith and learning is such an important topic largely because too little of it seems to occur. The bias in the academy and in the larger culture against Christian truth and Biblical authority has had the effect of disconnecting Christian knowledge from other knowledge, even in the minds of some Christians. For that reason, integration must be undertaken with deliberateness. Christians must be intentional about making the con- nections between their faith and the knowledge claims they encounter and careful to keep the Biblical framework in the foreground as the structuring principle of truth.”  I include it here to alert my readers that the risk of religious bigotry is real and has powerful advocates.  I don’t know how widely Professor Harris’s ideas are distributed but I am sure he has many supporters.

He and I are from different planets but he’s a smart guy and he wraps his argument  in an impressive academic package.  His essay is a good example of a man who  lures you in to agreeing with his first premise  and then tells  you ,”. . .  now that you’ve agreed with that, let me tell you what else you’ve agreed with.”

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§ 3 Responses to Law, Race,Religion and Betsy DeVos

  • Bob Hall says:

    #Milton Thank you for forwarding my effort to oppose Betsy DeVos’s selection as the head of the Department of Education. I hope one more Republican will respond to his or her conscience and reject her. I have spent a lot of my life trying to give effect to Brown v. Board of Education. It saddens me to see public education savaged by bigots.

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  • Van says:

    Mr. Hall, I appreciate your thoughtful, non-vitriolic opposition to Ms DeVos, but I think you are missing the point she might make and even what Dr. Harris might make, although you dance around it. To a thoughtful Christian believer whose version of Christianity tends toward the conservative and historic Christianity, epistemology is inherently religious and there is no real seculum. (btw, there is a somewhat progressive and yet retrograde social/theological movement afoot that teaches the idea of the secular as a human fantasy. It is mostly a British movement, but they are no dunderheads. It is called Radical Orthodoxy – read Theology and Social Theory by John Millbank for more info – be prepared to be stretched mentally) This is what perplexes these Christians. There was a day when the prevailing worldview of the USA was implicitly Christian, or at least very friendly with it. In those days, public education was not a threat. When my parents went to school (I’m 50), they were taught ethics that were largely in agreement with what their church taught. Epistemology had already been compromised in public schools, but parents really didn’t mind because the ethics were still there. Only a handful of really conservative Christians despised the influence of public education based upon the annual high school prom in which dancing was allowed, and the classroom in which evolution was taught – but I digress. It is a Christian’s belief that how you know something and what you think is right and wrong are religiously based domains. Read a Bible. It’s right there.To many of these believers, the public school has transgressed these domains by setting up supposedly irreligious epistemologies which Christians take to be anti-religious. On top of this, the public school deigns to teach ethics that are foreign to Christian religion. They feel as if they are paying their taxes for some foreign religion that is not their own, and they are forced to subject their children to this secular heresy. So, that argument about tax payer money sort of cuts both ways. To put it succinctly, your assertion that public schools are somehow a religion free zone and that to force Muslim’s, Hindus, and Jews to pay for some child’s Christian education somehow violates their religious freedom is preposterous because the public school has its own religion. Come on, the Enlightenment and Modernity are over! If you want to cling to those bygone eras, you could still argue equal protection under the law by saying that each region pays for each other religion’s children’s education with a voucher system. But, under the current system, each religion pays for a completely and singularly different religion. A Muslim paying for a Christian religious education is no different than that same Muslim paying for an education in the official secular state religion.Talk to a devout Muslim who understands public educational philosophy. One thing I take umbrage with is your notion that this is some sort of religious bigotry. I think you conflate racism with religion as you also seem to believe that public education is a panacea for the problem of racism. On that note, I will relate my own experience in both public schools and Christian schools. Racism was much more palpable in public schools. Say what you want about the hidden face of racism because of the lack of admission by whites to the charge of white privilege; public school racism, in my experience, was exponentially higher than that found in Christian schools (the neighboring public high school had regular race riots in the 70’s and 80’s). Oh, I graduated from a Christian school that was fairly integrated for a private school with 25-35% of the student population being composed of minorities. It helped that the school was just outside Chester, PA. Let’s not forget that the phrase, “all men are created equal,” is a religiously endowed statement. So, I really doubt a secular education system can really promote that concept forcefully. In these days, bigotry seems to identify any idea taken seriously by someone else other than me with which I disagree. Your use of that term, despite your cool dealing with the issues earlier really identifies your own prejudice. Your use of the term ‘bigot’ in your comment further identifies your opinion. I would affirm for you that yours is a valid prejudice. But if I allow you to hold your prejudice, you must let me hold mine. Or, to put it indelicately: if I’m a bigot, so are you. I do not say that to be mean or rude or even demeaning. I’ll accept the accolade so long as you admit your own susceptibility to its application to you. It is becoming my personal opinion that this wonderful separation of church and state thing is at it’s end in America – not because of Betsy DeVos, but because of the overarching infusion of secular societal norms from the state by means of public education and other entities of public society. For Christians like me, the only hope is that the state will allow us to carve out a little societal niche like the Amish, but I sincerely doubt Leviathan’s totalitarian grasp will allow that sanctuary to last long (Perhaps Putin will allow us a small colony in Siberia. I jest). The left fears a theocracy. They fear every theocracy except where humanity is declared defacto god. I’m afraid our 241 year experiment is unraveling, but the seeds of its destruction were in its founding. A group of ardent believers and progressive humanists founded this nation, and the two are now at odds. But all this makes me wonder, if secularists like yourself feel so threatened by school vouchers that allow children to learn in an environment complicit with their parents’ faith, why are they also pressing for sharia law? Do you folks really hate us so much that the enemy of your enemy is your friend? Sorry for the lack of paragraphs. I was not able to cut and paste from another application. I have much respect for your post; it is a reasonable alternative to HuffPo. The only shortcoming I see is that your essay is highly perspectival – which is fine – so long as you admit it. My apologies for any typos or grammatical errors in advance.

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  • Bob Hall says:

    I read and re-read both your comment and my blog post. Your complaint is based on a simple but profound misunderstanding of some English words. For example I did not use the word “bigot” to describe any religion. My objection is solely aimed at laws promoting particular religious beliefs by forcing parents to pay for the indoctrination of their children according to religious ideas with which they do not agree and in which they do not believe. In order to dispute this reasonable and tolerant idea, you were forced to redefine “secular” as a religious doctrine, the exact opposite of its plain meaning. “Secular” means “denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.” Your argument does not stop there. Not content with espousing forced religious indoctrination, you proceed to insist on epistemology encased within the doctrines of Christianity. I remind you that if epistemology had been shackled by religious doctrines based on the Bible, we would have not only rejected the teachings of Darwin, but also the insights of Galileo who, despite the threats of Christian theologians, taught us that the Sun does not orbit the Earth. The useful sciences of astronomy and mathematics came to us significantly enhanced by Arabic thinkers who were not Christians. Finally, I object to your absolutely false and vicious canard claiming that “secularists” have proposed the intrusion of Sharia law into the American legal system. There is no evidence to support that accusation although there are hysterical sources of that calumny available in the internet and the cloud for the gullible. The United States of America is undoubtedly the most unlikely place of this planet to ever embrace Sharia Law. We survived our witch burnings at the hands of enthusiastic Christians. We are not likely to embrace that same kind of nonsense peddled by a Muslim sect.

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