Consider this a follow-up to yesterday’s post on churches endorsing political candidates. I haven’t changed my mind about the folly of churches doing that, but there’s a story from National Public Radio today that nicely illustrates why the prohibition should be repealed, given that left-wing bullies love to use it as a threat against churches otherwise exercising freedom of religion and free speech:
Call it vacation Bible school, Glenn Beck-style.
Some three dozen kids ages 10 to 15 are spending five nights this week learning what organizers — some with tea party ties — say they won’t hear in school about the Constitution, the Founding Fathers and the role of faith in the birth of the United States.
“If we’re going to take our country back, we’ve got to remember where we came from — not only as adults, but we need to teach our children,” said Tim Fairfield, one of the teachers, who wore a three-cornered hat at the opening class of Vacation Liberty School. It’s held in a church basement in Georgetown, a city just north of Lexington that is the site of a major Toyota assembly plant.
The curriculum includes lessons like “equal rights, not equal results,” “recognize men don’t create rights — only God,” and “understanding falsehoods of separation of church and state.”
It’s is an offshoot of the 9/12 Project, inspired by Beck, the conservative commentator, who had no direct role in the planning of the Kentucky school. Beck declined comment.
Eric Wilson, head of the Kentucky 9/12 Project, acknowledges he and many others behind the school are strong supporters of the conservative tea party movement, which claims Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul as one of its highest-profile members. But he says the curriculum was carefully planned to make sure politics didn’t creep in.
“We may be playing in the same sandbox,” Wilson said. “But in the 9/12 Project, we’re going to tell you where the sand came from while the tea party is telling you what sand to buy.”
I don’t have a much use for Glenn Beck, and stuff like this drives the historian in me up a wall (though so does what passes for American history in the public schools). I don’t think it has a place in the church, especially when so many young people are biblically and theologically illiterate. You want to have a conservative civics class, fine. You can even use the church basement, just leave the church itself out of it, and don’t mimic the church’s programs.
But the self-appointed guardians of liberal orthodoxy statist education received historical wisdom church-state separation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, can’t stand the idea that someone, somewhere, might have a different take. So what does AU do? They threaten, of course:
Joe Conn, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, isn’t so sure. A news release announcing the school referenced the tea party, leading him to believe that if Vacation Liberty School isn’t crossing the line into politics, it’s coming close.
“All Americans want kids to learn about the government and political system,” he said. “It’s something quite different when kids are being indoctrinated in church in one political tradition. That’s quite different from learning objectively and academically about civics.”
He cautions Gano Baptist could risk losing its tax-exempt status if explicit political lessons are being taught in a church setting.
That, as Colonel Potter used to say, is buffalo bagels. The one thing churches are prohibited from doing is endorsing candidates. They can do any kind of “explicit political lessons” they please, as countless mainline churches do all the time. The difference is that the political liberals at AU agree with what is taught about immigration reform, nuclear disarmament, environmentalism, health care reform, economics, and a host of other political issues in the mainline churches, whereas they don’t like what the 9/12 people are teaching. So faced with something happening in a church that they don’t like, AU defaults to its standard position, which is that the state should use its power to destroy through taxation to eliminate the purveyors of heresy.
It’s the prohibition on endorsement of candidates that provides the stick with which AU, the ACLU, and others beat on those whose opinions they don’t approve of (even if nothing ever comes of it, it can be costly for churches to defend themselves against an IRS investigation). If for no other reason that to deny bullies a stick, the prohibition should be repealed.