Editorial: Emphasizing faith where it doesn’t belong

Religion, it seems, is back on the menu. If you doubted that, or were simply in denial over the blurring of that neon line between church and state, the 2004 Presidential Election should have provided excellent perspective.

According to an article by David Gibson, former religion reporter for the Star-Ledger, “… the 2004 election showed that … Americans want their leaders to be men of ‘strong religious beliefs,’ by a margin of 3-1.”

In theory, that seems a reasonable trait to look for in the man or woman who will be representing your interests for four to eight years. Much of the country does, after all, subscribe to some form of religious belief.

The issue lies in the fact that, ‘much of the country’ does not mean all of the country, and ‘some form of religious belief’ is a broader, more conflict-ridden scope than one might think. That is why, in the interest of objectivity, fair representation and democracy as a whole, the president has an obligation to keep prayer separate from policy. And, just for the record, morality and religion are not the same.

So, when President Bush ends a debate by saying he relies on his faith to make representative decisions for the country, not the moral standards shared by society, clearly he is on his way to taking a flying leap over that neon line.

Almost as tragic as our government’s attempts to dabble in “civil religion” are the efforts of public schools to force creationism into a science class.

In Atlanta, for example, the Cobb County school was brought to court on Monday over disclaimer stickers school officials had placed on science textbooks in 2002. The stickers read: “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered,” (cnn.com).

The school is being accused of unlawful promotion of religion, as the sticker was adopted in response to the demands of parents who felt “alternative theories, including creationism” should be taught alongside evolutionary theory in science classes.

Instead, more appropriately and in the same vein as the federal government’s separation of church and state, an independent venue should be provided. This would allow students not willing to accept any one theory, scientific or otherwise, an opportunity to explore the possibility of creationism as an explanation for existence.

This would also ensure that no aspect of religion would be forced upon students without religious convictions or who hold religious beliefs that do not subscribe to standard creationist theory.

But, with the federal government leading the charge to make religious conviction a permanent figure in the White House and, consequently, all that flows out of it, who is to say that this won’t be the court case that opens the door to the secularization of public school?

If a state college can offer classes on world religions there is no reason why a public high school can’t offer a class on creationism. Was this the case, it would be abhorrent to demand that every high school student take such a course if he or she did not choose to. In any event, creationism does not belong in a science class.

Similarly, it is acceptable to make the religious convictions of a presidential candidate part of your voting criteria. It is, after all, each individual’s vote to do with it what he or she pleases. It is, however, a travesty when a democratically elected president abandons objectivity for blatant overtures toward crossing the line and allowing church to influence state.