Bessemer Opinions reports:
Today the Alabama House Education Policy Committee will take up HB482, the Christian heritage bill. This piece of legislation would designate the first scholastic week in November each year as Christian Heritage Week in public K-12 schools and would require daily instruction during that week on the influence of Christianity on the history and heritage of the United States. House Bill 482 singles out the influence that the Christian religion has had on our history and heritage.
That sounds innocuous enough. No one would deny that the Christian religion has influenced the development of our country, and any history class that neglected to incorporate things like the great awakening would be incomplete. But the bill looks to me like the goal is propogandizing Christianity, not encouraging serious academic study.
As Joe points out the whole thing is filled with misstatements, errors, and omissions. Most of the factual “findings” are dubious, at best. I’ll just point out two things that clearly demonstrate the bias of the bill.
First (emphasis added):
(7) The individual liberties and freedoms America has are based on Christian principles and freedom sought by founders who left the Old World to avoid religious persecution. Such Christian principles provide the basis for the freedom of religion that Americans enjoy without being required to subscribe to any particular religion or belief.
The religious freedom we enjoy today is most certainly NOT based on what the initial colonists brought with them to the new world. As Ed Brayton explains about the Massachusets colony, the folks who left the old world to escape religious persecution came here and immediately began . . . religious persecution:
The laws of this colony were set out in a document called the Body of Liberties, written by Nathaniel Ward in 1641. The first 93 laws are actually a list of rights and privileges, some of them drawn from the Magna Carta and similar to later guarantees in the US Constitution – due process, the right to appeal, etc. The section on Capital Laws begins with #94 and wastes no time in showing that what was established was not a free society but a brutal theocracy:
(Deut. 13. 6, 10. Deut. 17. 2, 6. Ex. 22.20) If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.
Contrast this with the first amendment guarantee of religious freedom. Or with the actual words of the founding fathers, which was strongly against such theocratic barbarism. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Notes on Virginia:
[O]ur rulers can have no authority over such natural rights, only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
And that’s hardly the only such law. Indeed, the first three laws prescribe death for religious offenses:
(Ex. 22. 18. Lev. 20. 27. Dut. 18. 10.) If any man or woeman be a witch, (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,) They shall be put to death.(Lev. 24. 15,16.)
If any person shall Blaspheme the name of god, the father, Sonne or Holie Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous or high handed blasphemie, or shall curse god in the like manner, he shall be put to death.
Nor was this hypothetical. 19 “witches” were indeed put to death there in the famous Salem trials, and lots of Quakers, Baptists and others were put to death or imprisoned for religious offenses – and that’s just for being the wrong brand of Christian, forget being Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or – God forbid – atheist.
It is either amazing ignorance or shocking dishonesty to say, as does this bill, that we owe our religious freedom to the Christian ideas of the early colonists and yet fail to mention the brutal theocracy established in many of those colonies. What we enjoy today is the exact opposite of what most of those early colonists practiced. No doubt men like Roger Williams and William Penn drew on their own Christian experience to establish truly free societies, but they were the exception, not the rule. Any fair treatment of the subject must admit the obvious: The early colonies were NOT havens of religious freedom.
Now the second example of misrepresentation:
(9) Many historical events are directly related to Christian principles. For example, when America suffered with the abomination of slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed in 1868 removing this blight on American history and a minister of the Gospel, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., brought to fruition the Fourteenth Amendment’s equality of man. Similarly, other historical events relating to the protection of our individual rights have been formed and result from the understanding of Christian principles expressed in the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible.
That is stunningly biased. Of course Christian faith motivated many abolitionists in the 19th century and many civil rights leaders in the 20th century. But Christian faith also motivated many slavery and segregation proponents.
Here’s what the Southern Baptist Convention said of itself when apologizing for it’s racist past:
WHEREAS, Our relationship to African-Americans has been hindered from the beginning by the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention; and
WHEREAS, Many of our Southern Baptist forbears defended the right to own slaves, and either participated in, supported, or acquiesced in the particularly inhumane nature of American slavery; and
WHEREAS, In later years Southern Baptists failed, in many cases, to support, and in some cases opposed, legitimate initiatives to secure the civil rights of African-Americans; and . . .
They weren’t an anomaly, either. Christian racism drove the laws of the day. Consider the ideas justifying things like anti-miscegenation laws:
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.
It is revisionism of the worst kind to say that Christian ideas led to equal rights for blacks but then fail to mention that Christian ideas also supported slavery and segregation.
In sum, regardless of how disputable the rest of the bill’s findings are, these two parts of the bill are so egregiously biased that any honest person must seriously doubt the motives behind the bill. If the goal was encouraging serious academic debate, I would wholeheartedly support it. But the goal appears to be propagandizing the Christian faith: The bill baldly asserts particular positive contributions while completely ignoring all the negatives.
Every honest legislator will oppose this bill.