Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Cultural or Religious?

Sally Greene has another post and comment (where do you find the time, Sally?) on the separation of church and state. A bible study course sponsored by a Greensboro, NC group is being presented to public schools as a cultural teaching. This is exactly the same rationale that I have recently received when pointing out the inappropriateness of public elementary schools inviting a Gospel Choir to perform at a school-sponsored event. While religion is cultural, it is also religious.

Most, if not all, Gospel Choirs have repertoires that are predominantly religious in nature and represent one particular religion. The foundation of Gospel Choirs is from religion. In contrast, the scope of religion in a Gospel Choir is not similar to religious references we find in many other parts of the curriculum. In particular, I do not remember "The Diary of Anne Frank" to be a religious work, as was suggested to me for comparison in the justifcation for the cultural nature of Gospel Choirs. My faint remembrance of the Diary as a non-religious work seems to also be the impression of at least one CliffNotes-like reviewer.

The holidays provide some welcome festivity to the household. It is important that Anne's family celebrates St. Nicholas Day--traditionally a pagan, and then Christian holiday. (Black Peter is the companion of Father Christmas, or Santa Claus.) The fact that they celebrate St. Nicholas Day--even more than Chanukah, at least for this year--shows how assimilated the Franks are into Gentile Dutch society. While this may explain why Anne seldom identifies with other Jews (beyond persecution, of course), it is this very element of her diary that troubles some Jewish critics. David B. Green notes that "being Jewish seems to have been largely tangential to Anne's sense of self, even as the tightening noose of the Nazi occupation reminded her daily that her fate was tethered to her Jewishness" and complains that if Anne had not suffered from "[a] lack of ethnicity," her diary might not have been the overwhelming classic that it is.

The First Amendment Center summarizes the current interpretation of the Establishment Clause thus:

Although the Court’s interpretation of the establishment clause is in flux, it is likely that for the foreseeable future a majority of the justices will continue to view government neutrality toward religion as the guiding principle. Neutrality means not favoring one religion over another, not favoring religion over non-religion and vice versa.

Neutrality might be including a variety of religious perspectives in a school sponsored event, but it does not include a single religious group.

Let us not forget why the founders included the Establishment Clause. "...the framers of the First Amendment recognized that when the roles of the government and religion are intertwined, the result too often has been bloodshed or oppression."
------- 4/30/05 End comment out old comments section -----> |

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