Monday, April 16, 2007

Listen to the Mockingbird!

Remember boys and girls, when Katie took another shot at Muslim religious observance last week? Spot urges you read his post, but in summary, Katie was upset that Minneapolis Community and Technical College was considering adding some kind of facility for Muslim students who want to ritually bathe their feet before prayer to do so more easily. Spot said that Katie was upset because the religion that was being "established" was Islam, not Christianity.

Today, Katie expands on the theme with Ritual-washing area for Muslims at MCTC may be only the beginning. (The Muslims have been a godsend to Katie; they have permitted a conflation of racial and religious bigotry, a two-fer so to speak.)

Katie has learned about a stealthy and subversive organization called the Muslim Accommodation Task Force, an instrument of the Muslim Student Association, has plans to turn U.S. colleges into mosques! Foot baths! Food lines! Housing! Ed al Fitr! Where will it end?

How did Katie find out about this stealthy and subversive organization and it nefarious plans, Spotty?

Well, she read about it on the 'net. And the nerve of these people! They offer advice to Muslim student activists like this:

Activists should also frame their objectives in language that Americans embrace. "Most Americans identify with concepts such as 'justice,' 'self-determination,' 'human rights' and 'democracy,' "the guide explains. "These terms will be constructive when delivering your message, regardless of the issue."

For example, if you want to bring a speaker to campus to discuss the importance of hijab (Muslim women's headwear or covering), you will be "more effective" if you broaden the topic to "women's rights."

It seems quite ironic to Spot that Katie would complain about somebody else adopting the same flag-waving rhetoric that Katie's crew does.

The funny thing is, Spot agrees with much of what Katie says in her last two columns, but from an entirely different perspective. As is especially evident in Katie's last column, she isn't so much worried about the establishment of religion as she is in a grudge match between Christianity and Islam. Public support of religion is fine, so long as it's my religion.

Be careful what you wish for, Katie. Conservatives have been trying to break down the wall of separation of church and state by casting Establishment Clause situations in Free Exercise terms. The Muslim Accommodation Task Force is what you get when you do that. These two clauses of the First Amendment exist in a tension, a healthy tension, Spot says. When you try to say that failure to support religion in public institutions is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause, however, you are destroying the Establishment Clause.

One of Katie's fellow travelers, Captain Fishsticks, attended a meeting of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State back in February of 2006. Here's a little of what Sticks said about his participation in the meeting:

That strange historical scenario [19th century constitutional amendments that rose in several states to prevent the funding of sectarian schools] came up in response to a question about school vouchers, which Didier [a presenter at the meeting] opposed as government support for religion comparable to colonial taxation for support of ministers of state-sponsored religions. "That's my opinion," he said. "I don't know if anyone thinks differently."

There was about ten seconds or so of silence. It being clear that no one in the room did think differently, valor taking the better part of discretion, I said "Okay, I'll take that one."

Well, I can only say I am glad no one dropped dead from shock. Nonetheless, I made the argument that under voucher and tax credit systems, education funds (the state guaranteeing free education to all children) go to parents that decide whether to use them at private religious or secular schools and if a religious school, what type of religious school. Vouchers violate neither the establishment clause of the first amendment, nor the free exercise clause. They do not violate Blaine Amendments, in that those apply to direct state aid to specific "sectarian" schools. There is no breach of separation of church and state.

Didier's response was as puzzling to me as was the look on his face brought on by my argument. He asked me if my explanation meant that vouchers would be distributed universally. I replied that under the Hann/Buesgens bill in Minnesota [which did not make it out of committee last year], vouchers targeted only low-income students.

"Well," replied Didier, "Then it's a fairness issue. Unless vouchers are universal they are not fair."

Now that's a puzzling answer because it's not relevant to his main objection that state money would be funneled to religious schools. I didn't (and don't) see how sending more state money to more religious schools is philosophically different than sending some state money to some religious schools, but heck, I'd be all for it. I explained that universal vouchers would be great, but public schools objected to even a small implementation of vouchers, let alone universal vouchers, out of fear of too many students leaving failing public schools.

This is a good example of trying to turn an Establishment issue into a Free Exercise one. Here, Sticks argues that the state's obligation to provide K-12 education means that it should support all schools, including sectarian ones. If we support sectarian schools with tax money, what's a foot bath among friends?

Here's more from Sticks about the meeting:

Having already felt like I pissed on the carpet a little, I didn't question some of the later comments during the Q&A, but the "confirmation bias" was rampant. One woman asked if the influx of Muslims, "who don't believe in the separation of church and state," would contribute to breaking down the wall of separation. "It could" was the essence of a long answer, without considering that her premise is false. At one point, Southern Baptists were mentioned and a knowing "Hmmmmmm" went through the crowd indicating a general agreement as to what those people were like. [italics are Spot's]

The premise of her question, Spot presumes, is that there is a wall of separation between church and state in the U.S. Sticks is obviously a doubter on the subject. In fact, Sticks says that vouchers used to support sectarian schools do not violate the Establishment Clause, the Free Exercise Clause, or the Blaine amendment (the 19th century state constitutional initiatives Sticks mentioned).

Spot says that the woman with the question about Muslims telegraphed the issue at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College that now has Katie in such a dither. Conservatives are so eager to feed at the public trough for their religion that they fail to see the implications for other religions, too.

Spot will conclude by saying, boys and girls, that you shouldn't rely on the First Amendment advice Sticks gives above!

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