Friday, April 23, 2010

Stone on the Texas Education Controversy:

I missed this last month when he wrote it. A distinguished professor of law at University of Chicago, Stone is, like it or not, one of the most important law professors in the nation if not the world.

A taste:

... [A] coterie of Christian evangelicals ... are attempting to infiltrate our educational system in order to brainwash the youth of America. They are in Texas.

For reasons peculiar to the textbook industry and the Texas educational system, the Texas Board of Education has enormous influence on the content of textbooks used throughout the United States. Conservatives and Christian evangelicals have taken over the Texas Board of Education and they are right now in the process of rewriting the American history our children will learn.

Among the propositions the Texas Board of Education is attempting to impose upon the next generation of Americans is that the United States was founded as "a Christian nation." What follows from this, of course, is that our Constitution and laws must be understood through the prism of this perspective. Although evangelicals have been pushing this line for two centuries, it is simply, factually, and historically false. But the members of the Texas Board of Education, who are not themselves historians, nonetheless persist in this effort to propagandize the youth of America. This is dangerous. It must be contested.

Christianity played a central role in the promulgation of early colonial legal codes. The Bible was the rock and foundation of early colonial law, and the Puritans, in particular, injected a fierce religious fervor into their laws. In 1636, for example, only sixteen years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, they adopted the "judicials of Moses," which provided that any person "shall be put to death" who "shall have or worship any other God, but the Lord God." Similarly, the 1656 "Lawes of Government" of New Haven colony expressly declared that "the Supreme power of making Lawes belongs to God only" and that "Civill courts are the Ministers of God."

By the late seventeenth century, however, the strict religious foundations of colonial law had crumbled. With the influx of large numbers of immigrants from widely diverse religious, ethnic and social backgrounds, the old Puritan beliefs and institutions faded, and as the new Enlightenment ideals of personal liberty, the "pursuit of happiness," and the power of reason spread through the New World, traditional sources of authority were increasingly called into question.

With fresh energy and bold new ideas, eighteenth-century Americans sought to achieve a profound transformation in their society, their government, their politics, and their religion. The great American experiment was born in the full illumination of the Enlightenment. In an Enlightened Age, -- an age dedicated to reason rather than revelation -- even the authority of Christianity was open to challenge.

The Framers of the American system of government were often quite critical of what they saw as Christianity's excesses and superstitions. They fervently believed that people should be free to seek truth through the use of reason and they concluded that a secular state, establishing no religion but tolerating all, best served that end.

Unlike the later French Revolution, the American Revolution was not a revolution against Christianity itself. But as men of the Enlightenment, most of the Framers did not put much stock in traditional Christianity. As broad-minded intellectuals and skeptics, they viewed much of religious doctrine as divisive, dangerous and irrational, and they challenged, both publicly and privately, the dogmas of conventional Christianity.


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