Monday, March 11, 2013

“Charter Schools” and Biblical Literalism: A Cautionary Tale

“If there is a God in Heaven it will do neither you nor your cause any good.”
                                                    Joseph Welch to Sen. Joe McCarthy, June 9th, 1954

As we contemplate the Republicans’ push for “charter schools” in the Montana Legislature, let’s not lose sight of what these folks really want for our kids. Not just for their kids, mind you, but for yours, too, paid for by you. Not them.

As all of us grown-ups (“progressives” in the modern vernacular) know by now, politicized evangelicals know no bounds. The world—including your kids—is their oyster, and with the help of their corporate enablers who are salivating over their chance to dine on our tax dollars that go to public education, they’re ready for dinner.

I wrote the following piece during the Darby Creationism Debacle in 2003-04. It’s somewhat dated, but still relevant, I think, so I’m sending it out there again.

For those who may not remember, Darby’s rogue school board, working with a few local preachers, invited the Discovery Institute[i] into our community in an attempt to blast biblical creationism into the school district’s curriculum. The Discovery Institute (D.I.) is a corporate/evangelical “think tank” that attempts to rebrand creationism as “Intelligent Design” or “Objective Origins” in order to gin an appearance of scientific disagreement of Evolutionary Theory and therefore circumvent the constitutional ban on the public teaching religious dogma. Of course no such scientific disagreement exists, any more than the thousands of bedrock discoveries and technologies based on that scientific discipline don’t exist. But never mind. Where money and faith intersect, “facts” spring eternal, and that’s what happened in Darby.

Two of the preachers in the Darby Debacle were Curtis Brickley and Harris Himes. Brickley openly told at least two Bitterroot superintendents that his intent was to topple Darby and then roll up the valley’s six other school districts one by one in D.I.’s faith-based corporate web. Harris Himes (Oh God if there is one!!) offered the legal services of a fundamentalist lawyer pool called the American Defense League[ii] to help the school fight the inevitable-and-huge legal battles these rogue trustees were inviting on the community.

And the inevitable-and-huge legal battles were what sunk Darby from the self-inflicted shot to the hull from which the entire Darby school district was sunk and has never really been resurrected. The problem is that the teaching of Creationism is unconstitutional. Everybody knows it is, even the Adherents. But as much as the Adherents tried to cover their mouths and cross their fingers when they opined that the earth was only 6,000 years old and in fact flat, the public record is replete with testimony from these conflicted folks that the very faith that led them down the evangelical road that linked them to such snake-oil salesmen dictated to them that they couldn’t deny their faith. And so the Adherents—and the Discovery Institute—played out a disingenuous performance of stellar proportions, in front of everybody, that proved--scientifically if you count human drama as a science---that their “science” was lifted right out of Genesis. It was painful and sad to watch, and the community ultimately rejected “Intelligent Design” as a legal strategy for getting God and Exxon back into the classrooms.

Curtiss Brickley left town soon thereafter to become a “fellow” at the Discovery Institute, following an apparent career path of Salary-Increase-Specialist. Harris Himes’ attempt at following a similar career path was stifled after he got caught attempting to bilk a fellow believer out of tens of thousands of dollars. This after Harris (oh that rascal!) threatened gay folks with Death by Leviticus in full view of everyone following the 2011 Montana Legislature. All I really can say to this (scientifically-replicatable) human drama is to repeat Joseph Welch question famously asked to that other famous witch hunter, Joe McCarthy. “Have you no sense of decency?”

The Discovery Institute moved on, too, and later that year convinced the Dover, PA school board to carry its water to court. That lawsuit, along with the school district, went down in expensive flames of glory in late 2005. It’s a good guess that, like Darby, it has not yet recovered its reputation as a reputable place of learning. But what’s that matter to True Believers who think your money is theirs by divine right?

Sense of decency? Sons of bitches. Here’s from my archives:

January 1st, 2004
I attended two recent public-comment meetings held by the Darby School Board concerning whether to approve Intelligent Design being taught in their science classes and I offer the following observations.
            How many times, when a controversial issue is before this community, have you seen those who hold the nominally unpopular view belittled and dismissed by reactionary elements slinging juvenile taunts at public meetings?
The Discovery Institute, an out-of-state, right-wing, 'think tank', was invited here by at least one member of the Darby School Board expressly for the purpose of wedging religious dogma into Darby's science curriculum. The website of the Discovery Institute is full of fundamentalist Christian rhetoric and absolutely vacant of any reference to peer-reviewed scientific literature supporting their claim that Intelligent Design has any standing within the scientific community. Yet, in the fine tradition of snake-oil salesmen with a hidden agenda they claim that ID has nothing to do with religion and that ID is an accepted scientific theory worthy of countering evolutionary theory. Of course that didn't stop many people who gave public comments from sticking soley to hard-line fundamentalist doctrine without ever touching on the stated issue of whether ID had any scientific standing, or whether Darby could lose its accredidation for teaching it. The simple unhidden fact was that there wasn't a person in the Darby gym both nights I was there, including members of the school board nor the preacher who 'presented' ID to that board, who had any doubt that Religion was the issue. It's bad enough to witness a board charged with respecting the public trust participating in such a dishonest debate, and considering that these dogmatic diatribes were aimed at a School Board who invited such comments, scary besides.
            But the worst part (as always for me) was the dismissive labels bandied around with the encouragement of Discovery Institute, and I think the disrespect and intolerance implied by such behavior is the real issue for our communities. 
I've been labeled many things over the years by people who don't know how to discuss their differences of opinion civilly, but the label offered up by the Discovery Institute to describe anyone who doesn't like religion being taught in public schools floored and entertained me at the same time. I'm not just a politically-correct secular humanist namby-pamby. I am now that most hateful of creatures (according to the Discovery Institute) gumming up the skids for the proper upbringing of God-fearing fundamentalists. I am now a Fringe Darwinist.
I've long told my friends on all sides of these issues that if you let it slide when it seems you're with the majority, the same reactionary elements will turn on you when your turn comes to be in opposition because you didn't defend the minority when you thought you weren't in it.
            So if you find yourself on the 'politically correct' side of this issue and you're not used to it, I would ask you to please recognize the common intolerant root from which these attacks always come from, and to heed the Discovery Institute's shot across our bow well. How's it feel to be summarily dismissed by those who feel they have the power to ignore you and yet don't have their facts straight?
            The Discovery Institute accepted the invitation to come here because they thought the Bitterroot was an easy target to advance their divisive agenda. Curtiss Brickley, the minister who picked Darby for the thin edge of the creationist wedge he’s marketing, openly said as much to several superintendents in the valley. We’re going to move up the valley one school at a time, he told them. Openly.
This should be scary to reasonable people concerned with issues rather than dogma, especially those who justifiably fear intrusive government. I've found that reasonable people of all political persuasions in Montana have much more in common than they have differences. So I'd ask any of you who usually feel you're in the majority to consider more actively defending the dignity of those holding the minority view as a general principle, so that when those reactionary sights turn on you--and they certainly will if you’re a reasonable person--you won't be such an easy target.

[ii] The ADL describes itself as "a servant organization that provides the resources that will keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel through the legal defense and advocacy of religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and traditional family values". No secret handshake there. 

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