Sunday, March 11, 2012

How Anti-American Conservatives Plan to Radicalize American Schools

How Anti-American Conservatives Plan to Radicalize American Schools

The Good News Club: The Stealth Assault on America’s Children by Katherine Stewart uncovers a right-wing conspiracy to infiltrate and destroy the nation’s public school system, using recent Supreme Court decisions as a lever. It’s a must-read for anyone who’s seen public school kids, perhaps their own, targeted for proselytizing by peers, teachers and adult volunteers. And for those who haven’t, it’s a wake-up call. 

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once wrote, “Religion is certainly a source of positive values, and we need as many positive values in the school as we can get.” It sounds benign. But what if the particular brand of religion is coercive, and in conflict with the teachings and values of the family of the students being targeted? It doesn’t matter. Because under the law as it stands now, evangelical churches have the right to gather, teach and proselytize in your neighborhood school.

Spiritual Warfare in Your Neighborhood

How did it come to this? If you haven’t personally observed today’s aggressive “spiritual warfare,” it may be difficult to imagine that young children are being taught that their school is a battlefield and they are the warriors who must save their classmates from themselves. With a remarkable amount of grace and restraint, Stewart describes the havoc in communities around the nation as initiatives to evangelize public school students have increased. The effect is always the same: the polarization that results when the Good News Club shows up inevitably disrupts the ability of parents and teachers to work cooperatively as a school community. And the resulting dissension and loss of trust in the schools, says Stewart, is exactly the result the right wing has in mind.

The religious right's big break was a 2001 Supreme Court case, The Good News Club v. Milford Central School, which unleashed a new wave of school evangelization. This decision essentially told schools they could not say no to church groups that wanted to use their facilities for after-school gatherings. Stewart describes “the new legal juggernaut of the Christian Right” —an army of legal advocacy groups, including the Alliance Defense Fund, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), Liberty Counsel, and others — that raise hundred of millions of dollars each year for the common goal of injecting stealth evangelism into public schools. They’ve spent the last 10 years figuring out how to use this decision as a wedge to maximize church control over school curricula, personnel and even the physical campus.

The spear point of this effort is the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), which was founded in 1937. For decades, CEF has run Good News Clubs — after-school Bible classes taught by church-trained mothers and pastors’ wives in suburban homes around the country. But the Supreme Court decision made it legal to bring these classes right into the schools; and the volunteers who teach them typically also volunteer as classroom aides, which gives them a mantle of school authority. To a primary-aged child, it looks as though this indoctrination is simply a part of the school curriculum.

Stewart cites CEF figures that claim to have set up Good News Clubs “in 3,410 schools -- up 728 percent since the 2001 Supreme Court decision.” The clubs are sponsored by local churches, which are encouraged to “Adopt a Public School” by CEF and others. And they are aiming to take the program to every public elementary school in the country over the next decade or so.

The court case is still celebrated on the CEF Web site with the words, “God has opened the doors of public schools to the Gospel! CEF is ready and eager to help churches enter the schools, fully equipped to share the Gospel and teach the Bible to school children and extend the biblical influence to families.”

Stewart explains how CEF has used this access to teach children to conduct “student-initiated” ideological warfare in school. Public schools are forced to distribute the club’s media and announcements to all students, and to allow tables with media at all kinds of school events. These tables are typically laden with balloons and sweets in order to draw kids in. The coercion extends from the playground to the classroom, so there’s nowhere non-evangelical kids can go to avoid classmates who are insisting — with support from adult aides — that they’re doomed to hell unless they join the club. According to Stewart, it’s hard to overstate the sense of confusion experienced by young Catholic, Mormon, mainstream Protestant, Jewish, and non-theist children when adult authority figures in their school promote a particular sectarian belief, often while actively denigrating and contradicting the worldview they’re being taught at home.

The 4/14 Window

CEF is just one of an array of organizations targeting children in an international evangelizing effort called the “4/14 Window," aimed at children from four to 14 years old. Stewart’s book points out that this infiltration is a well-orchestrated effort conducted by a “small number of influential actors.” With a few exceptions, noted by the author, the organizations involved teach a literal interpretation of the Bible, and “see their efforts in the schools as a part of a plan to bring the nation’s children back to its founding religion and thereby lay the basis for a Christian control of all the important parts of government and society.” 

The push to infiltrate social institutions is promoted by a theology called Dominionism, which originated in Christian Reconstructionism and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), but is now spreading rapidly across the right wing of the evangelical world. The NAR has simplified the theology into a campaign to gain Christian control over the "seven mountains" of American culture: family, business, media, education, religion, goverment, and the arts. The Good News Club is a leading initiative to achieve domination on the education front.

As a researcher and writer working to defend religious pluralism and secular democracy, I often stress the difference between those with conservative religious beliefs and those who are determined to force those beliefs on the state and everyone else. Stewart also makes the clear distinction between Christian conservatives, the Christian Right, and Christian Nationalists. “All conservatives who are also Christians are not members of the Christian Right,” she writes. “And many supporters of the Christian Right are not Christian Nationalist. However, to a degree that many social conservatives fail to appreciate, it is the Christian Nationalists who are driving the agenda in the public schools.” The people Stewart repeatedly encountered in her research often fell into the latter group, which is the most extreme and dangerous faction of the religious right.

Dominionists have no respect for the separation of church and state or the guarantee of religious freedom for everyone. They have one major objective, to force their very specific radical religious beliefs down the throat of every child in America.