Saturday, March 29, 2008

Well, It's OK in OK

A bill has been proposed in the OK legislature that tries to legislate religious "free speech". I'm all for free speech, I think all of us are, but this particular piece of legislation could be stepping a wee bit too far :
The bill requires public schools to guarantee students the right to express their religious viewpoints in a public forum, in class, in homework and in other ways without being penalized. If a student’s religious beliefs were in conflict with scientific theory, and the student chose to express those beliefs rather than explain the theory in response to an exam question, the student’s incorrect response would be deemed satisfactory, according to this bill. [op-ed in the Edmond Sun]
Now, I'm not entirely sure that the bill is designed for this purpose, but could easily be interpreted in this way (and given the specifically vague language, it is obvious that the writers are hoping for an equally vague enforcement. I actually support the idea that students should not be penalized for expressing their religious beliefs. School groups and organizations should not be banned from campus just because they are religious in nature. They shouldn't be given any special status, but they shouldn't be penalized either.

Expressing your faith, and having an open and honest discussion of it is fine. Up until the part where they could spout religious doctrine instead of reality. Chemistry, biology, physics, geology, and the hard sciences just don't have any relevance for religious faith. They deal in observable, empirical evidence. An answer that doesn't conform to this evidence is not valid. Period.
House Bill 2211 declares that students may "express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments" without being penalized or rewarded as long as their viewpoint is on the otherwise permissible topic. Under the bill, the otherwise permissible topic is always decided by the school.
The text of the bill can be read here. Not only can it be construed to apply for test questions as noted, but it also is very clear that schools can pick and choose which religions they allow to have free speech and an open forum, and favor certain religious ideas in that forum.

This doesn't seem like a good idea for anyone, least of all the students in OK. The "religious views are just as valid as science views" idea is going to sabotage the chances of OK students to attend university outside out their own state, or seriously damage the job opportunities for those people who graduate with this sort of nonsense in place.

The danger? Well, who defines which religions are acceptable? They don't agree on everything, so whose answer is allowed? Whose opinion is going to get the support of faculty for the valedictorian speech?

Another blogger posted the following as a hypothetical answer to just about anything:
I am a last-Thursdayist.

When was America discovered? It was never discovered, because the world was created last thrusday, and it was already discovered. it was created in a state of discoveredness.

What is 1+1? According to Last Thursdayism, mathematics cannot be counted upon as being reliable, because date calculations do not give accurate results. Until it is determined if this is due to a problem with the concept of mathematics in general or just date calculations, no part of mathematics can be viewed as accurate, leading us to the conclusion that the answer may be any number.
Would this be acceptable? It's just as logical and rational as many other religious expressions. Would this be considered a valid answer to anything? Sure, the Thursdayist blogger could stand out in the quad and talk about his beliefs, could form a new student group for Thursdayism and hold meetings in the library -- but how well is this sort of thing going to be tolerated in the history classroom or the mathematics class when he stands up to dispute the dates for Columbus or the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Under what criteria are the school administrators going to decide what is and what is not ok to express? And if they disallow Last Thursdayism or FSM-ism, or Satanism or any of the other non-standard is that ensuring free speech for religious beliefsPublish Post?

It's only free speech for approved religious beliefs. Which means that the intent is not free speech at all.

Try again.

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