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Why the Separation of Church and State is More Important Than Ever

Religious Holidays, School Holidays

A hot topic debate in society today concerns religious observance in our public schools. The Pledge of Allegiance is but one front that the battle is being fought on. The problem with the Pledge is that it is expressly religious, since the phrase “One Nation, Under God” was added to it. How can it be anything else, anyway? Some try to argue that it is all-encompassing, that “God” can mean whatever you want, be it The Christian God, or Allah, or Mother Earth. So according to this logic, you can say that the “God” in the pledge is whatever you want him or her to be. What is a God, if he or she or it is not religious? Is there such a thing as a secular God? Of course not. So it doesn’t matter which God you are pledging to, it still violates the separation of Church and State. I wonder what those who argue that the “God” could be anything would say if a child, whilst saying the pledge, said “One Nation, Under Satan” or One Nation, Under Bart Simpson?” Of course, they would be sent straight away to the Principals office. So the reasoning that says God can be anything is really just a mask for the far right evangelicals to keep their God in schools. Some argue for the Pledge like it was crucial to the Nation. Take the contested phrase out, and see if they even bother with it after that.

Another hot topic is in regard to the observance of religious holidays. The Hillsborough County School Board, which encompasses the city of Tampa, Florida recently voted to eliminate all religious holidays from the school calendar. A gutsy call, considering the political climate in Hillsborough County could hardly be called tolerant or forward thinking. The situation arose after a group of Islamic parents petitioned to have the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Fitr as a school holiday. They didn’t get the result they wanted. In lieu of granting the request, the Board voted 6-1 to end all school holidays for religious observance. They will continue to allow individual students excused days off for their respective holidays, which is a good policy. Holidays for Yom Kippur and Good Friday were halted. In another thinly veiled attempt to disguise a religious holiday, the dissenting voter in the 6-1 decision also said Good Friday was not a religious holiday. “Its now about the Easter Bunny…they have taken religion out of it completely” she said. Well, if that’s the case, then it doesn’t need to be a holiday for anyone. Let the banks and government offices stay open. We don’t need a holiday for a rabbit. But of course, the real agenda is to retain a religious holiday. Muslims in the county fear and may well get a backlash. Of course, they were within their rights to seek equal time for their holiday. The School Board made the correct decision.

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Another area of contention involves the display of the Ten Commandments in public areas, which ranges from courtrooms to classrooms. The same test should apply. If a document is religious, it has no place in school, except in a religious studies class. If we are not a Theocratic society, then it is mandatory that individual beliefs (or group beliefs) or kept out of the educational arena. The major area of concern that we should all be focusing on is the fact that many of those who call themselves the religious right do in fact want a Theocracy.

An update to this story. Prior to publication (on 8 November, 2005) the Hillsborough County School Board reversed its previous decision and reinstated Good Friday, the Monday after Easter, and Yom Kippur as school holidays. Interestingly enough, they still denied the request from Moslems for a holiday on Eid Al-Fitr. They caved to the rabid religious right, who flooded them with angry mail. First, congratulations to the two members who stood their ground. Second, shame on the rest of them. They let mob hysteria make their decision for them. One of the more ridiculous points made at the hearing was when a woman spoke of “consequences.” She said that if the ruling wasn’t reversed, Tampa would be in the path of hurricanes. I don’t know yet if schools in New Orleans or Biloxi observed religious holidays, but apparently failing to do so incurs the wrath of god. One more example of how the increasingly venomous evangelical movement needs to be stopped now.