In a recent column for USA Today, Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero argues that public schools should do away with giving students’ days off for religious holidays because honoring Christian holidays in this manner is unfair to other religions.
“As I read the First Amendment,” writes Prothero, “using taxpayer dollars to prop up Christianity and Judaism at the expense of Hinduism is unconstitutional, whether the number of parents who won’t send their children to school on [the Hindu festival of] Diwali totals 80 or 800.”
Prothero suggests that those who agree with him should clamor to have every religious holiday under the sun celebrated in our public schools, in which schools would thereby be overwhelmed and forced to honor none of them as a matter of “fairness.”
One would hope that USA Today, which presented this article as a half-page, quasi editorial would let someone write a similarly placed piece reminding us of the need for renewing our moral values at Christmas, and to add their shock when Christmas parades, holidays and greetings come under fire from militant secularists.
Nevertheless, it is always amusing when folks, typically college professors, drape themselves in the Constitution when they want to do away with something they don’t like, and in the process, ignore the rest of the Constitution that, were it adhered to, would have prevented the very “problem” they’d like to solve.
Nowhere in our Constitution is there a mandate for a centralized public education system to begin with – a system where the Federal Government spends $70 billion per year dictating which attitudes, values and beliefs ought to be drilled into every American students’ mind. Perhaps our Founders realized that a one-size-fits-all approach to education, whereby the ruling class was the final arbiter, was dangerous to all of our liberties and not just those laid out in the First Amendment.
Nor did our Founders establish a school system whereby American families are taxed into oblivion and essentially forced to enroll their children in government schools – schools they must pay for regardless of whether they use them or not, and regardless of whether they even have children or not. Schools, incidentally, where students are told to check their religion at the door under some bizarre interpretation of the First Amendment.
Constitution aside, Prothero’s suggestion that we should do away with school-sanctioned religious holidays is hardly a solution. It’s a false notion that we can respect everyone by respecting no one, as he suggests. Telling the 76 percent of Americans who are Christian that observance of their holy days must be scrapped in deference to the 0.4 percent of Americans who are Hindu might seem fair within the confines of the Boston University Religious Department. However, in the real world, this doesn’t hold up to anyone’s idea of fairness.
Those who wish to make a point by invoking the Constitution need to understand that they can’t pick and choose from the document like it’s a cafeteria line. The Constitution is only as strong, and as rational, as the sum of its parts. So while it’s true that our Founders never intended a government mandated religion, it’s equally true that they never intended a coerced government education system in which all children are prohibited from practicing or exhibiting any religious beliefs.