Saturday, February 12, 2005

Commandment 1(a) - Alabama style

You will say the pledge, dammit!

After realizing that Alabama state law only provided that students be afforded the opportunity to say the pledge when other schools across the country mandate it, AL State Senator Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) proposed a bill to require that each day begin in Alabama public schools with students and teachers reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The bill passed on a voice vote without any audible dissent. Not to be outdone, Sen. Curt Lee (R-Jasper) also submitted a bill to require each public school in Alabama to display framed or mounted copies of the Ten Commandments, Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. In all fairness, Sen. Byrne's bill does have an opt out policy for teachers and students who object or are citizens of another country (and you know elementary school children feel empowered to do just that without fear of retribution from less than understanding class-mates), but I have to point out the irony of the new law and requirements of Sen. Jasper's bill:

  • Jehovah's witnesses cannot recite the Pledge because it is against their religion. The religious proscription is based on the pesky little commandment that goes something like this:"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;"
  • The First Amendment of the US Constitution expressly stipulates that no law be passed "respecting establishment of religion"
Contrary to popular belief, the 10 Commandments are religious doctrine. Don't get me wrong, there's some damn good advice in them that everyone would be wise to follow regardless of their belief in G-d (or not), but the first commandment is to believe in G-d. Surely, I am not the only one to see the disconnect here.

I agree that the Decalogue is perfectly appropriate in Sunday school, Church, even your own home (though I do think that when present the 10 commandments to children, it should be converted to child friendly text; how do you explain adultery to a 7 year old?). In a public school setting, however, it's inappropriate because it advances theistic ideology. More specifically, it advances monotheism and doing so in public school implies endorsement to a captive audience of children. You can't just say to these kids, "oh honey you're Hindu or Buddhist or atheist so just don't think about that on the wall" it does affect children and sets them up for unecessary judgment that can interfere with the expressed purpose of public school - to educate our children.

It is the responsibility of the parents (and religious institutions) to teach values to children. Murder is not wrong and illegal because G-d said so, G-d say it's wrong because it is inherently wrong. You do not have to believe in G-d to be moral (and we all know people who purport to believe in G-d and/or religion who are not exactly moral beings). Regardless of your personal views, to imply otherwise, is counter-productive (and is one of the reasons some react so negatively to religion). If you want to post 10 commandments in schools, adapt them to fit the purpose of the public school system. So, without further ado, I present my:

Ten Commandments of Modern Elementary Education
  1. Treat the teachers with respect and pay attention in class
  2. Be respectful of your classmates, they have feelings just like you
  3. Do not swear; only use appropriate language on school grounds
  4. Do your homework and come to class prepared
  5. Let your parents know what you're doing in school and invite them to be a part of your education
  6. Do not commit an act of violence; fighting will not be tolerated
  7. Be loyal to your friends and your school; don't be a snitch or diss people who depend on you
  8. Do not steal; you don't want someone taking your stuff without permission so don't take theirs
  9. Do not lie or make up false stories about people or start rumors
  10. Do not envy, jealousy is a wasted emotion and things that might seem better for someone now may not really be as good as you think they are


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