The Sciences

Religion vs. Reality in Missouri

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitAug 31, 2009 11:00 AM


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Via Orac comes this tale of religious kneejerking that shows just how big a problem it is in America.

I urge you to read the whole thing, but the basic story is a band made t-shirts with the theme "Brass Evolutions" using the famous cartoon sequence of a monkey changing into a man. It's a cute idea, and no big deal, right? Right? Not so right. Some parents complained about the shirts because they depicted -- gasp!-- evolution (never mind that it's a cartoony version that's really not even terribly accurate). Assistant Superintendent Brad Pollitt decided to make the students turn in their shirts so as to not offend any parents' sensibilities. The sheer dumbosity of this already has my head reeling. You might think at first that this isn't a huge deal: it's just another example of narrow-minded thinking we've seen so much of from creationists. But in fact it's a lot worse than that. From the original article:

Pollitt said the district is required by law to remain neutral where religion is concerned.

I'm afraid that is simply not true. Like, really really not true. First, by taking away the shirts, he was not being religion neutral. He was kowtowing to a specific religion. That action immediately contradicted his words. Second, think about what that sentence means. If being religion-neutral means not offending any religion, then nothing at all could ever be taught at school. Certainly not science, which clashes in almost every conceivable way with Fundamentalist creationist doctrine. You can't teach anything past 6000 years ago under Pollitt's reasoning. No astronomy, no biology, no history (Sumerians were around long before 4000 BC). Some interpretations of Islamic law state that music is forbidden. Does traife food touch kosher food in the cafeteria (or is it served on the same plates)? Does anyone wanna go through Leviticus and see what rules from there the school breaks? If we are to believe Pollitt, then they'll have to ban the Pledge of Allegiance because Jehovah's Witnesses don't worship idols. That'll go over well, I'm sure. This whole idea of "religion neutrality" is a crock, and clearly is being used to the advantage of one narrowly-defined religious viewpoint. There's a difference between being neutral -- which Pollitt clearly was not being -- and not promoting one religion over another. Being religion-neutral in the sense Pollitt means is conceptually impossible. You cannot appease every religion, because many common modern religions contradict each other. However, we can be religion-neutral by actually refraining from making any decisions based on religion. That's what that First Amendment is all about. So what we have here is yet another shot in the battle over religious freedom (both of and from) in this country. I suspect the band leader could pursue a First Amendment case here. But if he chooses to pursue it, he may have an uphill climb... it depends on how many people there hold the same view as band parent Sherry Melby, one of the people offended by the very concept of evolution:

“I was disappointed with the image on the shirt.” Melby said. “I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school.”

Yes, because teaching the very fundamentals of biology in a school? Heaven forbid. [Update: Steve Novella has a funny and pointed take on all this.]

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