Haynes: “religion by any other name is still religion”

Charles Haynes, senior scholar with the First Amendment Center, has posted and syndicated an excellent new column on the First Amendment’s prohibition of religious teaching in public schools — even when such teaching is not explicitly “religious.”

The column responds to a controversy reported in the Los Angeles Times over the “Spirituality for Kids,” program — developed by a leader of the Kabbalah Centre International in Los Angeles — which reportedly is being used in a number of Los Angeles elementary schools. Haynes describes opposing sides in this controversy:

Defenders of Spirituality for Kids, including some L.A. school officials, characterize the class as being about ethics and tools for life, saying it has nothing to do with religion. Creators of the program describe it as “about re-awakening the inherent human spirit through lessons in cause and effect and activities based on universal human truths.”

Critics charge that this is nothing more than a thinly disguised way to promote a form of Kabbalah (broadly defined as a mystical interpretation of Hebrew Scriptures) taught by the Kabbalah Centre.

The Los Angeles Times reports that teachers using the program don’t mention Kabbalah, but they use terms consistent with the teachings of the Kabbalah Centre, telling children that “their actions cause reactions, and to allow their inner ‘light’ to shine by overcoming an internal ‘opponent’ who urges them to make bad decisions.”

Haynes points out some prior instances of religiously-grounded discourses being promoted in public schools without explicitly advertising their religious underpinnings:

Thirty years ago, an appeals court ruled against the use of transcendental meditation techniques in public schools because the court saw the practice as inseparable from its religious underpinnings. In recent years, Narconon, an anti-drug initiative associated with the Church of Scientology, has stirred considerable controversy when used in California’s public schools.

The upshot, as Haynes explains, is that such discourses cannot be made permissible under the Constitution simply by maintaining silence about the religious roots from which they grow and are given sustenance.

Although this is supposed to be a blog about curriculum (not just a blog dedicated to controversy over the teaching of biology), I must point out the implications of Haynes’ point for the varying forms of anti-evolution teaching promoted in Texas, and in Louisiana & other states where the Discovery Institute’s “Academic Freedom” legislation.

As noted in an earlier post here, Texas SBOE members can’t pretend they’re not promoting ID/creationism just by avoiding the special vocabularies of ID or creationism. It still is the same discourse, which is not part of the discursive practice of biology. Likewise for the “Academic Freedom” legislation enacted in Louisiana, and proposed elsewhere.


One Comment

  1. Posted April 28, 2009 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Several Establishment Clause Supreme Court and federal court decisions dealing with Creationism masquerading as science (“balanced treatment,” “Creation Science,” “Intelligent Design”) have focused on the history, origin, hidden intent, and unique terminology and claims of anti-evolution laws to reveal their religious roots and effect, and thus their unconstitutionality. The “Academic Freedom” laws of Louisiana and potentially other states and the anti-evolution modifications to Texas science standards are just the latest manifestations of this religious-inspired strategy.

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