Political Programme FAQ.
One of the more irritating empty phrases that has been introduced into political discourse over the past several decades is
The Issues (as in: where does Candidate Smith stand on The Issues?; I could not vote for George W. Bush — he doesn’t support my Issues; etc. etc. etc.) The phrase is irritating enough on its own–with all of its flabby, useless vagueness. But there’s more to it than just that:
The Issues are, I would argue, an anti-concept, and the proliferation of the phrase is pernicious for political discourse. That kind of talk treats political decisions as if they were assorted little marbles drawn out of a grab-bag, according to taste or fashion or the preformulated demands of party; the function (and perhaps the purpose) of the language is to reduce political discourse to a set of predetermined conclusions on predetermined questions battering against each other, rather than the process of argument, analysis, deliberation, thought, persuasion, and learning that it should be.
Nevertheless, most anti-concepts spread because people have legitimate cognitive needs that the anti-concepts seem to fill.
The Issues is, I think, no different; the need in this case is the need for a readily-accessible, coherent understanding of a person’s political programme (conceived not as a grab-bag of issues, but as a coherent body of reasons and conclusions). The Issues are a popular way of thinking about politics because they are a poor proxy for something much more important: a comprehensive overview of ideology. In that spirit, what I’d like to offer in this FAQ as a series of short, accessible, and coherently related arguments on some of the important predicaments that we face in politics today.
I am pro-choice, and I believe in an unconditional right to abortion on demand and without apology. I am for the lives of living, breathing women, and against those who would impose the ghastly regime of control and abuse on women’s bodies, whether by the agents of the State or by the back-alley butchers, that so-called pro-lifers presently demand.
Women have the right to control their own bodies; that includes their uterine wall and it includes the right to stop feeding a foetus with their own lifeblood. The recriminalization of abortion is, in short, legalized reproductive slavery.
Besides fighting direct assaults on abortion rights, it is also crucial to expose and combat the use of invasive and discriminatory regulation to isolate, target and undermine abortion providers and to make abortion, even while formally legal, increasingly inaccessible to many women. We must defend abortion rights vigorously against red herrings such as
partial-birth abortion bans, parental consent laws, etc. And we must fight back against the mobs, vandals and killers who have waged guerilla warfare against abortion clinics, and have already succeeded in terrorizing a number of clinics across the country out of business.
- Erasing History in the Abortion Debate, LTE, The Plainsman, 22.Jan.01
Birth control and condoms
Women’s reproductive choice is not just a matter of access to abortion (although it is a matter of that). Not only should contraception and condoms be easily available, but as far as I’m concerned they should be freely distributed by organized groups of concerned citizens to people who may need them but may not have the money or the easy access to get them (e.g., high school students, or women in prostitution).
The death penalty is a tool of brutality which we cannot put in the hands of the State. The vicious practice is based on a sadistic model of criminal "justice," which assumes that blood-vengeance is the proper basis for dealing with criminals. There is of course also the known racist bias of the court system (sentencing far more Blacks and Hispanics to die than whites), and the complete lack of evidence that the death penalty serves as an effective deterrent — but even if neither of these facts were true the death penalty would still be nothing less than State-sanctioned murder. It is a barbarism that must end.
War on Drugs
The criminalization of drugs and the
War on Drugs must stop; it is ridiculous that harmless drug users are spending years in prison on mandatory minimum sentences while murderers and rapists are being released early because of the prison overcrowding that this causes. Worse, given the racist enforcement of the War on [some people who use certain kinds of] Drugs, a whole generation of Black youth is being thrown into abominable prison conditions and being stripped of their rights to vote.
I’m all for rational cultural discussion of the harmful effects of drugs. I think that recreational drug use is, by and large, stupid, and that widespread abuse of drugs (especially alcohol — though you won’t hear that debated with nearly the same fervor) is little less than a social disease. However, our current crazed
Just So No! screeching is not doing anything but throwing lots of money and penal resources down the toilet, and demonizing a lot of fairly harmless people.
- Libertarians Can Help End the War on Drugs, LTE, Opelika-Auburn News, 9.Jan.02
- Prison Overcrowding and the War on Drugs, LTE, Opelika-Auburn News, 25.May.01
I’ve had a lot of friends who have been through the psychiatric-pharmaceutical complex in one way or another, and I briefly went through it myself. I’ve seen the suffering that my friends of gone through, because of emotional, cognitive, or social turmoil. I know that their suffering was real and that some of the people I love wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for psychiatric intervention. I fully support a humane, supporting, open society, in which people who are struggling with emotional, cognitive, or social turmoil can count on a healthy environment, and where help and support are available.
However, today we have a psychiatric system which, even though it helps many people, is shot through with power, coercion, and exploitation. There are no two ways around it:
therapeutic coercion, especially the involuntary imprisonment (
commitment) of people who have been dubbed
mentally ill, is evil. It hurts patients who are locked away, deprived of freedom, treated like irrational beasts, and actually have their suffering worsened due to their imprisonment. When patients are transformed into prisoners, and doctors are made into wardens, treatment is no longer based on what the patient wants or needs, or what will actually address the internal and external sources of her suffering. Instead, the aim
therapy becomes pacifying the patient, and making her docile towards her captors. How else could we have ever thought of inflicting on other human beings barbarities such as the icepick lobotomy, electroconvulsive therapy, insulin shock therapy, or the chemical lobotomy known as thorazine? Who would have dared to pass off these mutilations as
Having psychological support available is an absolute need in our communities. But we have to get away from the model we have today, based on the isolation and medication of patients, the absolute power of the psychiatrist, and, at the cornerstone of it all, imprisonment (or the threat thereof) of the patient. Involuntary commitment must be abolished immediately. We must rebuild the psychological support in our communities from a foundation of trust, equality, dignity, and freedom of choice.
If we have a right to live, we necessarily have a right to die: the right to live does not mean some weird commitment to metabolic survival, but rather that the autonomy of a person over her body and the integrity of her choices must be respected by the society in which she lives. If you have a right to die, then you also have a right to delegate the exercise of that right to someone who can help you do it in a dignified and painless fashion—and thus doctor-assisted suicide must be allowed, although of course it ought to be demanded that adequate proof be given that the decision really is the patient’s (such as, for example, in a previously composed living will, or, if the patient is conscious, a sworn, witnessed, and notorized statement of intent).
I am deeply troubled by most liberals’ and Leftists’ complacent acceptance of gun control legislation. Here is how gun control legislation always works: it removes guns, and the access to guns, from the hands of everyone but those licensed by the government—the police, the FBI, the BATF, and so on; perhaps also a strictly limited caste of private individuals that the State approves. (That is what
gun control legislation means.) This inevitably means that people become more and more dependent on the government for everyday keeping of the peace, and also less and less able to defend themselves (whether from freelance criminals or from the abuse of government power, which has become more and more frequent through the corrosive effects of the war on drugs). As opponents of unjust power, we should be very concerned about the corrosive effects of depending on State-approved agencies for our very survival; and we should be very concerned when the powerful have all the weapons and those over whom they have power have none to defend themselves. Further, as a basic point of historical awareness we ought to realize the deeply racist roots of gun control rhetoric. The first pieces of gun control legislation in America were part of the notorious Black Codes passed in Southern states immediately after the Civil War: the laws were explicitly framed to ban freed Blacks from owning guns. The modern structure of gun control law was mostly shaped by fear-mongering against the alleged criminal (and revolutionary) tendencies of European immigrants in the early 20th century. And it should be obvious to any impartial observer how the hyped-up rhetoric of fear and loathing towards Uzi-toting gang-bangers who are going to shoot up our kids is little more than coded racism, stigmatizing young Black men once again in order to push through restrictive government policies (in a way that is very reminiscent of the War on Drugs).
This is not to say that I am any kind of gun enthusiast, or that I don’t recognize the fear-mongering, cock-swinging, and often racist elements of much of American gun culture. I also very much understand the role that the availability of guns has in male violence against women, e.g. through the escalation of wife battery to outright threats and murder. These are pressing issues that need to be addressed. But the way to address it is not by running roughshod over the ability of citizens to defend themselves (which would, among other things, deny to some women the only realistic defense that they could have against a man who is battering or stalking them).
In practical terms, the federal apparatus of gun control should be dismantled; and states which provide concealed-carry permits for handguns should immediately switch from may-issue to shall-issue provisions, if they have not already.
May-issue laws, under which the decision to issue the permit is at the discretion of local law enforcement rather than specified according to law, just gives the local government arbitrary power to give or take away the ability to defend oneself, as they see fit. There are, I know, many fine men and women in local law enforcement; but historically this arbitrary discretion has been used as a way to impose de facto Black Codes when the de jure codes were struck down. Moreover, I simply do not trust the institution of local law enforcement—or any other institution— with such a potentially corrosive power.
Prosecution of rape cases
Rape Shield laws are one of the most important advances for justice in the past 30 years. A woman’s sexual history should never be brought up, on pain of a mistrail and contempt of court for the offending attorney, unless that history in some way establishes the likelihood of the woman to falsify charges (e.g., repeated charges of rape which were later found to be false). The prospect of humiliating and irrelevant examination regarding sexual history is one of the most preventable factors that can stop women from seeking legal solutions for a rape.
Punishment for rapists
rape I mean all forms of sexual assault, whether they are governed by laws concerning
aggravated sodomy, oppose the death penalty, I do not call for rapists to be executed, but anyone convicted of rape should be imprisoned for the rest of their lives without the possibility of parole.
Whenever I propose this, there are a few major objections that come up.
Some object that we are facing a severe the prison overcrowding crisis (both here in Alabama and across the nation), and we simply don’t have the room to keep rapists in prison. However, the only reason we face the prison overcrowding crisis is the insane
War on Drugs, and when the government stops wasting prison space to lock up thousands of harmless drug
offenders, there will be no problem with finding room for real criminals.
Some object that too many innocent men will be convicted of rape based on
he said, she said allegations, and we will be dealing out the harshest punishment other than execution to men who have done nothing wrong. The truth, however, is that the standards and problems for evidence in rape trials are not any different from those in any other criminal trial, and in fact the false report rates for sexual assault, which research shows to be about 2%, are the same as the false report rates for any other form of violent crime. As a general principle, punishment for a conviction is based on the principle of what should be done to someone who has committed the offense; it is not weighted by the possibility of innoence. Are innocent people convicted of murder? Yes, but we don’t go around saying that convicted murderers should receive only a few years in the pen. Rather, we establish an appeals process and a system of restitution to vindicate those who have been wrongly convicted.
Finally, some object that some object that draconian punishment for sexual offenses can be cruel and unusual punishment for certain acts which could come under the laws governing sexual assault (there are, for example, cases in which parents use
crimes legally classed as sexual assaults which are not in fact assaults and should not be considered crimes at all. Specifically, poorly designed laws concerning child sexual abuse, criminalize some non-coercive sex by framing the matter in terms of some magical
age of consent rather than in terms of coercive power difference based on age. These laws should be redesigned on the basis of age difference so that they include all cases of child rape but exclude consensual sex between adolescents.
Once this field of law has been cleared out of the way, some will still object that there are real sexual offenses which are nevertheless minor, and that it would be inhumane to punish them in such a draconian manner; there is, for example, a recent case in which a boy was convicted and listed as a registered sex offender for having grabbed a young woman’s breast on a bet. Surely, they argue, he should not be punished for the rest of his life for what was just an adolescent prank?
The objection is understandable; but it’s also based on a lot of bullshit premises that have to be thrown away. I am not myself, nor do I think the law should be, in the business of sorting out which types of sexual assault constitute
real trauma and which can be safely pushed to one side. That’s a bullshit notion about some judge’s right to determine what counts as
real rape, which has been used constantly against women and girls to delegitimize their suffering and let rapists off the hook (rape is rape, regardless of which people and which body parts were involved). Is every instance of sexual assault equally traumatizing? Certainly not, but I am not about to stand for laws in which a bunch of (mostly male!) legislators and judges try to get together and tell survivors how much protection and justice they
deserve. The simple solution is to put the question in the hands of the survivor: if the accused is convicted then empower her to say how much she was hurt and whether or not the greatest penalty is needed to deal with the situation; not to try and force an answer to the issue in the codification of the law.
I think it’s important to understand how much the objection exploits another popular bullshit notion, i.e. that there’s really nothing wrong with men going around and forcibly groping young women, that this is just ordinary, natural behavior for the human male, and that in any case that it is completely unreasonable to expect boys to stop it. But no matter how much we may chant the mantra of
boys will be boys, forced groping is an act of aggressive sexual assault. It is a crime which should not be tolerated. If we excuse the
little acts of sexual assault then what are we saying about male sexuality and acceptable male behavior towards women? What kind of message are we sending about the
big acts of sexual assault? We should not be afraid of the prisons filling up with high schoolers and frat boys. If we create an environment in which it is clear that invasion of another person’s body will not be tolerated, then I expect that we boys, being rational creatures with brains, will be able to adapt to the situation and choose not to act as though being born with a dick gave us an entitlement to force people into sexual contact without their consent.
Age of consent
There is not now, and never has been, any adolescent who, at midnight on their 16th or 18th birthday, magically received some revelation that transformed them from ignorance and irresponsibility to complete maturity in the decision to have sex. Laws which simply draw an arbitrary line in time as the "age of consent" are deeply flawed. In practice, such poorly designed laws are sometimes abused by parents to take revenge on a slightly older intimate partner for the fact that their son or daughter is sexually active. It is, nevertheless, also true that the sexual abuse of children is an atrocity (one which is, horifically, rampant in this society), and we need to take forceful action to fight back against it. Child rape is and must be recognized as a serious crime.
The best way to deal with this is to realize that the issue is one of power, not of some fixed point where a child magically transforms into an adult and thereby becomes capable of consenting to sex. Therefore, an age of full consent should be set at the age of majority (which is usually 18 these days, although I actually think that that ought to be lowered), and when at least one of the people involved in the sexual act is below that age, the question of whether it constitutes sexual coercion or not should be based on the age difference between them. Alabama, for example, already sort of does this: the law creates a window between age 12 and age 16 where the question of statutory rape is based on whether the older person is at least 4 years older than the younger. Thus, for example, it would not be a crime in itself for a couple to have consensual sex when one is 15 and the other 16, but it would be a crime for a 25 year old to have sex with a 13 year old. As it happens, I think that four years is a bit too wide of a window (for example, it not should be legal for a 17 year old to have sex with a 13 year old — there is too much space for coercion). However, the basic structure of the law is good, even if the variables ought to be adjusted a bit.
Sexual education in schools
Sex education should be more responsible, earlier, and more extensive. Basic sex ed should start as early as fifth grade. Contraception, abortion, disease risks, masturbation, homosexuality, and other issues should be covered in an objective, descriptive manner; common misconceptions should be explicitly raised and deflated, and the course should be devoid of ethical advisement. The information is the school’s department. The guidance is the parents’ department.
Abstinence-only sex ed is irresponsible, useless, and theocratic nonsense.
Lately I’ve become more and more suspicious of both sides of the gay marriage debate. Those against, of course, are by and large bigots and never had my consideration. However, many of those in support of gay marriage — including folks like Jonathan Rauch and, at one time, myself — are arguing for it on the basis of a profoundly assimilationist and subtly heterosexist ethic.
The whole enterprise becomes very distasteful when the debate falls into something like Let us marry, so that we can act like a bunch of straights! Let us have the chance to be Soccer Mom Queens! As I’ve become more of a radical feminist, my sympathy for marriage as an institution has also been undermined sharply, and I’ve come to believe much less than I once did that a wholesale broadening of those who can marry would really be such a good thing after all. I do still think that as long as heterosexual couples are given the privileges of marriage, it is a basic point of civil rights and justice that gays and lesbians be allowed to marry, and be extended all the legal benefits of married couples. And such a move could very well change the institution of marriage for the better, since women marrying women and men marrying men could seriously undermine the traditional understanding of marriage as a highly structured, patriarchal relationship in which a man acquires power over a woman. But, fundamentally, neither the government, nor an insurance company, nor anyone else has any moral right to extend or deny privileges to me on the basis of who I’m sleeping with — or not sleeping with. It’s just none of their damn business, and the world that we ought to be working for is one in which everyone has access to a full set of rights and to a livable quality of life as individuals, without regard to whatever sexual or romantic attachments they may or may not have.
So what, exactly, are we fighting for when we fight for gay marriages? The right of same-sex couples to get the same special privileges from the State that married heterosexual couples currently enjoy over unmarried individuals? Why do we want to fight for that? If, on the other hand, what we want is for gay couples to be able to hold wedding ceremonies to celebrate their union, and to have their relationships openly accepted and respected by the rest of the community, then what’s the government got to do with it? You can already hold any ceremony you like, and getting the community to accept gay coupling can only be achieved through cultural activism, not be legislative fiat.
Just why is marriage the business of the government in the first place? The historical answer is easy: the State has been concerned with marriage because the State conceived of society as being constituted by heteropatriarchal households rather than by individual citizens, and the legal structure of marriage was essential to codify, protect, and maintain the power structure of male supremacy and father-right over women and children: marriage was the process by which more or less absolute power over a woman, her labor, her sexuality, and her property was transferred from her father to her new husband. But of course, we have discarded that sort of brutal heterosexism and male supremacism; and once we have it’s no longer what legitimate civil purpose government marriage serves. If none can be found, then it should be reconceived as purely a private arrangement, or (for many) a religious sacrament between the couple; and if that’s what it is then it is certainly no business of the State’s. People can have wedding ceremonies all they want, but the legal privileges of marriage must be abolished!
- Text and criticism of my old essay, Civil Rights and Family Values: Defending Heterosexual (and Homosexual) Marriage, 7.Mar.99 / 25.May.01
- Betsy Brown, A Radical Dyke Experiment for the Next Century: 5 Things to work for Instead of Same-Sex Marriage, from off our backs
The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas was a landmark triumph for the human rights of LGBTQ people everywhere. Sodomy laws constituted codified homophobia, and an incredible sese of entitlement (which would be farcical if it weren’t so ghastly) by the State to invade the ordinary, peaceful conduct of individuals’ lives just because those individuals are queer.
Those who protested that the laws were mostly unenforced but should be left on the books to
send a message were at best missing the point and at worst being disingenuous and deceptive; sodomy laws, even when mostly unenforced, represented the sword of the State constantly hanging over the head of LGBTQ people. Even when not expressed in direct force (as in fact they were in the Lawrence case) they constituted a threat of force that was consistently used against gay people by cops, the justice system, opponents of gay parents (who were glossed as exposing children to a
criminal lifestyle), etc. And even if this were not true, the case that opponents of the Lawrence decision made would still be specious: the argument that sodomy laws should be there as a sort of legislative resolution in favor of heterosexuality is a sort of presumption on the part of the State that is simply laughable. (As if the homophobic nature of the laws would be defused if their only purpose were to send a homophobic message!)
Preferring heterosexuals in custody disputes
This is abominable homophobia, and the courts have no good reason to do it. The mere fact that someone does not sleep with (only) different-sex partners is utterly irrelevant to whether the household will be a healthy environment for children.
Allowing queer people to adopt children
Of course. The mere fact that someone does not sleep (only) with different-sex partners is utterly irrelevant to whether the household will be a healthy environment for children.
Gays and lesbians in the military
don’t ask, don’t tell is a half-assed sell-out that must be stopped. Real equal opportunity in the military means allowing lesbians and gay men to serve openly and with rigorous protection against the harassment that they suffer today. But on the other hand, why should anyone be in the miliary?
Women in the military
Yes, and including combat positions, as long as they must complete the same battery of qualification requirements that men filling the same position must. (The point, after all, is what you can do, not what your genitals look like.) But on the other hand, why should anyone be in the military?
The military machine in the United States is out of control and must be slashed as drastically as possible and as quickly as conceivable. Military spending consumes the largest portion of our budget by far with the exception of Social Security and debt repayments (and the majority of the national debt was racked up on military spending). Our raging militarism and imperialistic warmongering abroad is a manifestation of the same system of violent domination of women, children, and minorities that pervades our daily life at home. Not surprisingly, the institution of the military also produces huge numbers of complaints of brutalizing women — both foreign civilians and women within its own ranks.
It’s certainly true that we need an organized, trained force that can defend citizens from aggression. But it’s certainly not true that means we need an imperial war machine — or even a standing army. The United States has two borders, both of them friendly, and extensive oceans between us and most major states; we have National Guard reserves, citizens capable of arming and defending themselves, and a Border Guard, Coast Guard and an armed police force in every city to boot. What in the hell do we need with troops stationed on every continent, naval Leviathans encircling the globe, and enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over? We certainly don’t need it for defending ourselves from invasion; the only possible use could be to invade other countries. The assumption seems to be that it is simply lunatic nonsense to propose that we don’t need to be ready on a constant basis to invade and conquer two different countries at the same time; or that a standing military might be corrosive to maintaining a policy based on peace and freedom. But these very positions were central to the foreign policy of such lunatic extremists as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson; and as far as I can tell there has been no answer at all to the arguments, but rather just incredulous stares and muttering about how the "world has changed" somehow. (It has changed—in that advanced technology has now made it easier to raise, train, and coordinate a defensive force without a centralized standing army. But that’s not exactly the point that the warhawks had hoped to make.)
More than anything we need a new approach to international relations—one which doesn’t abandon the right to defense in case of an actual invasion, of course, but one which isn’t organized around the threat of massive violence. And we need to address the cultural politics of violence and subjugation at home which enable the politics of militarism and imperialism abroad.
Public education (or: Government schools)
Government-sponsored education has done a lot of good in furthering the goal of a humane education to all citizens, regardless of their socioeconomic background, and both the basic education of children and the ongoing education of adults is a legitimate communal need. But government schooling has often done a great deal of harm. For example, through history classes, it has served as a source for indoctrination into the elites’ view of history, its conflicts, and its driving forces; this alone has often paralyzed our citizens’ ability to understand the nature of class divisions, sexual politics, and other important issues in our modern-day scene. Through government-written civics classes, the true nature of our governmental system and the citizens’ role in it has been distorted so as to glorify our government and encourage people to only work within a narrowly defined set of options for change (find a single issue, write some letters, vote for the whichever of the two major party candidates comes closest to your opinion), and has failed to provide us with the necessary skills for serious participation in the governance of our own communities.
As with some other government programs which attempt to serve legitimate communal needs, I provisionally support the government sponsorship of education, but I want to move towards a system in which education is provided by the co-operative efforts of the community, including co-operative learning workgroups, one-on-one tutoring by parents, peers, or experts in the community, individual study, and any number of other options.
One immediate reform that must be taken with regard to education is to make established public education institutions more autonomous from professional politicians and create a space for greater participation by teachers, students, and other direct stakeholders. For example, in Alabama, the school is often micromanaged and mismanaged by the Board of Trustees, which is composed more or less entirely of politically-connected Good Old Boys, including a member of the state Senate and a member of the state House of Representatives. Other members are generally good friends, and sometimes have direct financial connections with one another, creating rampant cronyism on the Board. The Board is appointed by the state legislature, and the members routinely draw on their political cronies in Montgomery to gain and secure their position on the Board. In place of this, we need to enact a system in which faculty, student, and staff representatives are given a major role in the governance of the University, and in which Board members are banned from simultaneously serving on the Board of Trustees and in elected office. By giving those who work in the University, rather than the professional politicians in Montgomery, more control over the University, we can begin to work towards a more open, autonomous, and democratic model of education.
- S.O.L. (Students Opposing Lowderization) Manifesto documents the history of Board of Trustees abuses at Auburn and proposes a plan for a more democratic university
Separation of church and state
Yes. Intermingling of Church and State is corrosive to both, and a violation of the civil rights of those outside of the established religion. Jesus demanded that his followers
Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s; unfortunately zealots such as Pat Robertson and Roy Moore have forgotten that there is a difference.
In the long run, of course, this is, of course, something of a non-issue for me: if the State is abolished then there is no question of how much to separate the Church from it. If, when the State is gone, a bunch of Christian fundamentalists decide to get together and set up their own God-soaked court with the Ten Commandments in every court room and juries that decide by praying to the Holy Spirit for spiritual discernment and 24-hour prayer vigils for the souls of the convicted, they are perfectly free to do that—just as long as I don’t have to deal with them, and can opt to resolve my disputes in a court of secular law. But while the State has a coercive monopoly over arbitration (and all the other functions of governance), I do have to deal with whatever they in fact implement; and so as long as there is a State we should fight for government institutions that are as strictly non-discriminatory as possible—which includes neither endorsing, nor condemning, nor favoring any particular religion or sect.
Given that goal, the present situation is generally pretty adequate, when the established Constitutional guidelines and court precedents are consistently enforced. This means, among other things, no religious ornamentation of public buildings (such as the placing of the Ten Commandments on public lands). In government schools, voluntary, non-disruptive prayer by individuals or groups is fine, and religious student groups should receive (as they do in fact receive) equal access to school resources as secular groups. But there should be no officially sanctioned religious observances — whether this means prayer at school functions, by school officials (in their role as school officials), or facilitated by special school funding. And that includes attempts to sneak in prayer around the edges of the law at graduation ceremonies, mandatory
moments of silence, and other Religious Right gambits. It also, by the way, includes invocations such as
under God in the Pledge of Allegiance and
In God We Trust on the national currency. The Ninth Circuit Court was exactly right to strike
under God from the Pledge of Allegiance — although ultimately I think that everyone would be better off if we just dropped the whole damn idea of forcing children to recite loyalty oaths as a daily ritual in schools. And the Court would be right if it also dropped
In God We Trust as the motto. (What was wrong with E Pluribus Unum?)
Foundation of our law in Ten Commandments
Absolutely not! As a historical point, the law in the United States is founded on a combination of Roman codified law and Germanic common law—traditions which became Christian only late in their development—and neither the Ten Commandments nor any of the other mitzvot have anything in particular to do with it.
No less a student of the law than Thomas Jefferson had this to say about the question of whether the Ten Commandments were part of the new American system of law (by way of the English Common Law):
We might as well say that the Newtonian system of philosophy is a part of the common law, as that the Christian religion is. The truth is that Christianity and Newtonianism being reason and verity itself, in the opinion of all but infidels and Cartesians, they are protected under the wings of the common law from the dominion of other sects, but not erected into dominion over them and that
in answer to Fortescue Aland’s question why the ten commandments should not now be a part of the common law of England? we may say they are not because they never were.
In any case, to the historical point should be added a philosophical point: the ultimate authority on the law is the natural law, and whether that law has a divine origin or not one of its central virtues is justice. But justice demands freedom of conscience, and a legal system that protects the rights of all, without discrimination on the basis of religion. As such, it demands a legal system based on secular principles of justice, rather than a particular religious code.
Evolution vs. Creationism in schools
Cretinism does not and never will belong in a science class; it is anti-scientific from the bottom up and deserves no more mention in a serious class on Biology than the opinions of the learned Church fathers in the case of Galileo deserve mention in a class on astronomy. It is critical that evolution be taught and be taught properly in biology class. If both are to be taught in schools, then put each where it belongs: evolution in Biology class and Cretinism in comparative mythology.