“Wicked.” “Crazy.” “Extremist.” Those are the words Americans United For Separation of Church and State uses in reference to the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
But the organization, which claims to fight to “ensure religious freedom for all Americans,” is not using those words to describe Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who shot and killed 27 innocent souls.
No, its reproach is directed at the “religious right,” including such figures as Mike Huckabee and William J. Murray, for daring to suggest that the eviction of God from the nation’s public schools just might have contributed to the rise of school-related violence and mayhem over the past half-century.
“We ask,” said Huckabee, former Arkansas governor, “why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”
Huckabee was echoed by Murray, who heads the Religious Freedom Coalition (which, unlike Americans United for Separation of Church and State, actually does fight for religious freedom).
“In the vast majority of America’s public schools,” he said, “the authority of God has been replaced with the authority of the iron fist of government. Morals? Without the authority of God, there are no morals, and none are taught in the public schools today. The ethics that are taught are situational, perhaps the same situational ethics that led to the logic that caused the tragic shootings in Newtown.”
Americans United For Separation of Church and State declared “deplorable” the views of Huckabee and Murray (and others who share their conservative Christian thinking, including yours truly). But there is prima facie evidence to support the statements by the two religious right figures.
Indeed, in his 2000 book, “Restoring America’s Christian Education,” Providence Foundation President Stephen McDowell noted: “In 1940, the top offenses by students included chewing gum, talking in class, unfinished homework, and running in the halls.” By 1980, he continued, “the top offenses were drugs, drunkenness, assault, rape, and murder.”
Things changed in the early 1960s, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued two landmark decisions, Engel v. Vitale and Abington School District v. Schempp, that banned prayer in schools. That was followed by early 1970s Supreme Court decision, Lemon v. Kurtzman, which declared that any practice allowed by public schools must have a strictly secular purpose.
Then there was the early 1990s decision by the High Court in Lee v. Weisman and early 200s decision in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, that outlawed prayer at public school graduation ceremonies and before high school football games, respectively.
Those court decisions ignored the fact that America’s first public schools were founded by Christians. And that some five generations of school children learned to read and write using a spelling book, a grammar and a reader published by Noah Webster, a devout Christian, who is perhaps best known for the dictionary that bears his name.
“The central goal of education,” said Webster, is “to train youth in the precepts of Christianity.” He added, “Only people of good character and ideals can preserve religious and civil liberty. It was this very kind of people that gave birth to freedom throughout the world.”
Webster was right. And it’s because America has strayed so far from his thinking that the nation’s public schools have become the devil’s playground.