Monday, July 12, 2010

Read The Damn First Amendment, Fool

It honestly surprises me how ham-handed some people in positions of power can be with regard to Constitutional rights, especially the First Amendment, and especially in schools. The First Amendment, for all its bluntness, comes with a healthy dollop of nuance when it comes to religion. The state may not support religion, but it may not prevent others from freely exercising theirs. When people are told that, say, teachers can't support religion while they're teaching, they take that as meaning that no one can express religious belief in a classroom, ever. That, of course, is wrong - free exercise and no establishment are a both/and proposition. You can't honor one and not honor the other if you want to remain on the Constitution's good side.

So it is with this case from Plano, TX. A teacher decided that she had to prevent her kids from distributing Jesus literature in her classroom and is getting sued for it. The case is right now on a mundane legality - is the teacher subject to qualified immunity for her actions? - but it's a fairly straightforward Constitutional case. Most of us who care about the First Amendment can see that an elementary school student has the right to free exercise and free speech when it comes to her religion.

This sort of thing is what shows the conservative "they're trying to take God out of our schools" talking point to be a bald-faced lie. The Establishment Clause does not require the scrubbing of mentions of religion from all public places - in fact, the Free Exercise Clause guarantees that such a scrubbing will not occur. So next time someone whines about "taking God out of the public sphere," please direct them to the Constitution immediately.

1 comment:

Mike said...

You are, as usual, correct. However, contrary to what the linked article says, I was pretty sure the Supreme Court had resoundingly rejected the notion that public school students have anything approaching so-called "Constitutional rights".

What's interesting with this sort of issue is how it might relate to bullying. Religion, in the same manner as race, sexual orientation, weight, height, etc., can be used by students in school to bully and ostracize their fellow students, creating a compelling reason for the teacher to intervene. That hardly seems to apply here -- the whole episode seems pretty innocuous -- but I could see it rising in another instance.

But anyway, no one ever said the First Amendment protected you from other people's expression of their religious beliefs. In fact, it essentially promises the opposite. Thank God.