It was the Monday after Easter, and during show and tell a first-grade boy stood up to tell his friends about the Easter pageant held at his church. But as soon as he mentioned the resurrection of Jesus, the teacher cut him off.
“Sit down right now!'” she said in angry tones. “And don’t ever say that word in here again.” She was referring to the name Jesus.
It was a bewildering and frightening moment for a little first-grade boy. And all across America, school children are coming home with similar stories. Teachers have become so overly sensitive about religion in the classroom that they suppress any mention of it.
And yet, amazingly, Michael Kinsley, co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire” and senior editor at The New Republic, declared in a recent column that he could detect no hostility toward religion in American society.
In another incident, a fifth-grade Indiana student was wearing a watch inscribed with the words, “Jesus Loves Me.” A teacher saw the watch, demanded that she take it off, and confiscated it until the end of the day. Just as though it were something harmful or illegal.
Yet Michael Kinsley says he sees no evidence of a bias against religion in American public life.
In a St. Louis public school, children decorate Easter eggs in art class. But they are no longer allowed to call them Easter eggs-because that has religious connotations. Instead, they’re called “spring ovals.”
Yet Michael Kinsley says he is puzzled by the charge that religion is being scrubbed out of the public sphere.
Kinsley, who is Jewish, backs up his argument by pointing out that the observance of Kosher rules is widely tolerated in America. True enough. But following Kosher laws is something purely private.
As Stephen Carter says in his new book The Culture of Disbelief, to America’s intellectual elites, religion is acceptable as long it’s treated as a private hobby, like building model airplanes.
But if religious believers bring their moral concerns into the public arena, that’s ruled out of bounds. The Freedom Forum recently released a study on religion and the news media. It found that some TV reporters and producers define church-state separation to mean that “religious dealings in moral-political issues are inappropriate subjects in the news.”
What an astonishing misconception of the First Amendment.
It surprises me that Michael Kinsley, with the Holocaust in his cultural heritage, fails to see all this as religious oppression. Remember that Hitler didn’t start his barbarism by hauling Jews straight off to concentration camps. Instead, he embarked on a slow and insidious process, lopping off a few rights here, suppressing a few freedoms there.
We don’t have a man with a funny mustache pinning yellow stars on anyone. But let Christians challenge the status quo in the name of religious principle, and all sorts of labels are pinned on us.
We can only pray that people like Kinsley will develop ears to hear and eyes to see-before it’s too late.