Sunday, October 15, 2006

Should public school students be allowed to read the bible?

That was the question for a poll by the popular Washington DC area "nonstop news" radio station, WTOP, during morning rush hour one day earlier this month. The radio station broadcast callers giving their opinion that students should or should not be permitted to read their own bible during their lunch hour. The Rutherford Institute had filed a lawsuit against a Prince George County (Maryland) public school because some unidentified school official allegedly threatened a 7th grade middle school student with undefined "severe disciplinary action" if she didn't stop reading her bible during her lunch break (see Rutherford Institute's 9/29/2006 press release ). Which just goes to illustrate that WTOP lacks common sense with regard to claims that Christians are victims of anti-Christian bias.

Of course students have the right to read a bible during their lunch hour! Even the Rutherford Institute concedes that the public school district acknowledges that students have this right. The published administrative procedure of the Prince George’s County Public Schools provides that “students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray before tests to the same extent they may engage in comparable, non-disruptive activities.” So what is the point of WTOP's rush hour poll? I won't speculate on their motive, but the effect of this would be to convince people that there is a live legal controversy regarding whether or not personal bible reading in public schools can be forbidden.

It should be obvious that the right to bible reading in public schools is secure in the United States and under no threat. Not even us activist atheists dispute that students have a right to read their bibles in public schools. France may ban students from overt displays of religious sectarianism in public schools in the name of their perverse brand of "secularism", but we are not France and never will be. Nevertheless, no one should be surprised if, every now and then, there is an ignorant public school official somewhere who takes the religious right's paranoid mis-descriptions of U.S. secularism seriously and, accordingly, insists that secularism requires no bible reading in public schools. Maybe that happened here, maybe it did not (the failure to identify a school official justifies skepticism), we don't know. But that doesn't translate into a controversy over whether or not such bible reading can be forbidden.

This is not the first time I have noticed a religiously social conservative bias at WTOP. When WTOP covered two side by side rallies in front of the Supreme Court during Newdow's Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit, one by atheists and the other by religionists backing Judge Moore (the Chief Justice of Alabama who sneaked a multi-ton ten commandment display into the court building's rotunda), it kept repeating the "news" all day that atheists were harassing the religionists. I attended that rally, and for the entire time I was there, which amounted to about four hours from shortly after the rally started until the rallies broke up, there was no such harassment of the religionists. There was one incident where a speaker for the religionists raised the volume on their speaker system very high for the entire time American Atheists President Ellen Johnson was at the atheists' podium, making it impossible to hear her. The only other target of boorish behavior I witnessed was me. I repeatedly got bumped by a group of 3-4 gals who kept walking the boundary between the two rallies. More importantly, WTOP has demonstrated that it cannot be relied on to report the concerns of atheists accurately and objectively.

1 comment:

  1. I have 5 words regarding that whole thing: separation of church and state!

    Plus, media coverage such as that can be blown way out of proportion. It is sad to say that some people get all riled up after a coverage such as that. It almost makes me think that it was deliberately done in order to further the rift between the theists and non-theists.