Thursday, September 17, 2009

Religious Freedom in Peril?

An important case on religious freedom was decided recently. Amanda Kurkowski is an evangelical Christian being home-schooled by her mother. A court ordered her to attend a public school because she “would be best served by exposure to different points of view at a time in her life when she must begin to critically evaluate multiple systems of belief and behavior and cooperation in order to select, as a young adult, which of those systems will best suit her own needs.”

I find this decision problematic. The court says the girl should have exposure to different points of view. Fine. I’d like that too. But should a court order her to do so? Let’s consider a different situation. Let’s say that instead of being an evangelical, Amanda was a yuppie liberal atheist who said she knew for certain that the Bible was full of fairy tales. Would we consider it acceptable for a Judge to say she had to attend a Christian school to gain exposure to different points of view? I don’t think so.

We would say it was an issue of separation of church and state. The state can’t force one particular religious viewpoint on a girl. It can’t mandate that she be put in an environment where she would be proselytized. But just as surely, the state can’t force someone not to be a fundamentalist evangelical. And that seems what the court is doing to some degree.

This decision does nothing to tamp down the culture wars. Conservative evangelicals will feel like targets and react accordingly. Radical secularism hostile to religion is on the march, they will say. Decisions like this make it harder to say they’re wrong.

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