Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

09 February 2009

School Prayer Stupidity

By Greg Perkins

Radio/TV host Glenn Beck had James "Focus on the Family" Dobson on to talk about a recent court decision that a 'moment of silence' rule in a public school was a sham to introduce sectarian religious belief into the classroom.



Beck poses as a victim, asking why it is that the 10% of the country who doesn't believe in God is pushing the other 90% around and forcing their nonbelief down their throats. Believers don't do that, he says, so why not just let people be? Of course, striking down a mandatory moment of silence-or-prayer isn't forcing nonbelief down peoples' throats -- it's only stopping believers from forcing their religion down others' throats via violations of individual rights. Talk about spin. Even purely secular-sounding "moments of silence" only exist because of believers' desire to get God into the classroom to indoctrinate children.

Beck goes on to exaggerate that "it's been deemed unconstitutional to even say the word 'prayer' to our children," and Dobson says that "they just have to eliminate even the possibility that someone might pray." Um, no: the kiddies are free to pray anywhere at any time as long as they aren't being disruptive. What's been deemed unconstitutional is taking money from taxpayers by force to fund schools students are compelled to attend, and then requiring them to do or be indoctrinated in your religion. Reading the text of the ruling, you can see how the judge traces out where and how the line is crossed. (Of course, if we didn't have government schools that people are forced to fund and required to attend, then this would be a non-issue. Don't like your school's policy regarding religious indoctrination? No rights violation there, and you're free to find or form another school. Have a nice day.)

So, does it count as dishonest or just weak-minded when Beck turns to a wider point to claim that "in this country, our rights come from God" and to ask the rhetorical question, "if you take God out of the picture, then where do rights come from?" Oh, I see your point: you don't seek to ram your religion down peoples' throats... but we really do have to make sure your religious ideas are rammed down peoples' throats lest civilization collapse. Got it.

But I'm happy he asks about the basis of rights, because it reminds me that more people need to appreciate the analysis Ayn Rand offered in her classic essay, "Man's Rights":

The concept of individual rights is so new in human history that most men have not grasped it fully to this day. In accordance with the two theories of ethics, the mystical or the social, some men assert that rights are a gift of God -- others, that rights are a gift of society. But, in fact, the source of rights is man's nature.

The Declaration of Independence stated that men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." Whether one believes that man is the product of a Creator or of nature, the issue of man¿s origin does not alter the fact that he is an entity of a specific kind -- a rational being -- that he cannot function successfully under coercion, and that rights are a necessary condition of his particular mode of survival.

"The source of man's rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A -- and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational." (Atlas Shrugged)
Once again, the answer to the idea that our options are restricted to either religion or anything-goes subjectivism is that this alternative is malformed. Rather: it is either objectivity and facts, or whim. The right-religious whimsy approach to "rights" is just as wrongheaded and dangerous as the left-secular whimsy approach to "rights."

[HT: Pharyngula, crossposted to Noodlefood.]

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