You mean ‘religious’ does not mean ‘Christian’?

Those of us who have argued for a strict separation of church and state warned those who wanted the wall breached that if they were successful they should be prepared to live with Muslim and other minority religious encroachment in public life in those communities where those groups happened to be the majority or had significant influence.

That warning has come to pass with a Muslim member of congress seemingly calling for schools to be based on the Koran. Recently Andre Carson (D-IL) said that “America will never tap into educational innovation and ingenuity without looking at the model that we have in our Madrassas, in our schools where innovation is encouraged. Where the foundation is the Koran.”

This naturally led to howls of protest. How dare he even suggest such a thing? Was sharia law next on his agenda? In a statement issued later, Carson explained that what he was saying was that the teaching methods of parochial schools in general were worth emulating and he saw parochial as encompassing Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religions.

The controversy highlights the fact that in the US, many people have not quite wrapped their minds around the idea that the word ‘religion’ is not synonymous with ‘Christianity’. After all, if you replaced the word Koran with the Bible, Carson was saying exactly the same thing as many other political and religious leaders in the US, that the Bible should be the foundation of our education in our madrassas, which is the Arabic word for school.

A similar development is occurring in Louisiana where the governor Bobby Jindal, pandering to the religious right, signed into law a policy of using public money to fund private schools run by religious groups. It turns out that legislators who voted enthusiastically for it are now shocked, shocked to discover that Muslim schools will also be eligible for those funds.

Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, says she had no idea that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system might mean taxpayer support of Muslim schools …

‘I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,’ Hodges said.

Hodges mistakenly assumed that ‘religious’ meant ‘Christian.’

We will now have the spectacle of Louisiana legislators try to find a way to restrict the channeling of money only to Christian schools.

Christianists in the US face an awkward problem. They want Christianity to be an integral part of public life but are slow to realize that singling it out for special treatment is problematic. ‘Religious freedom’ is a politically and legally viable slogan, ‘freedom only for Christianity’ does not quite have the same appeal. The increasing diversity in the US means that the equation ‘religious=Christian’ no longer holds, and so Christianity cannot be smuggled in under the umbrella of religious freedom without other religions sneaking in in its wake.

There is an interesting historical parallel to this. In the early days of America, ‘Christians’ as a unified group identity did not really exist. The primary religious identity was that of being Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Catholics, Baptists, Quakers, Jews, and other minority sects, each of them jockeying for power and favor. It was this awareness of diversity and the fear of any one of them dominating public life that led to unity around the idea that church and state should be kept separate as the best way of preserving the religious freedom of the individual groups.

The unification of these various sects under a single ‘Christian’ label occurred in the 20th century, beginning in the early decades with the rise of the evangelical and fundamentalist movements and the felt need of religious people to unify around opposition to the increasing secularization of education and the teaching of evolution. The solidification of this group identity occurred in the mid-to-late part of the century, largely as a result of opposition to abortion that created the need to form a united front, resulting in a mindset that American was really a country with just one religion, Christianity, though the more broad-minded elements were willing to admit Jews into the tent with limited privileges under the Judeo-Christian umbrella label.

Recent immigration from a greater diversity of countries than just Europe, and the resulting growth of minorities belonging to Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and other non-Christian religions has once again diversified religion in the US and brought it back to the time of early America but with a new cast of characters and less inherent commonality between them. You would think that religious people would once again realize that separating church and state would be the best way of preserving their individual religious freedoms. But you would be wrong because many of these people are like Valarie Hodges and as dumb as rocks.

The current crop of Christanists have not as yet caught on to the new reality and we thus end up with the kind of idiotic result that you got in Louisiana. Watch for more contortions in the future as state governments and legislatures try to find ways to incorporate just Christianity into public life while keeping other religions out.


  1. robb says

    that Establishment Clause is a real bitch.

    can’t wait until a pastafarian school opens up. free spaghetti for lunch!

  2. McC2lhu iz not nu. says

    And I get laughed at by Christians when I try to explain this very concept to them. Far too many of them can’t remotely wrap their washed brains around the concept of ever becoming a victim of lack of separation of church and state because they assume everyone in American is, or wants to be a Christian. Anyone else is just a tiny minority of devil worshippers!

    However, I think you owe an apology to rocks, Mano. Rocks and minerals are amazingly articulate. They can tell an amazingly interesting and TRUE story to any decent geologist. Good article, though, and thanks for it. I’ll be linking to it often.

  3. baal says

    It’s not practical but I’d love for more folks to travel and spend time in not-the-U.S. Maybe we could have a 1-year abroad requirement for all holders of certain named seats in government (top 20 exec positions in a State + all legis elected seats). Europe and other culturally xtian countries would not qualify.

    There would be many reasons for the requirement but living under someone else’s religious culture would be on top of the list.

  4. says

    “Educational innovation”? I thought the Qur’an discouraged innovation/bidah.

    Teach the proven, old fashioned way: get children to recite things they don’t comprehend in a dead language they can’t speak, and beat them with a stick if they mispronounce anything.

  5. Paul Neubauer says

    BTW, Andre Carson is not, in fact, “R-IL”, but “D-IN”. He is a Democratic rep from Indianapolis (Indiana 7th district). FWIW.

  6. jaranath says

    I don’t think it would help. I think the fundagelicals would take the experience as reason to double down. You see, the problem with other theocracies isn’t that they’re theocracies, it’s that they aren’t Christian. They’d take it as reason to reinforce American Christianity and keep out infidels.

  7. stonyground says

    I find it slightly odd that people find it difficult to comprehend that ‘religious freedom for all’ doesn’t mean ‘religious freedom for my religion only’. It is hardly a difficult concept is it?

    The odd thing is that most countries in Europe have no church-state seperation, we have an official government sponsored church. This arrangement has resulted in a majority of atheists and apathetics. In the UK, we arrived at this point via two hundred years of whittling away at the power of the CofE to bully us. Maybe you should give US Christians the theocracy that they want and let them learn the hard way how bad it is. Two hundred years of whittling and you will have caught up with europe. Either that or you will sink into a new version of the dark ages, emerging from that took us about twelve hundred years. On reflection, maybe this is a bad idea.

  8. IB says

    I’m not sure thats completly true. Certainly some of the monachies have official state religions with special privileges (UK and the Nordic kingdoms), but some of the monachies, like Netherlands don’t have official state religions, and the republics are a whole different matter.

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