Politically conservative groups in the U.S. don’t do irony very well. Or, as Rob Boston noted last month:
Religious Right groups spend a lot of time beating on church-state separation. TV preacher Pat Robertson once called that constitutional principle “a lie of the left” and said it comes from the old Soviet Constitution.
Not to be outdone, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association asserted that Adolf Hitler invented church-state separation
Others have been less hyperbolic but have still made it clear that they’re no fans of the handiwork of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
Take Alan Sears, for example. Sears runs the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the nation’s largest Religious Right legal group. He once called the church-state wall “artificial.”
Funny, though, how that “artificial” wall that the Religious Right tells us over and over doesn’t exist and was never intended by the Founding Fathers can come in handy sometimes – like when the right wing wants to attack yoga in public schools.
In Encinitas, Calif., an attorney named Dean Broyles has filed suit against the Encinitas Union School District, asserting that a voluntary yoga program for students violates church-state separation. Broyles runs a small legal outfit called the National Center for Law and Policy, which, according to its website, defends “faith, family and freedom.”
Broyles is proud of his association with the ADF and notes that he “has received extensive training in pro-family, pro-life and pro-religious liberty matters at ADF’s outstanding National Litigation Academies (NLA). Because of Dean’s pro-bono work, he was invited to receive special training at ADF’s advanced NLA. Dean is proud to be an ADF affiliate attorney and member of ADF’s honor guard.”
Was Broyles asleep when Sears explained that separation of church and state doesn’t exist? How else can we explain his use of the principle in this lawsuit?
‘Tis a fine question.
The NCLP press release is pretty straightforward:
“EUSD’s Ashtanga yoga program represents a serious breach of the public trust,” declared attorney Dean Broyles. “Compliance with the clear requirements of law is not optional or discretionary. This is frankly the clearest case of the state trampling on the religious freedom rights of citizens that I have personally witnessed in my 18 years of practice as a constitutional attorney. The program is extremely divisive and has unfortunately led to the harassment, discrimination, bullying, and segregation of children who, for
good reasons, opt out of the program. EUSD’s Ashtanga yoga program represents a prime example of precisely why in America we wisely forbid the government from picking religious winners and losers, especially when you have a captive audience of very young and impressionable children as we do in our public schools.”
Interestingly, the press release also notes that “EUSD’s Ashtanga yoga program is inherently and pervasively religious, having its roots firmly planted in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, and Western Metaphysical religious beliefs and practices”. We can, of course, set aside the notion that the program is not religiously supremacist, as Ashtanga yoga draws from multiple faiths. As Boston notes:
I agree wholeheartedly with that part about the dangers of the government picking religious winners and losers in public schools and the need to shield impressionable children from coerced religious activity. I just wish the ADF and its allies applied that standard to all religions.
I don’t know if Broyles has a case. A lot of people these days practice yoga for secular reasons – mainly as a relaxation and stress-reduction tool. But if Broyles can prove that the school’s use of it has a religious component or that it’s a feeder into a religious program, he deserves to win. The court has an obligation to consider the matter carefully.
I’m not bothered by the case. What bothers me is that the people behind it are raising church-state separation when they normally have no use for that concept. They seem to believe separation should be ignored when conservative Christians want to use public schools and other units of government to promote their faith but applied vigorously to every other religious group.
Meanwhile, in (ahem!) unrelated news, Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) has introduced a teen abstinence bill asking to spend over half a billion dollars on programs that clearly don’t work, and are clearly rooted in religious concerns.
As Michelle Goldberg recounted, several years ago:
At Reclaiming America for Christ, Stenzel told her audience about a conversation she’d had with a skeptical businessman on an airplane. The man had asked about abstinence education’s success rate, a question she regarded as risible.
“What he’s asking,” she said, “is ‘does it work?’ You know what? Doesn’t matter. ‘Cause guess what? My job is not to keep teenagers from having sex. The public school’s job should not be to keep teens from having sex.”
Then her voice rose and turned angry as she shouted, “Our job should be to tell kids the truth!” And I should say that up ’til then, I agreed with her. But here’s what she means by the truth:
“People of God,” she cried, “can I beg you to commit yourself to truth? Not what works, to truth! I don’t care if it works, because at the end of the day, I’m not answering to you. I’m answering to God.
“Let me tell you something, People of God, that is radical, and I can only say it here,” she said. “AIDS is not the enemy. HPV and a hysterectomy at twenty is not the enemy. An unplanned pregnancy is not the enemy. My child believing that they can shake their fist in the face of a holy God and sin without consequence, and my child spending eternity separated from God, is the enemy! I will not teach my child that they can sin safely!”
One wonders if Broyles and his NCLP will come riding in to stop Hultgren.
Oh, right. Nope. This is an organization that wants to put the Bible back into the curriculum.
And this is why we might suggest conservatives don’t do irony well. Sometimes it really does seem like a bad joke, when equality means supremacy, and freedom means the power to strip others of their rights.
(We would be remiss, of course, if we failed to point out that the EUSD FAQ notes the program “provides no religious instruction whatsoever”, includes “no discussion of spiritualism, mysticism, or religion in any context”, and that “cultural references in our yoga program have been removed” to the point that they “do not teach students Sanskrit phrases and all of the yoga poses have been renamed into easy to remember words such as, ‘Gorilla,’ or ‘Mountain.'”)