Today I arrived at work and walked right into the middle of a debate about church-state separation. Several people told me not to get involved because I hadn't heard the whole story, but I don't believe in staying out of any debate that is of more than just mere intellectual interest. Somewhere, buried in there, was a debate about this story that came out recently about this science teacher talking about his beliefs to his class and keeping a bible on his desk... Oh and burning crosses into his students' arms. pharyngula recently covered it, but I'll see if I can link to the story later... I'm blogging from the Blackberry and HTML code is tough to do from here, not to mention finding the address in the middle of a post. Columbus Dispatch comments (notice how they frame the vote, gotta love the complete lack of context). Here's the full article, also from the Dispatch. Anyway, seems the Dispatch hadn't told the whole story--or at least implied the story was about less than it was by writing their poll the way they did, so some of the Christians in the department were upset about it. And of course, I waded right in.
I don't take issues of church-state separation lightly, nor do I think that there is anything at all to be questioned about the principle behind the First Amendment, so when one of the guys (who had apparently been "defending" the principle before I arrived) now turned on my staunch support of it with cynical questions about Madalyn Murray O'Hare, I got a bit, well, intense. He took my attitude to be hostile, and frankly it was, though not at him particularly, but at the notion that any religion deserves special privileges or that representatives of the state have a right to spout their own particular views at minor children on state tax money. What gives them the right over the rights of the parents? And before anyone talks about secular science, we are talking about what is provable vs. What isn't, and many religious people accept science, so this isn't the atheism vs. Theism debate so many would like to make it out to be.
Like any reasonable and honourable person, I apologized if the guy felt like I was attacking him. That was not my intention. But the question I am still left with is this: Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Atheists should all be held to the same standard. Period. If a Muslim science teacher can't leave a copy of the Koran on his desk, then neither can the Christian. If a Hindu can't talk about his creation mythology to his biology classes, then neither can the Christian. If when I had worked for a Catholic university I had used my math classes to talk about how math proved there was no god, I'd have deserved to be fired, just as I would have in a public high school. If for no other reason than because I'm not doing my job. (But I never talked about it, and still a student tried to get me fired just for being an atheist.)
It's about consistency and fairness. Fairness to the students (and their parents in high school), not just to the Christians, but to everyone, including us atheists.
Of course, after that argument started breaking up, the one guy launched into a thing aabout how little science knows and where did life come from and all that spiel. And how people just poofed into existence one day. *sigh* This guy is really nice, but he desperately needs a good science education. (And with an MA in math and everything!)