Allowed and enforced aren’t synonyms

Tara writes about a plank on the Iowa Republican platform that calls for giving evolution and creationism equal time in schools. I’ll let the people on ScienceBlogs rip into “We support the teaching of alternative theories on the origins of life including Darwinian Evolution, Creation Science or Intelligent Design, and that each should be given equal weight in presentation”; I’ll just note that it’s even more egregious than the normal calls for giving science and pseudoscience equal time, since this phrasing lists one science and two pseudosciences.

But another platform plank says, “We believe the displaying of the Ten Commandments, the American Flag and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance should be allowed.” On its own, it’s innocuous. People are free to display any flag they want and any religious monument they want, and recite any pledge they want. The US is free enough that all of these are legal.

In reality, that’s not what the Iowa Republicans want. It’s uncontroversial that people should be allowed to display the Ten Commandments in the US. What is controversial is the appropriation of the word “allowed” to mean “enforced.”

My right to sit on a bench in Central Park and sing drinking songs in a language I’ve created doesn’t extend to a right to do the same in class, or to a right to make other people sing the same songs or use the state’s arm to ostracize them if they don’t speak the said language.

It’s a well-known trend of American conservatism that it tends to view civil liberties it doesn’t use as violations of its own rights. The right to criticize Republican Presidents becomes a left-wing conspiracy to silence conservatives; racial equality becomes a violation of white people’s rights; separation of church and state becomes a violation of Christians’ rights. While it takes a seriously deranged person not to distinguish equal rights from state-sanctioned privileging of one group over another, the political arena is flush with people who make Lewis Carroll’s characters look sane.

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2 Responses to Allowed and enforced aren’t synonyms

  1. BC says:

    On a similar note, I’ve noticed that Evangelicals will mischaracterize the “school prayer” situation. I’ve often seen them say that the US removed school prayer from schools. But, it’s entirely legal to pray in schools, have students lead other students in prayer, sing Christian songs in school talent shows, etc. What’s forbidden is using school employees (who have a position of authority over students, and who are paid by everyone’s tax dollars) to lead students in prayer to a religion they may or may not believe in. Without that rule, it effectively allows school employees to push their religion. And since Evangelicals know that America is predominantly Christian, they know it helps to push the religion they believe in. Of course, if a school prayer were legalized the way they want it legalized, and a school employee led students in prayers to a non-Christian religion, I’m sure there would be plenty of enraged Christian parents, and the lawsuits would be flying.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    It’s worse than what you say it is. It’s apparently common wisdom that it’s against the law to pray in schools in the US (what’s certain is that my American political history professor, a liberal who urged us to buy The Bush Hater’s Guide, repeated it in class as if it were fact). This despite the fact that the ACLU defends students’ right to pray, and takes the plaintiff’s side whenever an overzealous principal or superintendent seizes a student’s Bible.

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