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Separation of Church & State

It was Christmas eve in 1965 and my two sisters and I (yes, that's me in the photo at 10 years of age reacting to my big sister's gift of the wildly popular Give-a-Show Projector) were opening gifts at my grandparent's house in Moorhead, MN. As I look back on that year and try to recall all of it I see it as a simpler time, when each day seemed like an eternity, there were few distractions and, as I came to appreciate much later on, the average cost of a new home was $13,600, gas was $0.31 per gallon, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was a mere 969.

But it wasn't a simple time, was it? The Vietnam war was just beginning to escalate (President Lyndon Johnson announced an increase in the number of United States troops in South Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000), the civil rights movement was gaining momentum and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama with the result of State troopers violently confronting them.

Preceding that 1965 Christmas in my school, Valley View Elementary in Bloomington, MN, was the first time that I had to confront the realization that there were other people who held religious beliefs different from mine.

A boy in my school, Sam S., was Jewish and we talked one day at lunch about that day's Christmas carol singing and he started to cry. Not knowing what to do, I sat there without saying anything and ate my sandwich until he stopped. "What's the matter," I asked as he wiped away a tear and responded, "I don't know any of the words and just feel stupid."

Though I probably did nothing to console him, that one incident forever changed the way I viewed what "separation of church and state" meant as well as the term "religious freedom" and the protection both deserve. 

Like many lifelong learners who question and seek, over the years my political and religious views have changed dramatically and have become more inclusive than I ever expected. As such, I've become deeply troubled about accelerating attempts at religious integration in to government and theocratic-like leanings, and now I'm just plain angry at the mob-baiting behaviors exhibited by the Fox News folks and their "War on Christmas" cheerleader, Bill O'Reilly.

This is why the video you'll watch below is more troublesome than it probably should be to me and is one reason why I deeply respect the challenges you must face on each-and-every holiday that has religious undertones.

Imagine you're this school committee chair. How would you handle this situation?:

From Wikipedia on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution: In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Supreme Court upheld a New Jersey statute funding student transportation to schools, whether parochial or not. Justice Hugo Black held,

The "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect "a wall of separation between church and State."

The New Jersey law was upheld, for it applied "to all its citizens without regard to their religious belief."

You may wonder why I published this post on Christmas eve and what it has to do with technology. The "weird 25%" described in the video above would include people like my wife and I, many of my neighbors and friends, and a significant number of parents in our district. Without a relationship with us that ensures that we all are there to be on your side when the "warriors for Christmas" come calling, it's too late to try and start it up then.

However, if you find ways to talk with us as people and share with us these sorts of issues you're confronting, we'll understand and get involved. If you discuss letters you receive from unreasonable or fundmentalists who are attacking you, write blog posts about it or at least send us personal emails so we can know what's going on.

If you're certain stuff like this will occur at upcoming meetings and you have forged a relationship with us, you're likely to rally us to your cause and we'll be there to support and defend the principals of religious freedom that would make my little Jewish buddy Sam S. proud.

By the way, there was a lot of good news in the year 1965: the Higher Education Act of 1965 was signed into law providing low-interest loans for students in higher education, the Voting Rights Act guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote became law, and that Give-a-Show projector made it all the way to New Year's Day before it was dropped down the attic stairs and was broken!

So whatever your holiday observance at this time of year, enjoy!


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It is sad that faith separates us when it should join us together.
Someday, in a more perfect world, none would have to cry simply because the words are not familiar.

Is Beiber that new idol people talk about recently? He's amazingly young, no wonder a lot of women screaming whenever he sings.

I think in lots of ways it can be good to have separation, but I think it's ridiculous that teachers can't talk about their beliefs A ALL while in school. If we were to truly have freedom of speech, why any we allowed to openly talk about this stuff? We made America for freedom, and having to keep p quiet certainly isn't what it's for.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Accelerating Change are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.