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Religious Rights Bill in Colorado

It is very important not to assume what a bill will actually accomplished based on its title. Titles are generally designed to put a positive spin on the contents of the bill in the hopes that people will not read further or seriously consider the consequences of what is actually proposed.

A new bill in Colorado has precisely that problem. There are a number of issues in terms of implementation, but I want to look at one particular line:

NOT BE REQUIRED TO TEACH A TOPIC THAT VIOLATES HIS OR HER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND NOT BE DISCIPLINED FOR REFUSING TO TEACH THE TOPIC;

Matt Young at The Panda’s Thumb comments:

Realistically, what subject besides evolution will spur a great many parents, teachers, or students to opt out of a lesson? Enough, that is, to interest the legislature? None. I find it very hard to believe, then, that this bill is not a cover for undermining evolution in favor of a narrow religious agenda.

Perhaps my past experience with very narrow religious groups gives me some perspective on the possibilities here, but sex education comes to mind immediately. But more importantly I know people who regard numerous works of classical literature as evil, and who could well claim it was a violation of their conscience to have to teach those. In effect, the bill hands over the curriculum to the individual conscience of teachers.

I would suggest that a better plan is for those who feel they cannot handle the public school curriculum to go either the private or home school route. I don’t mean to be nasty here, or to suggest that the public should have no involvement in curriculum decisions. I believe parents and the public should be very much involved. But a public school teacher needs to teach the curriculum provided. Free speech rights do not mean that every individual has the right to modify the curriculum. It’s a public process. The teacher’s free speech is not impaired by this, in my view, simply because the government fails to provide a platform.

The public schools exist as infrastructure, to produce citizens educated to a certain level. An individual teacher cannot be permitted to distrupt that process because he or she cannot conscientiously teach some subject matter that is required. The proper response is to find a job that he or she can conscientiously do.

While I’m at it, I would suggest to Christian parents that the best time for your children to get their first exposure to ideas you find objectionable is while they are still at home. At that point you can respond with your own beliefs on the matter. Your Sunday School classes can teach on it, and your youth leaders can provide instruction as well. The child then gets a choice. If the sex education class doesn’t cover abstinence in the way you’d like, you can provide that instruction. If you disapprove of evolution, arrange to have your beliefs taught through the auspices of your church, or in your home. Parental involvement is tremendously important. Use it!

I hope people will consider these issues and a number of other troubling points of this bill, especially if, as predicted, similar bills are introduced in other states.

1 comment to Religious Rights Bill in Colorado

  • Dana

    I’m surprised it isn’t part of a standard hiring contract: you must be willing to teach the required curriculum without judgement. It’s – well – it’s part of the job!