Saturday, July 02, 2005

The "Eric Miller Patriot Act"

As with each legislative session of the Indiana General Assembly, Advance America and its Grand Dragon of moral righteousness, Eric Miller, arrive at the State House with an offering of legislative proposals to save us all from the evil world of secularism that they warn us is strangling the life out of all of us. This year was no different than any other year. Of course, we had SJR 7, the constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriages and civil unions, neither of which have ever been legal in Indiana. We still needed saved though because this great threat to the institution of marriage between a man and woman is just around the corner ready to pounce on us like a lion on its prey at any moment, and we have to be prepared for the worst. Less talked about, but equally as critical, was the enactment of the "Eric Miller Patriot Act." This new law, which took effect on July 1, as a way of promoting patriotism in our schools, requires all public classrooms to display the American flag and to provide a daily opportunity for students to participate in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Our schools will also now be required to provide a daily moment of silence in each classroom to allow the students to pray, medidate or engage in any other silent activity while all the students are either standing or sitting.

The "Eric Miller Patriot Act" was authored in the Senate by Senator Mike Young, a Republican political operative from Indianapolis. The House sponsor was Representative Bill Ruppel, a Republican from North Manchester, who is well known for his trademark, noticeably stained American flag ties he can be seen wearing most days the legislature is in session. The stampede of other legislators who signed on as co-sponsors is too long to list here. The Senate passed the measure by a vote of 46-3, while the House passed it by a vote of 86-6. One might ask: How could any legislator in his or her right mind vote against a "God, country and applie pie" bill like the "Eric Miller Patriot Act"? Maybe a conscienteous legislator who holds something else far more sacred, namely federal and state constitutional protections against the establishment of any religion by the government. As Justice Felix Frankfurter said in McCollum v. Board of Education in 1948: "The public school is at once the symbol of our democracy and the most pervasive means for promoting our common destiny. In no activity of the State is it more vital to keep out divisive forces than in its schools, to avoid confusing, not to say fusing, what the Constitution sought to keep strictly apart."

The McCollum case struck down sectarian teaching in the public schools, which was still commonplace in the 1940s even though the Establishment Clause had long since been recognized. In 1963, the Supreme Court once again weighed in on the issue and struck down prayer in school in Abington School District v. Schempp. The proponents of school prayer decried the decision warning "that unless these religious exercises are permitted a 'religion of secularism' [will be] established in the schools." No, the Court said, "In the relationship between man and religion, the State is firmly committed to a position of neutrality."

What everyone needs to understand about the "Eric Miller Patriot Act" is that it is not a new idea in Indiana. The Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, D.C. Stephenson, promoted a nearly identifical measure as part of his "Americanization" agenda during he and KKK's reign of terror over Indiana politics during the 1920s. At that time most public schools in Indiana had a strong protestant Christian bent to their curriculum, often making the classrooms inhospitable to Catholics and people who practiced other "non-traditional" faiths. The KKK pushed a number of school-related measures to promote the prevailing protestant, fundamentalists views in our classrooms at the same time it sought to make it difficult for Catholics to establish their own parochial schools in Indiana. The requirements for the American flag, Pledge of Allegiance and school prayer in all public classrooms were just some of several measures enacted at the insistence of the KKK.

Regardless of what Eric Miller and his adherents will tell you, their purpose in promoting this legislation was purely for religious purposes. If the Pledge of Allegiance did not contain the words, "One Nation Under God", Miller and his adherents would not bother with this issue. The recitation, taken together with a moment of silence, are intended as nothing more than subtle reminders to everyone else that this is a "Christian Nation", like it or leave it. Yes, students don't have to recite the pledge or say a silent prayer, but the occasion of non-participation by a dissenting student will not go unnoticed by his/her classmates who do participate. This has all the hallmarks of creating an impermissible, coercive environment for dissenting students. It also creates opportunity for abuse by teachers who are passionate about their religious views. The likelihood of our public schools becoming embroiled in religious disputes and litigation as a consequence of this new law are all but certain. But fear not for our schools won't have to pick up the tab for the cost of the litigation. The "Eric Miller Patriot Act" will require the Indiana Attorney General to defend any public schools who are sued in carrying out the law so the state's taxpayers get to pick up the tab for this meaningless law.

The "Eric Miller Patriot Act" will do nothing to better educate our state's children to meet the challenges in life they will face upon graduation. What it does is impose another one of the Christian fundamentalists "litmus" tests on our elected representatives and judges: "you're either walking with Jesus with us or you're dancing with the devil." At what point will our elected representatives finally wake up to Eric Miller's games and put him out of business for good. The public continues to subsidize his supposed non-profit, nonpartisan "education" organization so he can whipsaw the legislature into enacting these completely unnecessary enactments to further the entanglement of government into religion and create costly and time-consuming litigation that distracts us from what should be our central concern- educating our children- all while he personally enriches himself. Enjoy your Fourth of July; you're going to feel more secure than ever this year knowing you have the "Eric Miller Patriot Act".

No comments: