Notches on the Bible Belt

Dahlia Lithwick, a senior editor at Slate and, if I’m not mistaken, a Charlottesville area resident, has a good analysis of the church-state issues raised by a recent Staunton School Board decision. The board has allowed a program of religious instruction for elementary students to continue. Here’s the rub:

Several Staunton parents—many of them new to an area often described as “Virginia’s Bible Belt”—have come to feel that their children should not have to choose between being evangelized or ostracized on public school time. Their bonus yuppie spin on all this: Taking time away from regular classroom instruction disadvantages all of the children on the state standardized testing regime, as well as on meeting the requirements set out by No Child Left Behind.

Lithwick is one of my favorite writers, whether I agree with her or not. Her Slate coverage of the Supreme Court is both learned and entertaining.

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  1. I never understood the whole “Christianity is under attack!” meme…are they snatching people up and feeding them to lions? How did I miss that…?

  2. Bob Griendling Avatar
    Bob Griendling

    I’ve got a discussion of the issue here

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar

    I have to sympathise with the out-of-town yuppies on this one. On the one hand I see nothing wrong with making a school–a community property–available to those who would teach Bible studies AFTER HOURS. But not during regular school hours. American students apparently have a hard enough time achieving verbal and mathematical proficiency as it is.

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Hmmm… Now that I’ve followed Bob Griendling’s links, I see the situation is a bit more complex than I originally understood. Apparently, this Staunton Bible study program–which actually takes place off the school grounds–has been in practice for some 60 years. This is not some recent eruption of the culture wars, but a long-entrenched tradition. Maybe the yuppies ought to just get over it. If they don’t want their kids to participate, let them do homework in study hall.

  5. Bob Griendling Avatar
    Bob Griendling

    Is tradition enough to justify the classes? They take place during school hours, subtracting time from the school’s core curriculum. And how do you think young children who don’t participate might feel? Until a few years ago, the tradition in Virginia was that blacks could not marry whites.

  6. Bob, don’t play the ‘race card’ with this argument.

    That’s uncalled for, and unfair.

    So far, I’ve held back on commenting, but feel the need to set the record straight. I reside in the valley and support Weekday Religious Education. The program is an institution in many central valley county school systems.

    Honestly folks, the parental objections to Staunton’s Weekday Religious Education were based on time and resources needed for SOL and NCLB requirements (much like Harrisonburg School Board’s recent objections and vote to discontinued WRE participation in the upcoming school year). And I’m glad the Staunton school board voted to extend the program this year.

    But it’s time for the mass media and others to stop bashing Evangelicals in the valley.

    It’s hard to believe the Washington Post editors published “What the Bible Shouldn’t Rule” last weekend in the Outlook section. The WP is not the same without Kate and Meg.

    I’ve noticed an anti-organized religious theme with the WRE debate, which has been carefully scripted as an emotional cry against “growing up in this country’s present climate of oppressive religiosity.”

    In other words, it’s the politicizing of God courtesy of the Democratic left.

    Give me a break! All of my kids have eagerly participated in WRE along with thousands of others — What’s wrong with having a religious tradition?

    After all, In God we trust.

  7. Bob Griendling Avatar
    Bob Griendling

    Steve: My point is that tradition or being an institution itself is not always a sufficient reason to support something. And after accusing me of playing the race card, you play the religion card, characterizing those against WRE classes as “politicizing of God courtesy of the Democratic left” and “bashing Evangelicals.” Many argue that is has been the right that has politicized religion. The point is not to deny evangelicals religious classes, but that they shouldn’t be organized so that some children feel left out or that they subtract time from core public school curriculum.

  8. Will Vehrs Avatar

    Blue Dog, glad you broke your moratorium. We need to hear from supporters, too.

    I would just point out that in other contexts, many of the parents making the SOL and NCLB argument actually disdain those two programs. SOL and NCLB are rote memorization, they crowd out music and art, etc.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    A little boy was showing me a drawing of a farm, with a barn and a cow on the brown earth and a blue sky and radiant sun above.

    After looking at the picture I led him to the window and pointed. “See”, I said, “when you look, you notice that the sky comes all the way down to the ground. In your picture it doesn’t. Why is that?”

    The asnwer was “You dummy, that’s where the air is.”

    Sometimes the truth is not what you see. This has nothing to do with any particuar controversy or multifarious attempts to get around the law.

    It seems to me that the separation of church and state was specifically written so we wouldn’t need to have this conversation. If we accept the separation, then nothing else matters and we are still free to go and build that 76th church and preach as we choose.

    Why is it that the one form of infrastructure we seem to have plenty of, and without the political haggling ovr costs and location that accompany, say, schools, is churches? Yet that is not enough, and now they want school time as well. Not very Christian, is it?

    Even if you had a history of religion course to simply describe how the major religions came into existence and how their fundamental beliefs are similar or different, I’m not sure that would be a good idea, because some one would twist it around to being 59 minutes of Buddhism or whatever their faith was and 1 minute for everyone else.

    Ray Hyde
    Delaplane, VA

  10. But you did … play the race card, Bob.

    In the valley, the argument was solely based on resources and funding, not the merits of God in the public school system.

    Sometime I really wish the come-here’s in Northern Virginia would just get over it — and secede from the Commonwealth.

  11. Bob Griendling Avatar
    Bob Griendling

    Steve: A lot of folks up here would like to secede. Careful what you wish for. We’re paying your freight.

  12. It’s a Commonwealth, not a state of personal wealth.

  13. Ahhh, Virginia inter-regional bitterness. As someone who has lived in both Richmond, Southside, and NOVA, I’ll just sit back and enjoy.

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