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Religious Right Lashes Out at Americans United Over Schools Article

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By Rob Boston

A big part of our job here at Americans United is to annoy the Religious Right. If the Religious Right’s not happy, then there’s a good chance we are.

And today, one Religious Right group in Arizona is very unhappy.

As my colleague Joe Conn wrote yesterday on “The Wall of Separation,” a federal judge in Idaho recently rejected a lawsuit by a Nampa charter school who wanted to force public education officials to approve their curriculum, even though it used the Bible and other religious tomes as primary texts.

Joe celebrated this ruling because it upholds the separation of church and state. In response, David Cortman, senior legal counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), just about went ballistic.

The ADF, a Religious Right legal group founded in 1993 by a band of TV preachers and right-wing radio ranters, represented the charter school. Cortman lost the case, and he’s obviously pretty miffed about that. In a column the ADF distributed to supporters yesterday, Cortman poured out the bile, accusing Joe of distorting the ruling and misconstruing the facts of the case.

Talk about a sore loser!

Allow me to cut through the ADF’s fog machine. Essentially, the group argued in court that the staff of a charter school — which, I will remind you, is a tax-funded arm of the public school system – had a First Amendment right to use whatever books they deemed appropriate regardless of what education officials in the state thought.

Yeah, right. I have two children in the public schools and can tell you what a recipe for disaster that would be. “Oh, Principal Smith, I know you said I was supposed to teach biology from this science textbook, but I’ve decided to use Genesis instead. It’s my free-speech right!”

Not surprisingly, the judge slammed the door on this nonsense. What amazes me is that anyone at the ADF thought that loser argument was going to fly in court. My guess is that they didn’t.

Losing the case, after all, provides a really great fund-raising opportunity and yet another chance to howl about how the mean old federal courts have it in for religion. (The judge who issued the ruling, by the way, was appointed by that notorious religion basher, President George H.W. Bush.)

Here’s the relevant quote from the decision: “This is not a book banning case. The materials sought to be used by the [charter school] have not been approved for use in the public school curriculum by the Commission or Board who have the responsibility to do so under the law in Idaho. Moreover, the [state school officials’] Policy upholds the First Amendment in that it prohibits any state sponsored establishing or promoting of religion.”

I would assume that Cortman, since he litigated (and lost) the case, must be familiar with this passage. Nevertheless, he blows right by it and is soon employing a popular leap of (non) logic:  He argues that because this publicly funded school can’t ignore state education officials and teach whatever it wants, that must mean no religious texts can ever be used in public schools!

David, David, David! You guys are so tiresome – and predictable. Repeat after me: “Legitimate instruction ABOUT religion, good (constitutional); sectarian indoctrination, bad (unconstitutional).

Cortman, a graduate of TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Regent University School of Law, ends his rant with a bold declaration that there is no such thing as separation of church and state in the Constitution. Well, I guess that settles it! After all, David Cortman, a hired gun for the Alliance Defense Fund, said so.

Oh, but there’s the little matter of James Madison – you know, the guy who actually wrote the First Amendment. Here’s what he had to say: “Strongly guarded…is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States.” This is the same Madison who rejoiced that Virginia had established “the total separation of the church from the state.”

Call me crazy, but if I’m forced to choose between Cortman, a lackey for a bunch of would-be mullahs of the Religious Right, and Madison, the Father of the Constitution, I’m going with Madison.

After all, Madison actually wrote the First Amendment. Cortman merely labors to persuade courts to undercut Madison’s handiwork. And, based on the recent results from Idaho, he doesn’t do it very well.


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