Peace Treaty Violation

Stephen Carter is one of my favorite writers on the interection of law, religion and culture. His The Culture of Disbelief and God’s Name in Vain are classics. Carter writes a regular column (though I’d be happy if it were more regular) for Christianity Today. This particular column focuses on how the State (i.e., the US Government) has been crossing boundaries and impinging on the freedom of religion. Though he points to some contary judgments (like the Pledge case last year, and the case allowing the constitutionality of vouchers a while back), he sees more bad than good. He zeroes in on the decision in Georgia that stickers on biology textbooks that sought to de-absolutize evolution are unconstutitional. Carter comments:

I doubt these stickers convinced evolutionist students to suddenly become creationists. Indeed, if the students of Cobb County are like most students I know, the stickers largely escaped their notice.

On the other hand, books unadorned with the stickers might well influence creationist students to suddenly doubt the Bible’s creation account. In that case, an authority figure (the school) backed by the state is pressing upon them a version of “truth” that varies from what their parents had raised them to believe. In other words, the books without the stickers, not the books with the stickers, should raise a constitutional worry. That is, unless one supposes that the state should wean children away from the religion of their parents.

One need not be a skeptic on evolution to be a Christian, and one need not be a Christian to be a skeptic on evolution. According to Frank Newport of the Gallup Poll, “Public acceptance of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is well below the 50 percent mark.” Only 35 percent say evolution is well supported by the evidence.

But, whatever one’s view on that controversy, it seems reasonable to enforce a central rule: The state should not, without very strong reason, interfere with the religious choices of parents. Where the state feels it must do so—for example, by teaching evolution in the science curriculum—a cautionary sticker of the sort struck down in Cobb County seems a reasonable compromise between church and state.

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