We're glad too, Justice Scalia.
March 1, 2001 2:07 PM   Subscribe

We're glad too, Justice Scalia. A New York State public school has prohibited an evangelical group from offering Bible study and prayer in its classrooms, and the case is now before the US Supreme Court:

"This is divisive in the community?" Justice Scalia exclaimed. "I don't understand. What would the community get upset about? I don't understand." He continued: "You must have a very divisive community down there. I'm glad I don't live in New York anymore."
posted by nicwolff (17 comments total)
The school district is trying to prevent the opening of Pandora's box--if they allow one religious group use of their facilities, they must allow all. Will this eventually lead to a lawsuit from the Satan's After-School Art Club? Probably. Is the district right?

I have to admit, I don't see how allowing after-school activities with a religious flavor is endorsing that religion unless others are excluded. The district is jumping the gun, assuming there will be divisiveness ahead of any manifestation of problems.

I can see the school's point, and why they don't want to go this direction--but still I don't think they have a case here.
posted by frykitty at 2:44 PM on March 1, 2001

I wonder if Judge Scalia is just being really open minded *grin* or if he'd have the same 'confusion' about the 'community getting upset' about a Wiccan group (just to use an example - not picking on Wiccans) wanting to hold 'blessed be' pagan discussions at the same school? LOL. Like frykitty, I can see why the school wouldn't want to go there, and if it passes, it would be interesting to see if any object if a pagan group DOES want equal time. I guess one of the problems with that is that I don't know many pagans who want to "evangelize boys and girls with the word of the Goddess". LOL.
posted by thunder at 2:49 PM on March 1, 2001

When I was in school, teachers had to be present to supervise after school activities. And these teachers got paid for their time. I'm not entirely comfortable with public schools paying people to lead Bible Study.
posted by Doug at 7:51 PM on March 1, 2001

If the school could just be used as a community building after-hours, that seems different. But for teachers to get paid for supervision, yeah, that ain't right.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:49 PM on March 1, 2001

I don't know why the establishment argument isn't more prominent. As far as I'm concerned, conducting any religious activity on school grounds - teacher supervised or not - is not cool in a public school.

posted by mikel at 9:11 PM on March 1, 2001

I can see where the school wouldn't want the halls filled with posters compelling the students to "Come hear the word of the Lord!" But the law can easily be structured to insure that sort of thing doesn't happen. Other than that, there's no reason why they shouldn't be allowed to use a room after school as long as other groups can do the same thing. This wouldn't be an example of the government sanctioning a particular religion over others, which is what the First Amendment is really all about.

And Satan's After-School Art Club? If they can get enough people to attend, fine.
posted by aaron at 9:51 PM on March 1, 2001

Is a school, a place of learning, the best place to introduce superstition and myth to children? If people want to believe in magic and talking animals and all that stuff, that's fine, but to put that in a school, in a context of reason and rationality...that just seems like a pretty poor move, to me.
posted by Doug at 10:36 PM on March 1, 2001

So a Harry Potter Book Club would also be a no-go?
posted by aaron at 11:35 PM on March 1, 2001

If it were taught as fact, I'd think so, Aaron.
posted by Doug at 11:42 PM on March 1, 2001

I would guess that if the Harry Potter Book Club was made up of 1st and 2nd graders, a percentage of them would be interpreting the novels as fact, just by having kids' minds.

But anyway, if parents want "myths" taught to their kids as fact (especially when they see them as true), why not? These aren't actual classes we're talking about. After the educational day is over, the school is nothing more than an empty shell of a building begging to be used for meaningful community purposes. Like having Bible study or Harry Potter readings or extracurricular sports in the gyms, etc. Or just a place where kids can get together and play D&D in a somewhat-supervised environment. Or what have you. It's just not a capital-S School once the final bell rings.
posted by aaron at 12:01 AM on March 2, 2001

I think what's most disturbing when you read Scalia's questions during arguments, it's clear he wants to junk the establishment clause. It's frightening considering that GWB will be pushing him to be Chief Justice when Rehnquist resigns.

In the midst of an otherwise unimpressive piece of reportage, Dahlia Lithwick in Slate provides some direct quotes of Scalia's questioning here.
posted by darren at 5:27 AM on March 2, 2001

I agree with aaron; the reasons for not allowing church groups, Harry Potter reading groups, and Satan's After-School Art Club :-) to use school property is due to identifying the edifice itself as the school rather than the teachers, students, janitors, and lunch ladies as that which constitutes the school (and who happen to be occupying the building).

The building is as public as the parks, musuems, and sanitary waste facilities that have been paid for by all of us. This row is taking place because of the perception of schools as a place of "reason and rationality" and because of contemporary argument around school vouchers and the White House office of faith-based blah-blah-blah. However, I doubt that there would be as much furor if churches petitioned to meet in the 55th St. Transfer Station.

So while I think that Scalia is being disingenuous when he says "What would the community get upset about? I don't understand." since this can be a touchy topic, I agree with him on general principles.

(Oh my God, I agreed in the same breath with aaron and Scalia)
posted by Avogadro at 5:44 AM on March 2, 2001

Avogadro, schools are not as public as parks. Trust me, I've been trying to hike and picnic in my local high school for weeks now, and they just wont let me.
posted by Doug at 8:43 AM on March 2, 2001

At least you can have sex in both of them.

posted by sonofsamiam at 8:44 AM on March 2, 2001

As far as I'm concerned, conducting any religious activity on school grounds - teacher supervised or not - is not cool in a public school.

Are you kidding? Really? So a kid praying silently in a bathroom stall before a big test shouldn't be allowed to do so?

This whole suit doesn't even make sense. If the school building is open after hours to any group outside of official school functions for meetings, it should be open to everyone. If there's a cost involved, the school should charge the groups that use the building.

It's not about the Establishment Clause, it's the one right next to it, ever hear of "Free Exercise"? Not only should the government not establish religion, it also shouldn't discriminate against it. Not allowing a religious group to use a public building when others are allowed is just as wrong.

I certainly hope this is a unanimous decision against the school district. This is absolutely disgusting.
posted by daveadams at 11:48 AM on March 2, 2001

My old school district rents/lends out an elementary school building on Sundays for the church service my mother attends, with a small Unitarian Universalist fellowship.

I don't think anyone freaks about it, but I also don't think they'd refuse any group, religious or otherwise, who met whatever their requirements are.
posted by beth at 12:18 PM on March 2, 2001

okay, in my school district, our bible study group can do its thing, but it is non-school sponsored. as long as the school is not providing any money for these groups, then it's okay with me. money and compulsion are where the separation of church and state comes in for me. when someone is telling me i have to pray or is saying anything to an evangelistic effect in my classroom, i am going to get angry. when money that should be used for books or the drama club or teachers' salaries goes to evangelism, i get angry. but when the bible study group does their morning around the flagpole thing, i just walk on by. as long as they're not forcing anything upon me, the administration isn't endorsing them, or they're not school funded, i'm okay with it.
posted by pikachulolita at 4:03 PM on March 2, 2001

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