The question on the 6th grade science test in Louisiana required students to fill in the blank: “Isn’t it amazing what the ____ has made!” “Lord” was the answer the teacher expected but her student was Buddhist. He got the question wrong and was hauled before the class to be ridiculed for his mistake. Predictably, the boy’s parents sued the school on the grounds that the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution had been violated: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Equally predictably, the school lost. (“When Teachers Preach,” by David Brown, Stand, Vol. 1, issue 2 Summer 2014 pg. 18-23.)
Their mistake was to assume that the right to exercise one’s religious freedom included the right to proselytize. Schools are a branch of government and had the one in Louisiana succeeded in its defense, it would have established a government’s right to institute a religion and weakened, as a result, the protections provided by the Establishment Clause for believers and non-believers alike. I Imagine a dog attempting to bite its tail as an analogy.
Fervor is a fertile ground for errors in judgment. Creationists, for example, argue they have a right to promote their view of human history along with Darwin’s. Both interpretations can make equal claims, they assert, because both are based upon theory.
Creationists use “theory” in this case according to its common meaning: an idea that is unproven. But in science theory stands for upon firmer ground:
In science…a theory is an idea that has the broad explanatory power of a set of observations and which importantly, has been corroborated by many, many independent studies using different kinds of data. (Ibid pg. 22)
Mr. Crawford, my high school math teacher years ago, impressed me with his idea of tolerance, religious or otherwise. “My freedom stops where your chin begins,” he liked to say. I think he got the notion about right.