By Seth Richardson
Daniel Dennett is a noted atheist author and speaker who is touting a new curriculum for school children among the secular faithful. Dennett wants to “inoculate” your children against “toxic forms of religion” through compulsory religious education. Here’s what Dennett has to say, in his own words:
“This [religious education] would be compulsory. And my idea is that it would cover history, creed, rituals, music, symbols, ethical commands and prohibitions. That’s it. Just raw, tested, non-controversial facts that everybody can agree to about the world’s religions and that should be a curriculum that starts in grade school goes into middle school and high school. Now, I believe as strongly as anybody in the principle freedom of religion, so notice that this in no way violates freedom of religion. As long as you teach your children this curriculum you can teach them anything else you want. Anything else you want provided it doesn’t disable them from further informing themselves. So it honors the principle of freedom of religion.”
But Dennett’s plan does nothing of the sort. It pays lip-service only to the principle of freedom of religion, and entirely ignores the Establishment clause of the Constitution. In his plan, government is authorized to both compel education that disparages individual religious beliefs and to monitor and prohibit the teaching of any religious belief that “disables [children] from further informing themselves”, even in one’s own home or church.
Dennett wants government to be the arbiter of politically-correct religious belief in order to gradually strangle religion and extirpate it from society. His propagandizing of youth by presenting supposedly “neutral” information is actually presenting it in a manner that suggests that no one belief system is any more truthful or rational than the next, and his intent in doing so is to “get rid of the toxic stuff.” This intention alone is sufficient to destroy the constitutionality of his plan under the test established by the Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman, (403 US 602), in 1971.
The Lemon test establishes three prongs that must be considered regarding any statute, regulation, rule or program established by government, including public schools, that implicates religion.
First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose;
Second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion;
Third, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.
Dennett’s plan fails all three prongs of the Lemon test and is therefore unconstitutional.
Dennett says, “All religions have toxic versions. That is, there are anti-social fanatical elements in every major religion, in Hinduism and Islam and the various kinds of Christianity and so forth. … All toxic versions depend on the enforced ignorance of the young. It’s only by keeping your young people ignorant of other religions that you can preserve this. So my, my sort of public health measures say just don’t permit that enforced ignorance to go on. By informing the young we inoculate them against toxic forms of religion.”
Under the Lemon test, this is not a secular legislative purpose. It is a purposeful attempt to prohibit the teaching of, and to disparage the understanding of religion. Aside from not being a secular legislative purpose, it also violates the third prong of the Lemon test because it requires excessive government entanglement in religion because it requires that government examine all religions to determine which of them, or which components of them are to be deemed “toxic” by the government and are thus proscribed teachings.
But Dennett tries to justify his attempt at unconstitutional atheistic indoctrination by saying “A religion that can survive under this sort of free information deserves to survive, it’s a benign form of religion, let it flourish. A religion that can’t survive without the enforced ignorance of the young deserves to go extinct.”
But this analysis, when made by government, or when forced upon students by public school employees, violates all three prongs of the Lemon test. Just as it is not within the legitimate power of government to decide what form of religion is benign and what form is toxic, neither is it within its power to compel students to listen to government-created propaganda that disparages all religions equally, and it is also powerless to dictate what may and may not be taught one’s own children in the home or church.
When teachers suggest that all competing religions are equally true, they are in fact suggesting that any one religion that holds itself out as the “One True Faith” is lying about it, and the inference to be drawn is that atheism is the only true belief. This is disallowed because it favors atheism over all religions. But the adherents of every religion believe that their religion is true, and this is a belief that they have a constitutionally protected right to hold, and it is one that government is constitutionally forbidden to disparage under the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses.
Dennett may be a notable atheist and author, but he’s a lousy lawyer. Fortunately for religious parents and students, his plan fails utterly when tested against constitutional law and precedent, so it’s unlikely to succeed. But it’s important to know it’s being proposed, so that when secularists try to sneak it in under the radar, as they will, people will know what the true agenda is.