The Error of Permitting Religious Practice

A local furor erupted a couple days ago over a Wellesley Middle School class’ visit to an area mosque, a story which has subsequently gone national. This whole story is just so wrong, on so many levels, that it approaches (?) the absurd. It is a microcosm of everything wrong with the deracinated public life that has banished religious faith to the margins, and adopted a functional atheism as public policy (despite the lingering religiosity of much of the unwashed masses).

The 6th grade class found itself at the mosque as part of a social studies unit called “Enduring Beliefs and the World Today.” It’s hard to pass over the name chosen for the program without snickering at the irony of it, for unfolding events would make it clear enough that “enduring” pretty well describes the approach these public sector “leaders” take toward beliefs – at least of a religious nature.

Along with visiting the mosque, the learning unit called for visiting a synagogue, and meeting with “Hindu religious representatives” – whatever that means. Oh, there was also apparently a section on Christianity, which I guess also continues to be a belief endured in the modern world. So what did the “Christian” field trip entail? Attending a “gospel music performance!”

OK, so you might be thinking that perhaps it’s hard to find an actual house of Christian worship in Wellesley – hence the detour to hear Al Green covers, or whatever they ended up listening to. Becca_flyer Alas, though, this school is barely more than a stone’s throw from Saint Paul Catholic Church, with its associated elementary and middle school (where my youngest daughter is enrolled). If the teachers were afraid of catching dogma cooties from entering a real church (where Mass, incidentally, is offered daily at 9:00 AM – perfect timing for a walking-distance morning field trip from the public middle school), they could have taken a trip to at least view the parochial school kids, with their frumpy uniforms, old-fashioned manners, and serious classroom demeanor.

But whatever possessed them to so trivialize the “Christian” component of their program, that’s just so much snarky background for what would transpire with the trip to the mosque. A mother accompanying the class took a cell phone video showing several of the school boys motioning along with the men they were standing near during midday prayer. Well, between the knee-jerk anti-Islamic sentiment and the knee-jerkier sentiment that the children had been exposed to “prayer” without donning proper repellent gear, this has turned into an absolute circus.

First came the accusation from a group apparently aggressively intolerant of Islam, named Americans for Peace and Tolerance (founded by Jewish Advocate columnist Robert Jacobs), who claimed in a YouTube video based on the cell phone capture that the boys had been “asked to participate” in the prayer service – a provocative overstatement – and then they go on to ask: “How did Wellesley public school teachers allow this to happen?”

Now, I’m at a loss to understand how any sane person would think that those teachers should have forbade the youngsters to pray – never mind the likelihood that the boys probably engaged the rite on about the same level they’d engage a Cotton Eye Joe dance at a school social, but the superintendent of schools issued an apology for the “error” that “any students were allowed to [participate],” and assured the parents that “it was not the intent for students to be able to participate in any of the religious practices” [emphases added].

Somehow, we’ve gone from Thomas Jefferson’s conviction that the state should not decide which religious beliefs and practices should be suppressed, to an air-headed bureaucratic conviction that government at any level is in “error” if it permits any kind of religious practices among those unfortunate young charges left in its incompetent care. God forbid [can I say that?] we permit any kid to participate in a “religious practice” on the watch of the overbearing nanny-state! Although I do have to wonder: do you think the kids were permitted to sing along at the gospel concert? Did they have to self-censor certain words? What if all they did was dance, or bounce to the beat? Looks pretty similar to Muslim “prayer acts” if you ask me…

However, not to be out-done by the educators in either inanity or self-importance, the director of the group stirring up this trouble, Dennis Hale, has instead likened the “prayer acts” movements to the hypothetical scenario of the children having been taken to a Catholic church, and given Communion! A journalist friend of the group has called for the firing or suspension of the superintendent and/or the teachers involved! And now another Jewish advocacy group – the American Jewish Committee – is calling for the creation of state guidelines for school visits to religious institutions! Oy vey!

I can tolerate a little Jewish over-reaction to Muslim hostility, real or imagined – the Jews don’t have the luxury to consider appeasement – but leave the public schools out of it; those kids are already getting the shaft.