The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

1 September 2004

Counting icons on the wall

Seventh grade at a Catholic school in Rhode Island, and Justin Katz is there. In fact, he's been there before, and something is now conspicuous by its absence:

The school's new principal has been going through the building in a thorough sweep of reorganization and redecoration, so when I noticed the absence of a picture, of Jesus looking over a valley, that often attracted my attention when I taught in the computer room, I asked the new computer teacher where it had gone. Apparently, it wasn't the impulse of fresh surroundings that had pulled the picture down, but rather a Title I grant.

Title I, says the Department of Education, is intended "to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments."

A marked absence of any references to wall decor, which prompts Katz to ask:

Is it definitional to "fairness" that a room be free of religious imagery? That would seem manifestly unfair to students from communities that consider religion intrinsic to proper education. If the purpose of a grant is to provide, for example, adequate computers for use by students who otherwise would have to make do with the 1995 donations of working-class parishioners, how is it otherwise than discriminatory to expand on that purpose to ensure that the walls pay homage to anybody except explicitly religious figures? (Incidentally, don't even atheists concede that Jesus was probably an historical figure?)

The knee-jerk (not to be confused with "genuflection") answer is "Separation of church and state, case closed, so there." This might make some small amount of sense if the school in question were being asked to give up its religious instruction, in which case I think it's a safe bet the school would have refused to accept any grant money, under Title I or any other Roman numeral you care to name.

And why is it just religion that is subjected to this sort of treatment, anyway?

Ink would fly among all three branches of our government were any one governing body to offer grants with the provision that no figures representative of racial, gender, or ethnic identity contributed to the educational setting. How turned around we must be for religion — among the primary and most explicit areas in which our government is required to take no coercive interest — to be the one aspect of life that provokes government leverage for extraction.

And while it's certainly true that some parents are upset by religious imagery, it would seem logical to suggest that those parents refrain from enrolling their children in a school run by a church — unless, of course, you think a steakhouse should be required by law to cater to vegans first.

Posted at 7:11 AM to Immaterial Witness


Counting icons on the wall, that don't bother me at all. Talking politics and reading Captain.. Chuck-y Hill, now don't tell me I've nothing to do.

Terkish Payne, ya-da dat da, ya-dat dat da..

Posted by: Terkish Payne at 9:00 AM on 1 September 2004

Grants are available and provided to faith based entities by the federal government. Surely, the officials and parents would expect to see religious icons in the surroundings of a faith based institution.

Steakhouse catering to vegans . . . that's a good one - love the analogy.

Posted by: Babs at 11:04 AM on 1 September 2004

If the government does something so stupid that it makes people roll their eyes and say "Gawd Awmighty!", does that violate the separation of church and state?

Posted by: McGehee at 8:14 AM on 2 September 2004

I would think that someone with more imagination could simply have replaced the offending picture with, say, one of Black Jesus, and been let off the hook.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 10:32 PM on 3 September 2004