“…respecting an establishment of religion”

January 20, 2010

I am usually a proponent of the separation of church and state, agreeing wholeheartedly that both government and organized religions are better off if they keep their entanglements to a minimum.  I do like some common sense with my coffee, however, and I don’t find any in the case of Donna Kay Busch, the Pennsylvania woman who was barred from reading five verses from the 118th Psalm to her son’s kindergarten class.

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These are the verses, from the King James Version, that Mrs. Busch proposed to read:

O, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good: because his mercy endureth forever. / Let Israel now say that his mercy endureth forever. / Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endureth forever. / Let them now that fear the Lord say, that his mercy endureth forever. / Let them now that fear the Lord say, that his mercy endureth foever. / … The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.

Mrs. Busch – an Evangelical Christian – said she chose these verses because they made no reference to Christianity. Here’s the explanation from the Christian Science Monitor:

The reading was to be part of an in-class assignment in which the children were invited to present important aspects of their lives to their classmates. As part of this “All About Me” week-long assignment, Busch’s son, Wesley, made a poster displaying photographs of himself, his hamster, his brothers, his parents, his best friend, and a construction-paper likeness of his church.

One part of the “All About Me” curriculum included inviting parents to “share a talent, short game, small craft, or story” with the class that would highlight something about their child. Busch said her son asked her to read the Bible to the class, an activity she and her son shared together at home.

Mrs. Busch told the kindergarten teacher in advance what she proposed to read, and the building principal objected to it on the grounds that reading a religious text to public-school children who were required to be present would amount to state-sponsored endorsement (“establishment”?) of one religion over others.

A federal judge and then a federal appeals court upheld the principal’s decision, and now the U.S. Supreme Court has, in effect, done the same by refusing to hear Mrs. Busch’s appeal.

I like a dissenting opinion from one of the appeals court judges who argued that the school had invited students and their families to participate in a program by expressing what they thought was important in their lives. Barring members of this family from expressing this particular aspect of their lives seems unfair, hypocritical, and overzealous. I wonder exactly what the school system and the courts thought would be the result if Mrs. Busch had read those verses to the kids? Which does more damage – reading a few verses of Hebrew scripture to children, perhaps with an explanation that Judaism and Christianity are two of many religions in the world, or pretending that a curriculum is preparing children to live in the wider world without educating them to the fact that religious expression is a major factor out there?

You can read the Monitor’s story on this case by clicking HERE.

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