Monday, April 16, 2007

Protecting the "inerrant Bible"

The ever-alert Digby at Hullabaloo has turned up a bill designed to protect "intellectual diversity" that recently passed the Missouri House of Representatives. It contains a clause that requires state colleges to file an annual report on their progress toward goals that include the following:
(e) Include intellectual diversity concerns in the institution's guidelines on teaching and program development and such concerns shall include but not be limited to the protection of religious freedom including the viewpoint that the Bible is inerrant [my emphasis];
The annual report must describe the colleges' general progress as well as the specific steps it has taken to achieve "intellectual freedom." The criteria for evaluating the reports include whether they:
(g) Develop hiring, tenure, and promotion policies that protect individuals against viewpoint discrimination and track any reported grievances in that regard;

l) Hold meetings periodically with students to determine if the students believe they are receiving a sound and respectful education; or

(m) Create an institutional ombudsman on intellectual diversity.

Much of the bill seems entirely reasonable, but its implications seem clear enough: a fundamentalist Christian student, for example, could file a formal grievance or appeal to the "ombudsman" because he feels that his zoology professor hasn't taught evolution in a way that acknowledges the "viewpoint that the Bible is inerrant."

Biblical literalism, then, becomes just another "viewpoint" that deserves consideration in a science class alongside evidence that the Vishnu Schist at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is two billion years old. In a philosophy class on epistemology (the theory of knowledge), a professor could be challenged under the Missouri "diversity" code if she fails to teach the doctrine of biblical infallibility along with empiricism, constructivism and rationalism. A physics professor teaching the Big Bang could be denounced by any student who feels that he hasn't been sufficiently "respectful" of the biblical notion that the universe was created in six days.

As much as the proposed law seems to disfavor "viewpoint" discrimination, it takes an aggressive role in doing exactly that by specifically promoting biblical literalism. And the bill's political context is clear enough: the Missouri House has joined David Horowitz's hysterical assault on the perceived—perceived by the right, that is—domination of academia by leftist faculty members.

With 81% of the U.S. population describing itself as "Christian," the Missouri House's anxieties about the infringement of religious freedoms seem misplaced. The non-Christian and atheist minorities would have a lot more to worry about if this Missouri bill is ever signed into law.

The bill was prompted by a lawsuit filed by a grad student against Missouri State University based on its alleged retaliation for her refusal to sign a letter (part of a class project) supporting gay adoption. That lawsuit was settled out of court last November.

Whatever the merits of the lawsuit, the bill directly injects the state legislature into curriculum management for Missouri's public colleges and universities, with a specifically Christian agenda. That's both an infringement on the religious freedom of non-Christians and the kind of "law respecting an establishment of religion" that's forbidden by the First Amendment.

PHOTO: The Missouri House in session. The state motto on the podium,
"Salus populi suprema lex [esto]," means "the welfare of the people shall be the supreme law." Not the Bible?

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