The Good News Club is a national Christian organization which meets in public schools and teaches the values and faith of the Bible. Though successful in many states – sometimes embraced and sometimes discouraged – they only recently have begun to have a presence in Portland. The club has been targeted and vilified by some members of the Portland public. Since the Good News Club and other clubs like them have the legal backing of the Supreme Court, they cannot be turned away but are facing a firestorm of hatred and general outrage among this predominately religion-fearing population. The Good News Club has found bad news in Portland.
This is hardly a unique phenomenon for Portland or Christians, nor is it the biggest news story of the day, but it presents a good opportunity to study the absence of liberty in public education. I define the culprit broadly as Public Society.
A Facebook page is dedicated to fighting the use of public schools by “religious extremists.” Protect Portland Children stands on the premise that children don’t need to be saved because they are not sinners. That is obviously not what the Good News Club or any other Christian organization is teaching. But these social media users have the right to think this and the right to be concerned about ideological recruitment in a place where their children attend daily mandatory classes, thanks to the non-voluntary guidance of the State. Remember the State.
This is a reminder that we have both the right to exercise religion, and the right to abstain from religion (the First Amendment ). We do not have a mandatory religion, nor do we have mandatory non-religion. Constitutionally, Christians cannot make others join their religion and others cannot prohibit Christians from exercising their faith. Personal faith isn’t authentic under conditions of coercion anyway. Having established this, it should be recognized that Christians want others to join them in their belief, and at the same time noted that plenty of people have no intention of doing so. We have a conflict. You shouldn’t be surprised.
Some people follow a philosophy of relativism. They don’t believe in anything and think no one else should either. They enter Public Society with a negative agenda. You can’t do that and you can’t make me do that! They think that someone who actually believes in something is a “religious extremist.” But I ask, must we all adhere to your relative truth for you to be able to believe it?
Other people believe in something they think is actually true and they think that everyone else should believe it too. That’s what it means to believe in actual truth. It has universal implications. Relativists shouldn’t care what other people believe. Those who follow the teachings of Jesus do care and generally have a message in Public Society that is positive. I can believe this and you can too! Jesus’s message is deep and mysterious, and many Christian groups have differing interpretations on the finer points, but it is most importantly summarized as “God loves you,” rather than “You are a sinner.” If you can’t make it past that difficult hurdle, understandably you won’t find the grace that flows on the other side.
Of course not everyone fits into these two categories. Some people believe in something else or nothing at all. While the State does require you to go to school, no one is making you or your children attend a Christian club against your will. You don’t have to go. You could even go to a different Christian club if you don’t like the Good News Club’s version of Christianity. Many groups have the right to meet and express their ideas in Public Society, and they do so. The Boy Scouts, Chess Club, Democrats, and Republicans. If you don’t like tying knots, check mate, or donkeys and elephants you shouldn’t attend their clubs, but they can meet nearby. It’s ok. Stop hating. Learn about something new. Christians happens to believe in something with eternal consequences and are just as outraged at other things which are found in the Public School. Evolution? Creation? Should Public Society decide or should you?
Conversely to all of this, Christian churches often open their doors to a wide range of secular groups and activities, many of them obviously non-Christian. A few that come to mind in my own neighborhood are preschools, clothing swaps, park and rides, and community gardens. None of these are religious activities, but they are to be found on property owned by religious institutions. Yes, I see you shaking your finger to point out that sometimes the church chooses to shut the door on ideas it disagrees with, and you certainly are right. It does. But it has the right to do so because it is a voluntary association. Public Society is not. Remember the State? Not voluntary.
Public Society exists, for better or for worse, as a place where all have (or should have) equal rights. In order to be equal, we have to strip down to nothing at all, removing everything that is unique about each of us. Public Society cannot discriminate the way an individual can in a voluntary association. There is a difference between believing something yourself and allowing others to believe something different, and it doesn’t fit in well here. The devaluing of individual rights, choices, and values in public education results in a subservience to a thinly spread layer of mediocrity funded by struggling graduates of the same system. It looks like religion without the necessary voluntary aspect. There’s no tolerance for liberty.
The public realm is owned by everyone, and so it’s owned by no one. I certainly have no individual privileges of liberty in the land of forced equality. Do you? With no rights of my own, I have little benefit for myself. These people want to have their Christian club and some other people don’t want to let them because they wan to control everything in Public Society. I saw a popular quote on Facebook from author John Green stating that “Public education does not exist for the benefit of the student or for their parents. It exists for the benefit of the social order.” Well, that is sadly true. Public education doesn’t really care about you or your truth.