Monday, April 09, 2007

Fibbing for Christ

Lots of discussion in the conservative Christian blogosphere about the New Jersey mock emergency drill featuring right-wing Christian terrorists. Another of the Michelle Malkin-fueled brouhahas, apparently. What interests me about it is the comparison Malkin makes in her column (emphases mine):
Three years ago, I wrote about a mock terrorism drill at a public school district in Muskegon County, Mich. Instead of Islamic terrorists, educators substituted Christian homeschoolers. Yes, Christian homeschoolers. Here was the description of the school drill plan:

"The exercise will simulate an attack by a fictitious radical group called Wackos Against Schools and Education who believe everyone should be homeschooled. Under the scenario, a bomb is placed on the bus and is detonated while the bus is traveling on Durham, causing the bus to land on its side and fill with smoke."

Flabbergasting, but true. In the wake of 9-11 and the jihadists' carnage against schoolchildren in Beslan, Russia, the school chose to prepare their students for an attack by Christian homeschooling "wackos," not Muslim suicide bombers.

Unfortunately, little has changed. Last month, New Jersey's Burlington Township High School held its own mock terrorism drill. "You perform as you practice," Superintendent Chris Manno told the Burlington County Times. "We need to practice under conditions as real as possible in order to evaluate our procedures and plans so that they're as effective as possible."
"Investigators described them as members of a right-wing fundamentalist group called the 'New Crusaders' who don't believe in separation of church and state. The mock gunmen went to the school seeking justice because the daughter of one had been expelled for praying before class." Upset Christian students reported on the drill to their parents.
So Malkin claims that, as her column title ("Why Christians in Terror Drills?") promises, we now have two school-attack drills featuring Christians as the terrorists. Except we don't.

The 2004 drill was all over the homeschooling blogosphere, of course; but didn't make so big a splash in Christian circles: because the terrorists were nowhere said, implied, or in any way indicated to be Christians. Malkin made that part up herself.

It's awfully hard to disabuse people of the notion that homeschoolers = right-wing evangelical/fundamentalist Christans when the right-wingers (Malkin, HSLDA, etc.) are working so hard to encourage it. But the most recent serious study (to which I may link when I'm not being too lazy to hunt it down) indicated that a majority of homeschoolers claim academic and not religious reasons as the primary reason for teaching their own children.

Anyway, now that the New Jersey terrorism drill has entered the internet institutional memory as all about Christians who happen to be homeschoolers, it's probably a lie that's here to stay. So let's look at another interesting aspect, the requisite apologies to the complainers.

Here's the "sorry" to the offended Christians:
A joint statement issued yesterday by Burlington Township municipal government and the school district said officials “regret any insensitivity that might have been inferred” by the scenario. “The scenario chosen was intended to be generic in nature and never intended to offend any group, affiliation or religious belief,” the statement said.

Public Safety Director Walter Corter said the scenario was created to represent “anybody who was an extremist and not dealing with reality,” and never specified “Christian terrorists” or other religious or ethnic groups. “Never once was religion mentioned. That was never our intent,” Corter said yesterday. “The whole point of the exercise was to further enhance our ability to protect the students, faculty and staff.”
If you buy that apology, I have a bridge to sell you. The scenario described "right-wing fundamendalist" "Crusaders" opposing "the separation of church and state" who were upset that a girl had been expelled for praying before class. But hey, they could just as easily have been disgruntled atheist civil libertarians defending the first amendment free exercise clause to the death. What rational person could take the description as implying Christians?

Now compare the non-apology for Christians to the groveling response made to homeschoolers three years ago:
The Muskegon Area Intermediate School District Tuesday issued a statement saying ... the MAISD "shared the disappointment of others when we learned the emergency preparedness drill referenced home-schoolers as the fictitious group responsible for a mock disaster. We apologize."

It said the MAISD and local school districts "were not aware of the scenario, and it was not shared with students or parents who took part in the exercise."

"We sincerely regret offending home-school educators. We believe that all parents are educators and do important work at home with their children," the statement said.
Well that's more like it. There's a school district that's had their switchboard closed down by angry phone calls, their e-mail inboxes filled, and their mailboxes clogged by critical letters from homeschooled sixth-graders who have had their penmanship and responsible citizenship lessons combined into a unit study for the day. Please, oh please, accept our heartfelt apologies and stop calling.

But there's a serious reason for the tidal-wave reaction that often takes public criticizers of homeschooling by surprise. If the Malkin-stirred hornet's nest of conservative Christians feels offended by the recent silly mock drill, offense--and possibly the warm glow of Still Being Persecuted--is all they feel. Homeschoolers see themselves cast as terrorists and get angry, but also deeply nervous. If you rounded up ten random Americans and asked them if Christianity should be made illegal, not one would say yes; it's unlikely that even one would think Christianity should be heavily restricted by the state. But the same group would have two or three people agreeing that homeschooling should be made illegal, and certainly more than five of the opinion that it should be heavily regulated by the state. This despite solid constitutional precedent reaching back a hundred years that protects the parental right to control and direct the education of our own children. We can't afford to let even silly, half-thought-out terrorist drill scenarios go; too many of us still remember homeschoolers going to jail.

And the more people like Malkin deliberately muddy the waters through lies and misrepresentations that cement in the public mind a false equation between homeschoolers and particular religious and political agendas, the more comfortable people become in supporting restrictive legislation. We may not be able to make the annoying right-wing fundies shut up, goes the thinking, but we can make their pet projects more difficult, and prevent their children from turning out like them.


Anonymous amy said...

That is indeed a frightening story. I am particularly alarmed by the sinister portrayal of homeschoolers' attitude toward public schools. I know some radical Christian homeschoolers who do in fact believe God's intention is that children should be educated by their parents. Not even these homeschoolers, however, wish evil on the public schools. It is in no one's interest to have poor public education, and I have never met a homeschool parent who does not understand and respect the important, necessary role of public education.

I have, on the other hand, met some rabid NEA members who seethe with animosity toards homeschoolers and private schools as well.

7:55 PM  

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