Friday, June 28, 2002

It's Pat.

The recent court ruling on the Pledge of Allegiance has prompted the predictable rants and semi-sincere cries of outrage. Many commentators have noted that the words "under God" were a later addition to the pledge (tacked on in 1954 at the urging of the Knights of Columbus ), which was originally written by a (gasp) socialist.

What's less often noted is that the author, Francis Bellamy, was a Baptist minister and "Christian socialist" in the millennialist strand that includes folks like Walter Rauschenbusch and Charles Sheldon. You may not realize it, but you know Sheldon. His uncopyrighted novel "In His Steps" popularized the question "What Would Jesus Do?" (Sheldon's answer: make peace between labor and capital.)

As a Christian, I get to be frequently embarrassed by brothers like Pat Robertson. His delight at the fund-raising potential raised by the 9th Circuit's pledge decision led him to issue this frothing-at-the-mouth statement, wherein he repeats his earlier assertion that this is the sort of thing that caused God to punish America on September 11. Sad.

But did you know that Pat Robertson can leg-press 600 pounds?

Poor Pat doesn't even realize that his Web site looks so much like something from The Onion.

posted by Fred Clark 3:49 PM

More on Cleveland. (Or, "It's the racism, stupid.")

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick provides a nice summary of the No-Establishment-always-trumps-Free-Exercise point of view, which seems almost quaintly modern (or at least blissfully pre-postmodern), but in any case is beside the point.

Cleveland's voucher program arose from concerns that have much less to do with the meaning of the First Amendment than with the Thirteenth.

We send black kids to bad schools with other black kids. We send white kids to good schools with other white kids. If 96 percent of the parents of Cleveland's black students decide that their only fire escape is to send their non-Catholic kids to Catholic schools, then we've got a much, much, much bigger constitutional crisis than the fear that the government is slowly establishing Catholicism as our state religion.

posted by Fred Clark 2:18 PM

"Who am I? What am I doing here?"
-- Admiral James Stockdale

I am a cube-dweller. In a corporate office park. In King of Prussia, Pa., home of the largest mall in the United States. Right now, my boss thinks I'm working.

For most of the '90s, I wrote for and edited PRISM magazine, which was (is) published by Ron Sider and ESA.

"ESA" stands for "Evangelicals for Social Action," a quixotic little nonprofit dedicated to convincing American evangelicals (low-church protestants) to embrace social justice and ministry to the poor. It was kind of a tough sell. Money was always very tight, and running a magazine without money is like ... well, like running anything without money.

Those not familiar with the (small) world of "progressive evangelicals" (and no, that's not an oxymoron) may at least know of Habitat for Humanity or World Vision, two of the more prominent and effective groups in that orbit. You may also have heard of Washington, DC-based activist and Sojourners-founder Jim Wallis, or sociologist/motivational speaker/activist Tony Campolo, two of my mentor/heroes from that gang.

My favorite part of the PRISM experience was what we (unfortunately) called "Shop & Save." This was a regular column and series of workshops and seminars on the theme of "consumer activism" or "socially responsible shopping." That'll be a recurring theme here. I also wrote a regular political column, book/music/movie reviews, and the occasional incoherent rant. More of those to come here, too, I'm sure.

I've got to get back to keeping up appearances so I have something with which to appease the boss before the weekend.

p.s. If you're starved for something to do this weekend, check out "Thirteen Conversations About One Thing." Alan Arkin rules.

posted by Fred Clark 1:07 PM

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

My boss thinks I'm working, but I'm much more interested in yesterday's Supreme Court decision on Cleveland's school voucher program. The church/state issues are interesting -- but not all that surprising if you've been paying attention to the trajectory of the conversation on "positive neutrality" -- but why is most coverage ignoring the elephant in the living room on this story?

White schools say no to black kids.

The Supreme Court was faced with a decision about the establishment clause of the First Amendment, but the real issue with the Cleveland program is not an abstract church/state argument, it's about race.

The major papers all note that "96 percent" of the schools participating in Cleveland's voucher program are church-related (mostly Catholic), mentioning in passing that the program was designed to include other private schools and "suburban" public schools, but that these schools declined to participate.

"Declined to participate" is roughly the equivalent of George Wallace blocking the doorway, shouting "Segregation forever!"

The story no one is covering here is the blatant refusal of "suburban" (white) schools to accept "inner-city" (black) students.

That's what's happening in Cleveland. And while I share the concerns of many voucher-opponents about the potential drain on already-inadequate funding that could result from such programs, I'm not eager to side with neo-segregationists who seem perversely intent on preventing young black kids in Cleveland from getting a decent education. The demonstrably racist (at least in terms of "disparate impact") status quo of the Cleveland school system should give pause to liberals offering a knee-jerk opposition to the city's program.

The blatantly obvious racial element to this story was missed by USA Today, the Washington Post and the New York Times, as well as by Justice Souter in his huffy dissent.

How hard would it have been for any of these papers to have interviewed some of the worried white parents and school board members from Cleveland's "declining to participate" suburbs. That would have been much more interesting and newsworthy than the tired, predictable posturings of Clint Bolick and Barry Lynn.

Ironically, the only mention of race in the coverage of this story was courtesy of Clarence Thomas, who, the Post reports, took a break from his usual role of being Antonin Scalia's hand-puppet to make "an equally forceful opinion expressing his reasons for joining the majority":

... the court's only African American, Thomas, who often credits his own rise from poverty to the rigorous education he received at a Roman Catholic school in Savannah, Ga., said vouchers are necessary to rescue children from "inner-city public schools that deny emancipation to urban minority students."

"While the romanticized ideal of universal public education resonates with the cognoscenti who oppose vouchers," Thomas wrote, "poor urban families just want the best education for their children, who will certainly need it to function in our high-tech and advanced society."

posted by Fred Clark 11:24 AM

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