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Monday, February 06, 2006

Alas for Our Judeo-Christian Heritage

This NYTimes article about how some of the nationwide culture debates are playing out in Utah indirectly illustrates the federalist aspect of the First Amendment's history. In other parts of the country, conservatives are assumed to be friendly to teaching evolution and permitting organized prayer in schools, but the differences between the Mormon faith and other denominations' beliefs that dominate the rest of the nation are highlighted by the unwillingness of even Republican state legislators to hop on that bandwagon.
[State Senator Peter C. Knudson, the Republican majority leader,] and other lawmakers say that part of the debate here is in fact over what kind of religion would be buttressed by the legislation. Although the Origins of Life bill, as it is formally known, does not mention an alternative theory to evolution, some legislators say they think that voting yes could be tantamount to supporting intelligent design, which posits an undefined intelligence lurking behind the miracles of life and which differs greatly from the Mormon creation story.

"There are people who say, 'That's not my religion,' or that it will only confuse our children," said State Representative Brad King, a Democrat and the minority whip in the House, who also plans to vote against the bill. "For me, it's sort of that way," added Mr. King, whose father, a Mormon bishop, taught evolution at the College of Eastern Utah.

Others say that Mormonism, with its emphasis that all beings can progress toward higher planes of existence, before and after death, has an almost built-in receptivity toward evolutionary thought that other religions might lack. Still others oppose the state's inserting itself in matters of curriculum, which are mostly under the control of local school districts.
Such concerns are a reminder that even the "Judeo-Christian" tradition, often touted as being embedded in our laws and thus a necessary part of government institutions, is more complicated than the monolith it is presented to be.
Utah's predominant faith has also made its stance less predictable on other issues touching on religion in school — notably school prayer. Enthusiasm for the idea has been muted or ambivalent, said Kirk Jowers, a professor of political science and director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah*. Professor Jowers pointed to the awareness among Mormons of their religion's minority status in the nation and world.

"It was kind of a realization that if you push to have prayer in school, then outside of Utah, the prayer would not typically be a Mormon's prayer, so is that road you want go down?" Professor Jowers said.
This is precisely how the issue played out in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, the prayer-at-football-games case in which the plaintiffs were Mormon and Catholic families who were decidedly a minority in the Baptist town.

*The Hinckley Institute's most famous alumnus probably is Karl Rove.

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