Tag: New York City

7 Jaw-Droppingly Dumb Things Republicans Think About Science

Source: AlterNet

Author:Evan McMurray

It was Texas Representative Michael Burgess’ turn on the GOP’s Bullhorn of Crazy this week. “You watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful,” Burgess said during a congressional debate on the House Republican’s absolutely pointless bill outlawing abortions past 20 weeks. “They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. I mean, they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to think that they could feel pain?”

Burgess’ prenatal masturbation musing is only the tip of the melting iceberg of Republican science denial. Here are seven battier things they believe, from trees causing global warming to fetuses in your Pepsi.

1. Abortion Leads To Cancer, Birth Defects, And Everything Else

Burgess’ absurdity actually masked a very serious GOP belief. The “fetus pain” theory, which holds that fetuses begin to feel pain around 20 weeks, has been the primary logic behind a slew of recent abortion bills in state legislatures. As no reputable science backs the theory up, the GOP has been forced to find anything wearing a lab coat to make stuff up.

Abortions are rare after 21 weeks, and usually occur when a woman develops serious complications with her pregnancy. But some Republicans go so far as to think the health exemption is a cover for the abortion industry. “There’s no such exception as life of the mother, and as far as health of the mother, same thing,” Joe Walsh said in 2012 on his way to losing his House seat. “With advances in science and technology, health of the mother has become a tool for abortions for any time under any reason.” (Republicans have no problem invoking science when it suits their needs.)

Burgess is hardly alone in digging up scientific-sounding nonsense to back up his abortion views. Rick Santorum was the most recent peddler of the long-discounted theory that abortions lead to breast cancer, while out in Virginia, which has a nasty strain of abortion-based delusion, a state delegate advanced the notion that abortions lead to handicaps. “The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps have increased dramatically,” Bob Marshall said. “Why? Because when you abort the firstborn of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children.”

2. Everything They Say About Rape

Burgess’ comment was notable for not featuring the word “rape,” the hook on which many right-wing legislators hang their crazy coats, to the point that Stephen Colbert has instituted a “Days Without a Rape Reference” segment.

This started with Todd Akin’s famous “legitimate rape” comment last fall, though the theory is still being repeated. Akin’s comment was so bad that even lawmakers who didn’t entirely agree with it were caught in its net: Richard Mourdock blew a gimme election in Indiana when he tripped himself trying to get away from Akin’s remark.

Like Burgess, Akin’s comment was important not because it was an aberration, but because it reflected a real belief on the right, one that’s beginning to infect policy. Arguing against a rape exemption in his anti-abortion bill last week, Trent Franks stated that the incidences of pregnancy from rape are “very low.” Some see daylight between Franks’ iteration of the rape/pregnancy connection and Akin’s, but it’s minor. And while Akin’s view was rooted in medieval medicine, Franks’ theory traces its lineage right back to Nazi experiments. Whether dealing with centuries-old pseudo-science or its bleak modern mutations, the GOP’s rape/pregnancy link is bad science at its most savage.

3. Climate Change Doesn’t Exist, and If It Does It’s Caused By Trees

Not all Republican science denial involves evil lady parts. Their resistance to the very idea of climate change is so staunch that it bred an entire theory of GOP-specific ignorance.

The least crazy of the party acknowledge climate change is occurring but refuse to link it to human behavior, instead seeing the rise in temperatures as part of a natural cycle. After all, it’s not like Hurricane Sandy was the first extreme weather event in history. “I would point out that if you’re a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change and that certainly wasn’t because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy,” Texas congressman Joe Barton said during a House hearing on the Keystone Pipeline. (You will remember Barton from his apology to BP over the company’s oil spill.)

There’s one problem with this: refusing to link global warming to human behavior greatly reduces your options for curtailing it. See Dana Rohrabacher, a far-right California congressman, who found a natural solution to a natural problem. “Is there some thought being given to subsidizing the clearing of rainforests in order for some countries to eliminate that production of greenhouse gases?” Rohrabacher asked during a House hearing on U.N. climate policies.

This is for the Republicans who actually admit climate change exists. Many don’t, and they made sure we knew about it last year when they rejected an amendment that would have simply acknowledged the occurrence of global warming. The amendment didn’t garner a single GOP vote.

It gets worse. In 2012, North Carolina’s legislature went the full-ostrich route. Not only did they refuse to admit that global warming was happening, they actually banned scientists from researching it, passing a bill prohibiting the measurement of sea-levels so nobody could notice they were rising. (The ocean rudely rose anyway.)

4. Breast Implants, On The Other Hand, are a Fine Use Of Science

Okay, most of their science denial involves lady parts, but not all of it’s negative! Tom Coburn proves the GOP would be scientists’ best friend if those nerds would stick to expanding things men want to look at.

“I thought I would just share with you what science says today about silicone breast implants,” Coburn said during a hearing on class action lawsuits, a nagging problem for plastic surgeons. “If you have them, you’re healthier than if you don’t. That is what the ultimate science shows. . . . In fact, there’s no science that shows that silicone breast implants are detrimental and, in fact, they make you healthier.” (They don’t.)

5. No Dead Fetuses In Your Soft Drinks

But the GOP’s science permissiveness begins and ends with breasts; anything that might help with, say, medical research is off the table. Stem cells in particular give Republicans the bends. Where most see the frontier of medical research, Republican candidates for senate see islands of Dr. Moreaus.

“American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains,” Christine O’Donnell told Bill O’Reilly in 2007. Talking Points Memo guessed O’Donnell was referencing an experiment in which doctors grew human brain cells within mice—“not the same as an actual functioning human brain, but a demonstration that human brain cells can be made from stem cells”—but they didn’t sound too confident speculating on her inspiration.

At least O’Donnell wasn’t actually a lawmaker. Last year, Oklahoma State Senator Ralph Shortley got wound up over a zany Internet theory claiming stem cells were being used in the production of artificial sweeteners, and proposed a bill prohibiting companies in Oklahoma from using aborted fetuses to make food.

6. Evolution Is (Still) Out To Get Jesus

“I’m not a scientist, man,” Marco Rubio recently told GQ. “I can tell you what recorded history says. I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians. Whether the Earth was created in seven days, or seven actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that.”

But Rubio’s fellow Republicans think they have answered it, as evidenced by the fact that they want schools to teach that humans and dinosaurs used to read GQ together. Republican-controlled state legislatures have been busy trying to pass bills forcing public schools from elementary to college to teach that the world was created 6,000-9,000 years ago.

Their cover for this is the necessity of “teaching both sides” of the debate—though only one has scientific backing—but Georgia Representative Paul Broun recently showed the right’s hand. “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell,” he said during his (unopposed) run for reelection last year. “And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”

7. It’s Only Science If Republicans Agree With It

In perhaps the most unintentionally revealing law ever written by a Republican on science, Texas Representative Lamar Smith recently proposed that all scientific knowledge get his okay first. Called the “High Quality Research Act,” Smith’s bill would require any research receiving federal funds to go through Smith’s Congressional Committee on Science, Space and Technology, all in the name of “accountability.” Accountability in this case means agreeing with Smith, a climate change denier who has no problem going after projects he, or his donors, disapprove of.

If the GOP had its way, this is how all science would work: no rising sea levels to worry about, and all the breast implants Congress can afford.

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Teen Birth rates drop to record low – birth control!

From: Think Progress

By: Tara Culp-Ressler

“U.S. teen birth rates have dropped to a record low, down nearly 50 percent since 1991, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics. There was only a slight decline in the number of teens having sex, suggesting that more adolescents are preventing pregnancy by practicing safer sex.

Experts caution that since the new study didn’t investigate teen behavior, they can’t say exactly what caused the drop in teenage pregnancies — but they suspect some encouraging trends in contraceptive use played a role. Laura Lindberg, a senior researcher at the Guttmacher Institute,told NBC News that teens are increasingly opting to use more effective forms of birth control as soon as they become sexually active, and the adolescents who use birth control during their first sexual experiences are more likely to use it down the road.

And Lindberg explained that several new policies — including guidelines encouraging doctors to prescribe long-lasting forms of contraception, new Obamacare rulesremoving cost barriers to birth control, and guidelines easing some of the hurdles to obtaining a birth control prescription — have helped ensure that teens now have better access to the best forms of birth control:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has changed its guidelines on contraception, and now recommends long-acting birth control methods such as IUDs, which are devices implanted in the uterus, and hormonal birth control drug implants, as the first-line contraceptives offered to teens. “The reason that is important is failure rates are much lower,” Lindberg said. […]

The Obama administration rules now require health insurers to provide birth control care for free, without even a co-pay.

Another important change — fewer doctors now require teenagers to get full pelvic exams before they will prescribe birth control. New federal guidelines say a woman doesn’t need such an exam before she’s 21, even if she is sexually active.

We think that’s lowered what we call the psychic barrier to getting prescription contraception methods,” Lindberg said. “For teenaged girls that first (exam) can be frightening.”

But there’s even more the U.S. could do to make contraception more readily available to the young women who need it. The United States currently uses an antiquated system of tying birth control prescriptions to annual gynecological check-ups, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recommended that the U.S. put an end to that practice and make birth control available over the counter — whichmost countries around the world already do.

And increasing access to all types of birth control, including emergency contraception, could also make a difference. The Department of Health and Human Services still requires women under the age of 17 to obtain a prescription for Plan B, even though health officials have come out in opposition to the unnecessary federal policy. Particularly since a right-wing smear campaign has falsely construed emergency contraception as an abortifacient, the stigma surrounding Plan B can make it difficult for young adults to access that type of birth control — but, as a pilot program in New York City demonstrates, making Plan B available to teens can drastically lower unplanned pregnancies.

Emphasis Mine

see: http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/02/11/1568311/teen-birth-rates-plunge/


Evolution skeptics will soon be silenced by science: Richard Leakey

From: AP-CBC news, via RDF

Emphasis Mine.

Richard Leakey predicts skepticism over evolution will soon be history.

Not that the avowed atheist has any doubts himself.

Sometime in the next 15 to 30 years, scientific discoveries will have accelerated to the point that “even the skeptics can accept it,” the Kenyan-born paleoanthropologist said.

“If you get to the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence, that it’s solid, that we are all African, that color is superficial, that stages of development of culture are all interactive, then I think we have a chance of a world that will respond better to global challenges.”

Leakey, a professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island, recently spent several weeks in New York promoting the Turkana Basin Institute in Kenya. The institute, where Leakey spends most of his time, welcomes researchers and scientists from around the world dedicated to unearthing the origins of mankind in an area rich with fossils.

His friend Paul Simon performed at a May 2 fundraiser for the institute in Manhattan that collected more than $2 million US. A National Geographic documentary on his work at Turkana aired this month on public television.

Now 67, Leakey is the son of the late renowned archeologists Louis and Mary Leakey and conducts research with his wife, Meave, and daughter, Louise. The family claims to have unearthed “much of the existing fossil evidence for human evolution.”

On the eve of his return to Africa earlier this week, Leakey spoke to The Associated Press in New York City about the past and the future.

Exitinction driven by environmental change

“If you look back, the thing that strikes you, if you’ve got any sensitivity, is that extinction is the most common phenomena,” Leakey says. “Extinction is always driven by environmental change. Environmental change is always driven by climate change. Man accelerated, if not created, planet change phenomena; I think we have to recognize that the future is by no means a very rosy one.”

Any hope for mankind’s future, he insists, rests on accepting existing scientific evidence of its past.

‘If you don’t like the word “evolution,” I don’t care what you call it, but life has changed.’— Richard Leakey

“If we’re spreading out across the world from centres like Europe and America that evolution is nonsense and science is nonsense, how do you combat new pathogens, how do you combat new strains of disease that are evolving in the environment?” he asked.

“If you don’t like the word ‘evolution,’ I don’t care what you call it, but life has changed. You can lay out all the fossils that have been collected and establish lineages that even a fool could work up. So, the question is why, how does this happen? It’s not covered by Genesis. There’s no explanation for this change going back 500 million years in any book I’ve read from the lips of any God.”

Leakey insists he has no animosity toward religion.

“If you tell me, well, people really need a faith … I understand that,” he said.

“I see no reason why you shouldn’t go through your life thinking if you’re a good citizen, you’ll get a better future in the afterlife.”

Lost legs in plane accident

Leakey began his work searching for fossils in the mid-1960s. His team unearthed a nearly complete 1.6-million-year-old skeleton in 1984 that became known as “Turkana Boy,” the first known early human with long legs, short arms and a tall stature.

Richard Leakey discusses the evidence for human evolution over a collection of hominin fossil casts at the Turkana Basin Institute's Ileret research facility in northern Kenya in 2008. Richard Leakey discusses the evidence for human evolution over a collection of hominin fossil casts at the Turkana Basin Institute’s Ileret research facility in northern Kenya in 2008. (Bob Campbell/Turkana Basin Institute/Associated Press)

In the late 1980s, Leakey began a career in government service in Kenya, heading the Kenya Wildlife Service. He led the quest to protect elephants from poachers who were killing the animals at an alarming rate in order to harvest their valuable ivory tusks. He gathered 12 tons of confiscated ivory in Nairobi National Park and set it afire in a 1989 demonstration that attracted worldwide headlines.

In 1993, Leakey crashed a small propeller-driven plane; his lower legs were later amputated and he now gets around on artificial limbs. There were suspicions the plane had been sabotaged by his political enemies, but it was never proven.

About a decade ago, he visited Stony Brook University on eastern Long Island, a part of the State University of New York, as a guest lecturer. Then-President Shirley Strum Kenny began lobbying Leakey to join the faculty. It was a process that took about two years; he relented after returning to the campus to accept an honorary degree.

Kenny convinced him that he could remain in Kenya most of the time, where Stony Brook anthropology students could visit and learn about his work. And the college founded in 1957 would benefit from the gravitas of such a noted professor on its faculty.

“It was much easier to work with a new university that didn’t have a 200-year-old image where it was so set in its ways like some of the Ivy League schools that you couldn’t really change what they did and what they thought,” he said.

Human survival in doubt

Earlier this month, Paul Simon performed at a benefit dinner for the Turkana Basin Institute. IMAX CEO Rich Gelfond and his wife, Peggy Bonapace Gelfond, and billionaire hedge fund investor Jim Simons and his wife, Marilyn, were among those attending the exclusive show in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

Simon agreed to allow his music to be performed on the National Geographic documentary airing on PBS and donated an autographed guitar at the fundraiser that sold for nearly $20,000.

Leakey, who clearly cherishes investigating the past, is less optimistic about the future.

“We may be on the cusp of some very real disasters that have nothing to do with whether the elephant survives, or a cheetah survives, but if we survive,” he warned.


The New Legal Theory That Enables Homophobic Evangelizing in Public Schools

From The Guardian, via AlterNet

By: Katherine Stewart

Last month, 8,000 public high school students in Montgomery County, Maryland, went home with fliers informing them that no one is “born gay” and offering therapy if they experienced “unwanted same-sex attraction.”

The group behind the flier, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), isn’t the kind one expects to find represented in student backpacks. Peter Sprigg, a board member of PFOX who doubles as a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, recently told Chris Matthews that he believes “gay behavior” should be “criminalized.” PFOX president Greg Quinlan told another talk show host that gays and lesbians practice “sexual cannibalism.”

A number of Montgomery County parents, understandably concerned about the unusual flier, filed a letter of complaint with the school district. “Everything in this flier makes it sound like the goal is to be ex-gay,” said Ms. Yount-Merrell, mother of a high-schooler. “It reiterates a societal view that there’s something wrong with you … if you aren’t heterosexual. And teenagers have a hard enough time.”

In response to student questions, Superintendent Joshua Starr agreed that the flyer was “reprehensible and deplorable.” But he then pointed out, correctly, that he had no choice in the matter. A 2006 decision by the fourth circuit court of appeals made it clear that if the district allowed any outside groups to distribute fliers through the school, it could not exclude groups like PFOX.

The situation in Maryland may strike many readers as an anomalous event. One would think that it involves fringe characters, is unlikely to be repeated, and can be easily fixed with a new policy.

But none of that is true. In fact, similar events are taking place with increasing frequency nationwide, and they represent the wave of the future in America’s public schools. Indeed, at this very moment, the New York state assembly is deliberating a bill – already passed by the senate – that will allow New York’s public schools to double as a taxpayer-subsidized marketing channel for extremist groups of every variety.

How did this happen to our schools?

Appropriately enough, it goes back to a lesson we all used to learn in school – but that many people seem to have forgotten. America’s founders understood very well that the freedom of religion and the separation of church and state are two sides of the same coin. Only by keeping government out of the religion business can we ensure that religion may go about its business freely. They also understood that, as a consequence, freedom of religion is different from freedom of speech. Indeed, they guaranteed those two freedoms in two separate and distinct clauses of the first amendment.

Over the past 20 years, legal advocacy groups of the religious right – a collection of entities that now command budgets totaling over $100m per year – have been pushing a new legal theory, one that has taken hold of some parts of the popular imagination and that has even been enshrined in recent judicial rulings. The essence of the theory is that religion isn’t religion, after all; it’s really just speech from a religious viewpoint. Borrowing from the rhetoric of the civil rights movements, the advocates of the new theory cry “discrimination” in the face of every attempt to treat religion as something different from any other kind of speech.

One implication of this novel theory is firmly embedded in the US supreme court’s 2001 6-3 decision in Milford Central School v The Good News Club. Justice Thomas stated in his majority opinion that to exclude a group from school because it is religious in nature is to discriminate against its religious viewpoint, and therefore to violate its free speech rights. No one challenges the exclusion of partisan political groups using the same thinking – we all recognize that partisan political groups are partisan in nature. But because religion alone is a “viewpoint”, opines Thomas, it is apparently different.

The other important implication is that the establishment clause of the first amendment – the part that is supposed to keep the government out of the religion business – has been diminished, especially in school-related cases.

Until 2006, the Montgomery school district, like almost all school districts in the nation, had a degree of discretion in the materials it sent home with kids. Few people had previously questioned the school’s authority to set aside religious and partisan political material, for example. All of that changed when a group called the Child Evangelism Fellowship came to town. The Child Evangelism Fellowship is the sponsoring organization for Good News Clubs, which offer a program of sectarian indoctrination in over 3,400 public elementary schools nationwide.

Backed by the legal advocacy groups of the religious right, the Child Evangelism Fellowship sued the school district and won the right to have its fliers distributed by the schools. The district’s policy on fliers, the majority of the fourth circuit court ruled, was not “viewpoint neutral.”

The Child Evangelism Fellowship, in partnership with the religious advocacy groups, has litigated similar cases in numerous states, and is, at this moment, suing a school district in Arizona on the question of fliers. These efforts are all done in the name of “religious freedom,” and their advocates proudly announce their determination to fight “discrimination.” But, in fact, they undermine religious freedom and promote discrimination.

The fundamental problem with the claim that religion is just another form of speech is that it just isn’t true. Religion is special; and notwithstanding the new legal theory, our legal and constitutional system rightfully continues to recognize it as such. Thanks to the free exercise clause, religious groups are allowed to hire and fire people and select their members without regard to the laws that constrain other employers and groups. They receive significant tax benefits.

More to the point, religious groups are permitted to preach the kinds of doctrines – that homosexuality is an abomination, for example – for which non-religious groups would be excluded from schools and other government institutions. The cumulative effect of the court decisions based on the new legal theory is to force schools and other institutions to provide state-subsidized platforms for the dissemination of religious beliefs.

So, which religious groups may be expected to take advantage of this opportunity?

Much can be learned from the experience over the past ten years in New York City, after the courts forced schools to become houses of worship on Sundays. Although the new churches represent a variety of faiths, the vast majority are conservative evangelical Christian; a substantial number of these are part of national church-planting movements that happen to preach that same-sex relationships are an abomination.

The Child Evangelism Fellowship is represented at their national conventions by movement leaders who rail against the “homosexual agenda” and promote creationism. One keynote speaker has condemned interfaith marriage, which he referred to as “interracial marriage.” The leaders of the Alliance Defense Fund and the Liberty Counsel – the legal juggernauts that have made the new legal theory possible – have produced books whose titles say it all: The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today, and Same-Sex Marriage: Putting Every Household at Risk.

They are perfectly entitled to their religion, of course. They are also, by virtue of recent court decisions, now entitled to promote this religion through America’s public schools.

The lesson we may learn from our experiences over the past decade is that the founding fathers were right, all along, in acknowledging that religion is more than simply a form of speech. They knew what some of our law-makers and policy-makers may have failed to grasp: when government gets mixed up in the religion business, no outcome is pretty.

Katherine Stewart is the author of “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children” (PublicAffairs). Visit her Web site or follow her on Twitter @kathsstewart.

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Get the Church Out of America’s Kindergartens: Katherine Stewart


By: Katherine Stewart

“A radical religious ideology is rapidly gaining momentum in America’s public elementary schools. Largely unbeknownst to parents, and poorly understood by school administrators, conservative groups within the evangelical Christian movement are carrying out an organized campaign to capture the hearts and minds of children and subvert the separation of church and state.

Now, the battle is moving to the New York State Senate, which is considering legislation that would effectively grant evangelical Christian groups privileged access to the state’s schools.

Only 3 1/2 years ago, I would have found such a state of affairs hard to imagine. My awakening came when an after-school group called the Good News Club set up shop offering “Bible study” in my daughter’s public elementary school in Santa BarbaraCalifornia. It rapidly became clear that the group’s aim was to convert young children and use them to spread its fundamentalist version of Christianity. The club wanted to be in the school to foster the impression among children that its religion was endorsed by the school.

Legal Armor

The club was part of a larger organization known as the Child Evangelism Fellowship. Founded more than 70 years ago, the CEF had only a small presence in public schools until 2001, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the exclusion of such clubs from after-school programs represented a violation of their free-speech rights. This legal armor has given them an advantage over regular clubs that offer sports or crafts, because school administrators are now legally compelled to grant access. In 2010, there were 3,439 Good News Club groups, almost all in public K-6 schools around the country.

Among the clubs’ teachings: There is only one “right” way to live, and that is to believe in Jesus; anyone who fails to conform will go to hell. The activists I met who work with the CEF have an especially restrictive view of who qualifies as a Christian. Among the “unchurched,” they include most Catholics, U.S. Episcopalians, United Methodists, liberal Congregationalists and Presbyterians, as well as Mormons — anyone who doesn’t meet their understanding of “Bible-believing” Christianity.

Needless to say, this intolerant approach has proven highly divisive on the playground and at Parent Teacher Association meetings. Parents have reported many instances in which children tell playmates of other faiths that they will go to hell. If these folks were Islamists intending to inject their fundamentalism into America’s schools, and calling for Shariah law, I have little doubt they would be stopped. And yet what the evangelists are doing is identical in all but name.

“If you want to change the face of the planet…you want to focus on those children ages five through twelve; it is the most strategic age group that we have,” Mathew Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which provides the Child Evangelism Fellowship with much of their legal firepower, said at a 2010 conference. “Knock down all of the doors, all of the barriers, to all of the 65,000-plus elementary schools in the country and take the gospel to this open mission field now! Not later. Now!”

The clubs are not the only way that evangelical Christians are getting their message into the schools, which I discovered after I moved with my family to New York. Just last week, when I joined a music class in the auditorium of my son’s school on the Upper East Side, I found myself staring at posters and other paraphernalia for the Morning Star Church of New York. The church, which turns the school into a house of worship on Sundays, uses a cordoned-off area of the stage as storage space, for which the Department of Education does not collect rent.

Storage Space

As I listened to my son sing and clap with his class, I turned over a number of questions in my mind. How much does a couple of hundred square feet of storage cost in New York? How much would it be worth to Pizza Hut to have large posters scattered around the school? How long would promotional materials for a mosque last in the same space?

In all, 160 houses of worship operate in New York public schools. They pay no rent or utilities, just a small custodian fee. Though limited to off-hours, the churches have in many instances made their presence in the school distinctly noticeable. Some have approached schoolchildren directly. Many are associated with national church-planting movements that are on the extreme end of the theological spectrum. In my children’s public school, for instance, congregants are regularly instructed to pray that America’s systems of government, education, finance, law and media will be brought under Christian control.

New York’s Board of Education has long taken a stand against religious-worship services in schools, for the same reasons that it excludes partisan political groups. In June 2011, after many years and much legal effort, the board won an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that allowed it to pursue its policy despite the 2001 Supreme Court ruling. Supporters of the church-planting movement have framed the New York court’s decision as an act of persecution and discrimination.

State legislators are entering the fray. The Senate Education Committee, with the vocal backing of Bronx City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, has approved a bill that would amend state education policy and allow houses of worship to occupy the schools. The experience of the Good News Club suggests that if this bill passes, all schools will eventually be forced to adopt churches, and taxpayers will be supporting one of the largest church networks in the state.

The Education Committee of the New York City Council is scheduled to meet today and consider whether to support the bill. If council members fail to recognize it as a threat to freedom of religion and secular democracy in America, hopefully legislators in Albany will.”

(Katherine Stewart is a journalist and author of “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.” The opinions expressed are her own.)

Read more opinion online from Bloomberg View.

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