Banning the Teaching of Evolution
michael.mcconnell at LAW.UTAH.EDU
Wed Mar 4 13:56:57 PST 1998
Mark Rahdert writes:
> On the broader question up for discussion, I think the "secular
> purpose" rule serves two functions. 1) It prevents the government from
> engaging in overt establishment of religion of a kind which is virtually
> nonexistent in our society today but in which governments in nations with
> established religions routinely engage. For example, in 17th century
> England, Parliament regulated the content of the Book of Common Prayer, for
> the express purpose of protecting and establishing religious truth; in Iran
> today women's attire is regulated for the express purpose of conforming to
> the true understanding of the commands of the Qur'an.
I think the example is more complicated than this may
suggest. My guess is that women's attire is regulated in
this way in Iran because the majority believes it is
preventing public indecency -- just as we require women to
wear clothing covering their breasts. To be sure, the
reason the majority in Iran believes that it would be
indecent for women to expose their arms, legs, and faces is
rooted in the Koran; but presumably the reason we think
female toplessness is indecent is rooted in our culture,
which is profoundly affected by Biblical religion.
Ideas of decency in dress are entirely conventional; there
are no "rational" standards (which is not to say that it is
irrational to have standards of decency in dress). I see
no particular reason to treat as unconstitutional those
cultural artifacts that can be traced to religious sources.
Indeed, I do not think such a thing is possible.
(Regulating the content of the Book of Common Prayer is,
and should be, unconstitutional for reasons wholly
unrelated to "secular purpose.")
> 2) The effect of the "secular purpose" rule, then, is to force the
> government to justify its actions in nonreligious terms.
My conclusion is just the opposite: the effect of the
"secular purpose" rule is to allow the secular elite to
strike down measures they do not like or understand, while
upholding the products of their own cultural assumptions. I
am very skeptical that the doctrine does more good than
-- Michael McConnell (U of Utah)
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