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The Week in Stupid

The Week in Stupid is a new feature that will highlight some of the more grandiose exhibitions of anti-intellectualism occurring in contemporary America. As anyone who observes the cultural landscape knows, America has a proud tradition of delivering inexplicable idiocy in the public arena. This is especially so in the realm of politics, where irrational statements and actions can be an asset in many parts of the country, but it also can be found in other areas: schools, media, and throughout popular culture.

The Week in Stupid will document some (but certainly not all) of this ongoing American tradition, with hopes that calling attention to it might prompt more of us to consider what can be done about it. Of course, with the topic being anti-intellectualism in American society, we’ll have a vast pool of material from which to select, so the hardest part of writing this column might be deciding which candidates for inclusion make the cut and which don’t.

Below are our inaugural entries, three examples of anti-intellectualism in America today. All took place within the last week, showing that Americans never have to wait long for the next act of buffoonery. Taking us on a tour of the Bible Belt, with stops in Florida, Texas, and Mississippi, here they are:

 

FLORIDA: SCHOOL BOARD OR CHRISTIAN REVIVAL?

Prayer in public schools was declared unconstitutional over fifty years ago, but sometimes public officials just can’t help themselves. Almost always motivated by a need to put their Christianity on display for their constituents, some school committee members ignore the law and try to slip in a prayer to start their meetings. Since this isn’t so uncommon, the fact that the Okaloosa County school board in Florida started its meeting with a prayer this week would hardly be noteworthy—but this was no simple prayer.

As the video above shows, this school board meeting erupted into a full-fledged revival, with singing, preaching, and pretty much everything that you’d expect in a Sunday morning evangelical service. It seems the Christian community saw that a non-Christian invocation was going to be offered, and this resulted in a bombast of religious expression from the Christian faithful, who apparently thought that only their religion would be promoted at the meetings. After watching how this school board conducts business, one has to feel sorry for the kids of Okaloosa County.

 

ABBOTT ENDORSES ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ CRUISERS

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It’s perhaps no surprise that Texas would make the inaugural issue of The Week in Stupid. The state’s governor, Gregg Abbott, this week declared his “full support” for placing the words “In God We Trust” on police cruisers. As I’ve written elsewhere, religious conservatives have launched a campaign to post “In God We Trust” everywhere and anywhere, an obvious effort to resist secularism and portray America as a Christian nation. Abbott, apparently oblivious to the fact that many of his constituents do not trust in God, ardently endorses this invidious practice. As the successor to a governor who launched a presidential campaign with a public prayer rally, who in turn had succeeded a governor who became known as one of the most anti-intellectual American presidents of all time, Abbott seems to be following in the footsteps of his predecessors.

 

TEACHER CALLS ATHEISTS ‘FOOLS’

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Our final entry this week comes from Mississippi, where public school teacher Rick Hammarstrom, who moonlights as a Baptist preacher, told his students that atheists have their own day, “It’s called April Fool’s Day, because you are a fool if you don’t believe in God.”

Well, as they say, it takes one to know one. Hammarstrom, a history teacher, reportedly makes a regular practice of promoting his theology and denigrating atheists in the classroom, and this upset at least one of his students, who turned to us at the American Humanist Association for assistance. We sent a letter to the school district (which has already been found to be in contempt of a consent decree requiring it to operate within the bounds of the Establishment Clause). We’re still awaiting the district’s response.

Until next time, that’s The Week in Stupid.

 

(Note: If you have examples of American anti-intellectualism that you would like to submit to this column, please send them via the contact page.)

 

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Congressional Prayer Caucus Under Scrutiny

The Congressional Prayer Caucus (CPC), a center of Christian Right political power in Washington, came under scrutiny in major media this week, with an article in USA Today that called attention to the group and its religiously charged agenda.

Led by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), the taxpayer-funded CPC has connections to a private group called the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, which is headquartered in a building owned by Forbes that also houses his campaign office.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, the CPC consistently takes positions that support fundamentalist Christian viewpoints in public policy. They want “In God We Trust” signs and Ten Commandments monuments in public places, they oppose efforts to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, they want prayer to be part of government activities, and they defend gay-bashing chaplains in the military. The group once criticized President Obama for referring to E Pluribus Unum as an American motto, and has even gone so far as to advocate for removal of Establishment Clause cases from the jurisdiction of federal courts.

One would hope that with views like these the CPC would be obscure and insignificant, but that’s not the case. At one point the CPC boasted over 100 members, or almost one in four members of Congress.

The American Humanist Association has been calling public attention to the CPC for years. In each of the last two election cycles, for example, the AHA has sent letters to incoming members of Congress urging them not to join the CPC, pointing out that CPC positions are extreme and hostile to the interests of religious minorities and the nonreligious. Perhaps the efforts are working, as CPC membership has dropped over ten percent since the AHA’s efforts began.

 

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