In the latest round of bickering going on between church and state, the Human Rights Committee of Reykjavík city council recently drew up a proposal that would forbid church officials from visiting play schools or grade schools for the purpose of missionary work. As the schools are under the jurisdiction of the municipalities, and Iceland has a distinct lack of religious nutjobs, you’d think that this would be pretty cut and dry.
Almost immediately, though, conservatives were all over this, blogging furiously, tossing out all sorts of slippery slope fallacies, to the point where city council actually had to reassure the public that they were not going to ban Christmas in schools; they just wanted to prevent proselytising. This didn’t stop the Bishop of Iceland himself from accusing city officials of “prejudice and opposition to faith, especially Christianity.” And so the Human Rights Committee has withdrawn the proposal for some language re-workings.
Now, I’ve come to expect that the church will continue to act defensively in justifying its place in the public sector. What I find puzzling is how the Ministry of Culture and Education has handled the situation.
Perhaps in an effort to mollify church officials, the ministry has put forth the legal opinion that parents may request that their children not be taught Christianity, and that if the school is planning to take children to church, or if priests are coming to teach Christianity, that parents must be informed ahead of time with ample notice so that parents can ask their children be excluded.
What is striking about this opinion is that it establishes a default setting of church in school, which I guess isn’t surprising, considering the source: the national law on education allows for Christianity to be taught in schools. Just remembering the parliamentary Education Committee meetings on this clause alone is enough to give me a headache. The logic behind it – that Christianity teaches important values such as compassion and forgiveness – reminds me of the old American excuse that defence spending is so important because of all the technology in non-military applications it brings. It both cases, why do we need the middle man?
Do we not already teach compassion and forgiveness in schools? Does Christianity have a monopoly on those values? This might be a crazy idea, but maybe the default setting for school should be education. If parents want their kids to learn about Jesus, they can still take them to church.
I have a playschool-aged daughter. If I wanted to live in a country where I actually had to deal with the whole “war on Christmas” crap, I could move to Kansas. We should be beyond this point.