One of the things included in bill HB976 in the American state of Louisiana was a proposed “voucher program allowing state educational funds to be used to send students to schools run by religious groups”. Let’s set aside the fact that the bill, now passed as Act 2, does nothing to help public schools improve and supports the funding of non-public schools with public school money. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that shifting limited funds around without creating more funds or establishing an egalitarian way of distributing what funds there are will just end up crushing some schools, lofting others, and overall causing education goals to suffer. We’re setting that aside to focus on one of the more astonishing news items associated with bill HB976: namely that Republican Valarie Hodges, representing District 64 of Livingston Parish, initially threw strong support behind it because, in her words, “I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school”. However during the lag between HB976’s proposal and voting on it, a Muslim school applied for funding through the voucher program which prompted Rep. Valarie Hodges to withdraw her support. Said Ms. Hodges, “I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools” and “Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion. We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”
So, to recap, bill HB976 proposed, among many things, to create a voucher program allowing state educational funds to fund “schools run by religious groups”. Republican Valarie Hodges threw support behind it because she wanted all parents to have the option of sending their kids either to public school or to private Christian school. A Muslim school applied for funding through the voucher program. Whereupon Valarie Hodges promptly freaked out, withdrew her support, and basically said she thought religion meant Christianity. To quote a Despicable Me Minion, “Whaaaaaaaaaaat?”
So many things are wrong here I almost can’t even articulate them all. But you know I’m certainly going to try. This is like Christmas morning. It’s a present within a present just waiting to be unwrapped.
I think the first order of business absolutely is to define ‘religion’. Dictionary.com, help a girl out.
Religion: noun A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
Color me surprised that it doesn’t simply say Religion: noun Christianity.
Next, what is a Muslim school? A Muslim is an adherent of Islam so a Muslim school would be a place wherein Islamic teachings are offered. Islam, it should be noted, is not just a religion, it is one of the top three religions in the world as ranked by adherents. So a Muslim school certainly qualifies as a school run by a religious group.
“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity”, declared Valarie Hodges. Except, is it? America’s Founding Fathers, were they all Christian? Let me quote Bill Flax from his article ‘Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?’ on Forbes.com: “America wasn’t founded as a Christian nation and many of our beloved Forefathers sadly were not, yet America was largely comprised of Believers. Liberty allows us to worship freely or not at all per conscience.” There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Founding Fathers counted Christians amongst their numbers, certainly, but also Deists, Unitarians, Anglicans, and those who adhered more to a secularist perspective.
Finally Ms. Hodges stated “There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently” which... lady, can you back that up? Google is your friend, you know. In admittedly about five minutes of research I cross-referenced three online registries of religious private schools in Louisiana and the most I could find with an Islamic teaching base was three. Three schools. Containing, between all of them, not even close to a thousand students.
Valarie Hodges has been called out on bigotry which is fair considering her very deliberate statements against Muslim schools but I honestly think her biggest problem is that she has the reading comprehension skills of my cat. Religious does not just mean Christian. America’s Founding Fathers were not, across the board, steeped in Christianity. And a thousand Muslim schools in Louisiana alone is a bold-faced hyperbolic lie. You’ve quite dug yourself a deep enough hole already, Valarie Hodges, without adding the crime of hysterical exaggeration to your list of idiotic sins. Next time a bill comes to your attention, do yourself a favor and actually read it. Above all, understand that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” may, for some, not include Bible Belt Christianity and that’s not only okay, it’s a vital freedom to protect.
- Corinne Simpson