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Note: During the segment about the Release Time Religious Instruction, we referred to the curriculum vendor as “Lifeways Academy”. That was not correct. The vendor is Lifewise Academy. We didn’t catch the error before editing the episode and elected not to rerecord the segment. We regret the error. — Doug Berger (Host).
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Doug Berger 0:04
Elections matter. And when you can hold a supermajority in the state legislature, you can feed your every factless, conspiracy theory fever dream, and let your bigot flag fly. In this episode, we look at Ohio. This is Secular Left.
Doug Berger 0:36
Before we get into the meat of this episode, I just wanted to make a note of a change in how this podcast is going to be produced. Going forward from this episode going forward, several episodes ago, probably eight or nine episodes ago, I had elected to change to a video first recording philosophy. And basically what it is I set up a webcam at my desk, and recorded it on video, edited the video, put it all together, and then stripped the audio out and sent that out is the podcast. So if you’re getting this in Apple podcasts, or Google podcasts or your favorite podcast catcher, you are listening to a video. Well, in most cases, you were listening to a video, audio part, the audio part of the video. Anyway, what I’ve, what I’ve decided is that I’ve been wanting one of the goals I’ve had for this show is to interview people who are of interest would be of interest to progressive secular people on the left, not necessarily on the left, but at least progressive, progressive secular people. And we’ve had people we’ve had some, some interviews like Alison Gill, from American Atheists, I think, and Julian Mack, who’s an activist here in the city of Toledo. And that’s all well and good, but it’s been really hard to find people to interview, you know, especially, and it could be because it’s secular left, people don’t want to be associated with it, I don’t know. But you know, I’ve sent out emails and things and, and I’ve taken the opportunity now to try to cannibalize another podcast that I host and trying to reuse material. And I’m going to see how that goes. But anyway, so the decision that I made after the after the last episode is, is doing a video with all the graphics and the jump cuts and jazzing it up to make it appealing. It’s a lot of work. And I am not happy being a talking head. Majority of these episodes, that’s on video is just me talking, like I’m doing right now. But with graphics, and pictures and color. And I’m not happy about that. I think it’s boring. It bores me, I think it bores the listener, I think the you get more out of it, just listening to the audio than watching the pictures. So the change I’m going to make is, unless I’m interviewing somebody, I am not going to have a video of me talking. And so basically, if it’s just me doing a monologue, talking about issues like we’re going to talk about today is it’ll be it’ll still be a video on YouTube on the YouTube channel, but it’ll be static images, just some graphics because I got to do graphics for the show art. So I’ll put that up to market and I’ll have a background that moves so you know it’s a video but me in front of a green screen talking. I’m cutting that out. That’s just too much work. Now if I have people available that I interview, then we’ll do the video where we’re both on camera and I do the graphics and because that that will be a lot less work for me. And less boring for the viewer. Yeah, I because this operation is just me and it takes several hours to put the videos together. And I just I just tired of doing it. So especially if it’s just me, I’m tired of doing it. So because of that then I am removed removing that isn’t benefit. So basically getting an early view of the video was a benefit of the buymeacoffee page which is set up to have memberships. So I’m going to be removing that and I’m thinking about something else for a special benefit for people that become members. So I just wanted to make sure that everybody knew about that change. And so you didn’t wonder why Doug is not on camera anymore. That’s why I made the change. So, enjoy this episode.
Doug Berger 5:13
For more information about any of the topics covered in this episode, check out our show notes at secularleft.us.
Doug Berger 5:33
Recently, I became aware of a local school near near where I live, Elmwood local schools in Wood County have decided to institute a release time religious instruction period for elementary students starting I believe it’s going to be starting next school year. And it would be it would use what’s called release time. And release time was allowed in a couple of US Supreme Court cases back in the 40s and 50s. So it’s McCollum v Board of Education. 1948 and Zorach v. Clauson 1952. And what that meant was that school districts should would allow students to leave school in order to receive religious instruction. Or, in when I was a kid, people used release time, on Ash Wednesday to go to the local Catholic Church and get the ashes put on their forehead, and then they would come back. And basically, this is time that a student can go free time ahead of time, you know, they have to say, Hey, I’m going to leave that day to take care of whatever religious thing that they wanted to do either go to mass or religious instruction. It’s hasn’t been used as often. But I’ve been noticing a trend of this being used. And, and what it is, is that, that these court cases set up these guidelines, so that this release time religious instruction didn’t violate the First Amendment. First of all, religion classes must be voluntary. Parents are required to get permission for their children to attend. And it’s written permission. The class can’t be held on school grounds. Now, classes can be held after school and on in a school building. But that’s a different legal issue. So these religion instruction classes can’t be held on school grounds. The class can’t be taught by school employees. So you can’t have Miss Mavis, your English teacher teaching you about creation science in this release time class. And then finally, no tax funds can be spent on the classes at all. And, and the way that it’s been working out, the programs that I’m aware of now are it’s a volunteer committees, and they raise money, private donations, and it can cost anywhere from 15 to $300 per student to do these classes, depending on the area and what regulations, other regulations that they have to abide by. My group, secular humanists, Western Lake Erie, we acknowledge that release time, religious instruction is legal. But we object to it and I object to a personally on the principle of religious freedom that this country is supposed to stand for. There have been plenty of ideas in the past that were once legal in this country. You know, they passed Supreme Court muster, that are no longer legal and no longer allowed, like segregation, and not allowing women to own property. So I believe that any religious instruction should be left to the parents and their religion completely outside the school day. I don’t believe that there should be this religious class that kids go to in the middle of the day. One of the primary objections I have is that the classes only teach one religious sect Christianity, and for one holy book, The Holy Bible. Now, we can’t expect a school district to carve out release time for all of the religions wanting the same accommodation to indoctrinate their children, because eventually, you’d have all of the children at a school not being in school at some point during the day because they’re off getting religious instruction.
Doug Berger 10:15
And again, while release time is legal, it becomes unfair because it doesn’t accommodate any religion besides Christianity. Good luck. If you’re Muslim, in a, in a school district, like let’s say, Elmwood and you try to have released time for teaching for classes in in Islam. Good luck trying to have that. I just think that it’s too subjective approval or disapproval. That’s why it shouldn’t be involved in the school districts at all. Also, these this release time religious instruction that favors Christianity only supports the point of view of Christianity, or whatever Christianity that they want to teach. And a lot of those points of view are opposite of what public school should be doing in the first place. The vendor that is providing the curriculum to Elmwood is called Lifewise Academy. And they have some sample material that they have available on their website. And one of them was a drawing. It was saved five, I think it was called Find the creation, find the creation scenes, and it was like one of those mazes with you connect the different areas with a try to do it. Anyway, it was like a puzzle. But I don’t think that is, you know, might be technically legal. But it’s unethical to be teaching a kid about creation during the school day when they’re going to go back to school and learn about evolution, which is the real and actual science that they need to be learning. And so the reason why the courts that are so are so strict about religion in public schools, is because a school is seen as an agent of the state. And laws that require attendance could be used to coerce a child. The claim that these classes are voluntary, does it address the real outcome? If Little Susie or Timmy isn’t allowed to attend, these children could be ostracized or bullied for non compliance by other children. And we’ve seen examples of this. You know, it’s perfectly okay perfectly legal, not to say the Pledge of Allegiance. But we’ve had cases in the news where kids have been sent out of the room, and punished for not saying the pledge, we’ve had them bullied by other kids, because they didn’t say the Pledge. And I know, when I was a kid, we had sex education classes, that were highly regulated, in much the same way these these religious release time religious instruction times our classes, and that you had to have a written permission slip from a parent. And if you weren’t allowed, if the parents wouldn’t allow you to attend, you had to leave the room and go to study hall. And we had two kids in my class, my particular class, who were friends of mine, they were brothers and their parents were very, very, extremely religious. And they would not let them attend these this class participate in the class. So they had to go to study hall. And kids made fun of them. They bullied them, because they weren’t allowed to participate. And that’s what kids do. So just because it’s voluntary, doesn’t mean that somebody is not going to, to do it simply to belong. You know, and that’s another reason why there’s a court case before the court right now, about a football coach in Washington State, praying with his players. And that’s why it’s wrong for a coach to do that. You know, he’s claiming that it’s voluntary, that the kids don’t have to do it. But you have the football coach, somebody who puts you on a bench, say, hey, let’s pray, you’re going to pray because you want to play. The same with these religion classes. Some of these kids are going to go to these classes, and they’re not even it’s not even their religion, and they’re going to go because they don’t want to feel left out. And what happens if Timmy and Susie begged her parents to allow them to attend because all our friends are doing it and a low information parent signs off because their kids begged down? You know, none of that is voluntary. Not at all.
Doug Berger 14:59
You know, I think Any release time religious instruction should start if it’s going to be done, it should start with a meeting, an in person meeting between interested parents, the school district and the curriculum supplier, instead of just sending out a trivial letter with a form that way, then it’s there’s decision making that’s done based on the information. So you can ask questions and, and, and get information that way, instead of just getting a random letter and not understanding what it means and not being able to ask questions. I also object to the notion that children can only learn character values in a religious setting. That’s one of the big selling points of this curriculum is it teaches character values. That’s the whole reason. That’s the mask that they use to, to bring in the religion is they want to teach character skills to students try to modify their behavior. Try to make the school a safe place, and they think it’s done through religion. But that’s just wrong. In the example, materials provided by the vendor Lifewise being used to set up the classes it shows some example cards that are titled with general character values that everybody knows what they are gratitude, respect, responsibility, etc. Then they’re illustrated with what looks like Bible story artwork. Now, character values should be part of a school curriculum. But they tend to, but they should be applicable to people in a general sense. And not be made to seem like they only exist when supported by religion. Because again, gratitude, responsibility, respect, those are all important character traits that don’t require religion to exist. You know, I, you know, one of the first things that I learned in school was to share my toys. You know, that’s not, it wasn’t like, you know, Doug, you need to share your toys, you’re going to hell, you know, that was never the conversation. It’s just, you know, some people learn these things. And again, there are plenty of secular or non sectarian examples of character traits being taught and being learned, in children’s and young adult literature. You know, that’s pretty much their, their, their bread and butter. I mean, that’s pretty much one of the themes of many of these books like The Judy Blume books and encyclopedia Brown and other children’s literature, young adult literature. And so in the Lifewise materials that I looked at the Bible stories are just window dressing. To install religion during a school day, that’s all it is. The vendor also make some dubious statistical claims about their program about their curriculum. In an effort to make it look like that that program is actually good for children. They trot out the old tropes, that religious belief makes one happier, makes one less likely to do drugs. And that release time religious instruction can narrow the achievement gap by 50%. The achievement gap is one of those things that parents lament, it’s one of the driving ideas that they’re trying to make school go all year. You know, all year you got you would go to school, you would go to school, and like four or five or six week blocks and keep going because they believe that children, young children, especially kind of backtrack when they haven’t when they’re not in that structured environment, continually, and so Lifewise claims that these religion classes would continue that structure and and reduce that achievement gap by 50%. I don’t buy it. Because they only meet one day a week for an hour. Children don’t lose what they’ve learned in one hour. If that were the case, then there would be no study halls or recesses. It would be learn learn learn all day long, with only a break for lunch.
Doug Berger 19:43
And I don’t know about you, but I believe that children need to take breaks during the school day to relieve stress or boredom, or to blow off some steam. educational experts have decried for years, the removal of phys ed, art and music classes because schools are been forced to teach to a test, they just don’t, they don’t have the time or the resources to do phys ed art music classes anymore because they have to get these kids to pass these tests that is used to show progress. Rather than showing that a kid is a productive citizen in his community, they have to have numbers and quantity, quantitative numbers. And so the arts and crafts and music and phys ed get left to the side, because that doesn’t help with the numbers. And I think that’s completely wrong. And so I think giving up a study and not a study hall for little kids, but getting giving up a free time or library period, to attend religious instruction. I don’t think that’s going to help. I mean, they, they trotted out some studies in their materials, they had some links to some studies, but it wasn’t specifically about release time, instructional periods, about religious instruction. It was about religious belief in general. And so I think, I would like to see some actual studies about about the particular curriculum. And then finally, the other concern that I had about this release time religious instruction, was that, at least in this in this specific example of Elmwood School District, that somebody that was on the volunteer committee setting up the classes, was appointed to the school board that then voted to adopt the curriculum. That’s kind of like a He claimed that he was going to step aside from the volunteer committee since he was on the school board now, but he still voted for it. And that that, to me shows conflict of interest. So here in Elmwood, they were estimating it was probably going to cost $45,000 to put these classes on, so they have until the fall to get it together. They’re going to meet in a community room. That happens to be an old school building. I think it was an old gymnasium. I think I’m remembering Elmwood correctly, that is the community center next to the school, so the kids will walk. They claim Lifewise claims that they have liability insurance. They also require that people that are involved with the classes be vetted and have background checks, which, okay. So that’s why it’s going to cost about, that’s why it’s going to cost about $45,000. Because they don’t have to transport the students. They don’t have to put them in a bus or a van. So just to reiterate, my point here is that, you know, this is a concern. In the article that I read, there are several, at least a handful of school districts in Northwest Ohio, that have this Lifewise Academy, in their during their school day. And again, even though it’s legal, I just don’t think it violates the spirit of the First Amendment. I really do. I think it violates the spirit. But of course, even though it’s legal, it’s gonna happen. So basically, what what I think that people should do is they should, you know, people, especially if you have children in public schools, and this comes around, watch what goes on very carefully, you know, make sure that they are following the guidelines, it’s voluntary, and they’re not pressuring kids to go. If you feel that your children have been pressured or, you know, have children that are being pressured to go no contact either Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or the, the freedom from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and contact them and report it. Because that’s the only way that this is going to, they’re going to take a look at this and and try to make sure that the school is conforming. And also ask questions. You know, call the principal, ask them specifically about these programs. If you’re, if your children are being pressured or or feel like you’re being pressured, and
Doug Berger 24:43
make sure that they’re not overly promoting it during the school day and, you know, just make sure that they follow the guidelines in the law and keep an eye out in your local area.
Doug Berger 25:03
Hey everyone, this is your host Doug. I just wanted to jump in here briefly, before we move on to let you know that I goofed in the just completed segment about the release time religious education curriculum being adopted in Elmwood schools. In throughout the segment, I mentioned the vendor of the curriculum as lifeways Academy. That is incorrect. The correct name is life wise Academy. And I just did not want to record the whole entire segment again. And so I did not catch that mistake until I went to edit the episode. And I do regret the error and should be correct in the transcripts. And I will add a note to the show notes. Take care.
Doug Berger 26:02
This is Secular Left.
Doug Berger 26:05
I’m sure that some of the people that listen to this podcast are familiar with the recent enacting of a law in Florida, that’s been commonly called Don’t say gay. Basically, it’s a law that prohibits the teaching of, of gender identity to young kids in public schools. Well, not to be outdone, the fine folks fine Republican folks in Ohio, have introduced their own version of a don’t say gay bill, House Bill 616. And not only incorporates Florida’s don’t say gay parts, but also ties it into but Bill prohibiting the teaching of divisive concepts, you know, like racism and slavery, which is also a bad thing for them to be doing, but they’re doing it anyway. There’s currently a bill that’s before the House Ohio House 327 that would ban the teaching of divisive concepts, the vaguely worded divisive concepts. But it’s kind of stalled out, especially after one of the people that introduced it. Representative Sarah Fowler Arthur, was quoted in a W E ws report in Cleveland in early March, that there were two sides to the Holocaust story. And school shouldn’t be prohibited from only teaching one side. And so that pretty much tainted that bill. I think it’s hasn’t moved, it could move anytime they have a supermajority, they could pass it in any moment. But for right now, they’re trying again with a different bill where they they take all the CRT stuff and devise a concept stuff and put it in this bill 616. And I just wanted to read to you a quote from the Buckeye Buckeye flame website that did a report on it. said on Monday, Republicans introduced House Bill 616 and the Ohio House of Representatives legislation with broad, vague and barely defined language designed to ban the promotion and teaching of divisive and inherently racist concepts. The bill contains specific bans on acknowledging or discussing LGBTQ+ identity sponsored by representatives Mike, Mike Loychick, and Jean Schmidt. Boy, our good buddy Jean Schmidt. She’s really out there on the right wing. The bill would ban school districts in selecting any textbook instructional material, or academic curriculum that promotes any divisive or inherently racist, racist concepts including critical race theory, which is not taught in public schools intersectional theory the 1619 project Diversity, Equity and Inclusion learning outcomes, inherited racial guilt and any other concept that the State Board of Education defines as divisive or inherently racist. Oh, that’s not that’s not subject subjected at all. Additionally, the bill would prevent schools from offering training or professional development to employees that promote or endorse divisive or inherently racist concepts. Alright, so here’s where that’s the the divisive concept part,
Doug Berger 26:12
the don’t say gay part includes with respect to a student in any of grades kindergarten through three schools may not teach us or provide any curriculum, or instructional materials on sexual orientation, or gender identity. With respect to a student in any of the grades four through 12, schools may not teach use or provide any curriculum or instructed instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity in any manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards. Consequences for violating the statutes, including official license admonishment suspension, or revocation and withholding of funds to that school. So basically, what it is, and I need to tell you that, that sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t specifically being taught to young kids, if any of that is being taught, it’s, it’s going to be age appropriate. You know, like, the books like, Mary has two moms or something like that, where you introduced the concepts, okay? What the, what the right wingers are afraid of what they’re always afraid of, is being turned gay. And so they think that if you read about it, or if a teacher tell talks to you about it, it’s going to turn their children gay, they also think that being gay is the cool thing that kids do, or being transgender, being a trans person is a cool thing. You know, like, it’s, like, it’s an ice cream flavor. You know, and so they think that if they keep it out of the schools, if they, if they prohibit anybody from talking about it, then it’s gonna protect their children and their children aren’t going to be gay or trans. Of course, that’s not the case. And and, of course, if you ask them, Well, you know, you have all these gay and trans kids reading about straight kids, and straight stories. They haven’t been turned straight. But they don’t have an answer to that they don’t you know, that just, they just kind of look at you like, Huh?, but they think that I am. And that’s also kind of some of the the impetus about the book bannings, too, is that they don’t want kids learning about sex, and they don’t want sexual explicit materials in the schools. They’ve called it pornography. If, if a teen if a teen young adult novel has two teens having sex, they think their kids gonna have sex, you know, and you just, it’s like, I don’t know if it’s like a chemical thing or a genetic thing. But these adults, it’s like a switch gets turned. And they totally forget what it was like, when they were a kid. You know, and these are, these are people that weren’t born like in the 40s. You know, most of them anyway, you know, there are people that are my age, in the 50s. Thinking that their shelter, you know, it hasn’t worked. It hasn’t worked in 50 years, sheltered kids sheltering kids from the world has not worked for 50 years. And in fact, I would claim, I would make the argument that sheltering kids actually harms them and makes things worse in the world. It makes bigotry worse, it makes racism worse. It makes a tax on LGBTQ people worse, because in order to understand somebody who is not like you, you have to be exposed to people like that or, or how they live, you know, because you see it all the time. For example, Senator, US Senator Rob Portman who’s retiring at the end of his term here coming up shortly this at the end of this year, he was adamantly anti LGBT Q. adamantly anti gay until one of his children came out. And now he supports gay gay rights. You know, that’s how it happens. That’s how that’s how people become. No, that’s how you normalize behaviors and and reduce attacks, personal bullying. Because because if you put kids in a bubble, and don’t expose them to these other other concepts, like there are other types of families, you know, Heather can have two moms. Heather can have two dads.
Doug Berger 34:54
Being gay, isn’t pedophilia. That’s another good one that the right wing likes to trot trot out that, that gay people are trying to groom children. And that’s in fact that is one of the people. The spokespeople for Governor DeSantis in Florida when they were at when reporters were asking about their don’t say gay bill, she claimed that if you didn’t support the bill, you supported pedophiles, pedophiles grooming children, because they equate homosexuality with pedophilia, which is just mind boggling bonkers. You know, that’s like, that’s like equating the priesthood with pedophilia. You know, nobody, nobody would put up with that argument. So why are they putting it up? Because it’s easy. It’s they’re easy marks. You know, it’s bills like this that hurt kids. It doesn’t protect them. And then the other big thing that they’re going after, with bills like this is the Diversity Equity and Inclusion learning outcomes. You know, that’s trauma, trauma infused care. You know, that’s, you know, building diversity and equity and inclusion across all economic socio economic statuses. It’s just trying to have a good place for kid all kids of all types to learn in a safe environment. So why would they be against that? Because a lot of these people, they want to say the N word all the time, they want to be bigots, and they don’t like it when the schools teach this. teach this stuff. You know, it’s okay for a church to teach gratitude and respect and responsibility. But when a public school teaches it and includes LGBTQ people, oh, now they don’t want to do it. The 1619 project was about the history about how the United States was built, and founded and built on slavery. A little bit controversial, it’s a bit controversial, just in some of the historical things that it talked about. But it’s a good thing. intersectional theory, asserts that individuals are often simultaneously disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression. They could be oppressed because of their race, their class, their gender identity, sexual orientation, religion and other identity markers. That’s all intersectionality talks about. That’s all it means. And it’s and so they’re dragging that through the mud. Again, critical race theory is not being taught in the public schools. That’s a college level information, inherited racial guilt. This is another thing that the right wingers hate is the fact that that white people owned slaves and, and supported slavery back in the good old days. And they’re afraid that little Timmy and Johnny and Chloe, finding out about that in school will make them feel bad. And that’s not the point. The point isn’t, it’s not even inherited racial guilt. We’re not saying that, that little Timmy should be feel guilty because her his distant uncle Artemis owned slaves, what the what the, they should be to what they’re teaching is that white people have done bad things. And we need to acknowledge that and work through that and how can we move forward and stop doing bad things? You know, racism, racist, racism hasn’t gone away. They just passed a federal law and signed it into law, just this past couple of weeks, outlawing lynching, you believe some some black person has committed a crime and and the community gets together and strings them up in a tree and kills them murders them. That boggles my mind that that had not been a federal crime since the Civil Rights era. But it hasn’t, because that’s why we need things like some of these divisive concepts. Because they still happen today. They’re still in, in our world, and we need to eradicate them, but we can’t eradicate them if we don’t learn about them. And then finally, when it talks about any other concept that the State Board of Education defines as devices are inherently racist, as I said, that’s just subjectively vague on its face, because they could choose anything.
Doug Berger 39:41
But the main thing is that it’s just it’s not going to protect children as and they’re just using it for cheap, cheap political points. And the Sandusky Register had contacted several local lawmakers, asking about their comments about The House Bill 327, the the one that just includes the controversial topics, and only one representative got back to him, the rest of them won’t talk about it, because it’s a cheap political stunt. You know, it’s just passed a bill. It’s like naming. It’s like naming post offices, you know, yes, they’re doing something, but it means absolutely nothing to the to the daily person, except that this does have a quantitative negative outcome and that it will hurt children, it will hurt LGBTQ children, it will hurt trans kids in the future, because there will be they will be less safe at school. And and they won’t be able to ask questions, they won’t be able to learn about themselves in school like everybody else. And so that’s one of the ridiculous there’s several ridiculous bills. But that’s really all the time I have to talk about it today. So I’ll throw up some links to the information about this bill, and including a link to the article at Buckeye flame, and you can check it out and hopefully contact your legislator and ask them not to support 616.
Doug Berger 41:25
Thank you for listening to this episode. You can check out more information, including links to sources used in our show notes on our website at secularleft.us. Secular Left is hosted, written and produced by Doug Berger and he is solely responsible for the content. Send us your comments, either using the contact form on the website or by sending us a note at comments at secularleft.us Our theme music is dank and nasty composed using amplify studio. See you next time.
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Secular Left © 2021 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
Produced, written, and edited by Doug Berger
Our theme music is “Dank & Nasty” Composed using Ampify Studio
*Note* The segment “Release Time Religious Instruction” includes material previously published on the Glass City Humanist podcast and is reused here with permission.