Gise J. Van Baren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.
It is interesting to discover, in the increasingly frequent articles about AIDS, that there is but one way identified to remain AIDS-free. Many will speak of “safe sex” as though one can find methods of violating God’s laws with impunity still. Others find different methods of avoiding the consequences of sin. Still, it is very interesting and noteworthy that there is a generally universal recognition that there is but one sure way of avoiding this dread disease. Dr. Paul Donohue, a syndicated writer who appears regularly in the Grand Rapids’ Press, stated in the March 23, 1987 edition, after pointing out the various ways in which AIDS is contracted (and ways in which it can not be contracted):
You won’t get AIDS if you share a longstanding monogamous and drug-free relationship with a partner who is also AIDS-free. That’s the only what to have 100 percent protection from this fatal illness.
Interesting! He could as well have stated: obey God’s law without compromise, and this terrible disease can not strike you. But man does not want that kind of answer—and it appears that even in the face of certain death, many are not willing to consider this 100 percent preventive measure.
A lower court decision in an Alabama case has attracted the attention of the national press and created a degree of consternation within the hearts of many in the public school systems. Though one would think, given the climate of today’s thinking, that this decision will ultimately be overthrown, it is a decision with which we would basically agree. Its main thrust is that secular humanism, as admittedly taught in most public schools and in their text-books, is a religion. That is, of course, true—but a truth which most public school educators would refuse to admit. Therefore, the decision of Judge Hand is of such great interest, also to us. I quote a bit of this decision and the reasoning behind it as presented in Religious Freedom Reporter, Mar./Apr. 1987:
A federal district court has ruled that secular humanism is a religion for first amendment purposes and that textbooks used by the Alabama public schools advanced that religion in contravention of the establishment clause. In accordance with its findings, the court enjoined the use of the offending textbooks except as reference sources in comparative religion courses treating all religions equally . . . .
. . . In developing an appropriate definition of religion, the district court noted that the Supreme Court had never given an absolute definition of religion under the first amendment. On the basis of its examination of several high court decisions addressing the nature of religion, the court found four relevant considerations. First, the concept of neutrality requires that constitutional protection be extended to all religious beliefs without reference to their “theological foundations or idiosyncrasies.” Second, the nature of religion is largely dependent upon the popular perception of religion. Third, governmental definitions of religion can not constitutionally be structured to hinder or prohibit the growth of new beliefs. Fourth, government is entitled to set reasonable boundaries on religious acts necessary to enable it to carry out its essential functions. While finding that overt sponsorship, seemingly placing the state’s imprimatur on specific religious acts, violates the establishment clause, the court noted that laws incidentally agreeing with or assisting particular religious belief were legitimate expressions of the value afforded free exercise rights. It further recognized that the state could encourage free exercise rights or permit religious expression in public forums without an establishment clause violation. The court also noted the prohibition on state evaluation of the validity of any religious belief.
In light of the foregoing, the court reasoned that a proper definition of religion could not require an examination of the validity of the religious beliefs or practices involved. Moreover it concluded that the state could not employ content based definitions of religion but instead was required to evaluate the factors common to all religious movements to determine how “to distinguish those ideologies worthy of the protection of the religion clauses from those which must seek refuge under other constitutional provisions.” It stressed. that a definition of religion must be expansive enough to “encompass systems of belief that are equivalent to (traditional systems of belief) the believer.”
The court identified four areas concerning which beliefs which were properly characterized as religious made assumptions: “1) the existence of supernatural and/or transcendent reality; 2) the nature of man; 3) the ultimate end, or goal or purpose of man’s existence, both individually and collectively; and 4) the nature of the universe.” The court emphasized that while a religion need not include a belief in a deity or in supernatural existence “a religious person adheres to some position on whether supernatural and/or transcendent reality exists at all, and if so, how and if not, why.” It thus distinguished a religion from a “comprehensive world-view” or “way of life” which, although similar, do not address those issues addressed by religion. The court also concluded that examination of such considerations as the sincerity of adherents’ commitments, group organization, hierarchical structure and the practice of ritual and worship were relevant in determining whether a belief was religious.
Evaluating secular humanism under these criteria, the court found that all witnesses testifying for the plaintiffs with regard to its nature had agreed that it was a belief system constituting a religion which: “makes a statement about supernatural existence a central pillar of its logic; defines the nature of man; sets forth a goal or purpose for individual and collective human existence; and defines the nature of the universe, and thereby delimits its purpose.” Specifically the court commented that secular humanism purported to establish a “closed definition of reality” in which everything was knowable solely through the use of the human intellect. It characterized as the most important belief of the religion “its denial of the transcendent and/or supernatural, that there is no God, no creator, no divinity.” The court identified its belief in man as “the product of evolutionary, physical, forces… purely biological and (having) no supernatural or transcendent spiritual component or quality;” its definition of man’s individual purpose as to seek personal fulfillment through the free development of his rational intellect, and his collective purpose as seeking “the good life by the increase of every person’s freedom and potential for personal development.” The court also found that humanism had an established moral code and an identified source of morality—one existing in humans and human relationships but not having a spiritual or supernatural origin. Other characteristics cited as evidence of secular humanism’s religious character included, its proscription on attitudes and conduct interfering with personal freedom and fulfillment, the hierarchial structure of some secular humanist groups and their proselytizing activities. The court concluded that secular humanism was “religious for first amendment purposes because it makes statements based on faith-assumptions.”
Having defined secular humanism as a religion, the court stressed that it was subject to all the protections and prohibitions of the first amendment religion clauses including prohibitions on its promotion and advancement within the public schools . . . .
. . . The court concluded that the omissions contained in some textbooks were sufficient to constitute a violation of the constitution. Specifically it noted the lack of both historical references to religion
and references to the role of religion in the daily lives of Americans. Commenting on high school history texts, the court concluded that “The student could reasonably assume, absent other information, that theistic religion is, at best, extraneous to an intelligent understanding of this country’s history. The texts reviewed are not merely bad history, but lack so many facts as to equal ideological promotion….”
As one might expect, cries are ascending about “censorship” of books. Those who would have nothing of the Bible nor of the ten commandments because this is “religion”, now deplore the statement of the court on the claim that it is “censorship” of books. The court, however, is correct. One can not have it both ways. If “religion” is to be excluded from public schools, then logically and consistently secular humanism must be excluded too.
The “solution” to the dilemma, of course, is one which neither the courts nor people generally will recognize. Parents themselves have the responsibility to instruct, or see to the instruction of their children in harmony with their “religion”. This would remove the government from the realm of schooling. But this “solution” appears inconceivable in our present society. In the meantime, Christian parents must recognize too that the court is correct in stating that the public schools do teach religion (though the Bible is excluded). To send one’s children there is to have the world teach its religion to covenant seed. Is it any different than if the children of Israel would have sent their children to the temples of Baa1 for instruction by those priests?