Thursday, November 25, 2004

Urban legend or sinister propaganda?
OH MY GOD!! THOSE EVIL LIBERALS ARE AT IT AGAIN! The highly reputable news source, Reuters, alerts us that "A California teacher has been barred by his school from giving students documents from American history that refer to God -- including the Declaration of Independence." That's right, the liberals have managed to ban the Declaration of Independence! The only way to stop their evil is to send all your loose cash to archy Ministries. Really! Don't stop to think about it; do it now!!*

Does anyone think this is true? Reuters really has an article that makes that claim. Which do you think is correct:
  • A) It's true. It's really true. If you have a copy of the Declaration of Independence, blue-helmeted Canadian storm-troopers will arrive by black helicopter and take it, and you, away.
  • B) It's an urban legend, a practical joke. Reuters fell for someone's Thanksgiving Eve Fool's Day joke.
  • C) Don't be a git, there is no such thing as Thanksgiving Eve Fool's Day. Reuters is either a willing or an unwilling shill for some idiotic religious right persecution narrative.

If you answered "C," you're correct. Dave Johnson over at Seeing the Forest has the straight poop on this story.

Reading a little between the lines, it appears that the teacher, Steven Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at Stevens Creek School in Cupertino, was giving his students a collection of out of context founding-father quotes to support a Christian Nation viewpoint. This technique, called quote mining, is a common strategy used by the religious right. If you follow creationism battles, you'll be very familiar with the technique. It also appears that Williams had had some run-ins with his principal over this. He was required to get her approval on his lesson plans. He claims he was singled out for discrimination because he is a Christian.

Notice the unqualified use of the word "Christian." I've talked about this before. This is how the right appropriates a word for their own use. It implies many things. By making it sound like he is the only Christian in the school, he claims the privileged position of a beleaguered minority. It also implies that only his variety of Christianity is the only authentic variety, the only one allowed to be simply "Christian." Authenticity is a powerful quality in the American value system.

It's all about manipulating public perceptions. Williams is being represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization that sees itself as a sort of anti-ACLU for the right. ADF was founded by a number of familiar right-wing, political/ religious figures including Rev. James Dobson, rev. James Kennedy, and Bill Bright, who also founded the Campus Crusade for Christ. It is the position of ADF that Christians have a right "to 'share the gospel' in workplaces and public schools, claiming that any efforts to curb proselytizing at work and school are anti-Christian." They have been involved in many high profile cases over religion in public life.

Here's Dave's analysis of how this plays as a propaganda project:
This is the BIG STORY today, on Rush, and Drudge, and the rest of the Usual Suspects. And it is a carefully planned and carefully timed lie.

The story is timed for this afternoon [Wednesday] so that it cannot be refuted until Monday.

It is timed to cause fights and hatred at family Thanksgiving dinners across the country.

It is part of a strategy to reinforce a "conventional wisdom" notion that "liberals" are "going too far" with their demands of separation of church and state.

So far the School District has remained quiet about the case giving Williams and the ADF free reign to frame the issue in the public consciousness. So far about twenty news outlets have picked up the story. They are all repeating Williams version with no attempt to dig deeper. They have Williams version and the School District won't comment, so they can't even do he said/she said coverage.

* Okay. Reuters didn't have that last part. But if you want to send all your loose cash to archy, I won't try to talk you out of it. But if you do so, be sure to roll your really loose cash first. The lady at the credit union gets really grumpy when I fill the drive through drawer with unrolled pennies.

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