Saturday, October 20, 2007

Religion and State

The following two articles are worthy of our attention for several reasons:
  1. The degree to which religion effectively can contribute to the ideal of peace is largely linked to political context in which religious life is lived and advanced
  2. Much of today's global conflict has religious undertones, and is extended by means of state instruments (including violent means).
  3. The US so far has shone as one of the better environments in terms of its devotion to the UN sanctioned requirement for religious freedom (even significantly in advance of other Western democracies (such as France and Germany).
For this reason, when religion and state issues come to the fore, It is important for interfaith and peace activists to pay close attention.

Here are two articles very different in nature, yet ones which proved the reader with keen issues about which to ponder in the arena of religion and state:

From the Washington Post

October 19, 2007

State Dept. Urged to Shut Saudi School in Fairfax

by Jacqueline L. Salmon and Valerie Strauss
The Washington Post

A federal panel yesterday urged the State Department to shut down a Saudi government-supported private school in Northern Virginia unless it can prove it is not teaching religious intolerance.

In a report released yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom criticized what it called the promotion of religious extremism in Saudi-run schools around the world, including in the kingdom. It leveled particular criticism at the Islamic Saudi Academy, which operates two campuses in Fairfax County, expressing "significant concerns" that the school is promoting a brand of religious intolerance that could prove a danger to the United States.

The commission does not specifically criticize the school's teaching materials; it said Saudi officials would not make them available. But it said it is concerned about the textbooks used in the school because those used by schools in Saudi Arabia promote violence against Christians, Jews, Shias and polytheists.

The panel's recommendations prompted a sharp response from school administrators and a Saudi government representative yesterday. They angrily denied that they are teaching radical Islam and said that the commission never asked to speak with any school staff members and never asked to see any materials.

"I think they went to Saudi Arabia and saw some curriculum there and thought we are teaching the same curriculum," said Acting Director-General Abdulrahman Alghofaili, who also is principal of the boys' high school. "And the fact is that we are teaching another curriculum. We are teaching an American curriculum."

Panel members said they attempted to get access to the school's textbooks and curriculum through the Saudi government but were unsuccessful.

"We've made every effort to get this information," commission member Felice D. Gaer said.

As evidence of the type of material it believes is being taught at the school, it cited a 2006 analysis of Saudi textbooks by the Center for Religious Freedom and Institute for Gulf Affairs. One ninth-grade textbook taught teenagers that violence toward Jews, Christians and others is sanctioned by God. A 12th-grade textbook, the 2006 report says, reads "the hour [of judgment] will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them."

And from RN S

Senator Cuts $100,000 From Religious Group

by Bill Walsh
Religion News Service

(RNS) Bowing to pressure, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has backed off an attempt to steer $100,000 to a Christian group that supports teaching religious and alternative theories of creation alongside evolution in science classrooms.

Vitter has taken heat from educational, religious and civil rights groups for earmarking money in a fiscal 2008 spending bill for the Louisiana Family Forum, "to develop a plan to promote better science education."

The group has long challenged Darwinian theories explaining the origins of life, and the earmark was seen by some as an attempt to inject Christian religious doctrine into the classroom.

Vitter went to the Senate floor Wednesday (Oct. 17) and announced that "to avoid more hysterics," he wanted to shift the money to science and computer labs in schools in Ouachita Parish. He said the earmark had been misconstrued.

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