Tag Archive for: force

Religion is the most powerful force for good in society. Why does the media ignore it?

The first Sunday in June this year was a global day of parades and processions, some publicised, others ignored.

My vote for the most entertaining was Philadelphia’s gay pride march yesterday. The weather was balmy, the sun was shining, the revellers were revelling … Suddenly they pulled up short.

An Unstoppable Movement had met an Irresistible Force – Queers for Palestine blocked their way, chanting “Palestine will live forever! From the sea to the river!”. Some were waving a rainbow flag with “no pride in genocide” painted on it.

There were moments of perplexity as the police separated the two groups. The chants continued with the baffling words “PPP, KKK, IOF they’re all the same!” Purchasing Power Parity? International Order of Oddfellows? Whatever – they’re all in the sin bin with the KKK.

My vote for the best behaved was the annual Israel Day Parade in New York City. Thousands marched down Fifth Avenue to demonstrate their support for Israel and the hostages still held by Hamas. Perhaps because of the heavy security, there were no protesters. Ooops, I forgot the balaclava-clad man waving a sign reading: “Kill hostages now”. I guess it’s not hate speech if they’re not Americans.

Pride and Protest are media magnets, no matter how small the crowd.

There is no internationally-recognised human right for parades to be featured on the evening news. Still, it was odd that the media ignored the event that got my vote as the most counter-cultural parade of the first Sunday of June. It was a procession with 15,000 people and it took place right in the middle of Sydney’s central business district.

Perhaps it wasn’t reported because it didn’t fit into either the Pride or the Protest pigeon-holes that make life so much easier for journalists.

It was a solemn, deeply devout procession led by Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop, Anthony Fisher. Bearing a large gold monstrance containing a consecrated wafer which Catholics believe is literally the body of Christ, the Archbishop walked through the city streets to St Mary’s Cathedral. He was followed by 15,000 people of all ages and backgrounds – Aussies, Kiwis, Lebanese, Pacific Islanders, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, Africans, Europeans, Latin Americans and more – praying and singing hymns.


It concluded with a ceremony on the forecourt in front of the Cathedral and a brief homily from the Archbishop. He told the crowd: “you have just proclaimed to our city the gift of redemption in Christ Jesus. Not through robust argument, clever rhetoric or special effects, but simply by ‘Walking With Christ’ whom you love.”

In a sense, the procession was also a Pride parade, pride in an ancient faith in God, threatened now by a proposed religious discrimination bill. And it was also a Protest march, a protest against moves to undermine expressions of religious faith in the public square.

Belief in the reality of the Eucharist, of Corpus Christi, is unique to the Catholic and Orthodox churches. But you need not be a believer to appreciate that this display of fervour and commitment must have deep, broad and unseen roots in the community. The media tend to report demonstrations whose participants are rather like themselves – smart dudes who care about the important things in life, like LGBTQI+ rights, climate change, and opposing Israel.

But it’s more than likely that there’s a silent majority in Sydney – and elsewhere – which is heart-and-soul committed to faith and family. Journalists and politicians should pay more attention to them than to the latest moral craze. Just because people don’t resort to “robust argument, clever rhetoric or special effects”, their concerns matter.

In the meantime, Catholic leaders have been buoyed up by growing crowds at the annual Corpus Christi procession. If the Vatican signs off on it, it’s possible that Sydney will host an international Eucharistic congress in 2028.

Note to the editors of the Sydney Morning Herald: you’re got Pride and Protest well and truly covered. What about adding a new pigeonhole, Praise?

Are the concerns of religious people being ignored in Australia? Sound off in the comments.  


Michael Cook is editor of Mercator.

RELATED ARTICLE: After a thousand years, China’s Kaifeng Jews have almost, but not quite, disappeared

EDITORS NOTE: This Mercator column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.

Why Tennessee Forces Seventh Graders to Learn Islam by Kevin Currie-Knight

How big is the distinction between education and indoctrination? Not terribly, if you ask some Tennessee lawmakers. They are pushing to remove any mention of religion from Tennessee’s State Academic Standards. At issue is an apparently controversial unit in seventh grade world history class that spends some time exploring Islam. At some point, the students even need to commit the five pillars of Islam to memory.

Needless to say, this issue has generated a lot of heat on all sides. State Representative Sheila Butts (R) believes that exposing students to Islam threatens to indoctrinate them. Others argue that students can’t effectively learn about world history without developing an understanding of the religions that shape that history, which includes Islam. (And for the record, the Tennessee State Academic Standards cover Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Shinto; it just so happens that in seventh grade world history, students cover Islam before other religions.)

Let’s put aside the question of what the right way to teach history is, at least for a moment. What worries me, as a school choice advocate, is that within a public school system, whatever decision is made will be a political one, and the results will apply to all public schools across the state. There will be a winning side and a losing side, and the losing side — throughout the entire state of Tennessee — will have little choice but to send their children to public schools that teach in a way they see as unsatisfactory. And who will choose what side prevails? The state’s department of education.

Within a public school system, whatever decision is made will be a political one, and the results will apply to all public schools across the state. 

Religion has always been a thorny issue in US schools. In the early 1800s, American “common schools” were very Protestant, which led to a stand-off in New York by Catholics who understandably didn’t want their tax money going to Protestant public schools. (Eventually, many frustrated Catholics formed their own private Catholic schools.)

In 1922, the state of Washington outlawed all private schools (a law the Supreme Court found unconstitutional), largely motivated by a desire to eliminate Catholic schools. Since then, we’ve had legal battles over school- led prayer and student-led prayer, over whether schools can or should teach creation accounts of human origins in biology classes, and even over whether schools can allow “released time,” where students can leave school premises to learn about a religion of their choice during the school day.

Few of these controversies would have been as heated in a system of private schools. With markets, what goes on within one firm doesn’t dictate what must go on in another. If Chick-Fil-A wants to stay closed on Sundays, that doesn’t mean that Burger King can’t choose to remain open. Back in the days when video stores were a thing, Hollywood video could choose to carry “racy” films, but that didn’t mean that Blockbuster (which took a “family values” approach) had to. People are free to shop at stores that are most in line with their values.

But that is not how disagreements play out in public schools. In the government’s school system, curricular and other decisions apply across a large territory, usually the entire state. When textbooks for science classes are chosen, all public schools in the state must use those textbooks. When the courts decide that schools cannot lead students in prayer, that decision applies to all public schools across the state. And when curricular standards for seventh grade world history are revised for the state of Tennessee, the resulting standards apply for all public schools in the state.

In a private market, these decisions could be what economists call non-zero-sum situations. If you are appalled that your child must memorize the five pillars of Islam in our children’s history class and I am not, you can decide to take that up with the school and, if you still don’t get your desired result, you can try to find a school that better aligns with your values. But that won’t negatively affect other families who are fine with their children learning about Islam. Neither of us is in a position where a central department of education makes those decisions for everyone. All of us are free to find or start schools in line with our values.

These differences turn into heated conflicts when you and I disagree in a public school system, because for either of us to get our way, the other will have to lose. Instead of taking the issue up with the school, we take it up with the school board for the entire state to see who can garner the most favor.

Imagine if Chick-Fil-A could only close on Sundays if it got enough support to sway the Board of Rapid Dining Establishments to force Burger King and all other restaurants to do the same.

Historian of education Charles Glenn has written about the noisy history of religion’s place in America’s public schools. He writes of the difficulty American public education has had in finding one approach that accommodates all of our rich religious and cultural diversity. He concludes, “We have reason to hope that America may achieve a degree of pluralism in its schools, but important changes are needed. American public education should be disestablished and demythologized.”

But wait, critics might say; if we disestablish public education and allow for robust school choice, doesn’t that mean that some will choose educational forms that I regard as abhorrent?

Yes, I am sure that will happen. But in the world we inhabit, there is vast and persistent disagreement about what the proper elements are for a good education, a very complex issue. Until the day when we reach a truly voluntary consensus on what a good education looks like (not, as we do today, a consensus forced on us by legislation), the better path is to allow individuals to opt out of schools they believe teach inconsistently with their values.

That means you can go your way, I can go mine, and the state department of education never has the thankless task of deciding who is right.

Kevin Currie-Knight

Kevin Currie-Knight

Kevin Currie-Knight teaches in East Carolina University’s Department of Special Education, Foundations, and Research.