A School Official Who Homeschools?

Originally published at PJ Media
By K. Daniel Glover

Bonnie Henthorn and her husband spent their formative years in Tyler County public schools. Between them, their two children spent at least 15 years in that school system. The family has paid taxes that support the schools for decades.

bonnie_henthorn_twitterWith deep roots and a historical perspective like that, Henthorn is an ideal choice for president of the Tyler County school board, a role she has filled since 2014. But none of that matters now because in January she committed the unpardonable sin of public education: She started homeschooling.

Henthorn announced the family decision at the Jan. 4 school board meeting, citing two reasons that had nothing to do with Tyler County schools. “One is that I want them to have a more Christian-based education,” she said. “… Number two is I no longer feel that the state leadership has the best interest of the students at heart.”

That very personal decision, designed to benefit Henthorn’s sophomore son and seventh-grade daughter, quickly became the topic of a very hostile public debate.

At the meeting, board member Linda Hoover peppered Henthorn with questions. She implied that Henthorn couldn’t lead an education system if her children weren’t part of it and that pulling them from it is “a slap in the teachers’ faces.” Another board member, Jimmy Wyatt, called it a “questionable decision” that might show a lack of faith in the county school system.

The outrage escalated over the next few weeks. A Tyler County native created a Facebook group and a Change.org petition demanding Henthorn’s resignation. The Charleston Gazette-Mail published an editorial decrying the “sad mess” in Tyler County and calling Henthorn “unsuited for public school leadership.”

At the next school board meeting, the union that represents Tyler County teachers expressed its lack of confidence in Henthorn. Even State Board of Education president Michael Green, whom Henthorn specifically mentioned when criticizing state leadership, felt compelled to issue a statement.

Read the rest of the article at PJ Media.


Brad Smith Departs To Cheers And Jeers

Originally published at National Journal
By K. Daniel Glover

In a January 2004 speech before the American Conference Institute, then-Federal Election Commission Chairman Bradley A. Smith delivered a scathing critique of McConnell v. FEC, a Supreme Court ruling from the previous month that had upheld campaign finance reforms as constitutional. “Now and then,” he said, “the Supreme Court issues a decision that cries out to the public, ‘We don’t know what we’re doing!’ McConnell is such a decision.”

That was just a warm-up jab. A passionate defender of unfettered political speech, Smith then used what has since become a favorite comparison of his: “If it was unclear before, it is now a fact that our Court gives less constitutional protection to the right to criticize the voting record of an incumbent congressman close to an election than it does to virtual child pornography, cross-burning, sexually explicit cable television programming, topless dancing, tobacco advertising, flag-burning, defamation, and the dissemination of illegally acquired information.”

Such pointed rhetoric, a hallmark of Smith’s five-plus years at the FEC, explains why self-styled campaign reformers are celebrating Smith’s departure from the commission last month. But it just as clearly reveals why free-speech advocates are lamenting the loss of a man they see as a principled, fearless, and eloquent champion of the First Amendment.

“It seems that what the ‘reform industry’ wants is a puppet, and if [a commissioner] isn’t their puppet, then they run to the media and whine about how awful that person is,” said Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer at Foley & Lardner who practices before the FEC. “So, Brad Smith isn’t and wasn’t their puppet. Good for him.”

Then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, the senator whose challenge of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law eventually went to the Supreme Court, suggested Smith for the slot on the FEC back in February 2000. Smith’s nomination quickly became controversial because of his criticisms of campaign finance law during his time as a law professor at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, a post that he now has resumed.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., compared putting Smith on the FEC with “confirming a conscientious objector to be secretary of Defense.” McCain’s allies in the advocacy community agreed. “The full Senate should reject Bradley Smith to serve on the FEC because of his fundamental disagreement with the law he would be sworn to enforce,” said then-Common Cause President Scott Harshbarger in a March 2000 statement.


Faith, Government And Charity

Originally published at Policy.com
By K. Daniel Glover

To hear Texas Gov. George W. Bush tell it in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention last night, he and Vice President Al Gore, his Democratic competitor, share no common ground. Every Bush proposal is a “risky scheme” to Gore, Bush said, and “the only thing [Gore] has to offer is fear itself.”

But Bush and Gore do agree on one point: When it comes to addressing societal problems like poverty and homelessness, government and religious charities should join forces. Federal aid for “faith-based charities” is at the core of Bush’s “compassionate conservative” message. Gore, too, embraced that type of alliance more than a year ago in a speech to the Salvation Army in Atlanta.

Bush, who as governor of Texas appointed a task force to draft a policy agenda on faith-based community service groups, summarized the argument for “charitable choice,” which allows churches to receive federal funding for administering social services and health benefits, in his convention speech. “Government cannot do this work,” he said. “… Yet government can take the side of these groups, helping the helper, encouraging the inspired.”

Not everyone is as enamored with the idea of charitable choice as Bush and Gore. Civil libertarians, who lamented Gore’s endorsement of the charities, have fought the concept since Congress codified it in the 1996 welfare law on the grounds that it violates the separation of church and state.

Anne Nicol Gaylor, founder and president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says providing social welfare through religious charities is clearly unconstitutional. “If you are writing a check to a religious society,” she says, “this benefits them. The church is going to get the credit, and the taxpayer is going to get the bill.”


God And Government

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

To hear Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville tell it, religion and republican government once were inextricably linked in the minds of all Americans. “I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion … but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions,” he wrote in Democracy in America. “This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.”

That was the 1830s. The America de Tocqueville knew may or may not have achieved a consensus on the appropriate intersection between church and state, but that understanding long ago disappeared. Today, Americans take sides on everything from religious mottos and symbols to prayer in school and holiday displays.

Civil libertarians and secularists blame the religious right and others who endorse faith-based government for trying to impose its values and teachings on the nation through schools and other government-funded institutions. The religious-minded, meanwhile, decry the efforts of their foes to “kick God out of the schools” and government, and to corrupt the country with their humanistic and pagan doctrines. More often than not, the courts have to play referee.

But that, says Mark Silk, founding director of the Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College, is simply the way it must be. “Part of the problem [with the church-state debate],” he says, “is that it’s fairly messy, and it does drive people who want things in bright lines and distinct packages. … The court has to kind of do a balancing test.”

Battling for the upper hand
These days, people like Anne Nicol Gaylor, founder and president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, say the pendulum clearly has swung to the advantage of religion. Conservative evangelicals in particular have so much political clout that Gaylor says television stations are reluctant to accept advertising that presents an anti-religious view. And news shows that extended invitations to “free thinkers” like her on a weekly basis in the 1970s now do so no more than once every two months.

“Religion is automatically good,” Gaylor says of the American attitude today. “No one takes a second look. … And those of us who would like to call attention to religion’s shortcomings are pretty effectively squashed. … We’ve been stifled.”

The Truth About Cassie Bernall

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

When tragedy strikes, the human spirit yearns for comfort, a seed of hope to soothe the shattered soul. When tragedy strikes the young, that yearning is all the more unrelenting in its quest for closure. The spirit will not rest until it can find some good in the evil of this world.

Such was the case after the April 20 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. And in the wake of that inexplicable rampage was born the myth of Cassie Bernall — a myth that today begs the question of whether Americans are capable of telling the truth in the face of tragedy.

The girl who did (or didn’t?) say yes
Bernall’s name may not be familiar to the masses, but her story certainly is. She is — as a new book by her mother, Misty, says — the 17-year-old girl shot to death when “She Said ‘Yes'” to a gun-toting schoolmate who asked if she believed in God. She is the martyr whose death made some sense of a senseless crime.

Bernall’s proclamation of faith became a staple of Columbine lore, especially among fellow believers. Her story has been immortalized not only in her mother’s book but also in newspapers and congressional speeches.

Online memorials make dramatic statements like this: “Asked if she believed in God, her affirmative answer to the killers got her a mortal shot in the head.” And groups like Revival Generation have successfully seized on her story in their efforts to convert more teens to their religious missions.

The problem: The story of “Saint Cassie,” as The Washington Post called her in an Oct. 14 feature story, and her courageous confession simply is not true. The facts disclosed in recent weeks have begun to tarnish the inspirational tale.

America’s Spiritual Heyday

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Earlier this year, policymakers, pundits and people on the street reopened a uniquely American (and seemingly infinite) debate. In the wake of another incident of school violence, this time a mass murder at a high school in Littleton, Colo., they pondered a familiar question: Just how far should our nation go in trying to maintain a clear separation between church and state?

Congress debated the question in mid-June and decided that perhaps we had gone too far. More specifically, House lawmakers saw a need for a greater religious presence in the public schools, so they cast a series of votes designed to give new spiritual direction to the nation’s youth. The most-publicized decision: They sanctioned the posting of the Bible’s Ten Commandments on school walls.

The primarily symbolic votes topped the news of the week, not at all surprising in an era when Americans are sharply divided on the relationship between religion and government. But four decades back, the votes might have gone unnoticed, an unremarkable act at a time when Congress added the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, and made the phrase “In God We Trust” the national motto and a mandatory slogan on all U.S. coins and currency.

All of that religious posturing, and more, happened during the presidency of Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower and in the early days of a Cold War that most patriotic Americans apparently saw as a battle between Christian America and the godless, communist Soviet Union.

The 1950s religious revival
Americans already had begun to show signs of a spiritual awakening after World War II, but Eisenhower’s election in 1952 set the stage for a rapid religious transformation. A campaign rife with religious overtones — Eisenhower invited Americans to join him in a “crusade” — preceded an administration determined to lead the nation in a religious revival.

The Republican National Committee declared Eisenhower “the spiritual leader of our times,” and Eisenhower, who had never made a practice of attending church as an adult, joined the National Presbyterian Church in Washington and became a fixture there most Sundays. The president’s inaugural parade included a “float to God,” according to the 1977 book “The Fifties: The Way We Really Were,” and Eisenhower led a prayer at his inauguration.

Book Review: ‘Blinded By Might’

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Confession is supposed to be good for the soul, so my soul should feel quite healthy after this painful admission: I voted for Bill Clinton.

I only voted for our disgraced president once, and then only because I did not care much for George Bush as president and was just plain scared of Ross Perot. Yet I still must bear the guilt of having elected to our world’s highest office a man who has no scruples.

That is a heavy burden for someone like me, a Christian whose political philosophy is guided by moral conservatism, and that burden becomes greater whenever I confess my democratic “sin” to brethren. First, I get the “you did what?” blank stare from people who sincerely believe you cannot be a Christian and a Democrat (which I am not). Then the only half-joking question: Did you repent?

I play along, saying that indeed I did repent — so much so that I did not vote for any presidential candidate in 1996 because they all demonstrated wishy-washy morality. But in the back of my mind, I always wonder this: Can any Christian truly believe God favors one politician, one party or even one country over another?

Co-opting God for political purposes
Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, the minister of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., apparently have been wondering the same thing. And their wonderment moved the two former leaders of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority to write a book on the spiritual dangers of mixing politics and religion.

The tome — “Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America?” — is part personal confession and part public (albeit gentle) rebuke of the comrades in faith who Thomas and Dobson believe have sacrificed their spiritual leadership to gain political power. In the process, the duo argue, men like Falwell have lost sight of their mission — preaching truth to the lost — and gained nothing in return.

The Starr Report: A Religious Perspective

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Judy Craft set her plate on the patio table and eased into her shaded dining spot outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Her four companions from the Atlanta area joined Craft, and they nibbled at their lunches as they enjoyed the Friday sunshine and the camaraderie of the Christian Coalition’s annual “Road to Victory” pre-election celebration.

Then came the reporter’s blunt question: Should a deeply religious man like Kenneth Winston Starr have authored a text that has been described by his critics and allies alike as pornographic, lurid, tawdry, salacious and gratuitous?

Craft’s bemused expression said it all. She clearly had not expected that question at a gathering of like-minded believers from across the country.

Presidential pornography, not prosecutorial
All morning, she had listened to an array of religious activists and Republican politicians — Christian Coalition Chairman Pat Robertson, House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, and talk-show host Oliver North included — lambaste President Clinton for his sexual dalliances with a former White House intern and subsequent lies about that relationship. So why would a journalist be questioning the work of a man who had exposed those truths, Craft seemed to be asking herself?

Craft finished the bite of food in her mouth, paused, then answered the question about the explicit nature of independent counsel Starr’s 443-page report to Congress released to the public about two weeks ago. “He had to do that because he had to reveal the truth, and sometimes the truth is ugly,” she said.

Across the table, Pat Quigley added his opinion. He blamed the explicitness of the Starr report on the much-maligned White House argument that Clinton received sexual favors from former White House intern Monica Lewinsky without actually having engaged in “sexual relations” himself. “The spin doctors are the ones who dictate how salacious you need to be,” Quigley said.