What World War Z and Washington State Have in Common

World War ZDid anyone see the World War Z scene where the zombies reach the top of a massive zombie-proof wall and start pouring over? The same thing has finally happened to Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state. Council members in Pierce County, Washington got busted last week because they allocated taxpayer dollars to fund not one, but two evangelical missionary organizations that target public school kids for conversion.

Earlier this month, as the Pierce County Council worked to finalize their budget for the year, one member slipped in an amendment that directed $7,000 from youth violence prevention funds to Child Evangelism Fellowship, the subject of investigative journalist Katherine Stewart’s book, “The Good News Club—The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.”

Over the top of the wall and into the playground.

The phrase “wall of separation” was first used in a letter that Thomas Jefferson sent to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. The Danbury Baptists, a minority in the newly-formed state of Connecticut, felt that their religious freedoms were being infringed by the Christian-dominated state Legislature and wrote to the President for encouragement. Jefferson reassured them:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

Jefferson’s letter refers to the Free Exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution. The clearest early declaration that the U.S. government promotes no religion, at least no Christian religion, is found in the Treaty of Tripoli, an agreement to protect U.S. trade shipments from pirates in the Mediterranean. The treaty was approved unanimously by the Senate and signed by Adams in 1797.

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion — as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims] — and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Mohammedan] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

But that was before the age of zombie apocalypse.

CEF makes no bones about their mission. In 2011, I interviewed a Seattle parent, John Lederer, about CEF’s attempt to establish activities at his local school. At the time, their website proudly proclaimed, “The Gospel has been taught freely in public schools all over the world for some time. Now children in the U.S. have that opportunity, too!”  Lederer sat in on the Good News Club at his school and was horrified by what he saw:

They teach a very fairy tale version of the Christian faith.  For example, they give the kids little puzzle toys that are fun to play with but really it is a wordless tract.  A black heart shows the original sin in each child, gold is heaven, a red cross represents the blood of Christ, a white heart represents the pure child who has found salvation.   My kid played with it for 20 minutes.  I didn’t tell her what it is supposed to represent.  The idea is that the kids bring it to school and other kids ask about it.

In recent years, CEF fought all the way to the Supreme Court and won the right to use public facilities for after school programs that teach kids they are sinners saved by the blood of Jesus - the very stuff of Religious Trauma Syndrome. (They argued to the court that they teach moral values, rather like the Girl Scouts.) Direct funding of the program in public budgets is the next step, and part of a broad national trend toward Christian funding evangelism and other church expenses on the public dime.

The Washington State Constitution has even stricter protections for church-state separation than the U.S. Constitution: “No public money shall be appropriated or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment.” Once the $7000 allocation stirred up controversy, one Pierce County council member, Connie Ladenburg, proposed copying the constitutional language into the county code. Five of seven council members voted against her.

Jim McCune, who had proposed the CEF allocation, argued that funding the Christian missionary organization wasn’t really public funding of religion: “Yes, [CEF] may come from a certain book [the Bible], but it’s not a so-called religious foundation. Completely separate.”

McCune insisted that CEF is “non-denominational.” The term is often mistaken by the general public to mean “interfaith”, but in evangelical circles it means that an organization derives its beliefs from biblical literalism rather than any denominational hierarchy. The money would not be used to purchase religious materials according to Marlene Stoll, director of CEF’s Pierce County Chapter: “We just want to push God’s love for us and how it can make a difference in our life.”

In case you were wondering, that’s not religion; it’s a relationship.

Humanists of Washington President Sam Mulvey took the issue to the airwaves on his local radio show, Ask an Atheist. “The County has no business using tax dollars to fund a religious organization’s evangelism activities,” Mulvey said. “Imagine if Tacoma gave me $1500… to take your children… and tell them that religion poisons everything. Is that something you would like? Is that something you want in schools?”

After the county received dozens of complaints, the $7,000 was reallocated to genuinely nonsectarian activities and the county budget was approved. All’s well that ends well. Except for one small overlooked item.

Buried elsewhere was a line item that allocated $15,000 to Young Life ministries. Their mission? “Introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith.”

——

An earlier version of this article appeared at:  http://crosscut.com/2013/11/25/education/117624/zombie-apocalypse-threatens-tacomas-church-state-s/ 

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Subscribe to her articles at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

Related:
Our Public Schools, Their Mission Field
Why Good Christians Do Bad Things to Win Converts

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About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder - www.WisdomCommons.org.
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10 Responses to What World War Z and Washington State Have in Common

  1. Interesting and important information. It’s amazing that Child Evangelism Fellowship is still using the “wordless book” as they were at least 50-some years ago. Or maybe it’s not. It had been criticized from way back, at least for the implications of the black/sin page. But the theology of the churches that back the CEF has not changed, and apparently (also expectedly) not that of CEF itself…. The attempt to claim it is “not a so-called religious foundation” is ridiculous.

  2. Here is the email Councilmember Jim McCune sent out to his constituents after the fact:

    From the desk of Councilmember Jim McCune:

    Budgeting is perhaps the most important job of your elected representatives. Discerning where to direct your tax dollars to provide the services government is charged with providing is something I take very seriously.

    Most recently, you may have heard something about funding, administered by Community Connections, designated for programs that deter youth violence. The history of the funding is explained here (http://www.co.pierce.wa.us/index.aspx?NID=1246). Prior to my coming to the Council, the Council members realized that there were additional, excellent, qualifying programs in their districts that perhaps were not aware of the grant program or didn’t realize they qualified for the program. This led to a percentage of the grant funds being directed by the Council members to additional organizations.

    The goal of the program is to deter youth violence, a global issue that does not discriminate against its victims. Our youth are individuals; therefore, there is no “one size fits all” program that addresses youth violence. There are many roads (http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/topics/youthandthelaw/roots/volume5/preventing01_introduction.aspx) that lead to youth engaging in violence and mentoring is one approach that fosters personal confidence and boosts one’s self-esteem, thereby, reducing the tendency toward violent behavior. When discerning which organizations would be worthy of receiving funds to aid in deterring youth violence, I felt that those whose focus was on building good and principled character traits would be deemed beneficial.

    Unfortunately, a great deal of confusion was created due to a negative outreach campaign by those who practice humanism (http://humanistsofwashington.org/) and organizations such as Americans United (https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/win-for-the-wall-au-letter-convinces-county-officials-in-washington-state) (a tax-exempt organization that promotes an atheistic stance toward policies, adhering to the falsely promoted idea (http://creationists.org/myth-of-the-seperation-of-church-and-state.html) that the Constitution speaks to the separation of church and state). The 1st Amendment came in under the Blaine Amendment (http://www.becketfund.org/blaineamendments/), it could be said it was written to further distinguish or define between freedom “of” religion and freedom “from” religion.

    For the record, I never claimed that CEF wasn’t a religious foundation; I was specific that funds would not be used for curriculum that violated policy. I was merely exercising the constitutional right for organizations with different philosophical views to have equal access to funds.

    To this point, 81 emails were received on the subject. Only 2 were from the 3rd Council District. In a county of over 800,000 residents, 23 (28%) were from out of state, 15 (18.5%) from other counties, and 43 (53%), mostly from the county’s urban areas. I’d say this was blown a bit out of proportion. What was good enough for our Founding Fathers is good enough for me!

    Regardless, each organization must follow specific guidelines to qualify for reimbursement for their program. Neither the First Amendment of the US Constitution (specifically the “no establishment clause”) nor the Washington State Constitution prohibits the use of or appropriation of public funds to faith-based organizations.

    Public funds may not, however, be used or appropriated for inherently religious activities such as worship, religious instruction or proselytizing. Every organization that receives Youth Violence Prevention Funds is required to enter into a contract with the County through the Community Connections Department in which they will describe the specific activity or program to be funded by public dollars and they will have to agree therein that no public funds received under the contract will be used for the religious activities described above.

    Out of respect for the Council and staff time, I determined that this issue would be better addressed at a different time and chose to redirect the funds to different organizations, even though I had the support to maintain the grant.

    Now, back to other business: After finishing with some minor amendments, we did pass a respectable budget (http://online.co.pierce.wa.us/cfapps/council/iview/proposal.cfm?proposal_num=2013-67s2) to address the needs of the county. We all know that there isn’t enough funding to satisfy all of the needs and wants. Next year, I would like to bring into the discussion the debt accrued by all four levels of government (for which you are responsible for paying) and how it affects your ability as a Pierce County resident to afford the taxes needed to run our local government where you live, work and play. You may find this link (http://justfacts.com/nationaldebt.basics.asp) to the national debt quite interesting and informative.

    If a perceived public benefit puts the public in economic servitude, it cannot be considered a benefit to the public. Having said that, you can understand why I was not in favor of funding a study for the construction of a new council office campus. I wasn’t convinced it was needed or cost effective.

    That is something that can be discussed in future letters. Until next time, thank you for support to represent you in your local government!

    With warm regards,

    Jim McCune

    • Thank you. From the links he provided, it is clear that this was not a simple misunderstanding about what CEF is and does but rather a considered move to weaken the wall of separation, something that CEF specifically and Evangelical Christians more broadly have been working at on a variety of fronts.

    • mikespeir says:

      “For the record, I never claimed that CEF wasn’t a religious foundation; I was specific that funds would not be used for curriculum that violated policy.”

      Even if it were possible to enforce such a thing, it would still free up funds from other pots for just that purpose. It would still accomplish the same ends, only by means of some fairly obvious misdirection.

  3. I often hate living in Pierce County for many reasons, and now I have another.

  4. Reblogged this on herlander-walking and commented:
    I live in Pierce County and often hate it. I swear a lot about it from time to time. Relax…that blue smudge in the sky is just me, not Mt. Rainier having a hissy fit….

  5. Perry Bulwer says:

    Thanks for helping to expose this, Valerie. That puzzle toy reminded me of this picture in an old Catholic school book:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/06/20/isnt-this-just-the-cutest-thin/

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/wp-content/blogs.dir/470/files/2012/04/i-b52b735a6cb522bba9cb971b9538af30-hierarchy.jpg

    PZ Meyers described it this way: “I like how not only do they clearly indicate the hierarchy of God’s love, but they force the child to be complicit in assigning that love by circling the right picture — that’s excellent indoctrination technique right there. It’s a bonus that they don’t even bother to show the baptized baby; its worth comes from the priest’s hand.”

    Child evangelism and indoctrination is the primary way Christianity and most other religions propagate. I consider that a great evil that not only denies children their rights as children, but also denies or undermines their future rights they will have as adults. All children have the right to an open future, but that right is denied or deformed by childhood indoctrination.

    • Thank you, Perry. I cross-posted the image to my Facebook.

      • Perry Bulwer says:

        Although I’ve been aware of that picture for a few years, viewing it again to post it here gave me another insight. I think it demonstrates the fundamentalist Christian world view towards the environment, as well. The natural world, the one that god supposedly created, is at the bottom of the hierarchy. Many scriptures refer to god giving believers the “heathen for their possession and the uttermost parts of the earth for their possession” and similar sentiments. And if they also believe that the earth will only be destroyed after Jesus returns, which many fundamentalists are trying to hasten through extremism, then they have no incentive to protect the environment, the natural world and the human species. On the other hand, Indigenous societies (those ‘heathens’) around the world who recognize and respect the rights of the natural world are the best hope for survival for humans.

  6. Linda I says:

    I attended the Council meeting to speak against this clear violation of the Washington State Constitution. McCune demonstrated both his arrogance and ignorance in his diatribe to the vast majority of people speaking against this violation of the public trust. Pierce County is a great place in which to live but he and 4 other members of the council do a great disservice to their constituency ever day that they ‘serve’. Thanks, Valerie, for spreading the word.

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