History and Civics Battle Rages While Supreme Court Affirms Religious Practice in the Privacy of Our Homes. How Should Christians Respond?
By John Mitchell
The most recent chapter in the effort to prescribe a nationwide history and/or civics curriculum for students began in 2020 with the release of the New York Times 1619 Project, which was developed to reframe the traditional narrative of American history around the history of slavery in the United States. President Trump reacted to the 1619 Project by launching the 1776 Commission, an effort to “research and promote patriotic education.” On his first day in office President Biden issued an executive order disbanding the 1776 Commission. This tit-for-tat policy battle over history and civics education is far from over. At end of March, conservative student organization Turning Point USA announced its intention to develop and release a history curriculum intended to provide ”children and students with a reliable, honest, and quality America-first education.” Then, not to be outdone, Congress weighed in by introducing the Civics Secures Democracy Act in both the Senate and the House.
The bill sponsors, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), had clearly done their political legwork, garnering at least minimal bipartisan support by lining up Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Tom Cole (R-OK) as cosponsors. A list of endorsing organizations and an advocacy toolkit for supporters were released shortly after the bill was introduced.
Vigorous opposition was also quick in coming. The headline of an article written by Stanley Kurtz of the Ethics and Public Policy Institute decried that the bill will usher in “The Greatest Education Battle of Our Lifetimes.” Kurtz said, “we are looking at an effort to impose a new federal Common Core in the politically explosive subject areas of history and civics.” Kurtz also alleged that the two Republicans supporting the law, “have been hornswoggled and hogtied into backing legislation that is about as far from conservative as a bill could be.” Kurtz went on to say the programs and materials funded by the bill would promote Critical Race Theory and “Action Civics,” which Kurtz calls “a euphemism for political protests for course credit.” Neither Critical Race Theory nor Action Civics are mentioned in the actual language of the bill, which on its face reads like a huge (one billion dollars per year for six years) grant program to develop curricula, materials, and teacher training. Kurtz and others believe that those who would develop the curricula, materials, and teacher training funded by this act are the same individuals and non-profit organizations who have been promoting Critical Race Theory and Action Civics. Kurtz is most likely correct. However, we must sadly acknowledge that if progressives can be sure that even without language spelling out these ideologies, they know that those who develop such curricula and materials will assuredly weave Critical Race Theory and Action Civics into their training of teachers and the materials developed, then we are in the middle of a critical turning point in our culture, quickly becoming post-modern and perhaps post-Christian.
While the Supreme Court has had nothing to say about the history and civics battles, they did make a bit of history themselves through a 5-4 decision in Tandon v. Newsom. This decision overturned a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that allowed California’s Governor Newsom to prohibit church gatherings in private homes. The court was most aggressive in chiding Newsom and the Ninth Circuit, stating:
This is the fifth time the Court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious exercise. … It is unsurprising that such litigants are entitled to relief. California’s Blueprint System contains myriad exceptions and accommodations for comparable activities, thus requiring the application of strict scrutiny. And historically, strict scrutiny requires the State to further “interests of the highest order” by means “narrowly tailored in pursuit of those interests.” … That standard “is not watered down”; it “really means what it says.”
While we should be grateful that the court had the courage to issue this strong ruling, particularly in light of ongoing threats by Democrats in Congress to pack the Court, it is another sign of our times that we needed the Supreme Court to step in and clearly state that Christians and other religious faiths can hold private prayer and worship gatherings in their homes.
How should Christians respond to these shifts in our culture? Many churches have seen significant divisions develop over this question. Kevin DeYoung has given serious thought to these divisions and suggests that there are now four different groups of Christians that advocate different roles for the church.
Contrite: “What the world needs is to see a church owning its sins and working, in brokenness, to make up for them and overcome them.”
Compassionate: “Now is the time to weep with those who weep. What the world needs is a church that demonstrates the love of Christ.”
Careful: “What the world needs is a church that will draw upon the best of its theological tradition and lead the way in understanding the challenges of our day.”
Courageous: “What the world needs is a church that will admonish the wayward, warn against danger, and stand as a bulwark for truth, no matter how unpopular.”
DeYoung most closely identifies with the third group, careful, but has tried to use positive titles for each. He suggests that many of us gravitate toward the different groups not out of Biblical analysis and prayer but rather, “By virtue of our upbringing, our experiences, our hurts, our personalities, our gifts, and our fears.” By using these four categories to better understand ourselves and others he thinks, “perhaps we will be able to find a renewed focus, not on our cultural sensibilities and political instincts, but on the glory of Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who came from the Father full of grace and truth.”
Now, that is something worth praying for.
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Washington Education Watch 4/2021. Used with permission.