Let me be clear. My towns middle school does not do all that bad a job covering the US constitution. I can say this mostly because they actually cover it for a few weeks, during an exploration of American history and the founding of the nation. But being either a victim of or party to the kinds of support materials embedded into the public education system, I still manage to find a few ringers that make me shake my head and smile.
Not too long ago I regaled you on these pages with the tale of just such a ringer on the Middle Schools ‘citizenship quiz,’ where it asked the question, where does free speech come from? The correct answer is of course, ‘our creator,’ who provided us with a set of unalienable rights that exist even in the vacuum of the necessary evil of government. But that’s not the answer they were looking for. They expect you to write ‘The 1st amendment.’ This is of course incorrect. It assumes people could not speak freely prior 1791 when the bill of rights was ratified which is why I am forever reminding my children that the US Constitution does not give rights, it protects them.
Which brings me to this newly discovered Gem. Yesterday I came across a series of poorly worded essay questions—my second sons homework–the worst of which was this; What part of Article VI of the US constitution supports the idea of separation of church and state? Explain. (Go ahead and roll your eyes or make a grunting noise, or whatever it is you do when confronted with such nonsense.)
The correct answer is of course "none." Nothing in Article VI, nor in the entire constitution, supports the idea of a separation of church and state. But facts aside, that’s not what they are after. So the challenge was to answer the question without giving in to the indoctrination even if it is unintentional.
So I explain to my 13 year old the conundrum while he looks like he’d rather be anywhere else but where he is, and then pull out the pocket constitution to read the precise wording so I can help him find a way to answer the question without having to accept the incorrect premise. (I keep the constitution handy because I can’t quote much of anything except skits from Monty Python, some Howie Mandel comedy routines from the late eighties, a few too many scenes from Star Wars a handful of Steven Wright one liners, and pithy quotes from any number of action films some of which starred the current governor of KAH-LEE-FOUR-KNEE-YAH.)
The relevant part of Article VI states that “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
This suddenly seems like an excellent opportunity to question how the canard of ‘separation of Church and state’ could possibly survive without actually violating this particular part of article VI, but how to explain it? There are too few lines on the homework page to properly qualify the whole argument, and his teacher would never in a million years believe my son had ever conceived of the idea himself, let alone composed it on paper. (My middle child likes short answers; four word sentences are three words too many. And if it matters I think he gets his ‘eye roll’ from my wife’s side of the family.)
So the answer we come up with to the Article VI question, how does this support the idea of separation of Church and State is to reverse it and imply the separation of State from church… we should say that the relevant part of Article VI implies that “you cannot be denied any public office because of your religious beliefs” preventing the state from having the right to separate belief from public service rather than the other way around.
I go on to explain to my son the thinking (along with Am 1 and the free exercise clause) as his eyes glaze over slightly and visions of X-Box controllers dance in his head. He then appears to nod and scribbles the short-hand thirteen-year-old-boy-with-bad-penmanship equivalent in a fraction of the space provided (or in my mind needed), and I secretly hope the teacher has the middle school Rosetta stone handy to translate his argot into something that produces a passing grade.
But I am otherwise content in the result. The state has been separated from its raging desire to infringe on our rights simply because someone chose to believe in God. The answer meets the ridiculous context of the question, and I have in my own way (at least for that one moment) foiled the evil statists plot to brain wash my child into thinking that there is such a thing as a separation of church and state with our own subtle claim that there is a separation of state from church.