It's back to school time and religious fundamentalists in Texas are salivating. Why? Because of what the Houston Chronicle terms the "insidiously named Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act," which has given them a license to recruit new believers in schools.
This new law requires Texas school districts to adopt a policy under which certain student leaders must be given opportunities to speak at all school events at which students speak publicly, including graduation, football games and morning announcements and, as the Houston Chronicle put it, "[provide] an open mic to express their religious beliefs. " The Chronicle goes on to say that "The law's true accomplishment will be the creation of state-sanctioned forums for students who wish to pray and proselytize to captive audiences...Students could cite their religious convictions to condemn gay and lesbian students. They could promote their faith as the only true religion. They could pray for the conversion of specific students. They could even promote atheism, Satanism or paganism... It would allow students to hector nonbelieving children over schools' public address systems and encourage bullying of nonconforming peers."
Was such a law needed? Well, as the Chronicle put it, "Students already have the federally protected right to voluntary prayer and discussion of their religious convictions. The 1984 Equal Access Act allows public school students to form special-interest clubs, including faith-based clubs, and to meet on campus."
But I guess voluntary participation wasn't good enough for these folks, as they want everyone to have to believe the way they do. This should come as no surprise to anyone. Fundamentalist Christians have never been shy about their desire to recruit children. In fact, they spent nearly $200 million in 2006 ($199,891,024, to be exact) to fund just one group designed to do so, "Young Life," an organization whose vision is that "every adolescent will have the opportunity to meet Jesus Christ and follow Him." Young Life operates in 3,921 schools and has 3,171 staff (almost exactly 1,000% more than my organization, GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network). The 358 Young Life school chapters in Texas must be thrilled: they now have an open mic at every school event to where they can help their misguided nonbelieving captive classmates to "meet Jesus Christ and follow Him."
And the Young Life crowd isn't above a little "baiting and switching" to suck young people in. My niece participated in Young Life activities at her high school in Ohio -- for a while. At first she was told she could just take part in the activities: but as time went on she was increasingly "witnessed" to about Jesus and pressured to leave the Catholic Church and become a fundamentalist. She eventually quit because it was apparent to her that it wasn't about the camping trips and "fellowship" -- it was about getting her to leave her Church and go to theirs.
The irony is that fundamentalists have often opposed efforts to reduce the billing and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students by saying this is just an effort to "recruit" people. Aside from being total nonsense, this claim -- when viewed in light of the new Texas law -- shows that these folks are total hypocrites. Fundamentalists are the ones who are all about recruitment. And the new law represents a "coming out of the closet" about that, I suppose.
As the Chronicle put it, "Texas' Religious Viewpoints law ... foist[s] what were once voluntary activities on others who might not share their peers' faith." Rather than be upset by this analysis, fundamentalists would say: "Exactly!"
God help us all.