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Langley: Playgrounds and Piety: Rep. Petersen’s Plan to Bring Faith to Schools

Just as in Texas, attempting to require public schools to display any religious messaging not only constitutes an unproductive and vain use of state resources but fuels misguided support for Christian Nationalism.
The+Utah+State+Capitol+in+Salt+Lake+City+on+Thursday%2C+Feb.+1%2C+2024.+%28Photo+by+Sophie+Felici+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29
Sophie Felici
The Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (Photo by Sophie Felici | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

Last year, lawmakers in Texas proposed the now-infamous Senate Bill 1515, which aimed to require public schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms. To the dismay of fundamentalists in the public and elected positions of Texas’ government, the bill died in the legislature. However, through the sponsorship of Representative Michael Petersen, the tenants of that deservedly abandoned bill still live on in Utah’s H.B. 269.

Just as in Texas, attempting to require public schools to display any religious messaging not only constitutes an unproductive and vain use of state resources but fuels misguided support for Christian Nationalism.

An Undivinely-Inspired Bill

H.B. 269, a brief piece of legislation that the Rules Committee presented before the House on Jan. 16, requires LEA schools across Utah to display the Ten Commandments. It also lays out various rules regarding the specifics of their presentation. For one, the dimensions of the poster used to display the commandments are 16 by 20 inches, the same as those found in S.B. 1515. However, the artificially lenient drafters of this bill allow educators to include or exclude a frame for the poster at their discretion. The bill also contains no specific language regarding the poster’s location within a school, which differs from SB 1515. Despite these freedoms, the bill prohibits using any alternative version of the Ten Commandments, instead enforcing a summarized version from the King James Bible.

This bill disregards the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which forbids both state and local governments from promoting any religion. While some may claim that America is, and always was a Christian nation, this is not true. The state of Utah, as well, was only admitted into the union after efforts of secularization. To claim that it is distinctly theocratic or grounded in Biblical law is dubious at best. The bill also conflicts with section 53G-10-202 of the Utah code, which disallows school officials and employees from endorsing or promoting any particular religion or denomination. The bill does both by its initial requirement of displaying the Ten Commandments, which enshrines Judeo-Christian beliefs and rejects other versions or translations of the text.

It’s clear that, legally, this bill does not work and would never work. While it is not my place to speculate on Petersen’s reasoning behind sponsoring such a bill, one thing is clear: It is a waste of time. Utah’s legislative session is, while efficient, short compared to others. To force our representatives even to consider this absurd bill is to do nothing but take time away from discussing pressing issues. For a legislator on the Higher Education Appropriations Committee, Rep. Petersen is unusually facetious about our state’s schools’ laws and the resources necessary to defend this bill from inevitable legal backlash.

The Perspective of Local Religious Scholar Daniel McClellan

Daniel McClellan, a public scholar who received his Ph.D. in theology and religion from the University of Exeter and now makes social media content about the academic study of the Bible, spoke with the Chronicle regarding H.B. 269. When asked about his initial reactions to the bill, McClellan stated, “I am frequently disappointed in what our legislators do, but very little surprises me.” As an academic, he felt this bill only stands to “further alienate those who don’t identify with the scope of the Ten Commandments” within our school system. As Chronicle writers have expressed before, religious alienation is potent in a state like Utah, where a near majority of residents are religiously homogenous.

McClellan said he believes that alongside other bills introduced this legislative session, H.B. 269 “is obviously advancing a right-wing authoritarian worldview” and “definitely part of the Christian nationalists’ attack on public education.” Christian nationalism has increasingly been a driving ideology behind changes to our education system, which McClellan believes is because “education is antithetical to the agenda of Christian nationalism.”

McClellan also expressed embarrassment at Utah’s state legislature.

“When I interact with, for instance, Latter Day Saints outside of the country, they’re always like, ‘What on earth is going on in the state of Utah?’” he said. “It’s disappointing. It’s depressing, it’s embarrassing. I wish we had adults in the legislature.” 

Like all states today, Utah faces various issues that warrant immediate attention, and potential solutions from dedicated legislators require ample consideration and discussion. Rep. Petersen’s H.B. 269 not only takes time away from Utah’s already brief legislative session but also disrespects the rights of American citizens. It also, as stated by McClellan, grounds itself in authoritarian Christian nationalism, a view that is incongruent with this country’s legal, political, and ethical ideals. It is a shame that Rep. Petersen takes his position as a representative of a diverse group of citizens for granted.

 

[email protected]

@JeffLangleyII

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About the Contributors
Jeffrey Langley Jr., Opinion Writer
Jeffrey Langley Jr. is a political science major from Presque Isle, Maine. As an aspiring public servant, he is passionate about environmentalism, equity and getting folks a fair deal. He's a fan of musical theater, Dungeons and Dragons and doing what needs to be done.
Sophie Felici, Photographer
Sophie began as a photographer for the chronicle in 2022 and is pursuing her degree in documentary production. She is excited to start a career in the outdoors through film and photography.

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  • J

    John HedbergFeb 2, 2024 at 5:32 pm

    This article didn’t include a lot of deep thought! For instance:

    > H.B. 269 “is obviously advancing a right-wing authoritarian worldview” and “definitely part of the Christian nationalists’ attack on public education.” Christian nationalism has increasingly been a driving ideology behind changes to our education system, which McClellan believes is because “education is antithetical to the agenda of Christian nationalism.” <

    That's like saying all the pride flags in school, and all the pronoun posters, are "obviously advancing a Left-wing authoritarian worldview", and are "definitely a part of the National Socialists attack on public education", when in fact, Equity itself is a hate-based religion of its own, with devils and heretics the Prophets of Equity require all worshippers to despise, marginalize, and dehumanize. Just look at the transphobic attempts to silence the marginalized voice of Chloe Cole (whether on film or in person) and against others with similar lived experiences. That's religious intolerance if it's ever been witnessed by anyone~!

    So, if Christians want their own culture represented in schools alongside all the religious paraphernalia put up by the Priests of Equity, that's just equal representation of their own cultural values alongside yours. Are you so much of a bigoted hypocrite that you can't acknowledge your own hateful discrimination?

    I think all of it should be gone, the National Socialist Marxist-Equity material along with everything else except what's needed to teach kids things like reading, writing, math & science, good work habits and good play habits (equality, perseverance, honesty, compassion, logic, tolerance, self-discipline, a sense of humor about self and others, things any good kid will agree helps them achieve throughout life). And how about teaching some health & nutrition? (I think all the phones should be gone, too~)

    This fabricated term, "Christian Nationalist", is a slanderous Marxist/Equity hate-label used to dehumanize people of faith who don't agree with their feelings, kind of like calling African Americans the N-word in an attempt to be derogatory and demean individuals who all look alike in their bigoted eyes, to drum up baseless group hatred against very heterogenous people, much like the Nazi's did against the Jews prior to Kristallnacht during the 1930's.

    Once you demean and dehumanize them, The Nazi's (and Stalin, and Mao, etc., etc.) found they can then pin all their own worst hateful behaviors and prejudices onto them like a Star of David on their jackets, even though it's the Marxist-Equity Brown Shirt Red Guards who are engaging in all the hateful behavior in the name of a "compassion" they never practice themselves, like they did recently toward Chloe Cole and all those who felt her humanity might be diversity worth including~!

    That's what happens when you don't open a history book: even the worst historic pogroms and behaviors toward (new) targeted groups repeat themselves, and it's only a matter of time before their hatred and bigotry turn on you.

    Which is why people study the Bible, The Torah, the Tao Te Ching, the Koran, the Upanishads, the Tipitaka, and other works of morals and history that show the consequences when Love and true religion fails, and tragedies then needlessly repeat themselves before our eyes in modern life.

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