The New York Times, in God, American History and a Fifth-Grade Class, writes today about the Thanksgiving-week “Declaration of Independence Banned” story. They cover the story in a he-said/she-said manner, saying the teacher’s contrived lawsuit,
“…has single-handedly turned the Declaration of Independence into a powerful tool for the Christian right in its battle against secularist teaching of colonial history…”
The Times story does not even mention that the controversy — the reason they are covering the story at all — only exists because of the inflammatory claim that the Declaration of Independence was banned by the school because it contained the word ‘God,’ and does not refute this outright lie beyond one “he said” statement. The school had not banned the Declaration of Independence, it had asked a teacher to stop giving unconstitutional “supplemental handouts” (like this, perhaps?) to students.
The original story surfaced in the Right’s echo chamber (Drudge, Limbaugh, Fox…) the day before Thanksgiving — carefully timed to make it impossible to refute for several days, and to stir up emotions at family dinnertables. Now the story is widespread, which is probably the reason the Times addressed it at all. A Google search of “Declaration of Independence banned” yields 17,200 citations. (That is a search of the text in quotes, not for sites containing some mix of the words.)
The Alliance Defense Fund, the “Christian law” organization responsible for the lawsuit states on their website that they use “strategy and coordination” to advance their mission to “spread of the Gospel.” In this case their agitprop strategy of bearing false witness to provoke argument and division has proven successful. This lie is being repeated by blogs, discussion forums and word-of-mouth “water cooler” conversations. And the intended culture-war response is evoked in the thinking of the public: they are “fed up” with “politically correct” “domestic enemies” who are taking the separation of church and state “too far.”
Professional journalism again fails us. As far as I know, no “journalists” have seriously looked into the outrageous claim that a school banned the Declaration of Independence because it contains the word ‘God’, even though it is a major topic of discussion across the country, after Reuters allowed itself to be used to publicize and bring mainstream credibility to the lie.
(Edited 10pm PST.)
Update – My point is the real story that needs to be examined is not whether a teacher has a right to distribute handouts, or the limits of the use of ‘God’ in the classroom. The story is the strategic use and repetition of the lie (probably focus-group-tested) that the school “banned the Declaration of Independence.” THIS is what is being discussed around the country, fueled by right-wing columnists like Cal Thomas. THIS is what is being repeated at 17,200 websites. THIS is the information a democracy needs so its citizens can make informed decisions.
Note — Be sure to visit eRiposte’s collection of work on this story!