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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

On September 11 I posted a letter and some documents about military recruiting. As a follow up, I'm posting the response I received from the Superintendent of the Durham Public Schools. It is a good response which shows that he has made sure the policies are in place for distributing information. He has contacted the school board and the executive leadership of the district to remind or inform them of the same information. And he promises to ask the principals to bring this up with the PTAs of their schools and put it in their student newspapers. It does not, however, make any response to my remarks about sexual assaults by military recruiters.

I don't really expect the school system to become my advocate in opposing military recruiters in schools, and so this prompt, judicious response is what I had hoped for. Other steps, such as counter-recruitment, will have to originate outside the school administration. I'll try to be more alert and prepared when these events come up.

Here is the letter.

September 15, 2006

Dear Dr. Broadway:

Thank you very much for your letter of September 10 regarding the release of student information to military recruiters. I agree with you that it is important that we communicate with parents regarding all of their options for their children, including making sure they are aware of the availability of a form to request that DPS withhold student contact information from military recruiters without prior written consent.

Following are the steps we are taking to ensure that parents know of the option to request we withhold their children's information from recruiters:

• We have made the form available on our district Website, as well as referenced the form in our student/parent handbooks;

• We have provided all high school principals a letter to send to their students' parents reminding them of the option and where they can access the form to complete, return and file at their school; we also will encourage principals to publish this letter and advertisements that we prepared in their student newspapers;

• We included an article reminding parents of this option in our September Parent DirectLink newsletter; and,

• We will ask principals to work with high school PTAs to get this message out to their parents.

Dr. Broadway, it is refreshing and encouraging to hear from parents who are involved and concerned about increasing the awareness of options not only for their own children, but for others. Thank you for your commitment to the students of Durham Public Schools.

Sincerely,

Carl E. Harris, Ed.D.
Superintendent

c: Executive Leadership Team
Board of Education Members


I also had responses from school board members, so I think this action had at least an overall good result. Now for a few more thoughts on the issue.

The language of "opting out" frames this as if it were not a life and death situation or a first amendment issue. A doctrine of non-violence is an interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount and the command to love the neighbor. It is, therefore, a doctrine central to the confession of many Christians. No doubt, people of other faiths or convictions may also hold this doctrine.

For that reason, government sponsored proselytization of youth with the purpose of converting them to a doctrine of state-sponsored violence is an infringement on the free exercise of religion. Moreover, I would characterize it as an establishment of religion in that it is a moral, even theological, doctrine about how human beings must live in the world. Participating in state-sponsored violence may be a kind of service and sacrifice to a god resembling Ares or Mars from ancient European religions, or perhaps merely the deification of imperial goals or the almighty dollar, "idols" in the language of Christian tradition.

I doubt many people would go along with me on the second claim about establishment because the whole tradition of modern liberal democracy, the nation-state, republicanism, and capitalism claim (again I would call this a theological claim) that the state and the economy are outside the realm or sphere of religion. That is a theological challenge to those who would claim that there is only one Lord in whom, through whom, and by whom are all things.

1 comment:

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

This is helpful, Mike. I linked to it on my blog.

In your last remarks, I tend to agree that this is a First Amendment issue and a life/death one. I am not sure you are entirely fair to the liberal political tradition. There is no claim that politics and economics are outside the realm of theological consideration. Rather, the claim is that government as such has no competence in matters theological.

The Wall of Separation is to separate the institutions of religion & government. (One cannot utter a prophetic word to the state if the state and church are not separate, as the court prophets of Israel found.) But no one pretends that there is no theological influence. It even goes both ways, although Christians should be on guard for the theological influences of government or other Powers.

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