Back in the early 1990s, I wrote a column about the "Scopes II" conflict in east Tennessee between public educators and conservative Christians. Thus, I talked with Stephen Bates, author of an amazingly balanced book on the topic titled Battleground (attention "Religious Left": Note the book's endorsement from Bill Moyers), about ways for public-school educators to avoid these kinds of classroom wars.
By the end of the conversation, we had concluded that this is what school leaders should do: When faced with conservative or even fundamentalist parents who have concerns about class activities, textbooks or other issues in which their faith clashes with their children's school work, public educators should do everything in their power to pretend that the parents making the requests are not Christians, but Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Native Americans or members of some other minority group.
I thought about this when readers started sending me links to columns about the recent events at Burlington Township (N.J.) High School, where police staged an emergency drill that simulated a Columbine-style attack on students, only this time by an armed "right-wing fundamentalist group."
Yes, yes, I have read Michelle Malkin's column on the event, the one she begins by noting:
Three years ago, I wrote about a mock terrorism drill at a public school district in Muskegon County, Mich. Instead of Islamic terrorists, educators substituted Christian homeschoolers. Yes, Christian homeschoolers. Here was the description of the school drill plan:
"The exercise will simulate an attack by a fictitious radical group called Wackos Against Schools and Education who believe everyone should be homeschooled. Under the scenario, a bomb is placed on the bus and is detonated while the bus is traveling on Durham, causing the bus to land on its side and fill with smoke."
I mention this column merely because people keep bringing it up. Stop, please.
As always, I am more interested in the actual news coverage, which has been small in the mainstream press and massive in alternative conservative media. However, a Burlington County Times report by David Levinsky provided this much-quoted information:
The drill scenario was created by the Burlington Township Police Department and was written in an information packet describing the objectives of the drill. It specified that two armed men invade the high school through the front entrance, shoot several students in the hallways, then barricade themselves in the media center with 10 student hostages.
The written scenario used by police during the drill described the intruders as "members of a right-wing fundamentalist group called the 'New Crusaders' who do not believe in the separation of church and state. They also have a strong commitment in their right to bear arms."
The scenario also indicated the mock gunmen went to the school seeking justice because the daughter of one of the men was given detention and eventually expelled for praying before the beginning of class.
That seems rather straightforward to me. However, check out this statement in the same newspaper report:
Although police and township officials said the scenario was generic and did not specify any religion, many inferred it described the school invaders as conservative Christians.
Wow, I have no idea why local ministers and churchgoers would "infer" that public officials planning this tax-payer funded drill were suggesting that the "right-wing fundamentalists" in the "New Crusaders" who oppose the "separation of church and state" and were angry about a "school prayer" issue were Christians of some sort. No way. Get out of here.
Thus, the newspaper notes:
During the drill, the detectives portraying the hostage takers did not mention God or any religious figure, police officials said. A joint statement issued yesterday by Burlington Township municipal government and the school district said officials "regret any insensitivity that might have been inferred" by the scenario.
And that's that. Newspapers always accept what public officials say, you know.
At this point, I am curious about the actual details of the drill. I would enjoy reading more factual material -- you know, journalism -- about what happened. How about some follow-up stories? Will students be allowed to talk to the press? What were the fake terrorists wearing? Is it true that they said nothing to their hostages?
If the drill was totally religion-free, as carried out, then how did this story break? How did the words on the pages of the written scenario leak out to all of the religious fanatics in homes and churches who like to "infer" bad things in order to attack public schools?
I realize that all of this is going to end up on a Focus on the Family broadcast, but I would really prefer to see real journalists try to answer some of these real questions. I like journalism. How about you?
Meanwhile, an editorial in the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, N.J., managed to say the obvious, while stating that these kinds of drills are appropriate and needed:
Hindsight is always 20/20. However, in this case, the school district and township police should have foreseen that something like this could happen. Had they made the fictional terrorists from an Islamic extremist group, Muslim groups might have taken issue. Had they made the fictional terrorists Jewish, Jewish groups probably would have been upset. The same goes for any faith.
By making the fictional terrorists extremist Christians, not surprisingly, some Christians are upset.
And all the people (not just conservatives, hopefully) said, "Amen."
The images are from the Left Behind video game. I couldn't find any online images of Christian terrorists attacking public schools.