On October 5 the Siloam Springs Herald Leader published a front page column about how the Siloam Springs school bus drivers can no longer play religious music, or turn on KLRC. Apparently, the school district received a letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation by a “concerned parent” arguing that “students on the bus are a captive audience and cannot avoid listening to broadcasts that the driver selects…young and impressionable students cannot be forced to listen to such programs.”
First of all, what are the alternatives to Christian music on public school busses? Would the Freedom from Religion Foundation prefer that this social class listen to popular music about promiscuity, getting wasted on drugs and alcohol, materialism and love of money? Promiscuity attacks the sacred bond between man and wife that supports the family. The abuse of drugs and alcohol destroys futures, it often leads to multi-generational poverty and alcohol abusers often accidently kill innocents in nasty car wrecks. Moreover, the love of money and greed attacks every other virtue such as self-sacrifice, gratefulness, peace, self-control and selfless love.
The letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation further stated that playing Christian radio stations on the school bus violates first amendments rights. This claim couldn’t be more wrong. There is an important distinction between the freedom of (or from) religion guaranteed by the first amendment and the supposed freedom from hearing what you don’t want to hear.
The text of the first amendment to the US Constitution literally reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…” I would like to point out the apparently not-so-obvious point that the first amendment cannot itself be used to justify the violation of the first amendment. Yet that is what the Freedom from Religion Foundation did in citing this text in order to justify actually prohibiting the bus drivers’ and even the majority of his student passengers’ free exercise of religion and free speech.
If students have a constitutional right to not have to listen to religious (Christian) music, then what about their right to not have to listen to atheistic music? Atheism is just as much a religion as any theistic religion in that both are fundamentally based on unprovable assumptions; both shape the most basic and important beliefs about origin, purpose, ethics and meaning and also make claims that cannot be scientifically verified.
What gives the government or anyone else the authority to determine what kind of music we can and can’t hear? Wouldn’t that obviously be an infringement of our first amendment right to freedom of speech? The answer is yes.
The first amendment forbids the state sponsoring of any religion. The claim that the driver’s individual preference of playing religious (Christian) music is the same as the Siloam public school district sponsoring a religion is illogical since the district had no policy mandating that a certain religious station ought or ought not to be played. Since it was up to the driver it was an example of his religious freedom to listen to religious music. He is in no way forcing the student to respond any religious way.
In fact, this very reasoning was used to defend a High School in Augusta County Virginia when students were made to copy the “shahada,” the Islamic statement of faith, which says “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger.” The school defended the teacher’s activities on the grounds that he never forced the students to respond in a religious way. Where was the Freedom from Religion Foundation when this happened? It would seem that the only religion the Freedom from Religion Foundation would have gagged is the Christian one.
If Christians actually care about their freedom of religion, then maybe we need to start pushing back against organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
Duran is a senior majoring in engineering. He can be reached at DuranDG@jbu.edu.