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E-Pluribus | August 31, 2023
A burning issue in Denmark; who is in charge of children's education in Maryland; and considering the place of gender studies in education.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Jacob Mchangama: Denmark May Ban Burning the Quran
If Denmark ever hopes to live down “something’s rotten in Denmark,” they’re going to have to resist this latest move by some in its government. Jacob Mchangama reports in Reason that one cabinet minister wishes to put an end to the “insult and denigration” of Quran burnings in the wake of violence and threats of terrorism.
In 2017, then–Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen proclaimed: "I'm proud and happy that we live in a country where we have abolished the blasphemy provision and where you're allowed to be critical—even in satire and cartoons—of religious symbols." Last week, however, Rasmussen, who is now the minister of foreign affairs, did an about-face.
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A plurality of Danes support the bill. After all, why should they risk terrorist attacks and economic sanctions due to the antics of a widely despised extremist whose ideas and actions are off-putting even to secular non-muslims? Many Danes feel there are better and more sophisticated ways to criticize a religion than torching books.
But it is precisely the tolerance of the most offensive ideas put forth by the individuals most despised by polite society that is the true measure of the civic commitment to free speech. Once you abandon principle for expediency, it establishes a precedent that incentivizes demands for further concessions.
Using violence and diplomatic coercion, religious extremists and the OIC have established that even in liberal democracies, religions and their followers are entitled to special legal protection that trumps individual freedoms. No doubt the Danish prohibition will form the tip of the spear in the OIC's global campaign to purge "blasphemous" content.
The effect of the Danish bill is not confined to the narrow circle of far-right pyromaniacs. There is a very real danger that it will lead to much broader collateral damage. Artistic and political expressions are not exempted.
Read it all here.
Bethany Mandel: The Revolt of Religious Parents in Montgomery County
In around Twitter below, we highlight a legal case out of Virginia by parents challenging the authority of the state to interfere with the rearing of their children. At The Free Press, Bethany Mandel writes about the parent revolt in Montgomery County, Maryland over what parents may and may not control in their children’s public education, and the results are not encouraging.
On Thursday, a Maryland district court sent a clear message to parents at Montgomery County Public Schools: you don’t get a say in what your kids read at school.
Or more specifically, as the court concluded, a parent’s right to opt out of a public school curriculum that “conflicts with their religious views is not a fundamental right.”
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“It wasn’t just Muslim families who were concerned,” Haggag told me. “There were many other families of devout faith and we wanted to make sure everyone has a voice.”
Hiwot, an Ethiopian Christian mother (who declined to share her last name for fear of retaliation) and member of FRRF, called the school’s actions “a state-sponsored campaign to shame us into a corner.” For the first time, many in her church became energized civically, and busloads of Ethiopian Christians from her congregation have joined protests over the new policy at Board of Education meetings in the last few months.
“They’re trying to replace our values,” Hiwot told me about the school administrators. “They’re not just pushing to read books. They’re creating an army of our kids. It’s a religion for them. I feel like as a Christian, my kids are getting rebaptized in another religion.”
In a statement to The Free Press, Montgomery County Board of Education President Karla Silvestre defended eliminating the opt-out. “This policy articulates our commitment to mutual respect and understanding regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, ability, or culture,” she wrote. “We support a curriculum that creates an awareness of our diverse community and we want our students to see themselves in the texts available to them.”
There’s an obvious problem with this, and the parents haven’t hesitated to point it out: telling religious parents that it’s mandatory for their young children to read or be read explicit books about gender and sexuality at school is not a policy inclusive to them. In Montgomery County, the protesters are, by a vast majority, Muslim and Orthodox Ethiopian Christian.
Read it all.
Martha McCaughey: Is Gender Studies The Man?
Since long before the transgender debate rose to prominence, “gender studies” has been roundly rejected by conservatives as a waste of time and energy that aims to undermine social and cultural norms in America. Changes at Florida’s New College led by Christopher Rufo have reignited the debate. Martha McCaughey, a retired gender studies professor makes the case at Discourse Magazine, that, despite excesses by activist educators in the field, gender studies has a legitimate place in higher education.
I am a retired professor who taught gender studies at two public universities, and have argued previously against college instructors engaging in partisan political activism in the classroom. Scholars who identify as activists (or activists who identify as scholars) only encourage people to question their motives and the unique intellectual value of scholarship. Faculty should be engaged in academic inquiry, not activism, in their classrooms. And to the extent that an instructor makes an occasional statement of opinion in an otherwise academic course—whether it’s about getting an abortion or, as one Hillsdale College professor advocates in an online course called “The American Left,” getting an AR-15—students are and should be free to take reasoned exception to the opinion expressed. But the occasional remark about AR-15s or abortions does not mean that instruction is indoctrination or that an entire academic program exists for political purposes, as Rufo suggests is the case with gender studies.
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While I don’t think gender studies scholars should be peddling activism in their professional work, that’s not to suggest that gender studies scholarship does not contribute to some positive social good. (One would hope the same is true for scholarship in nanotechnology, data science, digital media studies and any other field in which scholars from a variety of disciplines collaborate to address emerging topics and problems in innovative ways.) For example, a group of entrepreneurial students at North Carolina State University invented a nail polish that detects date-rape drugs when a painted fingernail is dipped into a drink. These students would not have come up with such an innovation had scholars working in the area of gender studies not uncovered the problem of sexual assailants drugging their victims. Mattel would not have created Architect Barbie were it not for the professors who, based on their knowledge of the male-dominated architecture profession, offered guidance to Mattel. Truckers Against Trafficking might not be as effective in their efforts to combat sex trafficking were it not for the scholarship on that topic. Even a parent who’s ever used the baby-changing station in a public restroom has engaged with an entrepreneurial innovation that resulted from knowledge of women’s and men’s shifting roles as parents and employees.
Read the whole thing.
Via the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR), a lawsuit over parent’s rights regarding the upbringing of their children:
And finally, a terrible reminder that, while trends regarding censorship and suppression of free expression in our country should not be ignored, we have it pretty good compared to elsewhere: