From California: Another Front in the Culture Wars
By Hadley Arkes
From California again we get a glimpse of the future – or the future that a political class is consciously seeking to prepare for us in reshaping the culture. During the summer the legislature enacted, and Governor Jerry Brown signed into law, SB48, as an amendment to “the Education Code, relating to instruction.” That Code had already made ample provision to instruct the children of California in the contributions made by all racial and ethnic groups supplying votes for politicians. But there was an appreciation also for the contributors who were “entrepreneurs” and labor unions, and whose stories deserved to be told. With SB48 the legislature took a further step by adding: “Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.”
The schools were directed to give only favorable accounts of these groups in telling the story. But on the other side, teachers and administrators were enjoined not to offer any instruction or “sponsor any activity that reflects adversely upon persons on the basis of race or ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, nationality, sexual orientation.” There is not the least doubt about the intention to enforce this law. Nor is there much doubt about the main target of the law. SB48 bars “any sectarian or denominational doctrine or propaganda contrary to law.”
For religious teaching, read: any teaching offering a claim to truth rivaling the moral teaching in the law. That alternative moral teaching will be regarded as merely beliefs of a “denominational” character or a version of “propaganda.”
Make no mistake, Fr. Schall was quite right in his recent column: We are in the midst of a culture war. And a chief purpose of that war is to make it untenable to teach Catholic doctrine in public settings, or for Catholic institutions, in their work, to respect that teaching. But we would fall into a gentle mistake if we assumed that we are facing mainly the force of “relativism,” or that the appeal now is to the rights of parents to provide for the moral shaping of their children.
Yes, in part, to both. The force of relativism was felt first in teaching the wrongness of casting moral judgments, including judgments on the “styles” of sexuality. But there is nothing relativistic about the law in California. There is no willingness to tolerate the views of those who bear moral reservations about the homosexual life. The people who brought forth this law would draw on the “logic of morals” as Aquinas had it, and as it will ever be: they would commend and even require what is “right,” and they would condemn and forbid what they regard as “wrong.”
Lincoln had all of this long ago: “If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away.” He could conceivably grant then the authority to bar the abolitionist literature from the mails – if slavery were right. And if it were wrong to cast adverse moral judgments on the homosexual life, the understandings supporting those judgments could indeed be driven out of the schools.