The fallout began almost before the smoke had cleared at bullet- and bomb-ravaged Columbine High School. Barely able to conceive of two suburban teens on a homicidal rampage, stunned parents across the country looked for someone to blame. Politicians, always looking for a chance to posture, found a few convenient scapegoats and led them to the slaughter.
Republicans and Democrats alike abandoned traditional allies. Republicans in the Senate dumped the National Rifle Association in favor of new anti-gun legislation. Then President Clinton rocked the liberal Hollywood establishment by suggesting-ever so gingerly-that violent movies and television shows might need to be cleaned up.
Now, a new bill speeding through Congress threatens to create a new category of bad guys: religious believers. With pressure building for a new juvenile safety bill, family groups in Washington found themselves scrambling last week to prevent federal funding of an "anti-hate" curriculum that equates Christianity with intolerance and violence.
The Child Safety and Youth Violence Prevention Act of 1999 includes a potluck of federal programs designed to prevent future Eric Harrises and Dylan Klebolds. Whether any of these programs is the least bit effective at preventing violence is open to debate. But the provision that has drawn the most fire from conservatives involves reauthorizing the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), a relatively obscure division of Janet Reno's Justice Department.
Officially, OJJDP creates crime-prevention curricula and programs for elementary and secondary schools. Critics charge, however, that the Clinton administration has used the office to indoctrinate schoolchildren with an anti-religious message: that "tolerance" demands acceptance of all beliefs, and that absolutist concepts of right and wrong are the root of hate.
Andrea Sheldon, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) in Washington, first discovered a curriculum called Healing the Hate more than a year ago. "They're targeting Baptists and Pentecostals specifically, saying that they teach hate. It's really insidious. Their goal is to change the hearts and minds of children and turn them against their parents."
Healing the Hate, developed jointly by the Department of Justice and the Education Department, bills itself as "a national hate-crime prevention curriculum for middle schools." Its introduction, taken from President Clinton's second inaugural speech, condemns "prejudice and contempt cloaked in the pretense of religious or political conviction.... They have nearly destroyed us in the past. They plague us still. They fuel the fanaticism of terror."
A unit on "Hate Crime Perpetrators" includes a lengthy testimonial by a former white supremacist who tells of his Baptist and Pentecostal upbringing that eventually, he said, led him to join the Aryan Nation.
"Each Sunday morning," he recounts, "I attended worship services and on Wednesday evenings were Bible studies.... We read verses from the Book of Genesis and concluded that there had been two creations-one for people of color and another for white people. We called this theology Christian Identity."
Middle-school students using the Healing the Hate curriculum are never told that Baptist and Pentecostal churches have nothing to do with the Aryan Nation or that the "Christian Identity" movement is a perversion of true Christianity. On the other hand, the manual goes out of its way to define "institutionalized prejudice" as coming, in part, from "religious organizations."
The anti-religious bias in Healing the Hate and two other Justice Department curricula was troubling enough that Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) offered an amendment to the OJJDP reauthorization bill that would ensure "nondiscrimination based on religious or moral beliefs." The Souder Amendment bars the Justice Department from spending any funds "to discriminate against, denigrate, or otherwise undermine the religious or moral beliefs of juveniles who participate" in programs such as Healing the Hate.
Despite the backing of Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), however, the amendment faced tough going. Public pressure for a juvenile crime prevention bill is huge, and House leaders are wary of doing anything to slow its passage. Moreover, conservatives were braced for 30 to 40 expected amendments drawing the focus of the overall package toward cultural solutions rather than gun control, leaving some strategists worried that the Souder Amendment would get lost in the shuffle.
And even if the amendment wins approval by the House and survives a House-Senate conference committee, the battle will be far from over. The upcoming Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1999 also authorizes Justice Department curricula such as Healing the Hate, and it makes no demands of respect for religious belief.
In other words, anti-religious hate-crime education is likely to cause political firefights for years to come-yet another sad legacy of Littleton.