Noahs DinosaursDuring eight days last September, 16-year-old Matthew LaClair carried a concealed tape recorder to his 11th-grade American history class at Kearny High School in Kearny, N.J. He recorded any comments about religion made by his teacher, 38-year-old David Paszkiewicz. Matthew, whose family belongs to the Ethical Culture Society and whose father is a lawyer, found these remarks offensive. He subsequently shared the tape with school officials and the press.
Mr. Paszkiewicz has been employed by the Kearny school district for 14 years. He is, the high school’s principal told a New York Times reporter, an excellent teacher. He is also a youth pastor at the Kearny Baptist Church who dismisses evolution and maintains there were dinosaurs on Noah’s ark. On one occasion, he said those who reject Jesus belong in hell.
These observations seemed more like proselytizing than a mere exercise of freedom of speech. The school authorities have therefore admonished Mr. Paszkiewicz and have assigned Matthew’s class to another teacher. But many of the school’s 1,750 students support Mr. Paszkiewicz and are distinctly cool toward Matthew. The LaClair family, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, threatens to sue the school board unless Mr. Paszkiewicz’s views on science are corrected and Matthew receives an apology. Civic harmony might be more easily preserved by following the advice of the school board’s lawyer: Sometimes it’s better to stop inappropriate behavior and move on.
Cervical Cancer VaccinationsCervical cancer, the second leading cause of death among women worldwide, is almost always caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is spread primarily through sexual contact. The only HPV vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration so far is Merck & Co.’s Gardasil. The federally recognized Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is recommending that girls between 11 and 12 years of age be vaccinated before they become sexually active. State legislatures decide most vaccination requirements, and now a debate has emerged over whether to make the vaccinations mandatory. Michigan’s senate introduced legislation in the fall of 2006 to require girls to be vaccinated, but the bill failed.
Texas, though, by an executive order from Governor Rick Perry, has mandated that girls (with some exceptions) receive the vaccine before starting sixth grade. The Texas Catholic bishops issued a statement Feb. 5 calling for the governor to rescind his order. They note that the American Academy of Pediatrics has said that school-based HPV vaccination has been tested only among girls 16 and older and that there should be several years of practice before mandates are considered. Clinicians, moreover, have little experience administering the vaccine to girls 12 years old. For all the promise it offers of preventing cervical cancer, making HPV vaccination mandatory now is premature. Clouding the issue still further are Governor Perry’s ties to Merck, which contributed to his re-election campaign. Merck itself has halted its aggressive marketing of the vaccine. Citing adverse public reaction, Merck announced last month that it would cease lobbying efforts aimed at state legislatures.
Via Media?The Anglican Communion has long regarded itself as a middle way, a via media, between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Unlike most Protestant churches, which rejected tradition and reason as sources of church teaching and appealed only to Scripture (sola scriptura), Anglicans continued to rely on tradition and reason along with the Bible to inform their moral judgments. The current strains in the Anglican Communion over sexual morality and ordination have disclosed a tilt away from the middle way to a once identifiably Protestant theological style. With some irony, it seems, those who claim to be defending traditional morality are basing their arguments not on the full range of traditional Anglican moral analysis, but exclusively on the authority of Scripture. Few have noted the shift.
Both African archbishops who support traditional positions and those Episcopal parish rectors in the United States who agree with them seem to have bent to the American religious zeitgeist, making their judgments hinge on the authority of Scripture alone. Apparently responding to the method of their critics, defenders of the novel stands of the U.S. Episcopal Church have likewise made their appeals to Scripture, emphasizing instead of biblical prohibitions the primacy of justice and mercy.
Although there has been a Puritan strain in Anglican moral theology for centuries, which inclined to the sola scriptura principle, the dominant approach in Anglican moral theology through the 20th century was Catholicappealing to all three sources of moral insight: Scripture, tradition and reason. The inclusion of tradition and reason as sources of religious-moral knowledge has been one of the historic affinities between Anglicanism, on the one hand, and Catholicism and Orthodoxy on the other. One must ask whether abandoning tradition in the name of traditional values will not, in the long run, erode the characteristic foundations of Anglican moral theology.