Joco Diversions

Sarah Smith Nessel — Celebrate Freedom Week is upon us, for better or worse

“Consider the source.”

That’s what my husband told me back in July, when he first suggested that I write about Celebrate Freedom Week.

No, I said. I am not considering the source, and I am not writing about Celebrate Freedom Week. After all, it doesn’t seem bad on the surface, even though it involves the Kansas Legislature, which is the source of so many things I’d rather not consider.

But now that the week almost upon us, I’m finding myself oddly preoccupied with it.

Celebrate Freedom Week, in mid-September, is newly set aside by law as a time for Kansas public school students to study our nation’s origins, with an emphasis on the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Sounds innocuous enough, though a bit redundant. Surely the regular history and civics curriculum gives students quite a bit of exposure to our nation’s founding documents. Is this law really necessary?

Rick Green thinks so. He’s a former state legislator in Texas who founded Celebrate Freedom Week in that state more than a decade ago. It’s now become law in a handful of other states, and Green wants to see it go nationwide.

This is where considering the source comes in. As Brad Cooper reported last month in The Star, Green is known for promoting the idea that God should have a prominent role in the public square. That’s a problem in itself, considering how many Americans disagree sharply on the nature of — or even the existence of — any deity.

Green’s website includes a vaguely attributed passage about an “attorney, legislator, and political junkie” — apparently Green himself — who realized one day that he could not name the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. As a little test of my own constitutional chops, I stopped reading at that point and tried to recite the entire text of that amendment, and I’m happy to say I bungled only two words. For the record, I can also recite a number of tediously long New Testament passages, but that hardly makes me a model Christian. Memorizing portions of historical documents is a parlor trick, at best.

Green’s website promotes Celebrate Freedom Week by asserting that “Americans educated over the last 30 years spent very little, if any, time on our founding documents and the principles of liberty upon which America was built. Is it any wonder that our nation has strayed so far from Her founding principles? ... We must invest in the next generation and make sure that American Exceptionalism is instilled in their hearts and minds.”

Really? I have no desire for American “Exceptionalism” to be instilled in my son’s heart and mind. I want him to understand that this is a great nation, but also a flawed one, that its history is woven with noble achievements as well as shameful institutions. If he someday decides that America is exceptional, I want that opinion to be based not on Rick Green’s pronouncements, but on my son’s travels throughout the world — a world that does, after all, have many free, prosperous and peaceful nations.

Considering the source of Celebrate Freedom Week gets more unsettling as you consider the company the source keeps. Green is an associate of David Barton, an evangelical minister and purported historian for whom the descriptor “wildly controversial” doesn’t go nearly far enough. Barton is the founder of WallBuilders, whose stated goals are “to exert a direct and positive influence in government, education, and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena.”

Tell me again about that First Amendment, Mr. Green. I’m suddenly feeling the need to wrap myself in the comforts of the establishment clause.

Necessary or not, Celebrate Freedom Week is coming soon to a Kansas school near you. I’m choosing to assume the best — that it will involve nothing beyond lessons in well-established facts of history. Let’s hope my optimism is not misplaced.