Today’s focus was lesson planning for my ‘Religion in the United States’ class. This week they’re learning about how religion can go wrong as they become acquainted with Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple and David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. Next week they’ll encounter Heaven’s Gate.
These three groups bring up interesting questions, so the second part of the week, next week, they’ll revisit the debate over whether we can ever use the pejorative ‘cult’ or whether it’s best to follow the example of the academy in using the label ‘new religious movements’. Then I’m asking them to think critically about their understanding of religions and religious freedom by choosing two case studies out of four options.
My students will be able to choose from this list:
- Should we tax the Scientologist?
Read the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed by Alex Gibney titled ‘Op=Ed: ‘Going Clear’ filmmaker: Scientology abuses its tax-exempt status’. Once you’ve read the article summarize Gibney’s argument in three sentences and then explain in three sentences why you agree or disagree with him (three beyond just telling me whether your agree or disagree):
2. Should Satanic imagery be allowed to put a statue of Baphomet on public land if other religious groups (e.g., Jews, Christians) are allowed to do so?
Watch Vice News’ video ‘The Satanic Temple’s Protest for First Amendment Rights’ (13:33). Once you’ve watched the video, summarize why a Ten Commandments monument has motivated The Satanic Temple in a single sentence, then explain the rationale for The Satanic Temple’s offer to put up a statue of Baphomet in two sentences, and then in three sentences tell me why you think The Satanic Temple has or doesn’t have a legitimate cause for putting up their statue:
3. Should the IRS have removed The Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt status?
Read the essay ‘To avoid another Jonestown, reform IRS church reporting policy’ by Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-President and co-Founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Once you’ve read the article, summarize Gaylor’s argument in three sentences and then explain in three sentences why you agree or disagree with him (three beyond just telling me whether your agree or disagree):
4. Should the ATF have changed their approach to the Branch Davidians?
The Department of Treasury and Justice investigated the methods of the ATF and ‘determined that some tactics and decisions were poorly executed; and certain actions by ATF were criticized. However, the September 1993 U.S. Department of Treasury Administrative Review concluded: “…the agency is made up of dedicated, committed and experienced professionals, who have regularly demonstrated sound judgment and remarkable courage in enforcing the law. ATF has a history of success in conducting complex investigations and executing dangerous and challenging law enforcement missions. That fine tradition, together with the line agents’ commitment to the truth and their courage and determination has enabled ATF to provide our country with a safer and more secure nation under law.”’ (Source)
The ATF put together a testimonial video called ‘Waco at 25: as they remember it’. Watch the video and summarize why these agents feel they did their job well in three sentences and then explain in three sentences why you agree or disagree with them (three beyond just telling me whether your agree or disagree):
Notably, when my students studied the Scientologists, I emphasized how under the classification system of the IRS, they are considered a religion. Similarly, I point to the same stamp of approval being given to The Satanic Temple but also in my interview with Joseph P. Laycock he made the case for why The Satanic Temple should be considered a religion. When we came to The Peoples Temple, I asked my students if anything could’ve been done to stop what happened, noting that many feel the government didn’t do enough. When we came to the Branch Davidians, I asked my students if anything could’ve been done to stop what happened, noting that many feel the government did too much.