Separation of Church and State — At a Water Park? Really?

Separation of Church and State — At a Water Park? Really? August 14, 2012

You want to swim?

Sorry. You’re going to have to pay more.

All you church people who want to swim with your church youth groups in Willow Springs Water Park in Little Rock, Arkansas, are going to have to pay more thanks to complaints from a non-profit that serves children but is not a church. Eager not to miss an opportunity to evangelize, an humanistic group has also jumped in with both feet, seeking to impress their secular faith upon the private business owner.

Willow Springs Water Park, Little Rock, Arkansas

You can read the entire Fox News story here recounting the horrific practice this park has engaged in for decades — offering discounts to church groups who brought kids to their park. One non-church group that works with youths tried to get the same discount — and the whining began.

The park yanked the discounts for everyone rather than deal with a legal battle. Just to be sure, the Freedom from Religion Foundation  (a national non-profit for the separation of church and state according to the Fox story) sent a letter threatening to force their own secular religion upon the park’s owners if they dared to offer such evil discounts to church groups again. It especially warned against “covert” methods. You know how sneaky those Christians can be trying to get away with practicing the free exercise of religion.

What’s the issue again?

All sarcasm — mostly — aside, what state issues are at stake here exactly? Based on this convoluted logic, churches should also not get any “discount” on their taxes that all other government designated non-profits also receive. Perhaps this group would agree. As best I can see, this situation involves a for-profit, free-standing entity deciding to encourage religion in its community by offering discounts to churches. That word church does have a definition. If your organization doesn’t fit the definition, then you don’t get the discount.

Some critics might claim that offering a discount to some without extending it to all is discriminatory. Yes. And what’s your point?

We live in fear of that word as if all discrimination is necessarily evil. We just finished watching athletes compete in the Summer Olympics on the world stage — and yet not all, or even most, athletes were allowed to participate. One might say that all had the same chance to compete for a spot. Really? The Vietnamese orphans whose adoption couldn’t get through the paperwork hurdles a decade ago had the same chance as the Chinese gymnast forced to train against her will? Shouldn’t we cancel the entire games if all don’t get the same opportunity or privilege?

Why are we so quick to embrace this thinking that if everyone doesn’t get it, no one gets it? If I can’t afford or find a Sunday newspaper, should others be permitted to use the coupons they get in their copy? After all, it would speed up the checkout lines a bit for all of us if we just banned coupons altogether. And then no one would feel left out. If we’re going to apply this principle across society, a lot of atheists will be paying more and getting less out of a lot in life.

Here’s the irony: the park continues to offer discounts for public-service employees of the government — firefighters, safety officers, and military personnel. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But why are the complaints not directed equally at that discriminatory practice? Those are all honorable callings, to be sure, but why are they more honorable than pastors and church youth leaders? If churches do their jobs well, you won’t need as many safety personnel.

Could the discriminatory nature of the complaints be due to the fact that public-service employees work for a government compelled through fear and legal jujitsu to function by the tenants of a secular faith?

I will fear no evil

We as a society are paralyzed by the fear of legal action.

  • Our schools quake in terror at the very mention of it — and fail to educate our children because of it.
  • Our churches cower at the mention of the IRS — and fail to speak the truth in love across all of culture.
  • Our businesses seek the path of least resistance in cases like this — and everyone loses what opportunity they had.

Fear always eliminates opportunity. Always.

The problem with whining

But I suspect there’s something deeper at work here psychologically in these situations. I suspect that at the heart of many such disputes is someone who just didn’t get their way. Someone got their feelings hurt. And we can’t have that. Not in a tolerant society. So they start to whine. (Trust me. I see how this works everyday with kids.)

Take this example from a similar case in Pennsylvania noted in the Fox News story:

A Pennsylvania atheist filed a grievance with the state’s Human Relations  Commission this summer after he learned that Prudhomme’s Lost Cajun Kitchen in  Columbia was offering a 10 percent discount on meals to people who brought their  church bulletin with them.

“I did this not out of spite, but out of a feeling against the prevailing  self-righteousness that stems from religion, particularly in Lancaster County,” John Wolff, a retired electrical engineer, told the  Intelligencer Journal  of his decision to go toe-to-toe with the restaurant.

“I don’t consider it an earthshaking affair, but in this area in particular,  we seem to have so many self-righteous religious people, so it just annoys  me.”

In that case, the restaurant’s owner refused to halt the promotion. And the  matter is still pending before the secular Pennsylvania commission. [emphasis mine]

In this instance, at least, the complaining person is honest about his motivations. He doesn’t like people of faith acting “self-righteous.” Good luck with the courts defining that one — without seeming self-righteous in the process.

But two can play this subjective game of verbal badminton. I say, “I don’t consider it an earth-shaking affair, but in this area in particular, we seem to have so many self-righteous secular people, so it just annoys me.”

Now what? We both can’t stand each other apparently. Are lawsuits supposed to follow? Come on.

Maybe we could all grow up and and sit down to eat lunch together. I’ll bring the church bulletin to save us all some dough. Maybe then we could have a dialogue about what’s best for freedom and our responsibility to our communities instead of resorting to nasty letters with imaginative legal claims. Maybe then we could have an understanding that not everyone always gets what they want, we’re not all entitled to all that someone else has, and that not all discrimination is illegal or even unethical.

Until then everybody in Little Rock should toss a few extra bucks in the plate Sunday. Looks like the cost for church groups to play at the water park just went up. Tell me how that’s not discrimination.

Do you think this is a case of the need for separation of church and state or an overreaction to a perfectly legit practice? Leave a comment with a click here to share your thoughts


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