‘Freedom is often most delicious when it is extended’

‘Freedom is often most delicious when it is extended’ January 12, 2012

Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta points us to a column in the (Ind.) Journal & Courier by Baptist minister Steve Viars, calling on Tippecanoe County commissioners to approve the zoning application for an Islamic center. Viars sounds like a Baptist minister in this column — citing Roger Williams and the First Amendment in an op-ed that reads like a sermon:

Refusing to grant this request simply because the petitioners are followers of Islam would be contrary to our country’s cherished ideals of religious liberty and the importance of the separation of church and state.

… Celebrating the presence of other religions at home is the logical extension of the sacrifice our countrymen have made around the world. Freedom is often most delicious when it is extended to someone with whom you disagree. Our heroes did not fight to protect and promote one particular religious point of view. The fruit of freedom is diversity and a rich tapestry of culture and beliefs.

“Most delicious.” I like that very much. That’ll preach.

* * * * * * * * *

Laura Conaway reports on another, not-so-delicious development regarding church and state in Indiana, and says “This is what theocracy looks like“:

Three Indiana state senators, all Republicans, have introduced a bill that would allow schools to require the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer every morning, if they want to. …

The Lord’s Prayer bill says the point is to help “each student recognize the importance of spiritual development in establishing character and becoming a good citizen,” but you can get out of reciting it if you or your parents want.

The bill comes with a fiscal impact statement … so we can see the cost and revenue from introducing religion into the classroom. Expected expenditures are local, officials write: “There could be some minor impact in deciding the version of the Lord’s Prayer to use; however, it should be able to be done within existing resources.”

Conaway has a bit of fun with this question of “deciding the version of the Lord’s Prayer to use,” recommending that it be recited in Aramaic. But it’s not at all funny that these Hoosier hegemons think it’s appropriate to have government officials decide and decree how everyone’s children must pray. And to whom they must pray. The school board would be assigning every pupil an official “Lord.

The specific problem the bill’s sponsors acknowledge — which version of this prayer? — refutes the political grandstanding that lets them pretend that some vague “Judeo-Christianity” ought to be privileged as the majority religion. Once you mandate the exclusively Christian Lord’s Prayer, the conceit of an inclusive Judeo-Christianity crumbles, elevating Christians above Jews. And the further business of determining which version of the prayer will be the official version forces the local school board to pit Christian sect against sect, elevating and privileging one denomination or tradition over all the others.

I suspect that Indiana state Sen. Jim Tomes hasn’t really thought this through. Tomes, the primary sponsor of this bill, is Roman Catholic. I don’t think he realizes that his bill would almost certainly have the effect of establishing and privileging an explicitly Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer and, thus, establishing and privileging some form of Protestant Christianity as the official state religion of Indiana.

Tomes’ website lists some of the organizations he’s been involved with, including Indiana Right to Life, Gun Owners of America,** 2nd Amendment Patriots. Groups like those have a long history of, and an interest in, making sure that their followers don’t acquire a meaningful understanding of the Constitution. Groups like those have a long history of, and an interest in, promoting the mythmaking nonsense that “activist judges kicked God out of our schools.”

My guess is Tomes really believes that stuff by now and thus, having been well and truly bamboozled, he really doesn’t understand either what his bill would entail or why it is and ought to be unconstitutional — which is to say illegal.

I’d further guess that the only way to get Sen. Tomes to see past that bamboozlement would be to have him visit a public school somewhere in the heartland of Posey County. “And now, children,” the principle would say in the crowded auditorium, “let us begin our assembly by reciting our Lord’s prayer.”

And then, in perfect unison, all the children say, “Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar …

Short of that happening, I doubt someone like Tomes can be made to understand what the First Amendment says or why it says it.

* * * * * * * * *

Ginger Strivelli provided just that sort of vivid demonstration to a North Carolina school system. The headline in the local paper read “Woman not allowed to drop off pagan books at Asheville area school.” A more accurate headline might have said something like, “Pagan mom schools Christians on Golden Rule, First Amendment.”

The Buncombe County (N.C.) school system allowed the Gideons in to distribute free Bibles to students. Strivelli complained that the public school shouldn’t be handing out Christian texts to her Pagan children. If you let Christians groups give out their stuff, she said, then you’ll also have to let Pagan groups give out our stuff:

… School officials said they would allow for the availability of her materials, just as they did the Bibles from a local group of Gideons International.

When Strivelli brought the Pagan books to the school Wednesday morning, she said she was told “a new policy is being crafted.”

“I’m not surprised a bit. That’s fully what I expected,” Strivelli said. “Basically, they were calling my bluff thinking I wouldn’t bring in the books.

“They’re changing the policy, which is wonderful. They shouldn’t [allow] it, but they shouldn’t have done it to start with. That makes it unfair after they have given out Christian propaganda.”*

The school system needs a “new policy” here, not because the old policy wasn’t working, but because it seems there was no old policy. Strivelli had both basic fairness and legal precedent on her side when she challenged the school by saying that if they allowed the Gideons in to distribute Bibles then they’d also have to allow other religious groups to do the same.

“Sauce for the goose …” is more or less the legal standard for these questions of equal access. Strivelli provided the school system with a deliciously vivid illustration of what that means.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* I sympathize with why she’s fired up here, but calling the Bible “propaganda” isn’t accurate. The Bible is far too massive, messy, elliptical and sometimes confusing, contradictory, ambiguous, dull, strange, off-putting and offensive to ever function as propaganda. No one designing a work of propaganda would ever include anything as mind-numbingly boring as all those genealogies in Numbers or Matthew. Or anything as cryptic and weird as, say, the end of Zechariah. Calling it that also runs counter to the essential basis of Strivelli’s argument here, which is one of basic fairness, reciprocity and mutual respect — the Golden Rule.

** Added: Here is Gun Owners of America. Here is an archive of its founder/leader’s columns over the years. Like the “Constitution Party” to which Larry Pratt has many ties, and like the “sovereign citizens” whom Pratt praises as “Constitutionalists,” the GOA talks about the Constitution a great deal, but not in a way that betrays any comprehension of what it says or what it means.

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