Wednesday, May 25, 2011
No Southern Hospitality For Atheists
This topic jumped out at me due to my near addictive interest in issues of church and state. Just recently in Louisiana the graduation at the local high school in Bastrop, Louisiana proceeded with a student directly violating the First Amendment’s establishment clause; in a pretty duplicitous manner, might I add. This was a willful and unjustified protest against the changes the school put in place, responding to Damon Fowler, a fellow secularist, and his allegation that they were not only violating the Constitution, but Louisiana state law, which has a similar provision against laws that discriminated against or favored any religion. Technically atheism is not a religion, but one can instead claim that it was favoring Christianity, and since this is a state sponsored institution, a public high school, doing an invocation that favors a particular religion is unconstitutional. Here’s the first of two different videos involving willful defiance against the change in the program from a prayer to a moment of silence. The student in question, Laci Mattice, stated at the beginning of the ceremonies that she was originally going to lead an invocation, but that she was instead told to lead a moment of silence. I don’t see why leading a moment of silence is less important than leading a prayer. The worst part of this was her trying to weasel out of her official duties by disclaiming that before she “fulfilled [her] obligation” she wanted to thank God for helping her graduate; because she really needed to pray to be the salutatorian instead of actually studying. Afterwards, she tried to sound amicable to nonbelievers by asking that those who believed as she did bow their heads to pray. But she never temporarily suspended her duties with those disclaimers; it doesn’t work that way. As personal and individual as she tried to make it, she was sponsored by the school in that position and she had no right to do that prayer regardless of her personal beliefs or being offended by the replacing of the “traditional” invocation with a moment of silence. Pure and simple, she was not only in dereliction of her official duties, but she was spitting in the face of religious freedom. And don’t tell me that her letting all the Christians bow their heads was being charitable to non Christians. She wanted to shove this prayer down everyone’s throats in direct opposition to the school itself telling her that she could not do a prayer. And what does the school do? They sit by as the status quo is maintained even in spite of an affirmation to the contrary by the school authorities. There’s a time and place for being religious and thanking your creator for academic success, and it’s called the baccalaureate. Quite possibly, the first video might have been a baccalaureate, but the sources suggest this was related to, but not the same as, the graduation ceremony itself.
This video, however, seems to be the graduation ceremony, where the same student proceeds to go with a nearly identical process. She says she respects other people’s beliefs, but then proceeds to disrespect them by saying that her desire to thank Jesus trumps the rights of everyone to not hear it in a public context sponsored by the state. She asks her fellow students to join in, again trying to slip around the school sponsored prayer bit, but you can clearly hear the audience joining in, so she might as well have just announced to everyone, “Hey, we’re having a prayer, even though they told us we can’t legally do it. They can’t touch us, we’re the majority!” It’s a contemptible display of majority tyranny. Tennessee can be pretty bad about it in certain regions, but I can’t recall getting even a minute vibe similar to this travesty. And in both instances, they give a pittance of time for the moment of silence, maybe 15 seconds, while they get at least twice that length for their own public soapbox to condescendingly preach.
The student in question, Damon Fowler, was reported by his brother to have gotten death threats from some people. Couple this with the social ostracism from a class that’s practically the same size as mine in a relatively small area and it’s amazing he hasn’t been outright attacked. This whole incident was an unnecessary and unfounded vindication of a majority’s wants over a minority’s needs. Atheists don’t want to be treated like everyone else; they deserve and need to be treated like everyone else. For someone to ask their classmates, even nicely, to pray is to isolate non Christian students. But with the community at large cheering this girl on, it just reinforces this negative tradition that anyone not in the majority religion should sit by and let their supposed guarantee of freedom from state sponsored religion get trampled on.
Any Christian reader should not get the idea that I have a problem with students praying privately and reading their bible in non class contexts at school. My problem is with people being so proud of their own faith that once they’ve realized they are in a majority, they think they deserve special treatment. Even if they preface it by saying other people have their right to believe or not, when you use a position of authority like this to pray your specific prayer, you instate the exact opposite feeling which you were trying to inspire before. It only makes religious diversity seem all the less likely when you think being a majority religion or a religion of many founding fathers gives you carte blanche to speak openly about it with no fear of persecution. Not to mention it clashes with an admonition from Jesus himself in Matthew 6:5 that you should pray privately to God, so as not to seem like a hypocrite who wants to be seen by everyone as religious. Your outward behavior is not what God cares about, from what I understand; it’s your internal convictions. And aren’t we supposed to be in the last days where Christians are persecuted? Clearly these kids aren’t worried that Christians will be persecuted since they feel they can just pray a Christian prayer and no government will get on them. I only hope the ACLU and FFRF get on the school about this, though I’m not sure of the exact intervention they could do at this point. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.