The one real taboo left for kids
Posted by aogWednesday, 29 August 2007 at 21:24 TrackBack Ping URL

Enough with providing visual pleasure for my never satisfied readers!

Today’s content is via this post, which is the story of a group filing a lawsuit against a school for withholding the diploma of the valedictorian because she spoke about her faith in Jesus Christ. What a bunch of total loser jerks must be running that school. She’s graduated! Her class has left the building. Move on.

It does bring back memories, though. The most nostalgic quote was this one about the self-criticism she was forced to write, which was then sent out to the entire high school community —

[Principal] Brewer insisted that she include the words: “I realize that, had I asked ahead of time, I would not have been allowed to say what I did.”

Ha. When I gave the speech at my high school graduation, I knew that as well. So I didn’t ask. I could tell the principal wanted to ask me, but knew me well enough to realize I would provide him with some anodyne fake and say whatever the heck I wanted anyway. Despite causing some audience members to become concerned about his blood pressure, I got away without any repurcussions because the principal was also smart enough to realize that would only prolong his misery. That’s something everyone who knows me eventually learns.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Michael Herdegen Wednesday, 29 August 2007 at 23:20

From the linked news release:

[Erica Corder wrote the apology because she was] afraid that the school would put disciplinary notes in her file and would generate negative publicity, which could prevent her from becoming a school teacher.

It strikes me as perfectly fitting that a person who’s afraid of the impact of nasty notes in their file should become a school teacher, given the cultural cliche.

Also, if she was going to fold like a wet paper bag, maybe she should’ve skipped the proselytizing.

David Cohen Wednesday, 29 August 2007 at 23:32

I thought about posting in response to this comment (The British constitution ostensibly granted freedom of religion to all British subjects. ) but I don’t even know where to begin.

Bret Thursday, 30 August 2007 at 00:17

From the Liberty Counsel News Release: “Each valedictorian orally presented a proposed speech to the principal before graduation.

So apparently she gave a different speech at graduation than the proposed one to the principal? If so, I consider her to be in the wrong here. To me, while not legally binding, it’s a sort of implicit contract of agreeing to give the proposed speech which she violated.

Indeed, if a high school cares about what a student is gonna say at graduation, why don’t they have the student write the speech so they can approve it ahead of time, and then have the student (or parents for younger students) sign a legally binding contract that they deliver the speech exactly as written, no more, no less. If the student refuses to sign, the school refuses to let the student speak.

Valedictorians have the right to express their religious viewpoints while at the graduation podium.

Where does this right come from? I can’t find that one in the constitution. Schools are not obligated to let students speak at graduations. That’s the natural outcome of conflicts like this. Students will probably ultimately no longer speak at graduations.

Graduations are a choreographed ceremony, not a free-speech forum.

Annoying Old Guy Thursday, 30 August 2007 at 06:58

Mr. Herdegen;

Yeah, I thought about that but didn’t want to be too nasty. I was fortunate to have a skill set that made considerations like this irrelevant so it’s not clear how much moral courage I was displaying in similar circumstances.

BUT I don’t consider mentioning such faith “proselytizing”, unless you want to count mentioning “I like playing football” as proselytizing as well, in which case why is religion specifically forbidden? Presumably such a speech will be about things that are important to the speaker and if her faith is important to her, why not?

Bret;

I can hardly object to that, since as noted I would have done the exact same thing. But it could also be that, since it was an oral presentation, she didn’t get it quite right. Based on the press release, it’s quite possible that the religious mention consisted of just a single sentence fragment. I think it would have been very reasonable for Erica to have not considered such a mention as in anyway controversial. And even if it was some trickery, doesn’t the school’s response seem petty and way out of proportion?

As for the “right” to expression religion, it comes attendant with letting the student speak. I agree that schools are not obligated to let students speak, but the quote you cite presumes that the school has already freely chosen to do so.

Suppose Erica had instead advocated for drug legalization or homosexual marriage. I doubt she would have gotten in to as much trouble. I think there should be an expectation of reasonable “community standards” on the speech content, but mentioning a faith in Jesus Christ seems well within such bounds. Why is religion so particularly toxic in these situations?

David Cohen Thursday, 30 August 2007 at 07:07

Actually, schools have considerably more latitude to censor pro-drug messages than religious messages.

erp Thursday, 30 August 2007 at 07:22

David, it’s just for times like this … but I don’t even know where to begin … that ! comes in handy.

pj Friday, 31 August 2007 at 12:39

This is reminiscent of my own valedictory speech adventure. We had a committee of three elderly teachers that was supposed to review speeches. They told myself and the salutitarian that it was just a formality, we could write speeches advocating tearing down the school brick by brick if we wanted. I wrote a speech advocating school vouchers. They looked extremely glum and told me they could not possibly allow me to present that speech, in part because “the school board will be there and they’ll think we taught you this.” They ordered me to come up with a new speech.

I wrote an even more provocative second speech, which they also rejected. They asked me if I had ever written a speech they could find acceptable. I told them I had written a speech for a Veterans of Foreign Wars scholarship contest on the subject of “Why I Love My Country.” They eagerly asked for it, liked it, and approved my delivery of that speech.

There was no way I was going to give that speech; it was a fine speech but inappropriate to the occasion. So I wrote another one the weekend before graduation, short (2 min) but quite religious (God was mentioned 7 times), based on a religious poem on a plaque that my boss at work had given me as a graduation present. She was present and cried when she heard me use her plaque in the speech.

In the end I was very glad the way things worked out. A friend of mine and fellow graduate died in a drunken car accident that morning, and the short, religious speech was perfect to the occasion. I understand that the teachers and principals debated amongst themselves the propriety of my speech afterwards, but no one tried to deprive me of a diploma.

Bret’s idea that I had a contract with the school to speak for 20 minutes on the theme of “Why I Love My Country” is, I think, absurd. If people don’t retain freedom of speech on government property, then socialism implies totalitarianism — and the inbetween place that liberals like to claim does not exist.

The idea that speakers shouldn’t be permitted to speak what is in their minds and hearts demonstrates more than the loss of fidelity to the principles of free speech and free exercise of religion: it also reveals a neurotic desire to hurt, silence, or even destroy people of differing views. That people bring a legalistic and coercive approach to disagreements of opinion is a sign of how greatly the rule of law and of liberty has decayed.

Bret Friday, 31 August 2007 at 13:33

I’m generally a fairly trusting person. However, if you tell me you’re gonna do X, but instead do something different, I absolutely feel you’ve breached my trust and I simply would not trust you again in the future - perhaps ever (fool me once, shame on you - fool me twice, shame on me).

Speaking to a captive audience is NOT free speech. Realizing this and taking action to choreograph such a ceremony is, I think, highly unlikely to reveal “a neurotic desire to hurt, silence, or even destroy people of differing views” except to, perhaps, someone with a high degree of paranoia.

The idea that anybody may, at any time, speak freely in a school (government property) is, of course, absurd. In virtually every classroom, the teacher talks, the students answer questions only when asked and may NOT speak freely, and if they insist on doing so they get booted out of the classroom. The schools simply could not operate if all students insisted on the right to speak freely at any time.

There are forums for free speech, but the high-school administrators have every right to decide that graduation is not one of them.

erp Friday, 31 August 2007 at 14:18

bret, in general I would agree with you. Keeping your word and being dependable are things I value highly, but in pj’s case, the supervisory teachers lost credibility when they denied him permission to give a speech on the grounds that they might be accused of teaching him about charter schools.

pj, how awful about your classmates’ accident. It seems that so many high school graduations have similar tragedies. Our daughter had classmates die in a drunken swimming pool accident and in my son’s case, a car full of drunken classmates were killed when their car smashed into a huge tree at the fork of a country road.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 31 August 2007 at 14:36

You guys sound like a bunch of overly theoretically rigid libertarians :-). As I noted earlier, I think there should be some bounds of propriety, since it is a communal activity and therefore the participating community should have some say over the speech content. But that doesn’t mean total control, nor does it mean the principal is the sole judge of appropriateness. I also just don’t see how the original bone of contention, faith in Jesus Christ as a personal belief, can be considered inappropriate in a Judeo-Christian society. I think the only problem here was a petty and vindictive principal.

pj Friday, 31 August 2007 at 18:34

Bret - I may be paranoid, but you haven’t proven they’re not neurotic.

The censorship of Christianity is quite absurd. If some principal tried to banish any statement indicating liberal politics, and take away the diploma of a student who said something liberal, people would consider it a ludicrous overreaching. It should be no different in the present case.

erp - I never told them I would deliver the speech, and the committee never asked me to promise to deliver it. They asked me to show them a speech they could approve, I did, and that was that. I think they were more concerned about fulfilling their duties in a way that wouldn’t offend other school officials, than with stopping me from speaking. They were decent folks, just a little too conformist to avoid some friction with an outlier like me.

Bret Friday, 31 August 2007 at 19:22

pj wrote: “…but you haven’t proven they’re not neurotic.

I didn’t say they weren’t neurotic. Everybody’s neurotic to some degree. I said that their actions are ‘highly unlikely to reveal “a neurotic desire to hurt, silence, or even destroy people of differing views”’. Why highly unlikely to reveal that? Because there are many alternative explanations that would have to be ruled out in order to “reveal” it. Other explanations include wishing to cover their asses to keep from being sued by the ACLU or other such organization, conflicting personal beliefs, desire to avoid conflict with parents, etc. Without disproving those alternative reasons, the true reason remains masked and nothing is revealed.

pj also wrote: “I never told them I would deliver the speech…

I guess. I suppose you never explicitly defined the meaning of “is” either.

If you can’t see why your interactions with the committee might have reasonably lead them to expect that you would give the VFW speech, then we’ll just have to disagree on this one, since to me, allowing one’s words and actions to form a reasonable expectation and then not following through on that expectation is still a breach of trust even if you did not explicitly define every last detail.

Bret Friday, 31 August 2007 at 19:36

aog wrote: “I think the only problem here was a petty and vindictive principal.

I agree that’s the primary problem. My point is that she set herself up to be subjected to the actions of said petty and vindictive principal.

It’ll be interesting to see how the lawsuit turns out.

Jorge Saturday, 01 September 2007 at 00:57

1. She was prosteletyzing. Her are her actual words (taken from numerous sources including a video of the event:

” ” Corder added the following to her speech:

“We are all capable of standing firm and expressing our own beliefs, which is why I need to tell you about some- one who loves you more than you could ever imagine. He died for you on the cross over 2,000 years ago, yet was resurrected and is living today in heaven. His name is Jesus Christ. If you don’t already know him personally, I encourage you to find out more about the sacrifice he made for you, so that you now have the opportunity to live in eternity with him.” ”

This last can be seen as an implied threat, ie: If you do not get to know Jesus you will not go to heaven. Basically a thinly veiled fire and brimstone threat. How do you think the Jewish and Hindu students and parents in the audience felt hearing that? The Bible says if you don’t proclaim a faith in Jesus you go to Hell. Did God send Ghandi to Hell when he died?” — I still don’t have an answer for that one.

2. She was very deceitful. According to her own statements and statements by her friends made to the press shortly after the event she deliberately planned to do this for months and deliberately lied when she presented a fake speech for her portion of a shared speech to the other Valedictorians and the Administration:

” “At graduation I know some of you may have been offended by what I said during the valedictorian speech. I did not intend to offend anyone,” she said in the e-mail. “I also want to make it clear that (the principal) did not condone nor was he aware of my plans before giving the speech. I’m sorry I didn’t share my plans ahead of time. The valedictorians were not aware of what I was going to say. These were my personal beliefs and may not necessarily reflect the beliefs of the other valedictorians or the school staff.” ”

” Corder, 18, was among 15 Lewis-Palmer valedictorians this year. The students cowrote a speech giving each valedictorian 30 seconds. They rehearsed it before Principal Mark Brewer before graduation.

Corder was to conclude the joint speech.

Unknown to Brewer and the other student, Corder planned to use her time to profess her faith. She prayed about it for months, she said, and believed God called her to speak out.

“I think he (God) just wanted to plant that seed, I guess,” she said.

She said by keeping her plans quiet she would not deliberately disobey any censorship attempts. ”

” Sarah Watt, a friend who knew of the plan, said, “When I heard her start talking about it, I just wanted to leap out of my seat I was so excited.”

Student Joe Galindo said he had no objections to her message, but he questioned the venue. “I’m Christian, so I definitely thought it was a good thing but wrong timing.”

Galindo and Watt noticed people reacting negatively to her message. ”

She is a liar and a deceiver, not a real Christian and not a role model for our youth.

pj Saturday, 01 September 2007 at 02:56

Jorge - There’s nothing wrong with proselytizing. Indeed, it was Jesus’s last command to Christians to do it, and the Constitution secured Christians right to do it with the free exercise clause. There is no threat, implied or otherwise, from her; the only conceivable threat is from God - to not admit some people to heaven. If she’s mistaken about the nature of reality, why feel threatened? If she’s right, why silence her?

Bret - As for my conduct, I never deceived or lied to anyone. What guesses the committee made about my future conduct I can’t be sure, but I doubt they were surprised that I gave a different speech, and they were careful not to ask me whether I would give a different speech, perhaps because they knew I would answer honestly. But the larger point is …

Bret and Jorge - When a government body acts to suppress speech and religious exercise, it is acting anti-constitutionally. While people may forfeit liberties of speech and religious exercise when they voluntarily accept employment with the government or other such conditional benefits, attendance at school is mandated by law. Government cannot coerce attendance and then deprive attendees of speech and religious exercise — if so it is coercing speech and coercing religious exercise. This is not some out-of-the-mainstream interpretation of the Constitution, it is Supreme Court precedent. And when hacks like the girl’s principal breach their constitutional duty and civic trust, students have a right to act to speak out in reply. More than a right — I believe we have a moral obligation to resist constraints on speech by speaking, and constraints on religious exercise by exercising our religion; otherwise, our compliance will tend to legitimize those illegitimate restraints.

The original sin here, of course, is socialism, which creates the government monopoly and creates a tension: without controlling speech, the government cannot run the school in an orderly way; but if it coerces speech, then it is violating the Bill of Rights. Either socialism needs to be combined with moderation, in which government doesn’t use its economic power to suppress speech and religion, or socialism needs to be replaced with a voucher system so that Christian kids can find schools where their speech and religious practice will be accepted.

So while it’s unfortunate that this episode degenerated into a coerced email and a lawsuit as it has — the descent from moderation on both sides that has ocurred since my time is significant — it’s unfortunately likely to degenerate further, since socialist education and immoderate behavior by the anti-religious left show no signs of going away.

Michael Herdegen Saturday, 01 September 2007 at 04:18

…attendance at school is mandated by law. Government cannot coerce attendance and then deprive attendees of speech and religious exercise…

Education is mandated, but one need not attend public schools. There are many private religious schools, and in many states homeschooling is tolerated, and in a few encouraged.

Erica Corder didn’t have to attend that school, she didn’t have to accept valedictory honors, and she didn’t have to agree to speak at all.

Peter Burnet Saturday, 01 September 2007 at 05:39

Pj:

There’s nothing wrong with proselytizing. Indeed, it was Jesus’s last command to Christians to do it,

He never said to a captive audience that has been gathered for another purpose and realistically has no way to leave or refuse to listen. Given the nature of the rest of His mission, it’s not easy to believe He had this kind of thing in mind.

Also, leaving aside the limp-wristed fecklessness of the school principal, have not all the SCOTUS and other legal decisions since the ‘60s on permitted dissent put the school between a rock and a hard place here? If she should be allowed to preach her faith in the name of free speech and religion, how could they stop the fellow who wants to pump voodoo or proclaim Christianity an evil crock?

h-man Saturday, 01 September 2007 at 06:52

PJ’s 2:56 comment nicely summed up the contradiction. That’s why there is a controversy to begin with and will be in the future.

Peter “He never said to a captive audience”

Jesus would say they shouldn’t be captive to begin with, but it didn’t prevent him from proselytizing to the two thieves, who were equally captive.

“how could they stop the fellow who wants to pump voodoo or proclaim Christianity an evil crock?”

They can”t and be consistent. Like you say rock, hard place.

Jorge It does appear she inappropriately used or lied to her fellow students, since you say this was presumably a shared speech.

Annoying Old Guy Saturday, 01 September 2007 at 07:13

How do you think the Jewish and Hindu students and parents in the audience felt hearing that?

About the same way the stoners felt when the principal told them “don’t do drugs!”.

Peter Burnet Saturday, 01 September 2007 at 07:58

but it didn’t prevent him from proselytizing…

God go with you, h-man. Oh geez, sorry, I’ve got to stop my incessant prosletyzing.

Gotta admit, though, the theological implications of arguing whether the Lord prosletyizes too much are fascinating.

pj Saturday, 01 September 2007 at 10:08

h-man has answered better than I would have. The two thieves analogy is spot on. In both case it is the government who created the captives. Only in the modern school case, however, does the government have the gall to claim that the captivity of the audience makes the speech of the speaker immoral.

Michael - Public schools are coercively funded, and financial considerations preclude many families from paying for private schools (on top of their payment for public schools). Let the government provide funding through school vouchers, then you can say there was no coercion in the choice of school.

Peter - I’m quite fine with letting any speaker pump voodoo or proclaim Chrsitianity an evil crock. The graduation speeches honor the achievements of the speakers; after 13 years of having their speech controlled, they get one chance to speak their piece. Whether sound or silly, they should be allowed to speak it. The audience can express their disagreement by withholding applause, or even booing.

Jorge Saturday, 01 September 2007 at 20:56

Jesus did not prosteletyze to the 2 thieves. He never said “believe in me” or anything even vaguely conversionist. There was ZERO effort to alter the faith of the two thieves, one of whom actually was pretty cynical and self-serving (“If you are God then save yourself and us too while you’re at it” - loosely paraphrased). He simply said they were all going to the same place that day.

Corder chose to be decietful (violating God’s commandments), she chose to use the facility of the PUBLIC school to call to those who did not know Christ. She certainly was not speaking to Christians, she was deliberately shoving her version of faith into the faces of those who did not have it, at an event designed to celebrate hundreds of students’ educational completion and paid for with US tax dollars.

In some protestant churches there is a part of the program when the audience is asked to “testify” on their experiences of faith. What if an Aetheist came in and joined the audience on an Easter Sunday, but then “testified” his views on faith and God?

Peter Burnet Sunday, 02 September 2007 at 18:45

Pj:

Leaving aside all the talk about constitutional rights, freedom-this, freedom-that, etc., why from a theological perspective are we fixated on the rights of the prosletyizer and not respect for the prosletyized?

pj Monday, 03 September 2007 at 12:29

Jorge - Everything you complain about works equally well in reverse. What of the principal who was pushing his secularism on the students, using the facility of the PUBLIC school to call to those who did not believe in non-evangelization. He certainly wasn’t speaking to secularists, he was deliberately shoving his version of faith ino the faces of those who did not have it, at an event designed to celebrate hundreds of students’ educational completion and paid for with US tax dollars.

As to your last question, it misses a basic distinction. Churches are private organizations who can control who comes on their property and what they do. Governments are public organizations that have to be open to the public.

Peter - Of course respect for the proselytized is extremely important. Nevertheless, sometimes the only way to demonstrate rudeness is by a corresponding rudeness; and sometimes the most Christian way to reply to unjust coercion is by civil disobedience. In general, one never purposefully tries to offend, but when another is purposefully and repeatedly (and esp. coercively) offensive, it may be appropriate and sound to resort to it. Jesus himself spoke to some of the people he proselytized in extraordinarily offensive language: see “whited sepulchers,” et al.

pj Monday, 03 September 2007 at 12:39

And I might add, Peter, that I haven’t seen any sign that she wasn’t treating the audience with respect. If you believe that a person’s life depends on adopting a belief, doesn’t respect for them require that you advise them of the fact? It seems you are confusing “respect” with “accommodating another’s preferences,” which is quite a different thing. People can behave in ways others dislike while still respecting those others, and treating them respectfully. We are all equals, and given the diversity of preferences in the world, we assuredly can’t please everyone all the time. But we can be respectful of everyone all the time.

Annoying Old Guy Monday, 03 September 2007 at 13:34

I would say Jorge’s analogy also fails, because it presumes an atheist who just shows up that Sunday, as opposed to one who had been a member of the church in good standing, in fact an exemplary member, for the last four years. I suspect the rest of the congregation might view things a bit differently in that case.

Jorge Tuesday, 04 September 2007 at 00:15

First, let me make myself clear. Do you think I am anti-Christian, I am not … AND … I am not arguing against spreading the Gospel - that is a core tenet of Christian teaching. My problem is with “so-called” Christians who LIE in order to do God’s work and who violate Biblical Scripture for a personal agenda. There is a huge difference between Christians and “Christians in name only”.

“Christian” who bomb abortion-clinics and then hide behind lawyers instead of owning up to the convictions of their faith are cowards. “Christians” busy-bodies who show up in large numbers of rented vehicles to disrupt pagan religious ceremonies and then say “we didn’t plan this” are cowards. If you are going to be a Christian then be an HONEST one! If you take actions for Christ then stand up and say “I did it because I felt it was the right thing to do according to my faith!” But too many Christians are unwilling to do so, they are afraid of losing their jobs, of spending a night in jail, of lawsuits. What they are really afraid of is that God will not protect them if they speak the truth!!! Those people are not Christian, they are faithless cowards who are more interested in their worldly existence then they are in God. I have countless examples like these where cowardly people take clandestine actions and refuse to stand up to be counted for their faith!

BUT … Also be sure you are willing to follow the words of Jesus; “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (“Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῷ Θεῷ”) — Matthew 22:21.

Just because our government is secular does not give some “Christians” the right to ignore the laws and even less the right to violate them. Every time “Christians” destroy property, injure or kill people, steal, slander, libel or deceive they violate Jesus’ injunction to obey the laws of the civil government. Worse, they are doing the Devil’s work in the name of God. Satan is the “Father of Lies” … so when a “Christian” lies who does he or she serve? Corder lied.

PJ: You seem to miss the point … the principal isn’t pushing HIS secularism … the public (taxpayer paid for) school IS secular - it is a civic organization. The principal is following the word’s of Jesus and obeying the civil law. We live in a country where those laws can be changed but they will not be changed by cowards hiding their faith behind lawyers. Until they are real Christians are supposed to obey those laws!

And yes, there is a distinction .. churches CAN tell people to leave or shut up or whatever .. but I will again remind you of Jesus’ commandment; “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (παντα ουν οσα αν θελητε ινα ποιωσιν υμιν οι ανθρωποι ουτως και υμεις ποιειτε αυτοις ουτος γαρ εστιν ο νομος και οι προφηται) — Matthew 7:12

If you would not allow such a disruption within your facilities and events, then do not impose them on others at theirs. If you do you are violating “the law” and defying God’s word!

Peter Burnet Tuesday, 04 September 2007 at 05:20

Pj:

We will have to agree to disagree. I think you are stretching the concept of civil disobedience way too far and risk muddying the waters for times when it really might be appropriate and necessary. But I am a little puzzled by your failure to see that few things turn people off more about the Christian faith than being forced unexpectedly to listen to teenage prosletyzers “advising” them their lives depend on adopting their beliefs. As this is hardly news, I think her behaviour was very self-indulgent. What ever happened to the virtue of humility?

pj Tuesday, 04 September 2007 at 07:17

Peter - Why do you think I don’t understand that such evangelical methods are unlikely to be successful? But she needs to learn that by experience. Humility is an important value, but humility is not passivity. I think you are arguing for a false humility - you are conforming yourself to the world and the world’s values, and persuading yourself that that conformity is God’s value too. True humility is not without challenges to the proud. She is groping her way toward living a Christian life. She will get there fully only in the world to come. But it is good for her to try. Anyone who takes offense at that is entirely too narcissistic and thin-skinned — and it is narcissistic to think that one’s preferences for what one would like to hear should always trump another’s preferences for what they would like to say. Such debased preferences are not deserving of the respect you want to extend to them.

Jorge - I never thought you were anti-Christian, indeed I thought you were a Christian - who but a Christian would so strongly oppose lies? And I fully agree one should never lie to an innocent — lying in my view can be right only toward unjust aggressors, e.g. I think it’s just (though not necessarily moral, that depends on the specific case) to lie to a mugger who asks if you’ve given him all your money. In this case, I think the principal was behaving in the same fashion as the mugger — illegally, unjustly, and aggressively. Still, I would never have lied in her position, and didn’t in mine. It would have been a more courageous and perfect witness, I agree, to be entirely honest and open, to be excluded from speaking and to take her case to the public through newspapers; or to refuse to send the email and to vigorously protest the withholding of her diploma. But, we are all sinners, perfection is not to be expected, and her sin was small compared to the evil of the principal that she was resisting.

I fully agree with your second paragraph, and your third. We disagree in our understanding of what the law is. The law provides for the free exercise of religion, and this provision trumps any local law. In any context in which the school allows secular views to be expressed, they must allow Christian views, including evangelical views, to be expressed on equal terms. That is the law. The principal was engaged in illegal conduct, and obedience to his illegality was owed neither to God nor Caesar. Indeed, there is a moral obligation to resist such usurpations of authority, otherwise they will come to be accepted as normative.

Again, the speaker was not disrupting the assembly. Everyone was expecting the valedictorians to speak, she spoke as expected on schedule. If anyone disrupted the event, it was the principal attempting to enforce either his mistaken understanding of the law or his own anti-Christian animus.

Peter Burnet Tuesday, 04 September 2007 at 07:49

Pj:

I still disagree, but I have to admit that is one good answer.

One of the rare times David Cohen and I have disagreed was on a story he posted about an airline that stopped an orthodox rabbi from praying demonstrably (i.e. chanting and genuflecting) on board. I believe he saw it as a rather straightforward interference with religious freedom, but I was troubled by the thought of passengers “thrown” by it and unable to walk away, especially if Muslims were praying to Mecca and Catholics saying the rosary in the next aisles. I think we all have to accept as part of the human condition that exposure to sacred practices and beliefs, whether one’s own or another’s, often ignites unpleasant and visceral reactions if it is compelled—it should be voluntary in some way. When it is not, we often experience it as menacing without knowing why. I do not know why this is and I don’t have a perfect formula for dealing with it. You are right that we shouldn’t be overly fearful or deferential to it, but we ignore it at our peril in a free society. There is a reason our mothers told us not to discuss religion or politics at dinner parties.

For this reason, I would have been far more disturbed if the principal told her she couldn’t write an article about her faith in the school newspaper.

pj Tuesday, 04 September 2007 at 11:27

Peter - Yes, I respect your point of view. As a moral matter the considerations you cite have to enter into our prudential judgments about what to do. For me, however, the overwhelming prudential consideration is the importance of resisting the petty tyranny which tries to drive Christianity out of society, and which is undermining the Constitution and the law in the attempt. This is best done morally and with consideration for all, but it must be done, even if a few are offended by it.

Bret Tuesday, 04 September 2007 at 13:44

”…but we ignore it at our peril in a free society…”

To me that’s perhaps the most important point. As long as society remains free, there will always be the tension between secular and non-secular and between the variants of each major religion. Escalating that tension beyond a certain point is probably not beneficial to anyone.

While the extreme anti-religionists IMO cause the largest increases in the tension, and their crusade against religion can’t be sated no matter what compromises christians and other believers make, proselytizing to a captive audience also adds to the tension with little or no benefit to christians or anyone else.

Jorge Tuesday, 04 September 2007 at 16:10

”…who but a Christian would so strongly oppose lies?”

Do you really believe that only Christians care about the truth? There are billions of people who may not be Christian by faith, but who live wholesome and honest lives by creeds that make far greater demands of their souls than Christ ever asked of his disciples and followers. Does this make them better than Christians — no — but just because they are not Christian does not mean they are evil or dishonest people. We are all children of God.

How utterly arrogant and ignorant of you to think otherwise.

pj Tuesday, 04 September 2007 at 17:06

Jorge - You are entirely mistaken about my beliefs, which correspond closely to yours. Admittedly, my earlier statement was carelessly miswritten. It might have been more accurate to say, “Who but a zealous Christian would repeatedly quote the Bible in support of his views, in both English and Greek, attach passionate importance to moral purity, and denounce his debating partners as ‘arrogant and ignorant’?” But, let us attend to the beams in our own eyes before the motes in each other’s.

pj Tuesday, 04 September 2007 at 19:41

Jorge, I apologize. Let us be at peace.

Jorge Wednesday, 05 September 2007 at 02:01

PJ: Agreed, let us be at peace. Thank you for your apology and allow me to offer my own to you for my outburst, I certainly could have phrased my position better/less rudely.

I promise to try and not to use Greek anymore … tho I leave my options open on Latin, Hebrew, and of course Aramaic. :)

erp Wednesday, 05 September 2007 at 08:23

Jorge, please take pity on those of us who are truly ignorant of Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and very sketchy in Latin and provide translations of your remarks or links to where they can be found. Thanks. Otherwise, I find this string fascinating.

Hey Skipper Wednesday, 05 September 2007 at 08:39

Interesting discussion. I feel strongly both ways.

The girl in question was certainly deceitful (pj, your description of your valedictorian experience verges on disingenuous), and arguably guilty of very bad judgment. However, that is a lesson she could learn in the fullness of time. The principal’s best judgment would have been to leave well enough alone.

pj:

Churches are private organizations who can control who comes on their property and what they do.

Yes, and they are also coercively taxpayer supported.

Bret:

While the extreme anti-religionists IMO cause the largest increases in the tension, and their crusade against religion can’t be sated no matter what compromises christians and other believers make

I doubt you can support those statements.

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 05 September 2007 at 10:20

It remains odd to me, an atheist, that religious expression is so emotionally charged. If Erica had said “I just didn’t think it would be a big deal” I would find that completely plausible. It certainly would have been my presumption. Arguing that she didn’t mention it beforehand strikes me as equivalent to arguing about her verb conjugation choice.

Here’s a mental image for you — suppose the original had been a post on a weblog. Would the change to the spoken version count as an update significant enough to warrant a note? Or would it be the equivalent of changing a “clearly” to a “clearer”?

Bret Wednesday, 05 September 2007 at 10:58

Hey Skipper:

Yes, you’re right. If everybody in the world converted to atheism the extreme anti-religionists would probably be sated (though I think they’d probably find another cause with which to hassle and control everybody).

I should’ve said “plausible compromises” instead of just “compromises”.

Bret Wednesday, 05 September 2007 at 11:12

aog wrote: “It remains odd to me, an atheist, that religious expression is so emotionally charged.

I think it’s fear of one or more extreme anti-religionists bringing suit against the school and the principal for “allowing” such speech. For all we know, the school’s lawyers may have instructed the principal to take some of the actions he did.

aog also wrote: “If Erica had said “I just didn’t think it would be a big deal” I would find that completely plausible.

If not a big deal, why not get the speech approved?

aog asked: “Would the change to the spoken version count as an update significant enough to warrant a note?

Yes.

Peter Burnet Wednesday, 05 September 2007 at 12:04

AOG:

It remains odd to me, an atheist, that religious expression is so emotionally charged

Come now, that is amusingly naive. Do you also find it odd that Poles and Greeks don’t get teary at the Star Spangled Banner on Memorial Day, that libertarians can watch marxists and socialists battle ferociously without the slightest animation, that separated parents will kill over their children and that Americans don’t see a loss to the Canadian national hockey team as an existential threat to Western civilization?

The sacred is the sacred.

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 05 September 2007 at 12:10

Bret;

“Why not get it approved?” — because she didn’t rememeber it at the time and didn’t think it significant enough later to bother with.

Mr. Burnet;

I suppose I should have said “publically emotionally charged”. It one thing to be personally emotional at events designed for that effect (flag ceremonies), or fight over things of substance (access to one’s children), but an off hand comment in a 30 second speech? It’s like Dianization, but worse.

pj Wednesday, 05 September 2007 at 15:28

AOG - Isn’t the fact that it is emotionally charged evidence for the existence of God? If God didn’t exist we wouldn’t care about his ways so much.

Skipper - Since by your standard taxpayers are also coercively supporting the ACLU and the Democratic Party, can we control their speech?

Hey Skipper Wednesday, 05 September 2007 at 16:53

pj:

Since by your standard taxpayers are also coercively supporting the ACLU and the Democratic Party, can we control their speech?

I wasn’t making an argument either way, only noting that calling church’s private institutions, as opposed to tax supported institutions such as schools, is not quite accurate. People who attend church are supported by people who do not.

Bret:

No, I meant you would have a difficult time supporting that assertion even with respect to plausible compromises. Keep in mind that most ACLU lawsuits involving religion are brought by offended, generally Jewish, theists.

In Troy, MI, a couple years ago, several religious groups were invited to celebrate National Prayer Day on the steps of city hall. Anti-theists had scarcely a word to say on the subject.

The hissy fits among the theists as to who would be able to publicly pray, and who would be excluded, was a sight to behold.

See also the fight over prayer calls from mosques in Dearborn.

The same applies here. Nearly all anti-theists would just shrug her remarks off as empty nonsense; ignoring those for whom conceptual coherence is a continual challenge, what other response is possible? However, as someone mentioned up-thread, it is the Jews, Hindus, Muslims, et al who may well — must, if they are true to their theological dictates — be offended.

Peter Burnet Wednesday, 05 September 2007 at 19:44

People who attend church are supported by people who do not.

Only by the thinking of people who hate churchgoers anyway, and who therefore love the theory of “negative support”. The Marxists go for that too, big time.

It’s not unlike folks who think that, when a minority asserts a constitutional right with no historical or constitutional foundation, the majority has the obligation to pass a constitutional position to clarify its position to avoid the charge of judicial activism.

Peter Burnet Wednesday, 05 September 2007 at 19:44

People who attend church are supported by people who do not.

Only by the thinking of people who hate churchgoers anyway, and who therefore love the theory of “negative support”. The Marxists go for that too, big time.

It’s not unlike folks who think that, when a minority asserts a constitutional right with no historical or constitutional foundation, the majority has the obligation to pass a constitutional position to clarify its position to avoid the charge of judicial activism.

Michael Herdegen Wednesday, 05 September 2007 at 22:00

People who attend church are supported by people who do not.

Only by the thinking of people who hate churchgoers anyway, and who therefore love the theory of “negative support”.

Rather, Skipper probably meant that in America, donations to churches are tax-deductible, and church properties are exempt from paying property taxes.

Thus, church organizations in America are subsidized by nontheists, in exactly the same way that mortgage-holding homeowners in America are subsidized by apartment-dwellers and those who own their homes outright, via the home mortgage interest deduction.

It’s not unlike folks who think that, when a minority asserts a constitutional right with no historical or constitutional foundation, the majority has the obligation to pass a constitutional position to clarify its position to avoid the charge of judicial activism.

Could you provide an example of when a minority asserted a constitutional right with no historical or constitutional foundation, and the majority was accused of judicial activism ?

Bret Thursday, 06 September 2007 at 00:36

Hey Skipper wrote: “No, I meant you would have a difficult time supporting that assertion even with respect to plausible compromises. Keep in mind that most ACLU lawsuits involving religion are brought by offended, generally Jewish, theists.

A quick google search indicates you’re right.

I was thinking of the campaign against the pledge which was pursued by an atheist and the campaign against a cross on top of a hill in San Diego, also instigated by an atheist. It’s probably just coincidence that the cases with more global reach that I was familiar with happened to have been started by atheists.

Hey Skipper Thursday, 06 September 2007 at 06:05

Micheal:

Rather, Skipper probably meant that in America, donations to churches are tax-deductible, and church properties are exempt from paying property taxes.

Precisely.

Peter:

Keep in mind my comment is limited only to characterizing Churches as exclusively private organizations.

As a practical matter, I don’t think the subsidy is sufficiently large to be worth worrying about.

Peter Burnet Thursday, 06 September 2007 at 06:38

Michael/Skipper:

You do realize, I trust, that you are embracing the argument beloved by leftists the world over—that every tax deduction or exemption consitutes a subsidization by people or organizations who don’t qualify for it. Not fair, that.

Let’s see now. I get a tax deduction for my children. Having children was entirely my choice and a completely private affair. Therefore, the childless are subsidizing my family, right? Surely they should have some say in how many I have and how I raise them?

How would you like church property assessed to correct this involuntary support the godless are forced to make? Market value? And if the taxes aren’t paid, the property is sold to make way for another 7-11 or video store? Or do they just put a lien on the alter?

pj Thursday, 06 September 2007 at 06:47

The tax deduction is offered on equal terms to any nonprofit organization, including Militant Atheists of America. I am not sure why the militant left objects so vigorously to tax deductions for private nonprofit associations; do they want a discriminatory world, in which Christians are treated worse than atheists, or are they jealous of the fact that Christians are more sociable than atheists and therefore more likely to form large associations? They may simply be nihilists eager to punish any association.

However, from Skipper’s last comment, I take it he is conceding that the tax “subsidy” is not sufficiently large to warrant coercing private organizations. In that case, he supports my distinction between churches being private and public schools being, um, public.

Michael Herdegen Thursday, 06 September 2007 at 10:34

You do realize, I trust, that you are embracing the argument beloved by leftists the world over—that every tax deduction or exemption consitutes a subsidization by people or organizations who don’t qualify for it. Not fair, that.

Also, wonder of wonders, beloved by rightists the world over. Nobody likes paying for someone else’s folly. And of course every tax break shifts the burden to those who don’t qualify. That’s not even Econ 101 - it’s basic accounting.

Let’s see now. I get a tax deduction for my children. Having children was entirely my choice and a completely private affair. Therefore, the childless are subsidizing my family, right?

Right.

Surely they should have some say in how many I have…

They surely have a say in how many of your children they’ll subsidize.

…and how I raise them?

In America, they do, although indirectly and in aggregate. But their voices count as much as anyone else’s.

How would you like church property assessed to correct this involuntary support the godless are forced to make? Market value?

Yes.

And if the taxes aren’t paid, the property is sold to make way for another 7-11 or video store?

Yes.

The tax deduction is offered on equal terms to any nonprofit organization, including Militant Atheists of America.

But not the property tax exemption.

Peter Burnet Thursday, 06 September 2007 at 12:58

Well then, Michael, there is just one question left: Is there any particular faith or sect you want to destroy first or do we have a go at all of them at the same time in the name of freedom of religion?

Or perhaps you have nothing against churches in particular, it’s that you don’t believe in private charity generally.

Michael Herdegen Friday, 07 September 2007 at 00:18

I don’t think that any faith or sect will fail if they’re supported by after-tax dollars, and neither do you.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 07 September 2007 at 07:57

That’s not so clear. Look at the churches in Europe, which are failing despite (or, IMHO, because of) strong government support.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 07 September 2007 at 08:51

And right on cue, we have this from the UK

For a long time Muslims such as myself have contacted our government advising them to establish an educational program on Islam to enable the majority of everyday Muslims who do not subscribe to these ‘stricter’ and often mis representative interpretations of Islam. No response. If the government will not help everyday Muslims who do not actually hold these ‘confused’ values, how do they expect us to counter this negative influence which neither represents the teaching of Islam, nor the example of Prophet Muhammad? So again, I welcome dialogue with our government to help, empower the everyday Muslim with the knowledge that is required to counter the points of view put forward by such people.

As for deobanids vs barelwivs, one is just as bad as the other; labeling one strict and the other moderate simply reflects a failure to understanding the real issues facing the Muslim community today.

How can a faith live if even its practioners believe it is the role of the goverment to educate them about their own faith?

Hey Skipper Friday, 07 September 2007 at 11:45

pj:

I take it he is conceding that the tax “subsidy” is not sufficiently large to warrant coercing private organizations. In that case, he supports my distinction between churches being private and public schools being, um, public.

Ummm, no. To repeat, I am not making an argument one way or the other, except to note your labeling churches as private organizations is not entirely accurate: they all receive considerable financial support in terms of tax avoidance.

The tax I was thinking of, per Michael, is the property tax exemption.

Which is most certainly not available to the Militant Atheists of America.

Peter:

You do realize, I trust, that you are embracing the argument beloved by leftists the world over—that every tax deduction or exemption consitutes a subsidization by people or organizations who don’t qualify for it. Not fair, that.

Well, if that is an argument of theirs, it must be the first to hold water.

In fact, the property tax exemption makes other taxes higher than they would be otherwise.

So, in fact, those who do not go to church are subsidizing those who do.

Now, one could look at second order effects (the potential that the portion of church donations that otherwise would pay property tax is available for good works) to say that the subsidy is not all it appears to be, or is even a net gain to everyone.

Fine, but that is not under discussion.

Rather, it is the assertion that churches are private organizations.

Well, yes, they are.

Just so long as one is willing to ignore the government subsidy that only makes “sense” (to churches, that is) to the extent that there are non-church going taxpayers.

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