Thursday, February 27, 2014

Slippery Slope or Religious Freedom? Mutually Exclusive Arguments

I want to undertake a very brief thought exercise.

One of the most common arguments against same-sex marriage is that allowing same-sex marriage would be the first step down a slippery slope that would lead, inevitably, to polygamy. Now, I don’t want to get into a discussion about why that argument is wrong, why there is no slippery slope, or why polygamy is fundamentally different than same-sex marriage. I’ll save those discussions for another day. For that matter, I’ll also leave for another day any discussion of polygamy itself.

Instead, I’d just like to compare that slippery slope argument with the new objection to same-sex marriage that has been getting lots of attention, lately: the infringement of the “religious freedom” of those who oppose homosexuality.

Do you see the problem?

On one hand, people are saying we can’t allow same-sex marriage because that will lead to polygamy. But at the same time, they’re saying, we can’t allow same-sex marriage because it infringes on their religious freedom. Yet doesn’t a prohibition on polygamy directly infringe upon the religious freedom of fundamentalist Mormons and Muslims (and any other groups with religious texts allowing or encouraging polygamy)? And isn’t that infringement upon the religious freedom of polygamists much more direct —and with a much greater impact — than the “impact” to a religious person of allowing a same-sex couple to marry?

It seems to my that same-sex marriage opponents have destroyed at least one of their own arguments here. Either they don’t really care about the so-called slippery slope to polygamy because they recognize that efforts to stop polygamy are infringements upon religious freedom or religious freedom isn’t really that meaningful if it involves a religious viewpoint with which they disagree (or someone else’s religious freedom).

If I’m missing something, let me know, but it appears that the argument based on polygamy and the argument based on religious freedom are mutually exclusive.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Old-Fashioned Anti-Semitism: Still on Public Display

Today’s post is a bit of a departure as it relates an anecdote rather that discussing a particular issue.

Let me set the scene: This past weekend, I spent Friday evening and Saturday morning at a bat mitzvah. In the meantime, my wife and kids drove to Atlanta so that my daughter could compete in a massive cheerleading competition (her team finished 3rd out of 11 or 5th out of 22, depending on how you want to categorize things…). I flew down to Atlanta after the bat mitzvah so that I could still see my daughter compete on the second day of her competition. We stayed at the Omni CNN Center which is adjacent to the Georgia World Congress Center where the competition was held.

Anyway, I made it to the hotel around dinner time. We talked a little bit about the bat mitzvah. After dinner, the family decided to go up to the room and watch a movie (we don’t like to go out or do anything “active” when my daughter competes the next day). I, however, wasn’t in the mood to watch a movie. I was reading a good book (An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris, if you must know) and wanted to read instead. Trying to read a book in a small hotel room while the family is watching a movie is not really a great plan, so I decided to go down to the hotel lobby and see if I could find a quiet corner in which to read my book. Luckily, I found just such a place on one of the hotel’s mezzanine levels. And that’s when things got interesting.

While hunting for a place to sit, I walked by a couch and chair arrangement at which eight to ten women (obviously “cheer moms”) were sitting. I didn’t really pay any attention to them as I spotted the chair that I chose to sit in to read. Before picking up my book, though, I decided to catch up on my Twitter feed. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop on those women, but as their conversation got a bit louder it became almost impossible to not hear at least some of what was being talked about.

My ears really began to perk up when I heard one of the women say “Catholics” quite loudly and in a tone that could only be called sneering or even angry. At that point I began to actually try to listen to see if I could hear more of what was being said (and without turning around to be obvious; they were about 20-30 feet away from me). I think that I was actually a bit shocked to be hearing someone so loudly denigrating Catholics. The next thing that I was able to hear was the same woman make several statements to another explaining why Catholicism was bad and why the target of her statement should consider leaving the Catholic church. At one point in this relatively brief diatribe, the speaker said that the Catholic church was “of the devil” and I also heard a reference to Satan. She also claimed that her evangelical church was “closer to G-d”.

I found this all rather interesting and so I posted several tweets. (You do follow me on Twitter, right?)

I’m in hotel lounge eavesdropping on woman explaining to another why Catholic Church is “of the devil” & evangelical church closer to G-d.

Catholic woman being proselytized has way, way more patience than I would. Patience of a saint perhaps? But I do expect eventual fireworks.

This is way more entertaining than my book about the Dreyfus affair. I just wish I could hear better.

I guess it would be bad to go sit with them or ask them to talk louder so that I could listen in more easily.

(Note that for some reason, I remain unable to embed tweets directly on this blog; I’m working on the problem, but so far I haven’t been able to figure it out…)

Now perhaps I was just tired. Perhaps I was in a somewhat hyper-sensitive mood. Perhaps I was just feeling sort of “hyper-Jewish” after having spent time at a bat mitzvah and given that I was reading a book about the Dreyfus Affair. In any event, I found myself almost in a state of alert or vigilance, waiting to see what was going to happen. And the conversation did quiet down for a moment or two until I heard, quite loudly, “No, of course you wouldn’t hear that on the news. Jews control the media!”

One of the women then said, “You don’t really believe that, do you?”

My tweet:

And score! We just had our first “Jews control…” comment. “You don’t really believe that, do you?” says Ms. Catholic.

I didn’t hear what immediately followed, but after a very few quiet moments, the real anti-Semitism started flying (and not just from the woman who had been making statements about Catholicism; even the woman that I took to be Catholic offered some thoughts on Jews…). Included in what I could hear, were the following:

  • “Some Jews moved in near us. I went over to wish them a Merry Christmas and they said ‘Happy Holidays’ to me. You see, they really do want to take away Christmas.
  • “There were some Jews on our street, too. I went over one time to meet them. I thought I’d be nice. So I asked to borrow a Christmas tree cookie cutter. The lady said that she was Jewish and didn’t have a Christmas tree cookie cutter. I mean, how rude was that? What did her religion have to do with anything?”
  • In response to that statement, another woman said something like “Yeah, Jews are always throwing their religion in your face because they think they’re better than us.
  • Yet another voice claimed that Jews were “hateful” and seemed to link hate to the use of “Happy Holidays”.
  • Another woman sneered the term “chosen people” loudly, but the rest of her comment was too quiet to hear.
  • And, of course, one of the women, had to talk about Jews only caring about money (it sounded like she was linking money to friendship, but I couldn’t make out the details).

There was more, but it was hard to get the full content of most of the other statements, other than hearing the word “Jews” tossed about in the tone that one might hear men in white hoods use when talking about “niggers”. I tried to tweet what I was hearing, but it was hard to capture the full flavor and context in 140 characters and it was even harder to keep up with the rapid-fire delivery of the anti-Semitic statements. Thus, all I managed was:

Ms. Evangelical now explaining how hateful it is to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that each voice in this discussion had a pronounced southern accent. Make of that what you will.

And the bigoted statements continued, for several minutes at least. It was almost like each woman, in sharing her “experiences” with Jews, was trying to outdo the last. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a bunch of women bragging about their kids and trying to top the achievements of their friends’ children; rather this group of women was trying to top each other with stories of just how bad Jews are.

Finally, I’d enough. I’m not sure exactly which statement it was that set me off or whether it was just overhearing so many anti-Semitic stereotypes being repeated ad nauseum. So, as I said on Twitter:

Now we’ve launched into a full blown anti-Semitic diatribe. I’ve had enough.

Walked over & said, “As the Jew in the room, I want you to know that I don't appreciate the anti-Semitic comments I can’t help overhearing.”

Told them it was wrong to judge or stereotype people on the basis of their religion, national origin, sexuality, or skin color.

As I mentioned skin color I looked straight at the African-American & Southeast Asian women in the group.

And then I walked away.

Eventually, I found another quiet place to sit and from there I tweeted about the incident (the tweets above plus those that follow):

To say that they appeared to be stunned would be an understatement. Jaws on floor.

I suspect several of these women are unrepentant bigots who’ve never been called out for their bigotry.

I further suspect that the two women of color, who had been silent during the entire exchange, are too cowed to speak up for themselves.

Or it could be that they don’t object to bigotry so long as they’re not the target.

But if we don’t call out overt bigotry - publicly shame those who express bigotry like that - then we’ll never rid society of this evil.

I wonder what these charming ladies have to say about the large contingent of gay cheerleaders, cheer coaches, and cheer judges.

I’m not sure if I shamed them or if they think there was nothing wrong with the views they were expressing and that I was the “bad guy”.

It just sickens me that in this day & age people are still comfortable spouting off that sort of bigoted, hateful speech loudly in public.

It makes you wonder how much worse their private comments are. More troubling: What are they teaching their children?

There were also a number of other tweets as I interacted with others who were following along and asked me questions about what had happened.

After asking my rhetorical question about what the women are teaching their children, I thought of (and tweeted) a stanza from the song “We’re Not in Kansas” by Big Country:

What did you learn at home today?
Did you learn to hate in the proper way?
Did your liberated parents patronize your friends
Cos they had enough money cos they had the right skin?

I’m not really sure that I have much to add at this point. I guess I’m still a bit shocked, not that people still harbor these sorts of sentiments, but rather that they feel comfortable displaying their anti-Semitism in public. I’m a bit shocked that the Catholic woman (at least I presume that the woman to whom the proselytization seemed to be directed was Catholic) didn’t stand up for herself more vocally (or perhaps she did and I couldn’t hear her). And I guess I’m a bit shocked that the two women of color (one was African-American and the other appeared to be Indian or Pakistani) remained silent during the exchange … at least as far as I can tell. Of course, perhaps I’m stereotyping those women by presuming that people of color are more sensitive to overt bigotry.

We still hear racism from many different sources, directed primarily at African Americans and Latinos. We still hear nativism and xenophobia. We still see religious bigotry directed at Muslims and others. And I continue to see lots of anti-Semitism expressed across the web, sometimes related to Israel, but oftentimes not. However, it has been a while since I’ve heard this sort of anti-Semitic drivel (or anti-Catholic for that matter) expressed so publicly, so vehemently, and by so many people (instead of just a lone bigot).

I don’t know that I’m able draw any conclusions from any of this other than to note that bigotry remains alive and well and that it remains the obligation of society when confronted with these sorts of statements to stand up and call out those who continue to harbor and share such bigoted ideas. To quote myself:

But if we don’t call out overt bigotry - publicly shame those who express bigotry like that - then we’ll never rid society of this evil.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

But the Children!

If you happened to listen to the testimony offered to the Senate Rules Committee on Monday by proponents of HRJ3 (the proposal to add a ban on same-sex marriage into Indiana’s Constitution), you might have thought that the issue before the Senate was whether to adopt laws to protect Hoosier children and/or encourage married Hoosiers to procreate rather than deciding whether to incorporate a ban on same-sex marriage (and civil unions) into the Indiana Constitution. Speaker after speaker after speaker talked about the alleged harm to children from same-sex marriages or discussed the State’s interest in procreation. But these arguments are red herrings, shiny objects designed to catch the attention of those who haven’t paid close attention to the real issues or, perhaps, to offer a thin veneer of “reason” behind which to hide their bigotry.

Now, for the sake of argument (and only for the sake of argument!), I’m going to assume as true the proposition set forth by the proponents of HJR3 that children do better in two-parent heterosexual marriages. I don’t think that’s precisely what the empirical data or scientific literature demonstrates, but I’m going to accept it for purposes of this discussion. And I’m going to assume that the State does have an interest in procreation (though I don’t think that I agree with that proposition either). I want to analyze the proponents’ arguments as they relate to children assuming all of the facts (well, lies might be closer to the … um … truth…) that the proponents used to support their arguments. And I want to show why, even assuming the “truth” of those propositions, opposition to same-sex marriage on the basis of those arguments is wrong (let alone a desire simply to “double ban” what is already illegal and enshrine discrimination into the Constitution).

I can certainly see how the argument might, at least at first blush, sound appealing: We shouldn’t let homosexuals get married because their children won’t do as well as children raised in heterosexual “traditional” marriages. But let’s dig a bit deeper than that overly simplistic argument. For one thing, not all marriages are about children. Many couples marry and never have children. Other couples marry long after children have been raised and moved out to live their own lives (whether following divorce or the death of a first spouse). So the “concern” with how children will fare should have no bearing on deciding whether couples who don’t want or can’t have children should be permitted to marry. Obviously, HJR3 doesn’t include an exception for same-sex couples who don’t plan on having children, but if the motivating issue for proponents of HJR3 is “the children”, then shouldn’t such an exception exist? And doesn’t the omission of an exception for childless couples serve to demonstrate that the real goal has little to do with children and more to do, simply, with opposition to homosexuality?

Similarly, whether a same-sex couple can marry is completely divorced (sorry, pun intended) from whether an unmarried same-sex couple can adopt a child. Are proponents of HJR3 suggesting that homosexual couples be prohibited from adopting a child, too? Because if a primary reason to prohibit them marrying is the “adverse” effect on the child, then shouldn’t the adoption itself be prohibited? If not, then it would seem that the “concern” for the child’s well-being isn’t really all that sincere.

Moreover, what do proponents of HJR3 say about the natural child of one member of a same-sex relationship? Should that child be taken out of the home? Should the other member of the same-sex relationship be prohibited from adopting the child? Most importantly, are we expected to believe that the child will fare worse if the couple are married than if they simply cohabitate?

After all, what is the difference between a child raised in a household with same-sex parents and one raised in a household with same-sex married parents? I’d suggest that the stability of marriage would be better for the child. Moreover, I’d further suggest that children raised in same-sex households will be better off knowing that the state and its citizens are welcoming of that child’s family structure rather than denigrating the status of the child’s parents to the point of wanting to explicitly prohibit the recognition of the relationship of the child’s parents. I mean, just think about it. Will little Johnny do better in school if his same-sex parents are welcomed as a part of the community or if the community points fingers at them and says “you’re not wanted here?” Let there be no mistake: HJR3 is nothing more than the State of Indiana saying “fuck you” and “get out” to gay Hoosiers (and “don’t even think of coming here” to prospective new Hoosiers).

You know what, though? It’s not just same-sex marriages that are (allegedly) bad for children. If I’m not mistaken, studies also show that children raised in single-parent households fare less well than children raised in two-parent households (again, I think that is what the current research shows, and I don’t know if that research shows a causal effect or if it is the reasons for the existence of single-parent family that are the real factors determining the child’s well-being [such as poverty]). So why don’t we require unwed pregnant mothers to marry? Why don’t we require unwed women to be on birth control? Why don’t we require teenage males to obtain reversible vasectomies (reversible upon marriage, of course)? After all, those sorts of requirements might help alleviate the “problem” of having children raised outside the optimal “traditional” family unit. Or I guess we could just have the state come along and take children away from single mothers and put them in “traditional” state foster care facilities (at least until the slut single woman marries).

I am, however, not sure what to do in the case of a two-parent family when one of the parents dies. It seems that forcing the surviving parent to immediately remarry would be a bit harsh (though, if the woman is the surviving parent and the deceased husband has brothers, than it would at least be a traditional Biblical arrangement…). Then again, forcing the surviving spouse to remarry would probably not be as harsh as taking the children away to “protect” them.

Which of course leads to the question of how to protect children from other sorts of situations that might prove detrimental to their upbringing. You, know, things like poverty, homelessness, lack of access to affordable, high quality medicine, and so forth. I’d certainly argue that all of those problems are going to be far, far worse for children that having two dads. Or what about things like interracial marriages or interreligious marriages? Obviously, those sorts of things may cause some degree of hardship for children (“are you white or black?” and “so do you celebrate Christmas or Chanukah?”). But we wouldn’t think of stopping those marriages because of any perceived harm to children, would we?

And, as I wrote just a few weeks ago:

We permit alcoholics to marry. We permit people who’ve been convicted of crimes, including spousal or child abuse, to marry. We permit people living in poverty to marry. We even allow some minors to marry if their parents consent. And we “allow” people to have children even if the environment into which those children are born is suboptimal. We don’t stop convicted abusers or felons from having children, we don’t stop alcoholics or those with multiple DUIs from having children, and we don’t stop the poor from having children. Ah, but gays… Oh, that sort of “suboptimal” environment is just too … um … icky?

The focus of many of the proponents was the well-being of children. And yet so little attention is being paid to other factors that have adverse impacts on families. When they’re not advocating to stop same-sex marriage, are the proponents of HJR3 also working to end childhood hunger, to help with housing and heat for children living in poverty, to ensure that all children have access to affordable, high quality medical care, to be sure that children attending unlicensed religious daycare facilities are safe, or any of the other things that our system demands for the well-being of our children? No. They’re not. In fact, some of them are the same people actively working against keeping children safe and who oppose efforts to simply provide needed help to our working poor.

Feeding hungry children, being sure that they have access to medicine, and just keeping them safe haven’t brought these “advocates” to the State House to demand action. Nope. But a pair of lesbians getting married? Now that is worth protesting. Constitutional amendments to provide access to healthcare? No, way! Constitutional amendments to discriminate against gays? For the children, of course!

And what about the State of Indiana’s alleged interest in procreation (and again, remember that I’m going to presume that the Indiana actually has such an interest…)? If we need to stop homosexual couples from getting married because allowing them to do so will somehow have an adverse effect upon the state’s interest in procreation, then don’t we need to stop the marriages of all couples who might marry but not procreate? Clearly infertile people ought not to be allowed to marry; their marriage does nothing to advance the state’s interest in procreation. And I suppose that, in order to advance the state’s interest in procreation, those seeking a marriage license should probably have to both provide medical evidence of the capacity to procreate and sign a certification of intent to procreate (do we jail those who expressed an interest in procreation but who later change their minds?). Seems reasonable, no? After all, if the State wants to keep some people from marrying because of the interest in procreation, then shouldn’t that interest apply to all Hoosiers whose marriages might not advance the interest of procreation? Or should we be discriminating against just some Hoosiers who might not procreate?

Now obviously, given the state’s interest in procreation, we should ban all forms of birth control as well as vasectomies. Oops. Access to birth control is a right under the United States Constitution. But we should still probably be able to ban vasectomies, right? Or at least highly regulate doctors performing vasectomies (admitting privileges and tight controls on facilities) and require men seeking a vasectomy to undergo a waiting period, get a penile ultrasound, and look at an ultrasound of a fetus. Of course things get a bit more complicated when we think about post-menopausal women. I mean, just think of all the viable sperm still swimming around in men married to women who can no longer conceive. How does the continuation of that marriage further the Indiana’s interest in procreation? I don’t know if we should require couples to divorce so that the man can marry a woman still capable of ovulating. Perhaps we should simply require the man to donate sperm regularly.

And what do we do with people who don’t want to have children? They are making a decision not to act in a way that advances the interests of the State of Indiana (sort of like rooting for Kentucky, perhaps). I mean, think about it. We have some people who want to get married and who might even want to have children (or at least adopt), but the State of Indiana wants to crawl into their bedroom and say, “no, no, no” just because the people are gay. In other words, with HJR3, some Hoosiers have no problem letting straight people decide not to have kids and say, “fuck you” to the State of Indiana and its interest in procreation while not giving gay Hoosiers who might want children the right to act in accordance with the so-called procreation interest of the state.

Which of course brings me to nuns, monks, and priests. I mean, seriously, how can a state with an interest in procreation, tolerate a whole class of people who choose to never marry and never procreate on the basis of religion?

Allow me to quote something I wrote on this same topic just a few weeks ago:

So tell me why allowing two men who love each other to marry (instead of just “living in sin”) will cause birthrates to go down? … Are gay men currently having babies but if the Constitution isn’t amended, they’ll stop? And I’ve read about plenty of lesbians who do have babies. Are we to believe that if they can get married to one another, they’ll stop having those babies? Um, why? [Do HJR3 proponents] have empirical evidence from any of the states that presently allow same-sex marriage to show that birth rates have declined (and that such decline can be fairly attributable to same-sex marriages)? And why would allowing a same-sex marriage have any impact on whether children will be raised by their natural parents? Will the Child Catcher come around and demand that children be ripped from their homes and given to gay couples. Seems farfetched. If we presume that homosexuals aren’t procreating (which seems to be one of the more common arguments against same-sex marriage), then how will marriage impact the procreation in “traditional” families? If the concern is that some children might be raised by a parent in a same-sex relationship, isn’t that child still being raised by a natural parent? No, not by both natural parents, but then how many children are raised by both natural parents when one of them is gay anyway?

OK. Deep breath.

How does the interest in procreation really have any bearing on same-sex marriages? Do proponents of HJR3 really think that there will be fewer children born in Indiana if gay couples are allowed to marry? Really? What do they expect to happen? Masses of closeted gays will suddenly divorce their straight partners in order to have a same-sex marriage? And even that sort of nonsense presumes that same-sex marriages won’t produce children or won’t provide homes for children via adoption. For that matter, why is it that marriage is so critical to the issue of procreation? First, how many children are being born out of wedlock anyway? And how many children are being born to (or adopted) by same-sex couples who cohabitate (and who just might get married, if permitted)?

There may be reasons to oppose same-sex marriage. However, neither “for the children” nor procreation are viable reasons to keep two people who want to be treated the same as all others from marrying.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

The “Merry Christmas” Bill: Indiana Inches Ever-Closer to Becoming a Theocracy

The “War on Christmas” is once again being fought here in Indiana. After last year’s stunning defeats in which all Christian houses of worship were banned in the State of Indiana and Hoosier children were required to convert to Islam, some Hoosier lawmakers are trying to fight back. Um, what? Christian churches weren’t banned last year? Hoosier children can still invoke the name of Jesus in their prayers? Christmas trees are still permitted on front lawns and in family rooms? The shopping malls still have Santa Claus? Are you sure? Hmm. Oh, I see now. A greeter at Walmart said “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas and an elementary school teacher didn’t do enough to prostelytize to the students in her class. That must explain Senate Bill 326 (SB326), offered by, among others, Sen. Dennis Kruse (you know, the same Hoosier lawmaker that wanted school children to recite The Lord’s Prayer each day), and passed by the Senate 48-0.

(a) Each school corporation may:

(1) instruct students about the history of traditional winter celebrations; and

(2) allow students and employees to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations, including:

(A) "Merry Christmas";

(B) "Happy Hanukkah";

(C) "Happy Holidays"; and

(D) other seasonal greetings.

(b) Except as provided in subsection (c), a school corporation may display on property owned by the school corporation scenes or symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations, including a Menorah, Christmas tree, Nativity scene, or other religious symbol associated with traditional winter celebrations, if the display includes a scene or symbol of: (1) more than one (1) religion; or (2) one (1) religion and at least one (1) secular scene or symbol.

(c) A display described in subsection (b) may not include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.

(d) The state board shall develop guidelines to assist school corporations in developing appropriate instruction and displays concerning traditional winter celebrations.

Now practically speaking, SB326, if passed by the House and signed by the Governor (both likely) really won’t do much of anything. Well, nothing other than violate the United States Constitution. Issues of church-state are governed primarily by the United States Constitution and, in particular, the establishment clause of the First Amendment. I suspect that at least some of Sen. Kruse’s Senate colleagues are aware of that. Nevertheless, they want to be seen as doing something to combat the so-called “War on Christmas”. Otherwise, Bill O’Reilly might call them pinheads. Or liberals. Hence SB326.

Let’s look briefly at the provisions of this bill. Section (a)(1) tells schools that they can teach students “about the history of traditional winter celebrations”. Um, was there a prohibition against teaching students the history of traditional winter celebrations? No, there wasn’t. Teachers have always been permitted to teach history and probably wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t teach history. And history involves religion and religious celebrations. Just try teaching European History without discussing the absolute carnage caused by incessant warfare often prompted by different interpretations of Biblical scripture or the millions of innocents slaughtered in the name of G-d, Jesus, or Allah.

I will be interested to see the blowback when a teacher begins to teach his students that December 25 is probably not the real birth date of Jesus but, rather, was likely chosen as the date on which Christmas would be celebrated because of its link to Saturnalia and other pagan winter festivals. For that matter, I look forward to hearing students telling their parents all about the pagan and other winter celebrations that they’ve been taught. Stonehenge exists for a reason; it’s part of history that should be taught along with other traditional “winter celebrations”. Oh, and query why we’re only concerned with “winter celebrations”. Can teachers teach the history of autumn celebrations? What about spring or summer? Why is it just winter celebrations that merit their very own statute. It couldn’t have something to do with wanting to be sure that our schools teach about Christmas could it?

Next we have Section (a)(2) which purports to “allow” students and faculty to “offer traditional greetings” and lists several acceptable greetings. Again, was there some law or policy that prohibited a student or faculty member from offering any of these sorts of “traditional greetings”? It seems that news sources like Faux News keep claiming that this school or that school have prohibited people from even mentioning Christmas, and, almost always, those claims are false (or at least greatly exaggerated). For that matter, I thought that the use of “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” was one of the signs of the apocalypse War on Christmas. The blowback here should be great when a snarky teacher starts greeting his students with “Io Saturnalia!” (the “io” is pronounced “yo”…). “Hail Satan” might also be appropriate as, apparently, some Satanists also celebrate the winter solstice. And if a teacher practices Skyclad Wicca, can he offer a traditional winter solstice greeting in the nude? That should make for an entertaining classroom experience.

Then we get to the real core of SB326: The right to display a nativity scene. After all, how can we expect our schoolchildren to learn good Christian moral values if they don’t have to observe the baby Jesus in their classrooms. I mean, it’s not like families could erect a crèche at home and Indiana certainly doesn’t have many churches to take up the calling of helping children learn about Jesus. (While looking at Google Maps, I tried to do a quick count of the number of churches in close proximity to the middle school my kids attend; I stopped counting at eleven [and that count included one so-called evangelical “megachurch”].) No. Many schools in Indiana seem to think that part of their role remains to teach Christianity to their students, whether in the form of overtly religious songs in choir performances or the use of Christian symbols and observances.

But you see, everything should be A-OK because a school can’t just display a nativity scene. Nope. Under SB326 the school must also display a scene or symbol from another religion or a secular symbol. Because, you know, the best way to respect the constitutional separation of church and state is to violate that separation not once, but twice. You see, this is the mistake that many Christians make: They think that putting a menorah next to their nativity scene will make us Jews happy. Wrong. Most of us would prefer to honor the separation of church and state and have no religious displays in our public schools. We (well most of us) are perfectly happy to have our menorahs in our homes and in our synagogues. Maybe even in our businesses. But we don’t need them in our kids’ classrooms. I don’t know. Maybe we’re not so insecure about our beliefs that we need the sort of constant reinforcement?

It is worth noting, however, that there is a hidden problem with Section (b) of SB326. Remember, the bill purports to permit a religious symbol (such as a nativity scene) so long as it is displayed with the symbol from another religion or with a secular symbol. Like a Christmas tree. You see, the leading Supreme Court case on the topic (Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 (1984)) held that a Christmas tree was not a religious symbol, but rather, was secular in nature. Thus a teacher would be complying with SB326 if she were to have a crèche, a Christmas tree, and maybe a Santa on her desk. Only one “traditional winter celebration” would be honored, but hey, it’s the “right” celebration, so yeah…

But, if the current Supreme Court caselaw says that it’s OK to have a religious symbol if accompanied by secular symbols (like, um, say, a Christmas tree), then what is the point of SB326 anyway?

And what if the secular symbol placed next to the crèche is an American flag (or the flag of the State of Indiana). Would that make the crèche OK? Or might that proximity of the flag run afoul of Section (c) which we’ll come to in a moment?

Finally, what happens when a teacher chooses not to erect a crèche or a menorah, but rather, a group of pagan symbols (maybe with a Buddha and some incense for good measure). I’m sure that everyone will be OK with that right? Query: Can a teacher put a joint next to her Christmas tree and say that it’s a symbol of Rastafarian belief? Even better will be the really snarky (and brave) teacher who puts the joint in a colander to honor Rastafarians and Pastafarians together! Even a teacher that doesn’t push boundaries too far, but chooses, for example, to honor Judaism and Islam instead of Christianity will, I’m sure, face to condemnation or backlash, right?

Next we come to Section (c) which prohibits “a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief”. How nice. So query: Does “Have a Merry Christmas” (note the use of the directive “to have” in that message) encourage adherence to Christianity? More critically, can a message that discourages adherence to a particular belief be posted? Would “If you pray to Allah, you’re going to Hell” be an acceptable message next to that crèche? What about a message that eating a Christmas ham will damn you to Hell because pork is an abomination?

As I mentioned at the beginning, even if passed SB326 probably won’t have any real practical effect on what is and is not acceptable. Supreme Court precedents like Lynch v. Donnelly govern. That being said, I’m sure that some school administrators or teachers will feel emboldened by the “rights” granted by SB326 and will endeavor to use those newly granted rights to wage their own defense (or would it be offense?) in the so-called War on Christmas. And in doing so, they’re likely to walk right into the buzzsaw of costly establishment clause litigation for which SB326 will be of little practical defensive value. Relying on a state statute is not a viable defense to violating the prohibitions of the United States Constitution.

Oh, and this would probably be a good time to quote Article 1 Section 4 of Indiana’s Constitution: “No preference shall be given, by law, to any creed, religious society, or mode of worship; and no person shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support, any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent.”

SB326 may make some legislators feel like they’re doing something. It may give them something to point to when they go home and talk to the voters who elected them. But practically speaking, it won’t do much. And, more importantly, is legislation clearly designed to add religion into our public schools really what Indiana needs? Hmm. Let’s see. We’re gonna double ban same-sex marriage because of the Bible and we’re going to adopt legislation to help promote religion in our public schools because of a mythical War on Christmas. Those are but two examples of the how religion — and almost exclusively a right-of-center Christian understanding of religion — is being used to form the basis of laws and policy. Yep. Indiana is taking yet more steps into becoming a theocracy.

Update: Almost immediately after posting, I thought of one other point worth making. The bill directly relates to school corporations and not to individual schools or teachers. Thus, a teacher might run afoul of a school corporation for putting up an “unapproved” winter celebration symbol. Of course, the decision of which “traditional winter celebrations” are permitted or approved or which symbols can and can’t be used is obviously fraught with peril. I can’t wait to hear a school board explain its decision to permit displays related to Christianity but to prohibit displays related to Islam, Wicca, or other religious beliefs. Yeah, the courts will love that.

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