Pray for the First Amendment

By Phil Plait | May 31, 2010 7:30 am

Via Hemant Mehta comes this story that could not have happened at a more appropriate time.

church_and_stateOne of the most basic principles of the United States, written out in the very first Amendment of the Bill of Rights, is that the government will neither endorse nor deny any specific religion, or interfere with anyone’s ability to worship or not.

This is pretty straightforward. You have the right to your religion, and I have the right to mine. You even have the right to not have a religion. But no matter what, you have the right to not have your religion interfered with.

Eric Workman, a (now-graduated) high school student in Greenwood, Indiana, understood this. That’s why, when his school administration decided to let the seniors vote on whether they wanted to have an official school-sanctioned prayer at graduation, he tried to get it stopped. He wound up having to take the case to the ACLU, and a judge ordered that no school-sanctioned prayer could be held at the ceremony.

There’s a lot to discuss here, but the most important things to remember during any of it are these:

1) Eric is correct, and

2) Eric is Christian.

That’s right, he’s not some baby-eating atheist waiting to escort the souls of the graduating class to Satan’s doorstep. He’s a Christian, but even in that extremely conservative area he understands that the Constitution, and our Founding Fathers, got it right.

Another extremely important thing to remember is that no one was keeping these students from praying. They had the right to pray as much as they wanted to before, during, and after the ceremony. The class president stood up and thanked God in her speech, and she had every right to do so, just as Eric had the right to talk about how important secularism is in school (the complete text of his speech is on reddit).

The only thing being prevented here was state-sponsored support of religion. That’s it. With all this in mind, watch the coverage this got on the local news.

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, where we take time to remember those who have died, and specifically those who have fought and died for the country. In my opinion, they didn’t fight to protect our country, they fought to protect the idea of our country. The principles for which it stands, the ideas and ideals that give people the chance to reach their full potential. That’s what America is supposed to be about, and the framework that provides that chance is the Constitution. It does not limit what the people can do*, it limits how the government can in turn limit them. You are allowed to speak freely. You are allowed to vote.

And you are allowed your religion, or lack thereof. The government cannot stop that, but neither can it actively support it. That way, everyone has the same rights, and it keeps the government from turning into a theocracy. This should be something advocated by not just the non-religious, and, in fact, should be most loudly supported by the most religious. It’s their rights being protected too.

The administration of Greenwood High School lost track of that simple fact, but ironically, their own education system worked. One student did learn it, and schooled the administration.

So it makes me happy — and proud, as an American — to say:

doomed_indiana_not

Picture credit: functoruser’s Flickr photostream, used under Creative Commons licensing.



* And the one time it tried to limit personal freedom — the 18th Amendment, prohibiting alcohol — was a massive, stupid, and expensive disaster from which many people still haven’t learned anything.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Politics, Religion, Skepticism

Comments (125)

  1. The thing that I find funny in regards to many christians who aren’t as smart as Eric (well done sir) is that they seem to ignore the constitution or the bible equally when it’s convenient for them.

    And how exactly do they reconcile the 1st commandment with the 1st Amendment, and still think the Constitution is somehow biblically inspired?

    Eric, you are clearly NOT a theitard! :) For that you have my respect.

  2. Bob

    Good show.

    Reminds me when I was in the US Navy and a reporter asked me how I felt about people burning the US Flag as a form of protest…

    “I don’t agree with it, but I will fight for their right to do it since it’s allowed under US law….”

  3. James

    Well, you’re not necessarily allowed to vote, are you? The constitution outlaws certain reasons for denying a vote, rather than specifying those who are allowed to vote, hence the Florida 2000 debacle.

  4. Zucchi

    In fact some of the strongest proponents of maintaining the separation of church and state are religious clerics (Christian and otherwise). Mixing the two makes for bad government and watered-down, meaningless religion.

  5. @Zucchi,

    Sadly, those seem to be in the minority or at least don’t get the airtime of crazies like Huckabee, Palin, and the rest of the GOP and Tea Baggers:(

  6. In France, the separation of Church and State is stricter than anywhere else in the world, both on paper and in practice. These days, even the Catholic Church in France (most French are at least nominally Catholic) thinks this is a good idea. (Still, there are too many things I don’t like which keep me from moving to France, though this is one thing which should be the model for the rest of the world.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laicism

  7. Gary

    The founders and their ancestors had suffered under religious denominations sanctioned by the state. They recognized that politics is always corrupting and religious practice, even when it starts out as pure, admirable, and uplifting, ultimately falls prey to that influence because human nature is less than perfect. So they constructed a system that would impede the corruption. It’s quite astonishing that they should have been able to do it and that it has persisted so long. Let’s keep alert to all attempts that people make to exert their will over others. Choices must be free or they are not choices.

  8. Pi-needles

    Good on Eric – & I heartily second the BA’s comments here. :-)

    As I noted once ages ago on another thread the Bible literally says : “Render unto Caesar ” & thus true XN fundamentalist Bible literalists should be demanding a return to a hereditary Roman-style empire with an all-powerful Caesar* at its head and a praetorian guad to vary Emperors by assassinating theones the bodyguards don’t ike into the bargain and scrapping democracy anyhow! ;-)

    Or maybe a King appointed by prophet because that worked out so well for Saul the first King of Israel. :roll:

    @ 6. Gary Says:

    Choices must be free or they are not choices.

    Hmm … True perhaps.

    But then at a deeper level there are many schools of philosophy that would debate that proposition – determinism vs free will – and whether we have free will at all or whether its an illusion is a whole other debate.

    (If you don’t like your philosophy dry & academic there’s always the original Dune SF novel by Frank Herbert that explore ssome of those notions with SF “prescience” via the spice of Arrakis. As I’m sure most of you know. ;-) )

    —-

    * Ironic historic sidenote here – many Roman ‘Caesars’ later became deified as individual Gods which adds an extra complication to *that* verse. Examples incl. Julius Caesar and Augustus [nee Octavian]. Somehow Nero and Caligula never quite made teh Godhood cut .. ;-)

  9. Gary Ansorge

    “Eric is a Christian but,,he believes the law is the LAW.”

    Now, that’s an interesting quote, as though it’s all about belief.

    I wonder what the local (“disappointed”) population would have said if the school mandated the praying at this function while facing Mecca?

    “Peoples is the funniest critters,,,”

    As true today as it was a half century ago.

    GAry 7

  10. Pi-needles

    Yeck typos. Too slow on the edit for added info.. sorry. :-(

    Make that :

    Thus true XN fundamentalist Bible literalists should be demanding a return to a hereditary Roman-style empire with an all-powerful Caesar at its head and a Praetorian Guard to vary Imperial dynasties by assassinating the ones the bodyguards don’t like into the bargain and scrapping democracy anyhow!

    [horrible accent on] After all, we iz told the Werd o’God is a-ternal and dere ain’t no President nor ‘lection mentioned in them thar Barble sonny-jim! [/horrible accent off.] ;-)

  11. space cadet

    My daughter is a christian pastafarian. She’s celebrated His Noodlyness as a protest against teaching religion in public school since Bobby first posted his letter the the Kansas BOE. She still wears FSM shirts. She sees no conflict between her political and religious views.

    I don’t do this very often, but here’s a link to something I wrote a little while ago about Old Glory.

    http://whywouldanybodyreadthis.blogspot.com/

    And Larian, should you read it, bear in mind that I’m a republican. We’re not all idiots.

  12. PCL

    1) You meant the “1st amendment to the Constitution” not the “1st amendment to the Bill of Rights” since the Bill of Rights is just a name given to the first 10 amendments of the Constitution.

    2) How is it that atheists can lead someone’s soul to Satan if they don’t believe in either of those things???

  13. rogue76526

    “It was a non-religious prayer”

    WTF?

    Sometimes I find it hard to believe that these people can hold such contridictory thoughts at the same time…

    I am sick and tired of this attititude that, since religion is RIGHT and NECESSARY, and since the majority of people are Christian, we should all be forced to follow them.

    The more exposure I get to these people, the more “militant” I feel in my atheism…

  14. Whenever I start to think there is very little hope for the future,someone reminds me that there is. There are Erics and many many more like him.
    We skeptics are so narrowly focused on what is wrong, and are justly upset by the lack of critical thinking so visible everywhere.
    When you narrow the focus like that, its easy to define the whole world as a group of nitwits trying to wash civilization down the drain into the dark ages. But its not really like that. There are still lots of folks who are out there thinking and fighting for good things. The world can’t go completely black as long as there is some light.

  15. I’ve always thought that if the soldiers of this country died to protect our freedoms, then we ought to exercise and cherish them, even if such puts is at risk ourselves. How cowardly that we should allow the government to curtail our free speech and privacy rights in order to furnish a little illusory security. How much worse still, are those citizens who actively wish to discard still more freedoms on behalf of their religion. It borders on the treasonous, and defiled the memory of those who gave their lives it our defense.

  16. Utakata

    BA wrote inpart:

    “…he’s not some baby-eating atheist…”

    Only Christopher Hitchens eats babies. :)

  17. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 8 :

    .. spice of Arrakis. ..the original Dune SF novel by Frank Herbert

    In case here folks are curious and don’t already know this, Arrakis – the name of the “Dune” desert planet (& the system – star too?) in Frank Herbert’s SF classic – is actually a real star name. :-)

    Arrakis is the proper name for Mu Draconis which is located near the head of the celestial “dragon” roughly in line with Rastaban (Beta Draconis) and forming a triangle with Kuma (Nu Drac.) :

    ” .. a close double star with cream coloured components each of magnitude 5.8. A telescope of 100 mm aperture or more and high magnification is needed to separate the stars, which orbit every 480 years.

    Source : Pages 138-139, Collins Guide To Stars & Planets, Ian Ridpath & Wil Tirion, Collins, 1988. (First published 1984.)

    There is a slight confusion here in that Arrakis is also listed by the ‘Alrakis’ variant of its name in a later updated edition of Collins guide which also notes :

    Mu Dra 17 h 05m+54.5 degrees, (Alrakis), 88 l.y. away, is a close double star with matching cream- coloured components of mag. 5.6 and 5.7 which orbit every 670 years. The two stars are currently moving apart and becoming progressively easier to split in small apertures, although high magnification will be needed.

    Source : Pages 144-145, Collins Guide To Stars & Planets, Ian Ridpath & Wil Tirion, Collins, 2007. (First published 1984.)

    I’m sure Celestia or (most?) other planetarium software and the wonderful James B. Kaler’s Stars website will be able to provide extra, even more up to date info. (such as spectral class, maybe radius, age, luminosity, mass & other details) if folks are curious to find out more.

    Neat thing is that Arrakis is a real star which can be seen in our night sky – although whether the hyper-arid planet of spice and sandworms as Frank Herbert imagined orbits it is somewhat less than 100% certain! ;-)

  18. Just me

    Ya. I’ve never been much of a fan of baby-eating atheists.

  19. I’d very much like to see the separation of church and state become even stricter in the US. Religious organizations that aren’t outright charities should be taxed as any other entity would be and religious leaders should be open to legal scrutiny if they make any demonstrably false claims, just as any other person would be, just as a pair of for-instances.

  20. Brian

    Wow, got to get in as many shots of policemen around the arena as possible. Almost as if to say, “we had to lock down this graduation, thanks to the ACLU and that Eric kid.”

  21. John Paradox

    Seems like Eric is one of the few ‘christians’ who didn’t have this edited out of their Bible:

    Matthew 6:5-7 (King James Version)

    5And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

    6But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

    7But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

    J/P=?

  22. PCL (#12): I said “of” the Bill of Rights, not “to”.

  23. Dean

    Americans are lucky. They have a 1st amendment preventing church and state from co-mingling. That isn’t the case in Canada.

    In Kamloops (and I’m sure in many other Christian schools), the government funds schools that allow the teaching of creationism. All that is required by the ‘independent schools’ is for them to teach how evolution works in Biology 12. That’s it. They litterally could spend 30 minutes on evolution and hours on creationism, and the provincial government wouldn’t revoke their status.

    As an example of bias, I also found it interesting that the local paper when writing about the story only published pro-creationist letters, and zero pro-science letters.

  24. sHx

    I still would like to know how it is possible that the state issues bank notes with “in god we trust” printed on it. I just googled the phrase and it turns out that “in god we trust” is the official motto of the state. America is truly a land of contradictions.

  25. @sHx,

    That “motto” wasn’t officially instituted until much more recently. “E. Pluribus Unum” used to be the official motto until scaremongers and such got it changed. Much like the whole under god BS in the pledge…

    Again, the result of scaremongers and theitards that are intentionally trying to turn the US into a theocracy…

  26. Thom

    @ 24. sHx:

    It’s important to note that the adoption of the motto ‘in god we trust’ is a very recent adaption (like adding ‘One nation under god’ into the pledge of allegience). It dates back to 1956 (Public Law 84-851) and was basically a backlash against the strictly atheistic USSR.

    The Supreme Court has ruled that it doesn’t violate the separation of church and state because, though constant use and repetition, it has lost its religious significance and because it doesn’t state a specific god.

    Interesting side note: Teddy Roosevelt was against using the motto on money, not because of a potential conflict with the first amendment, but because he thought using a reference to god on money was sacrilege.

  27. mike burkhart

    I have to say one thing on topic :Ive never known Athests to eat babies human any way . Off topic I am getting more and more disgusted with the oil spill.And I hope every one has a good memoral day Ill be haveing a cookout and watching War of the World ,Earth vs the flying saucers,and the two Transformers movies . Might seem inapropate .I did get two movies about the Vietnam war (Platoon and Full Meatal Jacket) but I watched them two weeks ago.

  28. saltywar

    I will never understand how a constitutional clause limiting what congress can enact affects what schools can do. I’m sure there’s some vast jurisprudence behind the connection. I just think that people who point at the Establishment Clause like it explains everything are naive.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the right thing happened here. I think schools and governments, both congress and at lower levels, DO need to be secular. I just don’t see how the Establishment Clause assures this, in and of itself.

    Guess it’s a good thing I’m not a lawyer.

  29. Carl Matherly

    Of course, the 13th Amendment (banning slavery) was the first time an amendment addressed the actions of an individual versus the actions of the state. So… a really fraked up interpretation could be made that it is the first amendment restricting freedoms (White people don’t have the freedom to enslave others).

    And I would like to thank Quantum Leap for that bit of legal minutia :)

  30. Darth Curt

    I’m all for separation of church and state, and I am very religious. So why is Nancy Pelosi telling preachers what to say in their churches? (Oh sorry… giving advise on what to say.)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-h0MlfGfooQ&feature=related

    I thought the street ran both ways? Isn’t that true, or is it only good for the church to stay away from the state? Or is the left just a bunch of hypocrits? (And for the record I against it when George W. Bush did it too.)

  31. Brian Westley

    “In France, the separation of Church and State is stricter than anywhere else in the world, both on paper and in practice.”

    I don’t know if I’d agree with that; France has laws prohibiting the wearing of burkas, which implicitly means that the government could also require the wearing of burkas, since the government claims to have the power to tell women what they can and cannot wear.

  32. Brian Westley

    “I will never understand how a constitutional clause limiting what congress can enact affects what schools can do.”

    Only schools operated by state governments. The 14th amendment says, in parts, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” and “nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

    This has been interpreted to incorporate 1st amendment restrictions against state government action. so the same limits against congress apply to state agents like public schools.

    Private schools can have prayers because they aren’t operated by the state.

  33. Cory

    @6

    France is actually moving to control free expression of religion.

  34. matteus

    I am an atheist, and a secular conservative. I support the kids, teachers, staff, and parents who want to pray, but also the kids, teachers, staff, and parents who are uncomfortable watching other people do so.

    Can a non-believer be comfortable in a moment of communal belief? Maybe in our relatively tolerant society, but not necessarily. Is a believer free to express his or her religion elsewhere and elsewhen? Absolutely.

    I think that is the bottom line for me.
    It became easy for me when I thought how silly and infuriating it would be for a school administrator to insist on a moment of chants in a pyramid or underneath a crystal or something. This is no different.
    Ok, so leaving aside the specious argument that belief in no religion is itself a religion, there is no place for religious activities in publicly funded schools, because it implies that school’s endorsement of (albeit, generic) belief. There are appropriate times and places to express your belief, and no matter how noble or uplifting or whatever, a state-sanctioned environment which enforces conformity and uniformity of purpose is definitely not one of them.
    Why aren’t more conservatives against this?

  35. @4:Zucchi
    In fact some of the strongest proponents of maintaining the separation of church and state are religious clerics (Christian and otherwise). Mixing the two makes for bad government and watered-down, meaningless religion.

    This is double-edge sword. While it can make for bad government, the larger impact the mingling of government and religion in the Western democratic experience is that it’s religion that gets the shorter end of the stick, by far.

    As a British ex-pat, I lived this reality growing up, having to sing a hymn, recite the Lord’s Prayer, and listen to another prayer and Bible reading almost every day of my school career from the age of 5 to 18. My school was just the typical state school, that was also required to teach R.E. once a week, and we also attended three Church services a year too.

    I lived in Glasgow, so my school was affiliated with with the Church of Scotland, and that was 30 years ago, but it’s pretty much the same today. This is the home page of my sister’s kid’s primary school, in Cheltenham, England:

    http://clc2.uniservity.com/GroupHomepage.asp?GroupID=135257

    This is not a particularly religious school, despite the overt statement by the head teacher, and only one of my sister’s three kids has remained an active church goer (and I’m not sure she will continue either once she leaves home).

    My point is that a very large number of British schools did and do have deep ties with the church, but if you look at the fate of Christianity over the last 30 years in the UK, it has almost sunk without trace. A majority of Brits still identify with our Christian heritage, but the number of regular church-goers in the UK is less than 10% of the population, and non-believers make up about 40% or more.

    Very few British politicians inject their religion into politics (a few hard-right wingers do, but that’s it) and it certainly wasn’t an issue during the recent election (Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister is an atheist.) Contrast that with the USA, where almost every politician, even the most liberal, is falling over themselves to be appear the most religious, most pious person out there, and where Presidents still talk about being asking god for guidance before making critical decisions that affect the lives of millions.

    And while there are signs in the demographics that the religious facade of American life is beginning to crack (up to 25% of young adults are now non-believers), I suspect that the US is still a far more religious place than Europe in part because of the Establishment Clause and its current interpretation. It walls off religion, protecting it from government, and placed the burden of teaching kids religious beliefs onto the parents and not the schools. I think this has helped keep the religious right fired up and ready for battle in the last couple of decades, even as they want that wall torn down.

  36. Col

    @Brian Westley. Brian I am demanding that YOU wear a burka every time you leave your house for the next year.

    If you have any objection to this demand I suggest that you stfu about what France is doing with their laws to protect women from such demands.

  37. Joey Joe Joe

    “Eric and I were friends before this… we’re not such good friends now”.

    Feel the Christian love!

  38. jcm

    For the lack of a better word: Amen!

  39. @ darth curt:

    Or is the left just a bunch of hypocrits?

    I think you will find just as many hypocrits on the left end of the political spectrum as you will find on the right end. People who try to inject their gods into government tend to piss off those who cherish their religious freedom. It doesn’t matter what party they belong to.

    Furthermore, “the left” doesn’t exist. Just as “the” right is hopelessly simplistic. Very few people of any stripe are so easily categorized, even in today’s ridiculously polarized political climate.

  40. Brian

    Eric Workman, know that you have, for a while at least, melted my icy heart of cynicism and made me feel optimistic again.

  41. Grand Lunar

    This situation brings back a particular memory.

    Many years ago (before I graduated H.S), I read something in some religious publication, and I forget the source, that gave a skewed interpretation of the 1rst amendment; that freedom of religon doesn’t mean freedom from religion.

    Seemed noble to me at the time. Now it seems a downright tyrannical conviction.

    People like Eric need to set the right tone for future generations.

  42. Steve D

    The logic of this piece is beyond baffling. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, right? Prayer is speech, right? Nothing in the Constitution limits free speech to private citizens, right? So how does prohibiting public prayer fit with the First Amendment? Freedom of religion? How does sitting still for a couple of minutes and listening to something you disagree with violate your freedom of religion? You’d have to do that if the commencement speaker said something that violated your political beliefs. You wouldn’t be able to claim that he was somehow violating YOUR freedom of expression by uttering something you disagreed with. So how does listening to someone say something that runs counter to your religious beliefs violate your freedom of religion? On the other hand, doesn’t going to court to prevent someone from uttering a religious sentiment violate your his “right to not have [his] religion interfered with. ”

    Wholly apart from the sheer Constitutional illogic, nothing energizes the teabaggers and Religious Right more than this infantile game the ACLU insists on playing.

  43. VAL

    Official Disallowance itself supports a belief system: if supporting a belief system is a violation of the 1st amendment, then an utterly “secular” approach is doing a fantastic job of supporting atheism, whether with intent or not.

    The only successful interpretation of the 1st amendment regarding religion is for the state to recognize the diversity of belief in the respective communities and not slam a “STFU” sticker on it. When I was growing up — in saner times — every morning in my PUBLIC SCHOOL there was a “minute of silence” preceding the day: it was described as a time for prayer, meditation, or quiet respect for those who were doing either. It taught a valuable lesson is respect and diversity and is, itself, the proper approach.

  44. Cory

    Phil clearly isn’t advocating the banning of prayer from schools. Anyone saying otherwise is either trolling or just blindly arguing for the sake of doing so. He is celebrating the defeat of an attempt by a government entity to impose a religious rite upon its beneficiaries. Phil very clearly states that he feels that anyone should be allowed to pray whenever and however they want, with the caveat that it cannot be sanctioned, much less forced upon others, by the state.

  45. danny

    Has Fox News and Chrisitians attacked him yet for not DEMANDING the US to become a one religion country like Iran???

  46. @Steve D, (41) –

    Politics and religion are two separate things, and can only be compared in terms of the way religion is politicized and politics has been burdened down with religious views.

    Politics should be and MUST be debated in public.

    Should I be an atheist, I have the right to request that I not be prayed upon (oooo – I like that statement!), and the courts have said that, at least when attending a government-sponsored activity (such as commencement), there can be no praying as part of the ceremony itself.

    A prayer is not something I “disagree with”. Someone standing up front of an audience who prays is including me in his prayer, whether I want to be prayed for or not. I don’t get a choice in the matter.

    Either you don’t live in this country or you haven’t really read the Constitution and all the supporting documentation, but the rights of an atheist and a Jew and a Muslim and all other non-Christians are protected just so the majority in this country can’t foist their religious “wants” on the rest of us.

    I get real tired of hearing this is a Christian Nation. It ain’t, according to the Constitution. It’s a nation comprised of many religions, of whom the majority are Christian.

    They are not the same thing.

  47. blonggus

    Steve D – From the article:

    “Another extremely important thing to remember is that no one was keeping these students from praying. They had the right to pray as much as they wanted to before, during, and after the ceremony. The class president stood up and thanked God in her speech, and she had every right to do so, just as Eric had the right to talk about how important secularism is in school.

    And you are allowed your religion, or lack thereof. The government cannot stop that, but neither can it actively support it. That way, everyone has the same rights, and it keeps the government from turning into a theocracy.”

    It’s not about listening to something you disagree with, it’s about the SCHOOL REQUIRING IT. You’re right that each individual event is usually a relatively minor concern, and you’re right that stopping them can cause some backlash. But as often as I think this argument is misused, there is a serious slippery slope here.

    Once you allow some school prayer at graduation ceremonies, people will point at it and say, “if there was prayer at graduation, it should be at ____. How is it any different?” And of course it won’t be different, which is why we don’t allow these precedents to stand. If absolutely no one had a problem with it, then the lawsuit would never have been filed; but someone did.

  48. Brian Westley

    @Col writes:
    “@Brian Westley. Brian I am demanding that YOU wear a burka every time you leave your house for the next year.
    If you have any objection to this demand I suggest that you stfu about what France is doing with their laws to protect women from such demands.”

    Sorry, neither the government nor you get to tell me what to wear. This point is lost on you.

    If the government of France has the power to say “all women must not wear burkas,” the government of France ALSO has the power to say “all women MUST wear burkas.”

    And if, say, a Muslim majority is elected to power, guess what? You’ve lost any grounds to complain, since you’ve already agreed that the government gets to tell people what to wear. You can’t turn around and cry when your particular ox is gored.

    I, on the other hand, don’t recognize the government (or you) to have the power to tell me what to wear. That’s actual freedom, not the paternalistic botch that France is attempting to pull off. One group of old men want to tell all women what to wear, and another group of old men tell combat that by tell women what not to wear. I much prefer individual autonomy.

  49. AliCali

    @42 “So how does prohibiting public prayer fit with the First Amendment?”

    There is nothing prohibiting prayer. The problem is requiring prayer by a government entity. Nothing should stop a student or anyone else from praying, but that person should not be required to pray.

    Do you see the distinction?

  50. Don’t worry about In God We Trust on currency…we are all going to be using debit cards soon anyway so money is on the way out.

    Of course, then some theocrat will get the bright idea to pass a law that In God We Trust be printed on all ATM cards…

  51. @ Brian Wesley & Col:

    Even a “free” society has limitations. You cannot wear a mask into a bank and expect to remain unhassled. And rightly so.

    Freedom has always been a balancing act between the rights of individuals to do as they please and the rights of society as a whole to preserve the peace. In the end, compromise gives the most people the most freedom, even if a few don’t get to do exactly as they please.

    I’m not naive enough to think that was entirely the intent behind France’s burka restrictions, but it is an argument that does carry weight, in my vaguely humble opinion. I for one do not like being around people who are hiding their identity from me. It doesn’t matter if they’re doing it for religious reasons or because they have some embarrassing skin condition, or are scared of breathing somebody’s germs. Unless there is a real medical reason for doing so, I would prefer people present themselves as who they are.

  52. TheBlackCat

    I’m not naive enough to think that was entirely the intent behind France’s burka restrictions, but it is an argument that does carry weight, in my vaguely humble opinion. I for one do not like being around people who are hiding their identity from me. It doesn’t matter if they’re doing it for religious reasons or because they have some embarrassing skin condition, or are scared of breathing somebody’s germs. Unless there is a real medical reason for doing so, I would prefer people present themselves as who they are.

    If that was the real reason then the law would have banned masks of all sorts. The fact that it singles out a specific mask of religious significance shows that it was religiously-motivated rather than an attempt to prevent people from hiding their identity.

    In the U.S. we generally follow what is called the lemon test. Any law that fails any of these test is said to violate the establishment and/or free exercise clauses:

    1. The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose;
    2. The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
    3. The government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.

    This may pass 1, but it certainly fails 2 because it targets only specific types of religious garb. So a law that prevents people from wearing masks in public at all, which has the side effect of preventing the wearing of burkas, is fine (from a religious freedom perspective, it may infringe on freedom of expression). In fact there was a ruling a few years back that in the U.S. rules requiring people have their face visible driver’s license photos applied to burkas as well because it is a general rule not targeting a specific religion and is important from an identification standpoint. But if the rule was that people couldn’t wear burkas, but could wear any other sort of mask they wanted, that would not be okay because it is specifically targeting a religion.

    Similarly, applying weapons rules to Sikhs is fine because it is not specifically targeting them, but a rule that bans only their daggers while letting anyone carry around any other sort of dagger would not be acceptable.

  53. Brian Too

    My objection to sponsored religion is that it is, in my opinion, an appeal to tribalism. THESE people are like us, and therefore they are OK. THOSE people are not like us. You’d better keep an eye on them because they are different.

    As such it becomes the wedge of exclusion. If this continues you eventually get divided societies and distinctions that are meaningless and pointless to outsiders not involved in those societies.

    Children are particularly vulnerable to feeling left out. It just feels wrong to create a point of division that is bound, in heterogeneous populations (and most are now so), to make some feel left out. It’s even more wrong that those inclined to recruit outsiders to their faith, might take advantage of this.

    For me separation of Church and State is both a very practical AND a strong philosophical point. I’d be happier if politicians stopped carrying on about their faith–I vote for them to do a job, not to play identity and affiliation games. As though being a Christian not only qualifies them for office, but makes them morally trustworthy? I think not. It’s just not relevant at all.

  54. MadScientist

    Good for Eric – I wonder if he’s aware that he’s just avoided having some other cult’s prayers rammed down his throat?

  55. @ Black Cat:

    I agree with your points. I wish the French lawmakers had taken a broader approach.

    On the other hand, I guess you could make the argument that the government was trying to protect a class of people from discriminatory behavior imposed upon them by tradition. Of course then you’d get the counter argument that some women want to hide themselves from men. But it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve created laws to protect ourselves from our own selves.

    I guess it really does come down, once again, to compromise. Are some traditions inherently incompatible with our general ideas of what makes an acceptable society? Must we accept all behavior, even if it smacks of subjugation? Or must some traditions be compromised in order for society as a whole to remain more free?

    BTW, all of these arguments completely ignore the issue of the burka as a tribal custom, as opposed to a religious custom. Nowhere in the Koran does it mention completely covering a woman’s body. Women are instructed to dress with modesty, which is, obviously, open to interpretation. In that regard, France’s burka law has nothing to do with religion at all.

  56. And again theitards show an amazing lack of moral imagination (I’m looking at some commenters here)…

    The most important thing to remember is that freedom of religion, if it is going to apply to everyone, also requires freedom from religion. Why is that? You do not truly have the freedom to practice your religious beliefs if you are also required to adhere to any of the religious beliefs or rules of other religions.

    As an obvious example, could we really say that Jews and Muslims would have freedom of religion if they were required to show same respect to images of Jesus that Christians have? Would Christians and Muslims really have freedom of their religion if they were required to wear yarmulkes? Would Christians and Jews have freedom of religion if they were required to adhere to Muslim dietary restrictions?

    Simply pointing out that people have the freedom to pray however they wish is not enough. Forcing people to accept some particular idea or adhere to behavioral standards from someone else’s religion means that their religious freedom is being infringed upon.

    Freedom from religion does not mean, as some mistakenly seem to claim, being free from seeing religion in society. No one has the right not to see churches, religious expression, and other examples of religious belief in our nation — and those who advocate freedom of religion do not claim otherwise.

    What freedom from religion does mean, however, is the freedom from the rules and dogmas of other people’s religious beliefs so that we can be free to follow the demands of our own conscience, whether they take a religious form or not. Thus, we have both freedom of religion and freedom from religion because they are two sides of the same coin.

    Interestingly, the misunderstandings here can be found in many other myths, misconceptions and misunderstandings as well. Many people don’t realize — or don’t care — that real religious liberty must exist for everyone, not just for themselves. It’s no coincidence that people who object to the principle of “freedom from religion” are adherents of religious groups whose doctrines or standards would be the ones enforced by the state.

    Since they already voluntarily accept these doctrines or standards, they don’t expect to experience any conflicts with state enforcement or endorsement. What we have, then, is a failure of moral imagination: these people are unable to really imagine themselves in the shoes of religious minorities who don’t voluntarily accept these doctrines or standards and, hence, experience an infringement on their religious liberties through state enforcement or endorsement.

    That, or they simply don’t care what religious minorities experience because they think they have the One True Religion. And maybe that’s their point?

  57. or they simply don’t care what religious minorities experience because they think they have the One True Religion. And maybe that’s their point?

    Yes, invariably, that is their point.

  58. This seems a very american passtime – not saying other parts of the world don’t have similar issues, but it always seems to be a big issue in the US.

  59. Adam

    Eric clearly has a bright future ahead. He is intelligent and courageous enough to stand up for what he knows to be right. Good on him. I hope that what he did inspired at least some people to look a little closer at their actions.

    There were a number of devout hard-line Christian students at my high-school who were always trying to get prayers started and such. They harped on about wanting to be free to practice their religion, but that’s not what they wanted. They wanted everyone to practice their religion. They were already free to have their prayers together as they saw fit, they wanted everyone to do it their way. It’s sad that Christians are some of the least christian people around sometimes.

    Again, Eric, you are a true American and a shining example of your faith. Keep up the good work.

  60. Steve D

    Wow, it sure is fun reading all these rationalizations of how suppressing a form of speech isn’t really suppressing free speech. Drawing a distinction between religious speech and any other kind is about as pure a false dichotomy as you can find.

    Since most of the posters here have at best a vague understanding of the Constitution and keep repeating what they think it says, or what they think it ought to say, let someone who HAS read it point out that the first word of the First Amendment is “Congress.” CONGRESS is prohibited from abridging freedom of speech, religion, the press, and assembly. Several states had established churches until well into the 19th Century because the First Amendment only prohibited a NATIONAL established church. The 14th Amendment stipulated that the Constitution applies in all the states, to prevent states from claiming the prohibition of slavery did not apply to them, among other things. But it had no effect on the First Amendment because the First Amendment only applies to Congress. It was only with the “incorporation” doctrine of the last half century that SCOTUS has held that First Amendment rights are universal. (Except for speech that irritates selected groups.)

    The incorporation doctrine is a recent invention and it can go away as quickly as it appeared. Keep blowing off the effect of these stupid anti-religion campaigns on mobilizing the Religious Right, and you might just make it happen.

    One irony of many of these posts is that, for nonbelievers, a public prayer has no more effect than saying “the Force be with you” or invoking the Great Pumpkin. If they have no reality, isn’t getting upset at someone praying over you the silliest form of irrationality?

    There’s no slippery slope, and no limit problem. The First Amendment prohibits creation of an established church and interfering with the free exercise of religion. If you create an established church, give it special privileges and funding, or legislate its purely religious doctrines into law, you’ve crossed the line. If you ban certain religions or bar adherents from normal activities, you’ve crossed the line. Merely expressing a preference for a certain religious stance doesn’t cut it. Having to bow before a statue in City Hall is a violation; catching a glimpse of a menorah or creche on the lawn doesn’t violate your rights in the least. Your right to freedom from religion doesn’t include forcing everyone else to participate in a charade so you can pretend John Lennon’s “Imagine” is reality. That’s like me claiming my right to enjoy classical music includes the right never to hear any other kind.

    I have spent a year and a half in Muslim countries, so if you expect me to buy into the notion that it’s a violation of my rights to hear the majority express religious sentiments different from my own, you have definitely picked the wrong person. I can’t find anything in the Constitution that creates a right to a taxpayer financed and court enforced fantasy world where you can pretend religion doesn’t exist. Religion is still here and it is not going away, and its adherents will want to express their sentiments publicly. They will want their institutions to endorse those sentiments. Deal with it.

  61. Since most of the posters here have at best a vague understanding of the Constitution

    Ah, way to try and win people over to your point of view, by looking down your nose at everyone else. Good luck with that, Steve.

    And in case you hadn’t noticed, this is more than just about school prayer. It’s about government pushing the religious fantasy of abstinence-only education that leads to greater risk taking when the kids do have sex. It’s about government efforts to get creationism taught as science on an equal footing with evolution (Dover). It’s about the Texas State Board of Education ramming through a counterfeit versions of American history and social studies, so that they fit with their conservative Christian worldview. It’s about military commanders preaching their twisted view gospel to their subordinates who dare not step out of line by rejecting their teaching. It’s about thwarting the religious right’s efforts to place people at the highest levels of power and influence in the government and hijacking what Christian traditional practices there are for their own narrow sectarian agenda (the National Day of Prayer Taskforce). And it’s about defending the right of a woman to choose to have an abortion without first having to have an ultrasound device inserted into her vagina.

    I grew up in the UK, so I couldn’t care less about mouldy old monuments or watered-down public recognition for religious beliefs because I know they don’t have an impact on the greater public. I couldn’t have told you what motto was on American money until someone pointed it out to me years after I first came here.

    I also don’t care what people get up to in their own time, on their own dime, or even in the public square, where they are free to congregate, pray, preach, protest or whatever they want to do. But I certainly do object to the religious right muscling in on government (local, state, or national) and teaching out kids lies and falsehoods in the public classroom just because they believe in an alternate reality.

    As for prayer itself, I would point you to the opening prayer of the latest meeting of the Texas State Board of Education. Generic prayers of praise and thanksgiving are one thing, but prayer is a lot more than that in the hands of a fundamentalist preacher or leader. It is as much a teaching and propaganda tool as a sermon or a Bible reading.

    Given my experiences growing up in the UK, I am quite willing to believe that if America did have an established religion, it would be in a far weaker state than it is today, but that’s not where the battlefield lies in reality. The Religious Right are highly motivated to impose their worldview on the rest of us in any way they can, and that’s why they need to be opposed. If every American Christian was a Methodist or a Presbyterian, it wouldn’t be much on a issue either way, but we can’t afford to roll over the way things are today, because they will quite happily roll right over us.

    And, by the way, if you brush that chip off your shoulder, you might get more people to listen to you.

  62. Autumn

    Steve D,
    You are trying your hardest to seem a moron, so I congratualte your accomplishment.
    Not a single person in the United States has ever, in history, been prevented from praying.
    Some individuals have been, rarely, and in specific situations exclusively involving said individual’s present status as a representative of government, (government is that thing that you are assiduously attempting to pretend total ignorance of), to endorse a religious view in such a way as to violate the letter of the law.

    “The law” in this case is the well-established case-law supporting the original intent of the founders of this country.

    If there are any other simple terms which you require to be explained to you, please let me know, as I have access to books and a computer, and am thus not as beholden to my own stupid preconceptions as you seem to want to be.

  63. @ Steve D:

    They will want their institutions to endorse those sentiments. Deal with it.

    Already did. 1st Amendment.

    Dealt with.

    As for the amendment being limited to “congress,” we hear from the Supreme Court in Cantwell v Connecticut:

    We hold that the statute (being argued before the court), as construed and applied to the appellants, deprives them of their liberty without due process of law in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment. The fundamental concept of liberty embodied in that Amendment embraces the liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment. The First Amendment declares that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The Fourteenth Amendment has rendered the legislatures of the states as incompetent as Congress to enact such laws.

    Clear enough?

    It should also be noted that in the above case, it was the expression of a particularly religious point of view that was being protected. Chalk one up for freedom of religion…and freedom from anyone else’s being forced upon you.

    Deal with it.

  64. TheBlackCat

    @ Steve D: So I take it you have no problem whatsoever with, for example, a governor shutting down a local newspaper that reveals corruption on his part? Or local police in the 50’s and 60’s turning dogs loose on peaceful protestors? Those are perfectly legal actions, right?

  65. Autumn

    Steve D,
    The fact that you lived in countries that enforced mandatory religious observances, and you see no possible way that this infringed on anyone’s ability to freely practice a religion of their choice, informs us all as to what you regard as freedom; you simply want everyone to bend (in Islamic states “bend” is literal) to the particular demands of your religion of choice.
    As one who does not happen to believe in any gods, I have no complaints in being respectful of the religions of others.
    I do complain when a government entity even implies that I must, for whatever reason, bend to the will of some particular sect.
    I also had objections when I was a Lutheran Christian.
    Lutherans (Missiouri Synod if there are really folks wondering) are rather particular (as are the Roman Catholics from which they are derived) in ending prayers in the name of Jesus.
    “Non-denominational” prayers are not able to end in such a way.
    So the government’s “non-denominational” prayer violates the beliefs of any believer who believes that Jesus, called the Christ, is the ultimate interlocutor.

    A “non-denominational” invocation is simply the first invocation of the official government orthodoxy.

    I call it Government Issue Orthodoxy.

  66. Gary Sibio

    I wonder how many people commentating on this article have actually read the first amendment. It’s short so I’ll post it here:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    This amendment puts restrictions on the actions of one group and one group only, Congress. It does not restrict the states, it does not restrict the schools, it does not restrict students. It’s very simple. The amendment was intended to prevent Congress from establishing a national religion. Allowing students to pray at a public school function is not the establishment of a national religion. It allows the students to practice their religion or, as the Founding Fathers put it, free exercise.

    I certainly hope that Eric Workman is going to college and I hope that college does a better job of educating him than his high school did.

  67. RationalThinker

    I would just like to add some much needed perspective that a minority of commenters on here are not providing. First of all, I am non-religious, and I would not by any stretch of the imagination identify with a neoconservative or a fundamentalist christian world view. I deplore them as much as their philisophical counterpart in the false American debate.

    First of all, it is a curious fallacy to characterize the tea parties as associated with Sarah Palin or neocon christian conservatism. This is not something I’ve found except for in the minority. There is that element, as any patriotic aimed movement is bound to have in this country. What I actually find is that the tea parties have more in common with opinions like this article than you’d like to admit. It is an argument that the constitution, as a limit on government authority is more important than any excuse to usurp it. This is not a selective argument; only picking and choosing concepts which might socially resonate with ourselves based on our political ideology. This is a liberty for all, including those we find deplorable. One must realize that the tea parties were started by Ron Paul supporters. Anyone familiar with this position knows that it does not cling to right or left ideologies or aim to force anyone into choices against their will. The beauty of libertarian ideas is that they speak of entirely voluntary choices, rather than the use of force, to achieve end goals (which I would hope are freedom and happiness of the people in their control of the government and society)

    Now. . . I am a bit divided in this specific case. . . but in my opinion, many well meaning efforts by people based on the ‘seperation of church and state’ notion are a bit misguided. Even though I might agree with their conclusions, when one is eternally rallied against the 10 commandments being posted in a courthouse, one must ask whether this is really a good use of efforts. Is this really an infringement on anyone’s rights? Aren’t there manefestations on plenty of religions in sculptures of government buildings? Most of our capitol architecture is modeled after the temples of Greek and Roman gods, yet we’re not bothered by that?

    I would say: respect the beliefs of all, and learn to decipher a difference between an actual infringement on the right to religion or no religion at all with harmless culturual smybolism (even though we were founded as a country open to all religions, we do have a strong cultural history of Christian-but not in the modern sense- values, in the sense that we were based on a Natural Law philosophy that our creator gave us inalienable rights that no earthly power had the right to infringe upon)

    My main point is: there are a lot stronger constitutional battles to be fighting right now: How about the right introducing the Patriot Act, or the warrantless spying the government is perpetrating on us? How about the left seeking to reimpose the ‘fairness docterine’ or officially persecute conservatives and constitutionalist third party supporters? Both the right and the left are usurping our sovereign rights as men and women. Who is our real enemy, now?

  68. #59 Cusp Said “This seems a very american passtime – not saying other parts of the world don’t have similar issues, but it always seems to be a big issue in the US.”

    Indeed. As an Englishman I am slightly bemused by this debate. I live in an unashamed Theocracy. Queen Elizabeth, God bless her :-), is both head of state and head of the Church of England. She, on the advice of the head of Government – the Prime Minister – appoints the Bishops of that church. The legislative assemblies hold prayers every day before they start business. Religious organisations fund state schools. Our Memorial day service is a religious
    one.

    But despite this British society is, I would venture to say, much more secular that that of the USA. Church attendance is much lower. I think that I am freer to express my lack of religion without fear of the consequences in Britain than I would be in the USA.

    So there’s your answer. Get an established religion that everyone can ignore :-)

  69. Aaron

    Here in Indiana, the state government has an institution that it calls a civil religion– generally accepted as Christianity but not explicitly stated as such. It is considered by the state government that as long as a prayer is “nonsectarian” then it can be permitted and in fact required, such as at the opening of a legislative session. In fact, when a judge barred sectarian prayer not too long ago, the State House of Representatives staged a walkout in protest– a prayer is of no value if Jesus isn’t named, apparently.

    But yeah, this isn’t a school administration that crosses the line, it is inherent to the body politic. I know plenty of people who pray (literally) for the day that God erases the First Amendment from the Constitution.

    I am NOT one of them, I feel that the less religion is in the public eye the fewer conflicts it can cause.

  70. Dpn’t bother with the moron (Steve D)… Theitards like him can’t do distinctions of any finer grade than “DO AS I SAY OR YOU BURN IN HELL!” If there is a fine distinction, they ignore it.

  71. Alan Barnard

    Looking at this from afar, England, it seems to me that it is very important for the US that this aspect of your Constitution is rigorously enforced. Having observed (again from afar) how your legal system works, I can imagine the consequences of not doing so. Because of the 1st Amendment, you have no other laws limiting what the State could do in respect of religion – why not pass a tax law making church tithes compulsory, or a law fining people for not attending church (let students of English history see where I am coming from). If a public school is ‘allowed’ to get away with ‘sanctioning’ this type of public prayer, it will inevitably lead to schools being ‘allowed’ to force any sort of rites and practices on pupils – there is no law to prevent it and the courts would probably (at least in the areas where this sort of thing would take place) enforce the school’s right to do so.

  72. Gamercow

    I’m going to tweet this to Phil as well, because I really want him to see this, because I didn’t know it until last year. I went to my cousin’s graduation from West Point, and in their swearing of the oath, they swear not to fight for the country, or its people, or its government, but to “uphold the constitution”. That’s how important that document and that for which it stands is.

  73. mike burkhart

    I agree .A lot of the older Catholics tell me about how in the past they were hated and harrased because of there faith,and because Catholics beleve in things that most other Christans reject.This is why we need seperation of church and state .In fact when John F Kenedy was runing for President his faith became an issue.By the way Phil ,the picture of the cat after the mouse,I had a cat ,and he caught and proceeded to eat ,cats eat everything even the bones of the mouse .

  74. Plutonian

    @ 31. Brian Westley Says:

    “In France, the separation of Church and State is stricter than anywhere else in the world, both on paper and in practice.” I don’t know if I’d agree with that; France has laws prohibiting the wearing of burkas, which implicitly means that the government could also require the wearing of burkas, since the government claims to have the power to tell women what they can and cannot wear.

    No, it doesn’t say that it just says what they CANNOT wear – ie a burka.

    It doesn’t say what they *can* wear or compel them to wear bikini’s or wet T-shirts everywhere. It just says a particular item of clothing that is a security risk and a health risk and a symbol of misogynist repression is forbidden.

    They can wear (preferably fake) suicide bomber vests and turbans if they really want to identify themselves as Muslims and thus adherents of, in my view, the worlds most murderous, most dangerous and least compassionate religion. (With the possible exceptions only of the Charlie Manson murder cult and the ancient extinct Thuggee movement from which we get our word ‘Thug.’) A religion founded by a criminal who murdered prisoners, plundered caravans, stole other people’s property and wives and who famously had a six or seven year old child as his wife and had sexual intercourse with her when she was nine. (Hey, blame Muhammad not me -that’s a recorded historical fact.)

    Plus its NOT just women – far as I know men are banned from wearing the burka too – not that they would because then they’d get stoned to death by their fellow Islamofascists for the heinous sin of cross-dressing.

    The burka ban is applied for good reason too – this issue has erupted in Australia where one politician here (Cory Bernadi, liberal party which, ironically, is our conservative one) has also controversially and courageously argued for its banning. He did so after a bank was robbed by a burka wearing criminal.

    In other recent news from a region increasingly referred to as “Eurabia” the Swiss people have voted to ban the construction of minnarets and try to discourage mosques and being swamped by Muslim immigrants and the Netherlands is considering making new migrants view a video that shows scantily clad women and men kissing to discourage fundamentalist Jihadists from settling in a culture that is tolerant and good and thus antithetical to everything Islam demands.

  75. Steve D

    This “freedom from religion” thing looks a lot like another “right” some people claimed a while back. White segregationists argued that the right of free association required a right of “non-association” as well.

    The problem was, they didn’t think non-association meant avoiding people they disliked. No, they thought it meant going about their business and excluding other people from wherever they went. They’d go to swimming pools, restaurants and hotels, same as always, and non-associate by excluding blacks from going there. Likewise the “freedom from religion” crowd doesn’t plan on avoiding religion. No, they plan on going about their everyday business and suppressing all mention of religion by everyone around them.

    This is not, and never has been, about rights. It’s entirely about a snotty obstruction of other people’s rights. Being asked to tolerate someone else expressing a viewpoint you disagree with is not “bending” you or “forcing” you in any way. It’s merely asking you to behave like an adult.

    It’s time the Supreme Court grew up and admit that it has erred.

  76. QuietDesperation

    Meh. I’m actually more interested in the picture. Is that a real intersection somewhere or Photoshop?

    I would say: respect the beliefs of all

    I just have a hard time doing that with many (if not all) belief systems, and I include political ideologies alongside religion there. Respect is earned, not given indiscriminately.

    R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Take care, TCB. Oh, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me…

  77. Plutonian

    @ 56. kuhnigget Says:

    Are some traditions inherently incompatible with our general ideas of what makes an acceptable society? Must we accept all behavior, even if it smacks of subjugation? Or must some traditions be compromised in order for society as a whole to remain more free?

    This.

    Imagine there’s a religion that tells its followers they must hate and destroy and launch a war on everything that isn’t them. That says its okay and indeed compulsory to kill people who write things they don’t like about their leader*, or draw cartoons they dislike** or even name a teddy bear after their prophet.*** A religion that thinks its okay to fly hijacked aircraft into buildings and kill thousands of innocent people and that idolises suicide bomber murderers with 72 virgins (or is that a misinterpreted 72 raisins?) as a reward for their bloodthirsty attacks? Or imagine a religion that says one particular soverign nation should cease to exist and its people be exterminated for the crime of occupying a geographical landmark with a religious structure they claim is their third holiest site which is also that hated nations *first* holy place? (But, of course, that nation and its people isn’t allowed to have it in this religion’s eyes because it belongs to those who list it no.3.)

    Oh wait, we don’t have to imagine such a religion – it’s real and called Islam.

    Is that sort of belief really okay by you?
    Is that really acceptable in a modern nation?
    Or should we say hang on a bit – we don’t approve of that & that’s NOT okay by us.

    Sometimes we are a bit too tolerant, a bit too respectful of some very nasty religious and cultural customs that I think really aren’t that acceptable especially outside of Dark Age Arabia.

    BTW, all of these arguments completely ignore the issue of the burka as a tribal custom, as opposed to a religious custom. Nowhere in the Koran does it mention completely covering a woman’s body. Women are instructed to dress with modesty, which is, obviously, open to interpretation. In that regard, France’s burka law has nothing to do with religion at all.

    So the burka isn’t even decreed by Muslim scripture.

    All we (or they) need to do is define ‘modesty’ (social or cultural convention) as wearing a loincloth and bra then state that anyone wearing that is considered modestly dressed and
    that’s all they’d need to wear. On warm days anyhow. ;-)

    ——-

    * Remember Salmen Rushdie and the fatwah (Muslim death order) on him for writing The Staanic verses If not, research it. Scary. People died & others spent yeras inhiding (paid for by taxpayers) because one man dared to write a book making a few jokes at the Muhammad’s expense.

    ** Remember the Danish cartoons affair? The Islamic world went frothing at the mouth crazy over a flipping *cartoon* or two for pity’s sake! hello Muslims – do the words proportion and sense of humour mean anything to you? Anyone here take part in “everybody draw mohammad” day? ;-)

    *** A British teacher in an African muslim nation nearly got lynched for that. Actually, the bear facts ;-) are that it wasn’t even named after the prophet directly – it was after a boy in the class who shared Muhammad’s name -and wasn’t intended as an insult at all. Yet the Muslim world again reacted with its typical insane Over The Top fury regardless of the facts incl. calls for the teachers execution.

  78. Brian Westley

    @Plutonian:
    “No, it doesn’t say that it just says what they CANNOT wear – ie a burka.

    It doesn’t say what they *can* wear or compel them to wear bikini’s or wet T-shirts everywhere.”

    But if you concede that the French government has the legitimate power to tell women what they can’t wear, the government could pass a law that says “you many not wear anything except XXX.” Once you start going down that road, you’re subject to governmental whim, which is based on which way the political winds are blowing at the moment.

    And as has already been pointed out, this isn’t a ban against e.g. masks in banks, it’s against one specific type of garment. Laws against wearing masks in banks or in photo IDs are fine, but that’s not what we’re dealing with here.

  79. Brian Westley

    @Steve D
    “No, they plan on going about their everyday business and suppressing all mention of religion by everyone around them.”

    Stop lying. Nobody here has suggested outlawing on-the-street speech by anyone, religious nuts included. Graduation ceremonies are events put on by public (i.e. government) schools, and are subject to first amendment restrictions on government actions, including not misusing a government ceremony to impose religious rituals.

  80. Gary Ansorge

    76. Plutonian Says:

    ” Muslims and thus adherents of the worlds most murderous, most dangerous and least compassionate religion.”

    As someone who spent 13 years in Saudi Arabia, I object to such characterization. I’m pretty sure Christianity has historically been just as murderous, dangerous and lacking in compassion as Islam but that’s not the fault of the religion, it’s the fault of the very human propensity to use a mythological being as justification for stupidity and inhumanity(see;Pat Robertson).

    Mohammed was one of the first humans to hold women in high regard. He also understood that inbreeding was just as bad for humans as it was for the sheep he supervised(predating our western understanding of genetics by about a thousand years). Unfortunately, he still had to contend with tribal custom and was unable to convince his peers to outlaw marriage closer than second cousins. He had to settle for first cousin marriage but that was the constraint which his society imposed.

    Every religion has its ideals. Every religion falls prey to human faults. Which is the main reason I adjure organized religion.

    I prefers my religion as unorganized as possible(Hey, it’s time for our meeting. Who has the Jerry tapes?)

    Gary 7

  81. Xivero

    I’d find the arguments against allowing the prayer stronger if the school had tried to mandate it without consulting the students first. Instead, it simply asked the students to vote on whether or not they wanted a school-sanctioned prayer at the ceremony. It seems to me to be a lot like asking them to vote on what color scheme they want to use for the decorations, or where they want to go for their grad party. It’s mostly about crafting a ceremony that appeals to the majority of the student body.
    Sure, those who are in the minority will be disappointed that they don’t get their way, but they aren’t exactly being oppressed, and it seems rather childish for them to tarnish the ceremony with legal action and protests.

    I realize many people want to see themselves as heroically fighting as part of a larger cause, but really, society would be a much nicer place if everyone would pick and choose their battles, and were willing to let the other side have its way occasionally when the other side is clearly in the majority. I mean, I’m an atheist, and if I were a student at the school, I’d have voted against the school prayer, but if the majority of my classmates and friends wanted one, and it seemed to mean something very important to them, I wouldn’t begrudge their having it.

  82. Plutonian

    @ 78. QuietDesperation :

    I just have a hard time doing that with many (if not all) belief systems, and I include political ideologies alongside religion there. Respect is earned, not given indiscriminately.

    This too. Absolutely. Well said & seconded by me. :-)

    Never mind the baloney of cultural relativism and political correctness, religions and cultures are not equal and some are better than others. In My Humble Opinion Natch.

    If you want your beliefs and customs to be respected then they need to be *worthy* of that respect and not exceptioanlly cruel, harmful or ridiculous.

    I’m an agnostic (about 85% sure there’s no God off the top of my head) and yet I still very much feel that there’s a spectrum of religions ranging from the better (Jedi, Pastafarian, most Christianity, Judaism) to middling (Hindu, Jain, New Age, Krishan,) to downright bad (Islam, Aztec, Scientologists, Koresh’s Waco Mob, Heavens Gate cult, Jonestown cult etc .. )

    A lot of the reason for such rankings is how the followers of religion X behave and how well they are able to get on with others and tolerate opposition and practices they disagree with.

    If they can take a joke and if they are willing to let others be then that’s a plus mark for them.

    If they riot and rage at the slightest hint of things they object to and seek to convert everybody everyday by any means at all from annoying door-knocking to conversion at swordpoint – with supplementary death for apostasy if you try and wriggle out of such forced conversion later then religion X gets marked down in my book. (Eg. Islam, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses.)

    Another major factor determiningwhat I think of them is the doctrine and the example of the founding figures of religion X.

    If the founders preach peace and respect for others and are mostly non-judgamental (such as Jesus & Buddha) then that’s a plus mark.

    If your founder preaches violent warfare, military world conquest or capturing slaves to sacrifice to the Sun your religion gets marked down by me. (Eg. Muhammad, Aztecs, Mayas.)

    There are a few other things that come into it as well such as aesthetically pleasing inspirational colourful artworks and temples / cathedrals (hello Hindus and Catholics), personal bias with knowing friends and family of particluar faiths (hello Bahais, Uniting Church, Anglicans and Lutherans), plus a few more things but those are the main criteria on which I’ll rate religions as variously good, medium and bad.

    Does that not make sense even to the most PC folks here?

  83. @ Steve D:

    This is not, and never has been, about rights. It’s entirely about a snotty obstruction of other people’s rights. … It’s time the Supreme Court grew up and admit that it has erred.

    I guess you were too irate to read the last part of my post, Steve.

    The supreme court’s ruling in the Cantwell case was in favor of the plaintiffs, who were religious proselytizers denied their right to free speech.

    To repeat, the supreme court guaranteed their right to express themselves religiously.

    But as others here have pointed out, your beef isn’t really about that, is it? It’s about you not being able to force your particular brand of religion on others, isn’t it? That just sticks in your craw, huh?

  84. Xivero (#83): Your analogy doesn’t work. A better analogy would be if the school administration had asked the students to vote on whether or not they can own slaves. It doesn’t matter, because that’s expressly forbidden by the United States Constitution, the foundation of all US law.

  85. Plutonian

    @ 82. Gary Ansorge Says:

    76. Plutonian Says: ” Muslims and thus adherents of the worlds most murderous, most dangerous and least compassionate religion.” As someone who spent 13 years in Saudi Arabia, I object to such characterization.

    Did you see any public executions while you were in the Saudi Kingdom, Gary? Seriously, I gather they have them every Friday.

    Hope your not left-handed, I gather that’s very unpopular there. As is enjoying the odd beer or other alcoholic beverage which makes it totally NOT where I’d ever want to live or even visit. And how about their attitude to Westerners esp. Americans and Aussies, pretty anti & hostile I’d imagine. Really I’m curious – please tell us more.

    Did you like how they treat their women and minorities?
    Did you hear what they said about Israel and the Jews?
    Did you hear what they think of those who don’t share their faith or their customs and what they’d like to do to enforce their ways on the infidels?
    Or gays.

    I’m pretty sure Christianity has historically been just as murderous, dangerous and lacking in compassion as Islam but that’s not the fault of the religion, it’s the fault of the very human propensity to use a mythological being as justification for stupidity and inhumanity (see;Pat Robertson).

    I disagree. Certainly its not true of Christianity now and I’d argue even in the past.

    Yes Christians have many “skeleton’s” in the closet and have caused alot of carnage and grief with things like the Crusades and the Inquisition and the witch hunts. But that was along tiem ago and they also have along traditionof trying for peace and understanding and setting limits on wars as well.

    Contrast that with the Muslim record of Jihads and slave trading and the Ottoman empire’s conquests and brutality and thelack of corresponding Muslim tarditions for philosophy and attempts at limiting wars and authoritarian rules.

    As I understand it Christianity has always placed an emphasis on mercy and forgiveness as virtues.

    Islam, OTOH, has always been more about spreading the faith by the sword and emphasing the barbarity that is Sharia law and the utter subjugation and crushing down of all that is UnIslamic.

    Both religions have numerous atrocities in their history, neither’s record is anything but drenched in blood and human suffering. But Christianity IMHON, does have a few redeeming factors that Islam lacks such as a more flexible code and more philosophical nature. (IMHON.) Christianity finally forgave Galileo (400 years too late but still) admitted some of its errors and no longer insists on enforcing barbaric laws derived from ancient tribal savages while Islam still does – and has never far, as I know, forgiven anyone for transgresisons against it.

    Plus y’know there’s the respective treatment of women and minorities and all. When was the last time a Christian was involved in an honour killing or genital mutilation?

    We can name and discuss many Christian philosophers such as Thomas Aquineas, Saint Augustine and C.S. Lewis. Can anyone name any comparable Muslim philosophers? Only one I know is Sayyid Qutb (spelling?)the guy who laid the “philosophical” basis for the Islamic brotherhood terror group which ultimately leads to Al Quaida.

    As for Pat Robertson – how many Christians speak out against him and view him as a hateful figure with a warped view of Christianity who doesn’t represent them in the slightest – hint a huge number many of whoem are very vocal in criticising him & his like openly and strongly on an almost daily.

    Contrast that with the number of Muslims who speak out strongly and openly and regularly about Al Quaida, Hamas, the Taliban, Jemaah Islamiyaa (the Indonesian group who have killed hundreds of Aussies in terror bombings eg. Bali), etc .. Are there any? Are they still alive? Do we ever hear from them? I can name Irshad Manji & the woman in the Fitna movie by the murdered Dutch filmaker and that’s it. Bit of a disparity there isn’t there?

    Mohammed was one of the first humans to hold women in high regard.

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!

    Oh wait, you were serious?

    That’s why he married a huge harem of women including the ones he captured by force and made into widows plus the ones that were child brides I suppose?

    And why Mohammad said domestic violence was okay and a man can beat his wife so long as he did it with only a small stick. That’s really showing respect for women I guess plus making sur ethey’re confined to your home iand if theyever do get out theyhave to be completely concealed in a burka lest they lead a man into temptation those wicked harlots! :roll:

    (One famous Aussie Mullah onc ecompared scantily dressed [i.e. non-burka wearing] women charmingly to ctafood and siad acat can’t be blamed for eating them if left out in a very pro-female (NOT!!) allusion to rape case. That’s your Muslim respect for women for you right there.)

    The fact that a 60 or so year old prophet – or as I think of him slimeball creep – Muhammad thoughtit wa sfine to sleep with (rape frankly) his a nine year old girl ‘wife’ jsutabout says it all for me.

  86. Plutonian

    CORRECTIONS FOR CLARITY : (Out of edit time durnit. :-( )

    (One famous Aussie Mullah once compared scantily dressed [i.e. non-burka wearing] women charmingly to cat food and said a cat can’t be blamed for eating them if left outside in a very pro-female (NOT!!) allusion to a rape case. That’s your Muslim respect for women for you right there. :-( )

    The fact that a 60 or so year old prophet – or, as I think of him, slimeball creep – Muhammad thought it was fine to sleep with (quite frankly *rape* ) his nine year old child ‘wife’ just about says it all for me.

    If the religion says the guy who does that is a blessed and revered leader, an example of all that is holy and whose example is ideal and to be followed, well, I say NO.

    No, Muhammad was NOT a good man &, no, a religion that says he was & reveres his example and words cannot be a good idea and cannot be other than messed up and dangerous.

    Plus wake up at the look at the world around us. What religion currently poses our civilisation the greatest threat and is intent on bringing as they so charmingly chant “Death to America” (..& Israel & Britain & Australia & India . and the rest of the n0n-Muslim world.)

  87. Lawrence

    @Plutonian – just as a clarification, “Good Christian Men” were instrumental in building & supporting the trans-Altantic slave trade for a few hundred years, so be careful about the comparisons that you want to use.

  88. Regarding comments by Steve D: I’m sorry, but your view about the what the Constitution says is not in line with the rulings by the Supreme Court, nor in fact in line with the words of the Constitution, nor reasonable scholarship of the context in which it was written.

    The landmark Supreme Court case regarding school prayer is Engel v. Vitale, in which the Supreme Court found 6-1 that the recitation of a school prayer was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which must apply to the states by virtue of the Fourteenth. You can go read Justice Black’s majority opion in this case to refresh your memory about what the Constitution actually says about freedom of religion:

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0370_0421_ZO.html

    It’s very good. I’ll excerpt a tiny bit, but it is worth reading the entirety:

    It has been argued that to apply the Constitution in such a way as to prohibit state laws respecting an [p434] establishment of religious services in public schools is to indicate a hostility toward religion or toward prayer. Nothing, of course, could be more wrong. The history of man is inseparable from the history of religion. And perhaps it is not too much to say that, since the beginning of that history, many people have devoutly believed that “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” It was doubtless largely due to men who believed this that there grew up a sentiment that caused men to leave the cross-currents of officially established state religions and religious persecution in Europe and come to this country filled with the hope that they could find a place in which they could pray when they pleased to the God of their faith in the language they chose. [n20] And there were men of this same faith in the [p435] power of prayer who led the fight for adoption of our Constitution and also for our Bill of Rights with the very guarantees of religious freedom that forbid the sort of governmental activity which New York has attempted here. These men knew that the First Amendment, which tried to put an end to governmental control of religion and of prayer, was not written to destroy either. They knew, rather, that it was written to quiet well justified fears which nearly all of them felt arising out of an awareness that governments of the past had shackled men’s tongues to make them speak only the religious thoughts that government wanted them to speak and to pray only to the God that government wanted them to pray to. It is neither sacrilegious nor anti-religious to say that each separate government in this country should stay out of the business of writing or sanctioning official prayers and leave that purely religious function to the people themselves and to those the people choose to look to for religious guidance.

    Another good quote from Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Lee v. Weisman:

    A reasonable dissenter of high school age could believe that standing or remaining silent signified her own participation in, or approval of, the group exercise, rather than her respect for it. And the State may not place the student dissenter in the dilemma of participating or protesting. Since adolescents are often susceptible to peer pressure, especially in matters of social convention, the State may no more use social pressure to enforce orthodoxy than it may use direct means. The embarrassment and intrusion of the religious exercise cannot be refuted by arguing that the prayers are of a de minimis character, since that is an affront to the rabbi and those for whom the prayers have meaning, and since any intrusion was both real and a violation of the objectors’ rights.

    Steve D: If you’d like to argue that the Supreme Court got this wrong, then by all means, get working on petitioning the Obama administration for a position on the highest court (it’s a good time, since Elena Kagan has not yet been named to the court). Alternatively, you could go back and try to get the Supreme Court to reverse the decision of Marbury v. Madison. Until then, what the Supreme Court rules is what the Constitution means. And it does not mean what you think it does.

  89. Plutonian

    For a lot more expressed without any punches pulled see also :

    http://plancksconstant.org/blog1/2010/05/was_aishah_6_years_old_when_she_married_mohammed.html

    &

    http://plancksconstant.org/blog1/2009/02/if_you_knew_islam_like_i_know_islam.html
    For more.

    I’d also urge you to try this brilliant & very thought-provoking little gem of a quiz from the Planck’s Constant blog :

    http://plancksconstant.org/blog1/2010/05/mayor_bloomberg_is_an_idiot.html

  90. Plutonian

    @89. Lawrence Says:

    @Plutonian – just as a clarification, “Good Christian Men” were instrumental in building & supporting the trans-Altantic slave trade for a few hundred years, so be careful about the comparisons that you want to use.

    Maybe so but they also were instrumental in ending the slave trade too. Unlike Muslims who kept it running & who still practice it in some areas.

    See the efforts of David Livingstone & William Wilberforce in fighting slavery among others and note that on Wikipedias entry for the Abolitionists it states unambigously :

    “The slave system aroused little protest until the 18th century, when rationalist thinkers of the Enlightenment criticized it for violating the rights of man, and Quaker and other evangelical religious groups condemned it as un-Christian.”

    Rationality and Christianity working together to end a great injustice and make life better by restoring liberty and freedom for thousands of people. Fancy that. ;-)

    Can anyone imagine Rationality and Islam ever combining (at all!) let alone in such a fight to achieve such a good humane cause? :-P

  91. Xivero

    Phil #86: Um, yes, because having a school official expressly state that he hopes that God blesses the students is exactly the same, morally and politically, as owning slaves.

    /end sarcasm

    As I said, I know it is appealing to want to feel as if you are part of an epic struggle, but this isn’t it. Having a school official say something along the lines of “God bless you and keep you in all your future endeavors” is much closer to deciding to go with blue grad posters instead of pink ones than it is to putting an entire race of people in shackles. Sorry, it just is. In fact, since presumably any student or teacher speaking at the grad ceremony could still say the prayer as part of their own personal reflections on the moment if called upon to give a speech, you’re not even fighting against what is being said. You’re fighting against the equivalent of the school board adding a footnote to it saying “And we endorse this sentiment.”

    Did I mention that that sentiment is essentially “And I hope everything goes well for everyone in the future?” Okay, so it’s dressed up in religious wording, and yes, that is technically unconstitutional, and some can, and in this case did, successfully prevent it, but is it really a wise decision, or does it merely stir up anger and division without accomplishing anything substantial in terms of making society better?

  92. Plutonian

    ** Remember the Danish cartoons affair? The Islamic world went frothing at the mouth crazy over a flipping *cartoon* or two for pity’s sake! Hello Muslims – do the words ‘proportion’ and ‘sense of humour’ mean anything to you? Anyone here take part in “everybody draw mohammad” day? ;-)

    In the probably highly unlikely event that folks here don’t know what that “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day is about & want to find out check out :

    http://plancksconstant.org/blog1/2010/05/is_draw_mohammed_day_a_bad_idea.html

    Plus if you’re wondering about this :

    One famous Aussie Mullah once compared scantily dressed [i.e. non-burka wearing] women charmingly to cat food and said a cat can’t be blamed for eating them if left outside in a very pro-female (NOT!!) allusion to a rape case. That’s your Muslim respect for women for you right there.

    check out :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taj_El-Din_Hilaly#Controversies

    ***

    October 2006 sermon – Comments concerning dress and rape

    In October 2006, [Sheikh Taj El-Din Hamid] Hilaly [ Mufti of Australia] delivered a Ramadan sermon in Arabic in which he made statements concerning female clothing which proved highly controversial. The key part of these was:

    “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it … whose fault is it, the cats’ or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.”
    —Taj El-Din Hilaly

    He also said, “in the state of zina, the responsibility falls 90 per cent of the time on the woman. Why? Because she possesses the weapon of enticement (igraa).”

    Hilaly later claimed that he had intended to suggest that “if a woman who shows herself off, she is to blame…but a man should be able to control himself.” He also contended that his references to the prison sentence of Bilal Skaf, the leader of a group of Lebanese Australians who committed gang rapes in Sydney in 2000, in which he said that women would “sway suggestively” before men “and then you get a judge without mercy (rahma) and gives you 65 years”, were aimed at illustrating the need for harsh sanctions for rape.

    ***

    That Sheik is (or was) one of Australia’s leading Muslim spokespeople. His appalling comments were made in this century in a modern Western nation – although the Sheik’s mind-set is clearly much older & uglier than anything considered remotely acceptable today.

    Nor were those the Aussie Mufti’s only controversial and utterly vile remarks or controversy, far from it there’s a long list on his wiki-page as you’ll see if you click & visit.

  93. Can anyone imagine Rationality and Islam ever combining (at all!) let alone in such a fight to achieve such a good humane cause?

    Um. You really need to get out and learn some history. Islamic scholars were responsible for the introduction of the use of zero into Western civilization (it took the Christian Church another two centuries before they stopped calling its use satanic), they invented algebra, and were even the first to formalize the scientific method. Islam, during its Golden Age, were at the forefront of advances in mathematics, astronomy, and architecture, amongst other things, at the same time Christians were burning witches, selling indulgences, and putting heretics to death.

    Of course, cheap caricatures and misrepresentations of other religions (not to mention atheism) by Christians doesn’t speak well for their own grip on rationality.

  94. Rationality and Christianity working together to end a great injustice and make life better by restoring liberty and freedom for thousands of people. Fancy that.

    That must be why it was the fundamentalists Christians have opposed reforms such as the abolition of slavery and support for civil rights. The fact that some more liberal Christians — i.e. those who were more open to the influence of the Enlightenment stood for the right things should be of little comfort in the face of the nearly 2000 year history of oppression and tyranny in name of Christianity.

  95. Ian

    Reading that speech made me cringe. Well, that will be fixed in English 101.

  96. @ Dreamer:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Islam’s so-called “golden age” pretty much driven by the non-Muslim (Jewish and Christian, mostly) scholars in residence in Toledo and other parts of Moorish Europe, Egypt, and parts of the Hellenic world?

    Tellingly, that age ended when Islamic fundamentalists started prohibiting what we would label “freedom of religion” and expelling the infidel scholars. The Jewish philosopher Maimonides wrote rather eloquently on this subject.

  97. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Islam’s so-called “golden age” pretty much driven by the non-Muslim (Jewish and Christian, mostly) scholars in residence in Toledo and other parts of Moorish Europe, Egypt, and parts of the Hellenic world?

    See for yourself:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_Golden_Age

    No doubt there were some non-Muslims involved, attracted to centers of learning that grew up at the time in Muslim lands, but that doesn’t refute the face that for several hundred years, Islamic society was a far more accommodating place for rational thinkers than the Christian world was. If there was no tolerance for rationality in Islam (which is the idiotic claim I was refuting) then none of this would have been possible.

    Tellingly, that age ended when Islamic fundamentalists started prohibiting what we would label “freedom of religion” and expelling the infidel scholars. The Jewish philosopher Maimonides wrote rather eloquently on this subject.

    Sure, and Christianity was no different, Galileo being one of many examples one could cite. Fundamentalists of all religious stripes are the enemies of rational thought. Who do you think wants to teach the creation myth as science in American public schools?

    Let’s face it, it’s religious fundamentalists who are the problem. It doesn’t matter what religion they belong to. Two of the greatest Protestant heroes, Martin Luther and John Calvin were, respectively, virulently anti-Semetic and, at least in part, responsible for the burning to death of a heretic. Not much Christian enlightenment there.

  98. Let’s face it, it’s religious fundamentalists who are the problem. It doesn’t matter what religion they belong to.

    Yup.

  99. Ema Nymton

    Steve D, do you realize you’re an incredible idiot? I mean, the average rock has a bit more smarts than you.

  100. adam

    Wait, I’m not sure I understand.

    So now what law respecting what religion would the Indiana state government have been establishing if they’d allowed these students to vote on having a (presumably) non-denominational prayer at school?

  101. Col

    @Brian Westley again. So I see you may have some issues with wearing a burka because I say so!
    Why is that Brian? And why is it not possible for muslim women to have that same freedom of choice that you have? Please tell me in a years time after you have done it as I commanded.

  102. @ Adam:

    Prayer, by its very nature, implies a certain type of religion. Specifically, one in which a personal super being with a personality listens to human requests for help. Furthermore, I doubt the prayer being put up for a vote was generically directed at “god or gods”, thus specifying a particular religious point of view – monotheism – yet further.

    The ploy that you call something “non-denominational” doesn’t negate the basic fact that prayer is in and of itself a religious activity, and the courts clearly state that such cannot be forced upon the public by a state sponsored school.

  103. Beryl

    adam, if the majority of the voters of Indiana voted to make it Presbyterian and the state followed through, it would be establishing Presbyterianism as the Indiana state religion. A public school, as a branch of the State, would have the same problem. Official prayers try to avoid this problem by being so blandly generic that they cannot be identified with any particular denomination.

    While in contexts other than schools, the Court has allowed that kind of prayer as an expression of “ceremonial deism,” the bland prayers really almost always end up elevating a kind of gutless “we all worship the same god” monotheism over other belief systems including strong sectarianisms and notheisms. A sufficient number of people adhere to gutless “we all worship the same god” monotheism that they do not notice that official prayers favor a particular belief system–particularly because they tend to believe that all religions are the same at heart–but the favoritism is there.

  104. adam

    @ 105. kuhnigget

    Prayer, by its very nature, implies a certain type of religion.

    We can argue all day about the differences between religion as a general paradigm of human behavior versus religion as, I’m assuming you’re referring to, a specifically nominal institution of ecclesiastic origin, leadership and organization. Simply saying the word “religion” means a lot. Your declaration of “implies a certain type” hardly seems like the basis of a whole host of questions about legislative constitutionality and legality. If you want to interpret, as it seems many do, “religion” to mean any objects or behavior relating to an unseen god or gods, then fine. I’m sure this isn’t what the authors had in mind when they wrote that word, but we’ll go with it. A non-denominational prayer directed at a “god” would fall under such a definition. But you haven’t answered my question. The first amendment states it pretty simply. I want to know what law has been established with respect to this behavior relating to an unseen god. The answer: none. So at any rate, a literal interpretation of the first amendment renders your argument against the school’s vote null.

    Here, I’ll explore my own question a bit so you can see exactly what I’m getting at. We’re compelled to accept Supreme Court decisions about the way we should interpret amendments. Helpfully, someone has provided some here already:

    Engel v. Vitale:

    These men knew that the First Amendment, which tried to put an end to governmental control of religion and of prayer, was not written to destroy either. They knew, rather, that it was written to quiet well justified fears which nearly all of them felt arising out of an awareness that governments of the past had shackled men’s tongues to make them speak only the religious thoughts that government wanted them to speak and to pray only to the God that government wanted them to pray to.

    I think we need not fear the federal nor Indiana state government “shackling men’s tongues” to speak to some ethereal notion of “government favored religion” in this case. If we are to allow liberal, flexible interpretations of amendments, should we not presume that praying to “god” allows its participants the same degree of freedom in interpretation?

    It is neither sacrilegious nor anti-religious to say that each separate government in this country should stay out of the business of writing or sanctioning official prayers and leave that purely religious function to the people themselves and to those the people choose to look to for religious guidance.

    A perfectly agreeable statement. But we’re not talking about “official” prayers put in place by a state board of regents granted legislative powers. There’s a clear difference between a unique, one-time, non-denominational prayer to a “god” during a graduation ceremony and what Justice Black is talking about. There are no “laws” or even official “recommendations” being put in place. It’s a big stretch to group the Indiana school’s prayer vote with the New York Regents’ prayer.

    Lee vs. Weisman:

    A reasonable dissenter of high school age could believe that standing or remaining silent signified her own participation in, or approval of, the group exercise, rather than her respect for it. And the State may not place the student dissenter in the dilemma of participating or protesting. Since adolescents are often susceptible to peer pressure, especially in matters of social convention, the State may no more use social pressure to enforce orthodoxy than it may use direct means. The embarrassment and intrusion of the religious exercise cannot be refuted by arguing that the prayers are of a de minimis character, since that is an affront to the rabbi and those for whom the prayers have meaning, and since any intrusion was both real and a violation of the objectors’ rights.

    I actually believe the logic of this statement is entirely fallacious with regards to the “dilemma.” But whatever. I’m not a Supreme Court justice. If we’re to believe that A) a non-religious student feels he or she cannot “sit out” due to embarrassment or “sit in” due to indignation at intrusion and B) the State cannot place a student in a position of protest or participation (due to said embarrassment or indignation, respectively) with regards to an activity that can in any way be construed as having something to do with religion, then yes, we’ll have to concede that any prayer type activity directed at any “god” figure is unconstitutional. Despite such an interpretation having virtually nothing to do with the actual text of the first amendment.

    Of course, the same reasoning could be used by parents to sue school boards for not teaching abstinence-only sexual education…

    I wanted to make it clear that there is no “separation of church and state” in the US Constitution as we think of it today. The modern purging of all mention of God or gods or whatever from any state institution or property has little to with the first amendment and everything to do with liberal (I don’t mean that ideologically) interpretations by the SC of the first amendment. Which is fine. As a patriotic, supportive American I respect their decisions even if I don’t necessarily agree with them. And I’ll abide by them. But I get tired of the faulty appeals to the first amendment alone as the reason there’s no mention of god in public schools–among everything else.

  105. @ Adam:

    I agree with you on this one:

    If we’re to believe that A) a non-religious student feels he or she cannot “sit out” due to embarrassment or “sit in” due to indignation at intrusion and B) the State cannot place a student in a position of protest or participation (due to said embarrassment or indignation, respectively) with regards to an activity that can in any way be construed as having something to do with religion, then yes, we’ll have to concede that any prayer type activity directed at any “god” figure is unconstitutional.

    And disagree with you on this one:

    Despite such an interpretation having virtually nothing to do with the actual text of the first amendment.

    Congress, and per the 14th amendment, states, cannot establish a religion. Period. Public schools are funded by the states (via the legislation that allows them to do so), and therefore cannot be used to establish a religion. This is entirely in line with the text of the first amendment. The Constitution is very clear on this matter, as were the men who wrote it.

    Furthermore, God or gods have not been purged from state institutions and property. If anything, there are even more recognitions of various religious traditions. Witness the inclusions of menoras and various other symbols in public parks. You never would have seen those back when I was a kid. But maybe, like Steve D, above, that’s what got you annoyed. It’s no longer your god on the pedestal?

    And I don’t know what schools you are familiar with, but I hear of god being talked about all the time in my local public school. Usually around finals time. He/She/It just cannot be presented by the school as the god toward which a student must pray by decree, but students are free to pray all they want.

  106. DaveS

    So many Islamic apologists point out that Christianity has a history similar to what’s going on in the Islamic world today. That it’s bad men, and not bad religion, that’s the problem.

    Fine. So why can’t the Islamic world get with the program? Why is it that a LOT of the barbaric people in the world today are using Islam, rather than any other religion, as their excuse for barbarism?

    I think it’s kind of funny how the Islamic apologists bring up the “Golden Age”. If Islam was so wonderful way back then, way ahead of Christianity, WHAT HAPPENED? ’cause CLEARLY the post-Christian west is more civilized NOW.

  107. @ DaveS:

    One of the problems with this whole “golden age of islam/golden age of christianity” what-have-you is that it tends to ignore the nonreligious aspects of those very same ages.

    “Christian” Europe during the renaissance did experience remarkable strides in humanistic development. And, as Dreamer pointed out above, during the era of the Caliphate, the largely Islamic empire that stretched from Persia to the Iberian peninsula also leaped forward. But much of what we find so remarkable about those eras had nothing to do with the religions that predominated among the majorities. Yes, people were Christian in Florence and Venice, and certainly the Church had the money to pay for great works of art, buildings, etc. But the Church had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the new world that was literally being invented all around them.

    I suspect it’s the same for the so-called golden age of islam. Was it Islam moving forward? Or the rest of the culture that Islam was a part of?

    Again, it seems very clear to me that both religions have the tendency toward reactionary conservativism and resist change. As others have pointed out above, many of what we consider some of the great leaps forward have been laregly secular causes. Not entirely, of course, but certainly it would be tough to characterize them as “Christian” movements or “Islamic” movements or “Pastafarian” movements.

    Could there be a correlation between the declining influence of organized religion (Christianity) in the West, the rising influence of organized religion (Islam) in the East, and the level of what we might call progress in both?

  108. Joe Bumpus

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    Everyone seems to forget the first few words – “Congress shall make no law”. Last I checked, a school administrator was not congress, and their decision not passing a law. I fully support the separation of church and state – but the founders said a prayer for guidance before each meeting of the first and second continental congress. They didn’t view this as hypocritical – they weren’t passing a law saying it had to be done, nor that anyone be forced to participate.

    I think the anti-religous crowd can be just at silly as the extreme right-wing evangelicals. If you’re going to attack the constitutionality of an action, at least be aware of what it says.

  109. Brian Westley

    @col writes:
    “@Brian Westley again. So I see you may have some issues with wearing a burka because I say so!
    Why is that Brian? And why is it not possible for muslim women to have that same freedom of choice that you have?”

    What “Freedom of choice”? YOU’RE the one insisting the government gets to tell them what they can’t wear. I’m the only one defending freedom of choice here.

    “Please tell me in a years time after you have done it as I commanded.”

    Neither you nor the government have that power. You seem to think the government DOES have that power. You’re a human dress-up doll.

  110. Nathan

    Dave, go read a history book. Religion is only part of it. That part of the world has the largest youth bulge in memory, and no jobs. They turn to Islam, because its there and offers them something besides relelntless boredom and it offers that most dangerous thing of all, hope. Islam is no worse than Christianity, its just younger. Yes, people point out the similarities because they are there. Is this supposed to excuse a religion from its acts? Of course not, and anyone who says so is just delusional. They were both wrong, and I’m glad to be quit of one, and never even entertained the idea of the other. But they are not very different.

  111. @ Joe Bumpus:

    Please read pretty much every other comment above yours.

    Note in particular those dealing with the 14th Amendment and how it extends 1st amendment protections from the federal level to the state level.

    As for the tradition of saying prayers in government meetings, true, that did happen. And it is no doubt that very tradition that led to the provisions in the Bill of Rights. The colonies and later the USA was pretty much a monoculture at that time. Few people were as vocal about their right to express, or not express, religious piety as they are today. (A notable exception being Thomas Paine. Read his “Age of Reason” for a real eye-opener about how progressive some of these guys really were.)

    But today’s US is no longer a monoculture. We live in an age that is admirably served by the provisions the founders so wisely put into the constitution. All the more reason to cherish and defend those very same provisions.

  112. Markle

    Since most of the posters here have at best a vague understanding of the Constitution and keep repeating what they think it says, or what they think it ought to say, let someone who HAS read it point out that the first word of the First Amendment is “Congress.” CONGRESS is prohibited from abridging freedom of speech, religion, the press, and assembly.

    Dude. This isn’t even Pot-Kettle-Black. It’s Pot calling the lime-green barcalounger black. The reason Congress is mentioned is because only Congress as the legislative body has(d)* the power to legislate and enact laws. The Executive is charged with enforcing and upholding those laws and the Judiciary with interpreting them and meting out fair judgements. The Appellate system is there to ensure fair treatment. As such, “the Congress” has been held to represent the government as a whole. This is something even strict constructionists like Scalia agree upon. There’s a couple hundred years of precedent on this.

    There is also a not-too-consistent tradition running that the judiciary is there to protect the minority from a Tyranny of the Majority. This is where the proponents of government sponsored prayer fail most mightily. Through a preponderance of hubris they assume that their views will reign. And they might be right, for a short time.

    It wasn’t the persecution of Christians by Jews or Muslims that brought our Founding Fathers to recognize the wisdom of separation of church and state. It wasn’t even so much the violence between Catholics and Protestants in England and France. It was the sectarianism between Protestants here in the colonies.

    We are a nation of laws. Constructed OF the people, BY the people, FOR the people . Big L libertarianists may disagree, but our government is designed to be ruled by us. Should we choose to cede it to others… that’s our problem to recognize and fix.

    You seem to think you have wondered into the Fox Fantasy Football forums where the average user’s intellectual curiosity peaked at age 13.

    *Executive Orders notwithstanding

  113. @110:DaveS:

    It’s almost pointless responding to DaveS since instead of answering the easy rebuttals to his claim that rationality and Islam cannot ever combine “(at all!) ” he simply moves the goalposts (and resorts to ad hominem attacks). The fact remains that many early scientific advancements were made by Muslim scholars in an age when Christianity reacted to science as if it was the spawn of the Devil himself. So even if rationality and Islam do not mix “at all” today (an assertion that I suspect many scientists working in Islamic countries would be more than happy to refute as well), then clearly it did so in the past.

    So many Islamic apologists point out that Christianity has a history similar to what’s going on in the Islamic world today.

    Many? I think I was about the only person who could be bothered to refute this foolishness, and I am not an apologist for any religion. I am an atheist and regard all religions to be equally and 100% wrong. I am even happy to admit that I live in a nation of mostly Christians as opposed to a Muslim country, but only because the Christian fundamentalists no longer have the power to impose their will on the rest of us.

    That it’s bad men, and not bad religion, that’s the problem.

    That’s a little hard to swallow, given that it took almost 1700 years since Christianity first became a state religion before Christianity was no longer imposed on everyone under threat of persecution, banishment, and even torture and death at times. Not to mention the support of absolute monarchs and dictators, slavery, racial discrimination, the suppression of women’s rights and so on. All of which were opposed by the Christian church during their abolition.

    Christianity finally got better when they began to reject and/or ignore most of the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments (e.g. they were no longer the law of the land) once it was clear that people were far better off not being shackled by Neolithic Age morality.

    Fine. So why can’t the Islamic world get with the program? Why is it that a LOT of the barbaric people in the world today are using Islam, rather than any other religion, as their excuse for barbarism?

    This has as much to do with geopolitics and history as it has religion, and requires a far longer answer and analysis than is possible in a single comment. As it is, there are more than a billion Muslims in the world, and the vast majority live in peace with their neighbors (Muslim and non-Muslim). As has been shown in Northern Ireland, Nigeria, and most notably in Rwanda, just in the last 25 years, the barbarism of a minority can be just as much a problem in Christian regions too.

    I think it’s kind of funny how the Islamic apologists bring up the “Golden Age”. If Islam was so wonderful way back then, way ahead of Christianity, WHAT HAPPENED? ’cause CLEARLY the post-Christian west is more civilized NOW.

    The religious fundamentalists won the day, that’s what happened. The West has been lucky that Christian fundamentalists have not been able to take over in the same way, and fortunately I think we’re past the time when that can happen.

    As it is, they can still cause a lot of mischief here in America, by subverting science and education for their own agendas, and it is an amazing fact that even in the 21st century in America, almost all national politicians are still deathly afraid to be seen as anything but devout Christians in case it spells the end to their career. There is one Muslim Congressman (in Detroit, which has a large Muslim population) and one openly declared atheist Congressman in California, and he only “came out” after 30 years in the job.

  114. Jessica

    phew,the comments are getting pretty out of control here. So I’ll just say that as a lifetime resident of Indiana and grad student at Purdue University, I’m relieved to see that we dodged a bullet here! Go Eric!

  115. Brian Westley

    Two Muslim congressmen, Detroit & Mpls.

  116. Oops — thanks for the correction, Brian.

  117. DaveS

    Dreamer, you’re jumping to a conclusion. I’m an atheist, too. Because that I condemn today’s Islam (and apologists) and ask why they’re so barbaric does NOT make me a Christian apologist. I’m very aware that Christianity has moved from extreme barbarism to what it is today, and that it took a very long and painful evil time to do that. But look up the term I used: “post-Christianity”.

    Oh, and “That it’s bad men, and not bad religion, that’s the problem” was meant to be attributed to Islamic apologists, not myself. Interesting that you would condemn Christianity, instead of the bad men throughout history using Christianity, but object to me condemning Islam on the same grounds.

    So Islam was ahead of the west at one period in history. What happened? Fundamentalism carried the day?. Okay, but WHY? Fundamentalism, real fundamentalism with teeth, not like modern Christian fundamentalism, is barbaric. Sharia law is barbaric. Why do any Islamic people stand for that, even welcome it?

    I don’t consider it “luck” that fundamentalist Christians don’t run things in the west. It civilization, culture. See “post-Christian” again. We’re a little behind Europe on this, here in the US, but we’re still WAY ahead of even civilized Islamic nations, like Pakistan, who can’t seem to control their homegrown militant fundamentalist Taliban, given the public support of it.

    You don’t see many Christian leaders issuing Fatwas to have people killed. That speech is actually illegal most anywhere in the west, and considered morally wrong by nearly all Christians, and everyone else, for that matter.

    Nathan, is your idea that since Islam is younger, it should be excused for being barbaric? I disagree. I’m not so much a cultural relativist to think that murder, repression of women, lack of compassion in law, and all the other complaints against the barbarism of Islam is OK in today’s world.

    Nathan, if you want to see what a youth bulge does in a Christian-majority nation, look at Romania. No Christian fundamentalism takeover, there, strictly secular, and the considerable violence confined within the country.

    There’s indeed a cultural fight going on in the US over education, abortion, etc. But very little blood is being spilled, and I just can’t compare school books with beheadings and statutory rape.

    As far as “Islam and rationality can’t mix”, that’s something I definitely didn’t write.

    Ad-hominem? I don’t think you know what that word means. I wasn’t belittling any particular person, just a viewpoint. Straw-man, maybe, but not ad-hominem. :-)

  118. As far as “Islam and rationality can’t mix”, that’s something I definitely didn’t write.

    Ugh — that wasn’t you — sorry about the misidentification.

    Ad-hominem? I don’t think you know what that word means. I wasn’t belittling any particular person, just a viewpoint.

    I know perfectly well what ad hominem means (even if I have trouble spelling it). I used it because you called me an apologist for Islam (specifically referring to things only I mentioned in a previous comment) simply for presenting a factual rebuttal to a specific point that (it turns out) someone else had made (about Islam never mixing with rationality) which was untrue.

    That was an unwarranted attack on me, and not my argument.

  119. DaveS

    I didn’t intend that criticism of Islam to be aimed at you. I didn’t quote you, I didn’t name you, I wasn’t even thinking of you when I wrote it. Another conclusion jump, on your part, and definitely not an ad-hominem attack.

    Although…

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

  120. Chris Lamb

    Phil, this picture makes more sense than yours. (I think.)
    http://img149.imageshack.us/img149/6114/notdoomed.jpg

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