Once Again Re: The Direction of Imposition

This started out as a comment to my previous post on the topic, but it began to feel more like a post in its own right.
As usual, our left-leaning readers have got me all wrong. I have absolutely no problem with any religion having an exclusive prayer posted in public schools, even with required recitation each morning provided there is no national policy that prevents the same for other religions. That is, let some community somewhere implement daily Muslim prayers, as long as there is no longer an ACLU veto on Christianity elsewhere.
If God blesses a minority-religion community with smarter, better adjusted, and more economically productive young adults as a result, perhaps the rest of the country would benefit from the example. (Go ahead and argue against that proposition without founding your argument in some article of faith.)
For my own community — that in which I pay taxes and am registered to vote — I would advocate for support (maybe even encouragement) of individual exploration and articulation of beliefs, with all given equivalent rights to public expression, and the added proviso that traditions already in place require the democratic process (not threats of lawsuits or judicial fiats) to change. If there’s a banner, if there’s a traditional appearance by the Easter Bunny, if there’s an annual Hanukkah festival, then the entire community should agree to ending it.
As much as it pains me to use the “m” word with reference to my own stance, you don’t get much more moderate than the above. Unfortunately, ideologues have succeeded in convincing a broad swath of people (especially in the Northeast) that their extremism is the default for all right-thinking people.

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Max Diesel
Max Diesel
11 years ago

The irony in all of this is liberals preach (no pun intended) tolerance of race, sexual orientation, and religion, well, as long as its not Christianity. I’m not a religious person but I don’t see how this offends or promotes a religion. This banner is so generic it could fit any number of religions. Tell me again how many decades it hung in place? Isn’t it part of the schools history at this point? Did the writers of the 1st Amendment have this in mind when they wrote the “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof?”

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

If you think about it,secular humanism is a belief system being forced on students in public schools.
BTW why is it ok for public school students in some locations to be forced to attend “Moslem for a day”programs?
What is a religion but a belief system anyway?
When I was young,I recall that although we had school prayer,mention of God,etc.we also had promotion of the United Nations as somehow better than the US what with UN Day and field trips and all that BS.
Now maybe that’s not related to religion,but it is political indictrination.
As far as the banner,why not go by the principle of”if it isn’t broken,don’t fix it”?I suspect some busybody didn’t have enough to keep them busy.
Pretty soon Steven Brown will be going after homeowners who display religious symbols where they might offend someone on a public street.Don’t laugh-he is a miserable human cancer on this state.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

So a non-religious individual wants to be a state prosecutor. Went to a good college, good law school, worked hard, got good grades, worked every summer to get legal experience. The district attorney’s office calls him up and says that they loved his resume and they want him to come in for a person-to-person interview. He walks into the building and there is a giant bronze-plated cross with Jesus on it in the lobby with “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” emblazoned underneath it, paid with taxpayer money. The district attorney comes out and shakes his hand, takes him back into his office where the ten commandments and biblical imagery hang on the walls, again taxpayer funded. “Son, we’re all impressed with what you’ve accomplished so far. We think you have the potential to be a great prosecutor here. But what is truly required of a prosecutor is to get your strength each and every day knowing that you carry out God’s will and walk the path of the righteous. Do you love Jesus with all your heart?” “Uh, I was brought up Roman Catholic sir.” “Well nobody here would hold that against you. We have two Catholics working here now, Joseph and Enrique have fit into the office well. But my question is do you attend church regularly? It’s important that we are seen in the community as good God-fearing church-goers.” “I’m not a member at the moment, no, sir.” “Well, why not?” “I don’t know. I just haven’t gotten around to joining yet.” “Well, I’ll tell you what, we’ll fix that right away. I know the priest at Saint Ray’s very well. It’s a good congregation.” “Oh, that’s alright, thank you for your offer. Right now it’s just not right for… Read more »

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

I don’t see how “non-denominational” makes any difference in these scenarios since the existence of one god instead of many gods or no gods at all is itself a religious belief and assertion. It doesn’t help the agnostic or atheist or Hindu or Buddhist if he is free to choose “any monotheistic religion” he pleases. The principle involved is exactly the same, it’s just a matter of how specifically the religious preference is being expressed.

Andrew
Editor
11 years ago

Dan,
You are describing something that is a religious test for holding public office which is prohibited in the Rhode Island state constitution (and the Federal Constitution, as well) in a clause distinct from those prohibiting the state establishment of religion. So despite your claim of self-evident equivalence between the a religious test and the Cranston West banner, at the time that people were taking these ideas seriously enough to write them into constitutions, they were seen as separate situations.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Andrew, there are actually three different (but related) scenarios in my hypothetical, while you address only one of them. Since some of the commenters here consider a public school endorsement of monotheism to be below the line, I’m simply trying to figure out what would be considered over the line. Several have mentioned that as long as a state endorsement of monotheism is “non-denominational” it’s okay (against case law), and I’m sure someone will be happy to argue that what Mr. District Attorney is doing is okay as long as he accepts any type of Christian, monotheistic religion, whatever, as some sort of basis for morality. I personally think the banner is unconstitutional and pretty clearly so, so when you bring up the unconstitutionality of religious tests for public office, my response is: yeah, I know, so is the banner. Legal aspects aside, I just want to know how commenters here feel about this since an in-your-face public religious banner makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Would they support this kind of thing going on in public offices in some communities? Why or why not?
Once we start adding “with sheets” to the “No animal shall sleep in a bed” rules of the farmyard, it’s just a matter of time in my mind before we end up with “All religious viewpoints are equal, but monotheistic religious viewpoints are more equal than others.”

Andrew
Editor
11 years ago

Dan,
OK, now the the religous test aspect of the question has been separated out, let’s consider your hypothetical interviewees second interview of the day. During this interview, the interviewer says. “There’s no place for God or any other expression of the opiate of the masses in this office. Here, we understand that our job is part of the inevitable class struggle, and our goal is to make sure whatever the government does correlates with the impersonal dielectic material forces of history, that must eventually bring about a proletarian paradise on earth”.
Bad philosophy on which to run an office? Yes. Unconstitutional? No, not even under the “religious test” doctrine. But at some point, demanding that every last vestige of religion be banned by government, while allowing other ideas about what is universal to be expressed, utilized and even endorsed by government becomes overt discrimination by government against religious belief, and that is not allowed.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

That’s the distinction though, government isn’t “banning” religion at all, even in its own halls. Government just can’t be a vehicle through which one religion is advanced or favored over others. And no, “non-denominational” doesn’t magically make it okay because monotheism is still a religious viewpoint. The religious students can have a prayer together in a vacant classroom during lunch or after school, and it would actually be unconstitutional for government to discriminate against that and intervene. Just as long as the school in its official capacity isn’t using taxpayer funds for religion (which the banner does) or forcing people to adopt religious statements overtly or by association (which the banner also does) then it is fine. Why do Christians then have to go that extra mile and hijack government for their own purposes to beat other people over the head with it? Why can’t they just practice privately and be happy with that? If a private group hung up the banner in the school and other banners were also allowed, that would be fine with me and the Supreme Court. Why does the school itself have to fund it and endorse it? What is the value supposed to be there to the non-religious students? The even more persuasive flip-side of “it’s not a big deal, so why do you care that I put a banner up” is “I agree it’s not a big deal, so why did you put it up in the first place”?

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
11 years ago

Dan,
That was quite a huge dodge of the question that Andrew put to you. Consider it re-asked by me.
Apart from that, though, the entire discussion starting with your hypothetical skirts what I take to be the salient point: Am I fine with the DA’s actions? Well, I don’t have enough information. What level of government are we talking about? And am I within the office’s jurisdiction?
Perhaps a community’s legal department operating under a Christian banner will prove more fair, more efficient, more restrained with respect to expanding government power, and generally more successful at serving the public interest. I don’t happen to think so and wouldn’t want my community to stand as the experiment, but I’m not sure why you or I should have the authority to impose that speculation on all 3.8 million square miles of the United States, provided all citizens of the U.S.A. are permitted (1) to work to change the government under which they live, (2) retain their own property, and (3) move elsewhere.

Rosie
Rosie
11 years ago

Let’s apply the Lemon Test:
1) Does the banner have a secular legislative purpose?
Well, the origins of this banner didn’t have a secular legislative purpose, but now the argument is that there is one? The argument that it should remain because its historical nature is also a logical fallacy. If we want to be historically honest, we need to admit that this banner’s purpose was to reject atheism and those who weren’t religious. But all of a sudden it’s a symbol of openness and erudition? I don’t buy it.
2) Is the banner’s principal or primary effect one that neither advances nor inhibits religion?
How can it? The reference to a “heavenly father” is monotheistic in nature and that’s a stretch. The language clearly comes from the Lord’s Prayer. Jews and Muslims wouldn’t subscribe to it. Sounds like advancing monotheism if not just Christianity to me. Too bad if you’re an atheist or Hindu.
3) Does the banner foster an excessive government entanglement with religion?
Prayer in public schools cannot require prayer. Is this banner not a prayer? Sounds like one to me. This banner probably shouldn’t even be allowed under the Equal Access Act, as all students are required to see it.
Moreover, the “Under God” clause in the Pledge of Allegiance will probably be thrown out in the next decade because of its violation of the Establishment Clause. The Pledge of Allegiance is optional and doesn’t apply adjectives to God that are Christian in nature. This banner crosses the line even more.
So does the banner pass? No, it clearly fails all three prongs of the Lemon test. If it fails even one, it’s unconstitutional. Whether you disagree with parts of this argument, I think it would be difficult to disagree with all three.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
11 years ago

I reject the Lemon Test, no matter how many prongs it has. What is your authority for imposing it on communities to which you have never been, probably will never be, and probably will never even know exist? How does it serve the interest of your freedom?
Call it what you will. I’m sure every totalitarian impulse has all sorts of technical criteria by which to impose its will on unwilling people.

Rosie
Rosie
11 years ago

So how would you feel if the banner made certain students and their families at this high school uncomfortable? Is your logic that the majority who is most vocal should win out?

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Justin – I’m honestly not sure what question you are referring to. If you mean Andrew’s counter-hypothetical illustrating that religious beliefs aren’t so different from a lot of political beliefs, I thought he was just making the point, not asking for my thoughts on it.
I actually agree with him, there is no easy distinction between traditional faiths and various political philosophies (marxism, progressivism, facism, socialism, etc.) that simply replace God with an omnipotent state authority. I assume the reason the framers of the Constitution specifically prohibited government from establishing or advancing religion is that historically the Churches had such a corrupting role on governments past. It might not be the most principled and philosophically consistent line in the world, but it was what they saw as prudent at the time given their own experiences and understanding. I’m not really an originalist because, while I believe there are many restrictions upon government in the Constitution that are great ideas, it doesn’t go nearly far enough protecting individual liberties (e.g. abuse under the Commerce Clause).
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. I really just want to be left alone. If I didn’t have to pay for public schools then I wouldn’t care whether there is a banner hanging up or even prayers being led. As long as people can opt out of these activities and aren’t being retaliated against based upon them by an authoritarian monopoly power, I’m fine with them. This whole issue, like homosexual marriage, is just a tragedy of the commons mess created by government overreach in the first place in my book. Scale back government and you will have far less of these disputes over how to use the government gun.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
11 years ago

Dan,
This is very interesting:

I assume the reason the framers of the Constitution specifically prohibited government from establishing or advancing religion is that historically the Churches had such a corrupting role on governments past.

Shouldn’t that mean that the nondenominational attribute of the banner is, in fact, relevant?

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
11 years ago

Rosie,
Re. question 1: The teaching of evolution makes some students and families uncomfortable; the teaching of sex ed makes some students and families uncomfortable; the historical fact (founded in injustice, certainly) that the great majority of the significant accomplishments of Western civilization have been by white men makes some students and families uncomfortable. When is comfort legitimate grounds for federal imposition of policy?
Re. question 2: Well, a vocal majority has to count for something in a democracy, I’d say. But even if a vocal majority shouldn’t always win out, I’m not sure that means that a vocal minority should. I’m further not sure why it means that you, me, and the federal government can tell people across the country who ought to win.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

That’s a fair point that goes to intent behind the banner. In this particular case it’s a bit weaker because “Heavenly Father” has heavy Christian implications and therefore I wouldn’t really consider it non-denominational. Either way, it doesn’t help those like me who don’t believe in anything resembling a heavenly father in the first place. I don’t buy the historical/cultural argument in this case – it’s the difference between having a “whites only” sign from the 50’s behind glass with a plaque next to it explaining the origin and a “white’s only” sign from the 50’s that is still being used to keep blacks out. The banner was a “screw you” to atheists in the 60’s and it’s still a “screw you” today. I can shrug it off because this particular instance isn’t physically harming anyone, but I’d rather my government not be used for such purposes because it can create a hostile environment through government funds and facilities (my hypothetical above). Beyond that, I don’t understand why it’s necessary for Christians to do these things in the first place. Just practice privately and leave everyone else alone.

Andrew
Editor
11 years ago

Rosie,
The problem with the “uncomfortable” standard is that it can apply to more than just the “Heavenly Father” line in the banner.
Here’s an excerpt from the middle section…

[Grant us each day the desire…]

To be honest with ourselves as well as with others,

Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win.

If uncomfortableness, or even plain old non-belief in the content of the message on the part of a student or parent requires the banner to be removed, then what happens in the case of a parent who makes a complaint based on the fact that he’s uncomfortable with the school forcing his child to read what he thinks are wussy ideas about being a good sport, when he wants his child to know that he should lie, cheat and steal, if that’s what it takes to win, because winning is all that matters.
Obviously, a school should defend its right to convey a different message. But while it is clear that in our constiutional system that the government cannot establish the beliefs of a single religion as the basis of that broader message, it is equally clear that requiring that any mention of religion be taken out of public view when messages about universal ideals are discussed, while secular or utilitarian justifications in defense of the universal are allowed to be promoted, is discrimination against religious belief.

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

These theo-phobic radical atheists should stop panicking and grow the hell up.
The banner was put up with the approval of all concerned at the time and has become a part of the school’s tradition.
Like it or not, the judaeo-christian tradition is the basis of the Western culture that says you have the right to whine as you are doing. How ironic, then, that you attack it so viciously. Would you prefer an Islamic tradition in which your agitation against the banner would result in gruesome capital punishment?
Have you no sense of irony? Are you so blind to your own hypocrisy?
But just because you have the free speech right doesn’t mean you have to do it, and all your whining says a lot about you – things you probably don’t want associated with your reputation but you can’t unring the bell now. Your raging against any form of religious expression reveals you to be thoughtless, shallow, materialistic and greedy little people who want to deprive others of their centuries-long, valuable traditions just because you aren’t mature enough to deal with them.
I’m not even a Christian, and your unprincipled, hypocritical behavior disgust me. Hey, that means you’re offending me! Perhaps then you should be muzzled for engaging in offensive speech yourselves!
Oh, I forgot – you have no sense of either irony or your own hyprocrisy, so you didn’t get that last bit. Well, tough noogies.

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

These theo-phobic radical atheists should stop panicking and grow the hell up.
The banner was put up with the approval of all concerned at the time and has become a part of the school’s tradition.
Like it or not, the judaeo-christian tradition is the basis of the Western culture that says you have the right to whine as you are doing. How ironic, then, that you attack it so viciously. Would you prefer an Islamic tradition in which your agitation against the banner would result in gruesome capital punishment?
Have you no sense of irony? Are you so blind to your own hypocrisy?
But just because you have the free speech right doesn’t mean you have to do it, and all your whining says a lot about you – things you probably don’t want associated with your reputation but you can’t unring the bell now. Your raging against any form of religious expression reveals you to be thoughtless, shallow, materialistic and greedy little people who want to deprive others of their centuries-long, valuable traditions just because you aren’t mature enough to deal with them.
I’m not even a Christian, and your unprincipled, hypocritical behavior disgust me. Hey, that means you’re offending me! Perhaps then you should be muzzled for engaging in offensive speech yourselves!
Oh, I forgot – you have no sense of either irony or your own hyprocrisy, so you didn’t get that last bit. Well, tough noogies.

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