What we do in the shadows…

(Title added recently)

January 30, 2006
It took me a while, but now I’d like to respond to this blog by Danny Carlton, in which he calls me and the Musgroves vampires. Carlton quotes an Associated Press article giving the basic details of the lawsuit against Brevard County over allowing graduations to take place in a church. Then he says: “So according to Judge Gregory Presnell bigotry and intolerance is constitutional?!? Since when? How much harm would it do these kids to see a cross or a Bible from a distance. What, are they vampires?”

Considering that Carlton is a deeply religious man, I find his insulting comments unsurprising (while at the same time feeling more respect for former President Jimmy Carter, another deeply religious man whose book I am reading, who would probably agree with the judge in this case).

Point 1: Judge Presnell did not say that bigotry and intolerance are constitutional. Carlton’s obfuscation is blatant and bizarre. The lawsuit was not about bigotry or intolerance; it was about separation of religion and government. The government can not compel any person to visit a church. By holding the solemn and important ceremony of graduation in a church, students and their families were compelled to choose between entering a house of Christian worship or missing this event.

[Let’s discuss voting in churches here to nip in the bud the arguments from those chomping at the bit: by law, churches opening their doors to voters must cover religious symbols. Also, voting absentee or early in little way renders the act any less patriotic, while graduating with one’s class in cap and gown imbues the ceremony with import and grants lifetime memories to the student and parents. Graduation from high school is a once-in-a-lifetime event.]

The government is not allowed to invite students to churches. Judges have already agreed that when assemblies are held in schools, the presenters are not allowed to invite the students to a church afterward, or to any event that is religious. Why? Because the school authorizes the assembly and by allowing the presenters to invite the students to a religious event, even held outside school hours and off school property, the school is thereby authorizing the religious invitation. And government schools can’t do that. They have no business inviting our children to attend religious events.

Graduation is similar. When the school program is held in a house of worship, on an altar, in front of an enormous cross, the school is giving the appearance of endorsing Christianity. And not all parents will be comfortable watching their children receiving diplomas against the backdrop of a religious symbol. Certainly not all students will feel welcome in that venue. Religion is divisive. Keep it out of government and government schools.

So, this has nothing to do with bigotry or intolerance, except that directed toward the Musgroves and me for standing up for the rights of all students and their parents to be free from religious coercion by the government.

Point 2: How much harm would it do these kids to see a cross or a Bible from a distance? (That, Mr. Carlton, is not your call. It is my decision what my children will learn regarding your cross and holy book.) But again, Carlton’s obfuscation is desperate. This is not about our kids seeing a cross or Bible “from a distance.” This is about being compelled to enter a house of worship for a solemn and important ceremony and enjoying a life-changing moment on an altar in front of an enormous Christian cross.

Point 3: No, we’re not vampires. Seeing a cross or a Bible doesn’t hurt us. If you can not understand why it is wrong to take a secular ceremony and move it to a church, I don’t know if there is any hope for you on this issue. But think about it this way: Can the school erect an enormous cross in its auditorium for graduation ceremonies? Of course not. So, it can not put the ceremony in front of a cross. If Palm Bay High School chose to use another school’s auditorium for graduation, would the kids feel comfortable graduating with, say, a huge wooden cut-out of Melbourne High School’s mascot with the letters MHS on it as a backdrop? Wouldn’t they cover that up? Of course they would. Why? Because symbols have meaning.

And there’s the rub. The church is God’s house when they don’t want to pay taxes on it or want to scream “hate crime” when someone vandalizes it. But when they want secular school students in it, suddenly it’s just a building. And the cross is their holy symbol, meant to show God’s greatest gift to mankind (self-torture), until they want students in the building for a solemn secular ceremony; then it’s just two sticks.

Would Carlton step up for religious freedom if his children’s graduation ceremonies were scheduled to take place in the American Atheists’ headquarters against the backdrop of a huge sign that reads: NO GODS? How about in the local Satanist Church with a pentagram behind the altar as well as on the floor upon which students will stand to receive diplomas? ….I thought so.

It’s very clear to me with whom the bigotry and intolerance lies.

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