Friday, February 18, 2011


Jumping Off the Cliffs of Dover

The Giles County (Virginia) School Board is about to "pull a Dover."

Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is at its blog, The Wall of Separation, pointing out that the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have warned the district that they have plaintiffs lined up and are prepared to sue over the board's insistence on posting the 10 Commandments in all the district's schools.

The Washington Post's Higher Education column has a history of the brewing fracas:

Nearly 12 years ago, in the aftermath of the shootings at Columbine High School, officials quietly posted the Ten Commandments on the walls of Giles County public schools. It was a natural reaction, said residents of this rural county peppered with churches, to such an alarming moral breakdown.

There the commandments stayed, within nondescript frames that also featured the first page of the U.S. Constitution, stirring little controversy until December. That's when an anonymous complaint prompted the superintendent to order the removal of the displays. The decision sparked such passionate community backlash that the county school board voted to post them again in January.

The Associated Press is reporting that the school board took its action despite the advice of its own attorney that Christian displays represent unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

Curious, I went looking for information and found what appears to be the official minutes of the school board meeting of January 20, 2011.

With the caveat that the minutes are not a transcript and some of the ideas of the proponents of the Commandment may have been garbled, it is fascinating nonetheless.

There is the usual "Christian Nation" bafflegab. The US is one nation under God (which comes from the Pledge of Allegiance, not any founding document, and only as it was amended in the 1950s) that just happens to be their God. One thing I was looking for but could not find is just which 10 Commandments they put up ... the Jewish, Orthodox, Roman Catholic/Lutheran or Anglican, et al?

And it is the children's God given right to have the state inveigle them with religious beliefs so their parents don't have to be bothered. But it's apparently working because some of the students had a letter read to the board claiming:

Taking down the Ten Commandments is like taking away the freedom of religion for all of us, not just students, not just the parents of these students, but future students. People that don’t believe in God do not have to participate in religious activities at our schools anymore because these have already been taken away. The Ten Commandments is a historical document that is held as a holy document as well to Christians, but first it is a historical document. By hanging the Ten Commandments in our schools, we are showing the history of our nation and what it was founded on, God. No one is forced to read this document.

Because, you see, it's the religious freedom of the majority to have the government make people who don't believe in gods or who believe in the "wrong" God feel like outsiders and second-class citizens. It is also the majority's right to keep the children in public schools ignorant of American history ... at least that is what they've obviously done in Giles County.

Then there was Eric Gentry, who stated he "grew up with prayer still in schools ... still had paddling, which I still think should be done ... [w]e turned out all right" but then went on to say:

Now let me speak to you as Eric Gentry, as a Chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Giles County. I talked to all of my board members last night and today. Don’t remove them. We are behind you. We would rather fight the ACLU or whoever would come up than have one anonymous coward who would not even sign the letter come in and tell us how to run our schools. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out and don’t know if it’s going to go that far, but you know you have our support as county people and citizens.”

Now, dollars to donuts, when Mr. Gentry took his oath of office, he swore, probably on a Bible, to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Apparently, all those prayers and paddlings didn't make him moral enough to fulfill his oath.

But this is the killer:

[School Board Chairman J.D.] Buckland stated that “no board member wanted to do this, but we have an attorney and he advised us. We do try to abide by the law and want our children to understand that there are laws in this country. This law comes from the federal court and we pay an attorney dear, but we have had an assurance from Giles County Board of Supervisors, and most people in this room, if a suit is filed, you will foot the bill, correct?”

So what the school board and the parents want their children to know is that the laws in this country apply unless you don't like them and, if so, you can safely ignore them as long as somebody else is going to pay the consequences.

Putting up the 10 Commandments is supposed to instill morals in the children. The adults of Giles County pretty much disprove that hypothesis.


"dollars to donuts"

I think that expression's days are numbered. It's not really much odds these days, is it?
This looks like tribalism, with the Ten Commandments being defended, not because it is an historical document nor even because it provides moral guidance, but because it is a tribal emblem.

The Washington Post article refers to a relatively recent immigrant to Giles County:

Some consider Jonathan Jochem to be such an outsider. An ACLU member, he moved to Giles County from Chicago 11 years ago and quickly fell in love with the open spaces and the generous people. "They're good Christians in the best sense of the word," he said. "But their knowledge of the Constitution is distorted."

Jochem is probably right in that the people of Giles County are good and generous people - to members of their own tribe. He might be shocked, though, by the lack of goodness and generosity extended to outsiders.

I wonder how many of those who lynched blacks in the aftermath of the Civil War were considered good people by family and friends and had copies of the Bible and displays of the Ten Commandments in their homes and churches.

This seems to be as much about local resentment at being told what to do by outsiders as it is about religious freedom. They appear not to care that that under the Constitution they claim to revere freedom of religion must also mean freedom from religion.
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