Thursday, October 10, 2013

Another Local Flap With The Freedom From Religious Foundation

Most emphatically I am not a Theocrat. I believe in a practical separation of church and state. But I'm also something of an accomodationist when it comes to religion - just as so many of our nation's founders were and its 44 presidents have been.
The atheist movement has become more and more vocal in recent decades - which I think is fine, by the way - and have brought attention to several church/state issues that needed to be addressed. Mandatory prayer in public, taxpayer funded schools, is a good example. However, it seems to me that sometimes these folks get a little nit-picky.
Here is a story near my home that is developing:
Our local media has given much coverage recently to a local pastor who was invited to speak at a 9/11 memorial service that was being held at a local high school. Check out one example of the coverage here.
Someone complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation and within weeks foundation attorney Andrew Seidel became involved:
Essentially preaching a sermon to the children you know he quoted Luke 13:4 and the power of prayer, Jesus's response to 9/11, there's not much grey area here there's clearly a religious message and it's at a school sponsored event, therefore unconstitutional.
Church sponsored, but not mandatory as part of the curriculum, by the way.
As for whether or not this was a sermon (or merely a sarcastic characterization) I really can't say. Another report (see here) informs us that Pastor Alan Stewart mentioned "one bible verse and the word "God" six times" according to a transcript. I haven't access to that transcript and wasn't there so I really can't say a lot.
The Bible verse, quoting Jesus, was evidently Luke 13:4:
Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
That seems to me to be more of a philosophical than a purely religious text; but, to quote Attorney Seidel again, "Pastors only speak about religious issues for the most part" - which seems to make about as much sense as saying that attorneys only speak about legal issues for the most part.
What troubles me about these oft-repeated brouhahas is this: if teachers and students can't so much as mention God or religious concepts in the course of the education process, what makes it appropriate for our nation's legislatures and presidents to do this?
Okay, all this is boggy ground. And in response to this latest flap the school system has begun a retraining effort to hopefully avoid needless conflicts in the future. The FFF seems satisfied with that response. So now everybody is happy - except those who feel their right to free speech is being compromised.

I have e-mailed Pastor Stewart in an effort to get a transcript of what he actually said. I'll revisit this again if I am able to get that.


  1. I am increasingly bothered by the pettiness of some the issues the FFRF decides to address. Yes,I think they are on firm legal ground, but these actions hurt atheists in the court of public opinion. I think the FFRF should focus on issue with more substance and legal weight.

    Of course, I am an accomodationist so I know my view is despised and rejected by hardcore atheists. I think we need to choose our battles wisely.

    1. The FFF has been quite busy here in my neck of the woods. Of course there is a lot of religious bigotry here. But these people feel their religious freedom and free speech are in peril. I'm slowly becoming convinced that there is a growing movement within atheism that is out-and-out hostile towards religion in general and believers in God in particular. I believe the rights of both believers and unbelievers alike need to be protected and respected. In the meantime symbolic battles are the order of the day, I suppose.

  2. As always I enjoy your writing. It's nice to know there's someone out there who sees things like they should be seen.