Democrats & Liberals Archives

Freedom, Not Interference with Freedom

As I have said in a previous post, to be called true freedom one person’s freedom must not interfere with another person’s freedom. Many on the right, especially the religious right, have distorted this idea of freedom. They insist on a concept of religious freedom that interferes with the religious freedom of those of different faith.

The religious right, represented by Evangelicals like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and some Catholics such as Senator Sam Brownback and Senator Rick Santorum, have a very different conception of religious freedom. George Lakoff, in "Whose Freedom," expresses their view pretty well:

"Freedom of religion implies the freedom to practice one's religion - to proselytize, to control your children's education, to do charitable work, and to act so as to follow God's plan by creating a society consistent with fundamentalist Christian values."

All very good - as long as they do not interfere with the freedom of religion of other people. Proselytizing often interferes. So does control of children's education. "Creating a society with fundamentalist Christian values" greatly interferes with the religious freedom of most people living in the U.S.

Roughly 76.5% of the U.S. population is Christian. Evangelicals are about 25%, but many like former President Jimmy Carter, are not part of the religious right. Add a few religious-right Catholics and you could not have more than 15 - 20% of the population. These holy people are trying to force the rest of us to conform to their dogma. This is not religious freedom.

People on the religious right want to have public prayer in the schools. Yes, religious freedom says they have a right to pray at any time at any school, as long they do it privately. Privately, because they should not interfere with the religious freedom of the Christians in other denominations, the Jews, the Muslims, the Buddhists and those who do not profess any religion.

People on the religious right believe that abortion is a sin. Well, if they believe this, then they are free to not have an abortion. But they have no right to interfere with the religious practices of people of different faiths that allow abortion, or with people who follow no religion. They have no right to impose their religious dogma on others.

People on the religious right want the schools to teach intelligent design. If schools succumb to their urgings, this will interfere with the entire scientific establishment and to all the parents who want their children to get a well-rounded education. This is interference on a large scale.

I am not against religion. I am for religious freedom. Religious freedom means freedom for ALL people, not merely for those who scream the loudest. Religious freedom means that you may worship or not worship in your own way, providing you do not interfere with the religious freedom of other people.

Posted by Paul Siegel at August 18, 2006 6:00 PM
Comment #176355

As a Christian I believe that God gave us free will, the ability to believe or not believe. It is wrong for the religious right to force their beliefs of others.

Posted by: mark at August 18, 2006 6:28 PM
Comment #176356

oops, on others

Posted by: mark at August 18, 2006 6:29 PM
Comment #176362


How wonderful that the 1st Amendment is for you, but not for them. I understand that you want to limit the freedom of speech to suit your wants and desires…but somehow, I don’t think it’s set up that way. If you have free speech, then they do too.

Live with it.

Look, all the “religious right” want to do is to TALK to you about Jesus.

I wish you were as upset with telemarketers who only want to talk to you about buying insurance. Or a vacuum cleaner. Or 15 free CDs when you join the club.

I, myself, am glad that the “quote—-religious right—-end quote” only want to TALK to me about Jesus.

If I lived elsewhere and I rejected the deity being pushed on me, I could be shot, stabbed, hung, murdered, beheaded or kidnapped. All in the name of the “religion of peace”.

So if you happen to be someone who wants to TALK to me about your religion, my ears are open…because I am a firm supporter of the 1st Amendment…and that includes your right, Paul, to free speech as well.

Posted by: Jim T at August 18, 2006 7:03 PM
Comment #176363

But that’s exactly the point, isn’t it, Jim?

Telemarketers don’t have the right to instigate a conversation with me - that’s why we have no-call lists, unlisted phone numbers, and the like. It’s technically against the law to send an unsolicited fax, as well.

As the hoary old saw states, your right to swing your fist ends at my face. One’s religion cannot be an excuse to violate the rights of others, including the right to be left alone.

And your tripe about being stabbed, burned, whatever in other countries is moot - this is, last I checked, the United States of America. “We’re better than Saudi Arabia” makes for thin soup, indeed.

The truth is, I don’t ever want to hear about your god, whoever she is.

Posted by: Arr-squared at August 18, 2006 7:16 PM
Comment #176364

Good post. It is a shame that so many Christians subscribe to this sort of religion. Nevertheless, there are some points I disagree with.

1)abortion=murder. At the point of conception, the baby (fetus) has a unique genetic code. It is a separate entity. To abort a pregnancy is to murder that baby. I will not say anything about the morning after pill or Plan B because I am not a doctor and I do not know how they work.

2)What is public prayer in schools? Is it “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance? That’s not anything remotely resembling a prayer. I doubt if very many people actually want students to pray in public school. Whats the big deal about “under God?” A vast majority of Americans believe we are “under God.” It does not say, “under the Christian God.” You can define “God” anyway you want. It is not an infringement on religious freedom.

-Intelligent Design is stupid. It is creationism. People who want their kids to learn creationism should send them to a Christian school, or teach their kids themselves. Learning evolution probably won’t destroy their faith.

-It is a great shame to the Church that it focuses so much on creating a Christian society and focuses so little on charitable work, which is left to a select group, “called by the Holy Spirit,” which leaves everyone else free to attend anti-gay or anti-abortion rallies. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality or abortion, to the best of my knowledge. He mentioned helping the poor just about every time he spoke. It pretty clear where his priorities lie. Where should Christians’ priorities lie if not in direct allignment with his?

Posted by: Silima at August 18, 2006 7:18 PM
Comment #176370

Om mani padme hum. Let us begin to teach the four noble truths and the eightfold path, and skip all those other religions. Buddhism should be the only religion taught in school, as it does not interfere with all the rotten murdering bastards who pretend to be religious when it suits them, quote the holy book of Aaron Sorkin, Studio 60 on the Sunset strip, pilot episode:

MATT(played by Matthew Perry)… you put on a dress and sang for a bigot.
HARRIET I sang for his audience, not every one of whom is necessarily the grotesque stereotype you’d like them to be. Most of these people have nothing except their faith, and that moves me.
MATT Throw in the Halloween costumes and you got yourself a Klan rally.

Abortion is the decision of someone who has the right to decide what is allowed to grow inside of her.

Under God is unnecessary, one nation indivisible makes a more important statement at this time, as in other times in our history.

Posted by: ohrealy at August 18, 2006 8:49 PM
Comment #176373

I thought this was a political forum, not a theological one.

Paul, shame on you for venting on a subject you know will be inflammatory and divisive and have as many opinions as there are stars in the sky.

This is a new low.

Posted by: Ilsa at August 18, 2006 9:22 PM
Comment #176375

Preventing mandated prayer in schools is one thing, but what about the recent case where the school plugged the plug on a valedictorian’s speech because she planned to speak about her faith? I’m an agnostic, but I think she should have been allowed to complete her speech. As a student, her views represented her own and not the schools or any authority receiving state money. I think we need to take the First Amendment very very seriously. I agree that mandated prayer in schools does represent state-money used to sponsor a particular religion.

Abortion is not murder. Murder is a legal term, and abortions are the law of the land. It is more correct to speak of killing. Let’s not flinch from stating it clearly. At some point in the pregnancy, it is not inaccurate to speak of killing an unborn baby. I wish Roe vs. Wade had a bit more nuance to it. Over the last couple of decades, my postion has altered and I now think the state has the right to protect viable life. The exact line is debatable, as is everything, but imo at the third trimester, I think abortions should be illegal. I have absolutely no problems with Plan B or any other “after morning” method. The abortion issue involves a balancing of the fetus’/baby’s right and the mother’s right to self-determiniation.

Two tough issues on which I have modified my views over the years.

Posted by: Trent at August 18, 2006 9:35 PM
Comment #176397

Trent: I appreciate the sentiment of your remarks, especially your desire for nuance. I would like to explain the nuance in the case valedictorian whose speech was “unplugged.” First, a valedictory speech is, under the law, a school sponsored forum. Second, she was free to speak of her faith individually, to as many individuals as she wanted; however, it was not appropriate to a valedictory speech. It should be noted, she had agreed to refrain from interjecting her faith into the speech. Religious speech and prayer within a public school setting are only prohibited when that appears to be sanctioned by the school.

Yes, it would be nice to have greater nuance in Roe. However, it was considered highly nuanced (and criticized for it) when written. BTW, Roe does exactly what you ask: premits restrictions in the third trimester. The problem in abortion issues is that any determination of the fetus as a “life” is inherently a religious one. In Roe, “viability” was an attempt to address this issue scientifically. Unfortunately it, too, presents its problems.

Finally, it is important to note that the religious right has nothing to do with Christianity. It is, rather, a political movement pursued under the guise of religion.

Posted by: Dr. Poshek at August 19, 2006 12:52 AM
Comment #176399

Dr. Poshek,

Yes, I didn’t phrase my thoughts very well. I was desribing, poorly I think, how my views had changed from about abortion. I should have said that in my view that all states should make abortion in the third trimester illegal. (With certain exceptions, of course, sigh.) Even saying this much makes me wince; I’ve thought of myself as a feminist for many years and I know my liberal friends would be dismayed to hear me say that.

I understand that the speech was given at a school-sponsored forum, but I guess it is compelling to me that the student herself was not an employee of the state, and I have a distate for the notion of telling this very bright young woman what she could or could not say. I think there is a clear difference between such a situation and time set aside at state expense specifically to proslytize (unless, of course, all groups had equal access). I don’t know. A valedictorian speech is just one part of the event; I don’t see how the state could be perceived as supporting one religion, unless, of course, the school played favorites. I would have praised the student for speaking her mind and challenging the school, frankly, but I have a subversive streak. I’m glad she continued even without the loud system. Honestly, Dr. Poshek, if my daughter had done that, I would have been proud, even though I don’t believe in a god. So, legally, you are probably correct. But I still think it was a powerful First Amendment statement. Your claim that discussing her faith in her speech was not appropriate is either a legal or value statement. If a value, well, there are values and values, you know?

Posted by: Trent at August 19, 2006 1:19 AM
Comment #176412

While it may not have been the intent of the valedictorian to proslytize, you must consider the position of the speaker… she is looked upon as the best and brightest of her class… valedictorian speeches are typically designed to define the graduating class and to set a direction for them.
Would you have been as concerned with the censorship if she had touted the Branch Davidian dogma as taught by Koresh? What if she had preached the Muslim doctines as taught by the Taliban? I’m an athiest, perhaps you might even call me an anti-theist, but I STILL would not like to hear MY religious beliefs sermonized in a valedictorian speech. It is not the time or place.
Roe v. Wade needs no additional nuance because it is only colaterally about abortion. Primarily it is about a woman’s right to choose when and if she will carry a fetus to term. Roe v. Wade made the distinct clarification that a fetus, REGARDLESS OF ANY UNIQUE DNA IMPRINT, is NOT a human being until it is a viable entity.

Posted by: Thom Houts at August 19, 2006 5:59 AM
Comment #176414

Communisum and Religiousisum is one and the same with the right in other words everybody must go along with (Their Program) or else be a traitor to (Their government) and or to (Their god).

Sorry if I misspelled but I’m too tired from working hard to make up for their refusal to pay their fair share of taxes since Bush took office.

Posted by: ICE T. at August 19, 2006 7:33 AM
Comment #176416

Murder is more than just a legal term. It is the intentional killing of the innocent. Abortion IS murder.

Posted by: traveller at August 19, 2006 8:28 AM
Comment #176419

There are two logically-consistent views of graduation speeches:

1) It’s the school speaking — The school administration can edit the speech as they wish, and cut off the mic if the student strays significantly from the text.

2) It’s the student speaking — The student says whatever she wants (aside from certain exceptions like using profanity or inciting a riot). If the students wants to credit her success in school to Our Dark Lord Satan, that is acceptable being she is just stating her own point of view.

People on the pro-religious side, pretend they are subscribing to 2), but are they willing to walk the walk? Will they let the valedictorian credit her success to the Devil? Otherwise, it’s not free speech.

Posted by: Woody Mena at August 19, 2006 8:41 AM
Comment #176421

>>I thought this was a political forum, not a theological one.

If there where not people pushing to get religion in the political process most likely he would not have felt the need to post this.
Respectfully , W.E. Savage

Posted by: THE SAVAGE at August 19, 2006 8:50 AM
Comment #176422

The thing about abortion, after 9 weeks it is gets extra hard for the mother health wise. But the main thing is , if it is not legal ,what is going to happen to these young girls that can not tell their parents. Or if they were raped and was to afraid to tell. Or if it is incest? There is to much danger to the young schools girls to carry this fear. So they try to do harm to themselfs. That is why abortion should be legal.It is a protection for them to maybe tell a favorite aunt or teacher. But if there is a brutal father in the family that perhaps abused his wife and she is afraid to help.It puts us bad in the dark ages, where girls die from these things. And right now with the religion thing , it is an extra burden on the girl.The planned parent hood program was and is the best program, they counsel the girls and help them plan, gives them some one to tell so that they do not have to go thru things that could take her life or ruin her life from having to tell her parents.Wake up ! They preach against sex for young girls and counsel the women that already have 4 kids hanging on her and her husband can not keep a job, so she can’t no way afford another baby.And she knows within time that she is pg. or not.The first month is an egg developing very much like a chicken egg. Only it happens faster with a chicken .At two months it is more developed . And at three months you can say there is a baby to small to live on its own. But it’s that time before a young girl has finally realized she is pregnant . If she tries to abord the baby by her self, or goes to the dark ally , there is very bad danger for her, she can bled to death and at that age they don’t know what to do. Why should some religion freaks be allow to kill this girl, because she gave in to some man or boy.Girls have feeling also.They are the ones that have to bare the total deal here .They are the ones at the most risk. Please people ! fight for these young ladies, don’t throw them away. God does not pass the bad judgement on the young and innocent. But people pass judgement on them when their friends find out, and start to talk. The girls lifes change before their old enough to adjust to this , and they are lost. There goes a young girl with her life down the drain. The older ones are counseled to make an educated decision, if they can afford to go on to college and have her baby.The young man can be made to pay child support. But it is not the end of the world for them as it is for 13, up to 18 years old . And they know more about birth control, that the young one does not.It should not be the decision of a group of old men and women to sit and say what a young girl can do or not.They are not there to hold her hand and take the burden off her. But there is always a boy or a man ready to sweet talk her and promise her” you can not get pg. the first time “. Or I just couldn’t stop in time .Sounds great right then , but 2 months later it can be hell or death.

Religious freaks are not always sane. Religion is a life decision to make on your own. It is a great life , You have some one to talk to when you need someone the most.But there is a time and place for every thing. God says you can go to a dark place to pray and he will hear you.And you are not your brothers keeper.Most people will not follow a screaming person or someone that chases you down to talk to you for an hour you can not spare right at that time. When people feel the need they will go to God. Atheist
or sinner. When their need is strong enough they will go and seek out God and he is there for them.That is the one thing you can not give another person if they are not ready.One persons ideal of religion is not always the same as anothers.God gave us the choice, to come or not.
But under God, in a paragon will not kill anyone or rub off on anyone.The atheist can just not say those words, or look on a coin. they do not recieve any hurt in any way they are free to turn away from the sign. That is their choice.
I believe America to have more Christians than atheist, and majority rules.This country was founded on faith , why spoil a good thing.Just remember that atheist has freedom also .

Posted by: Sue McAvoy at August 19, 2006 8:58 AM
Comment #176423

Talkin openly about your religion and even proselytizing does not interfere with anybody’s rights. I someone is in your face about it, then they are restricting your personal space and your freedom of movement. Just egress to a safe location and call the authorities. All free speech is good and helps us to stay open-minded. This keeps a steady flow of ideas through one’s mind and helps to solve more problems.

Posted by: JoeRWC at August 19, 2006 9:04 AM
Comment #176424

These are the comments that the school district told her in advance were objectionable as proselytizing:

“God’s love is so great that he gave his only son up,” she said, before the microphone went dead. She then continued without amplification, “…to an excruciating death on a cross so his blood would cover all our shortcomings and provide for us a way to heaven in accepting this grace.”

An “excruciating death on a cross” is a little beyond “I’d like to thank God,” etc. I’d also note that all the school district did was cut off their microphone - they didn’t stop her from speaking at all. In fact, by all accounts, the student kept speaking.

Are people saying that public schools must not only tolerate Christian proselytizing, but muc activley promote it as well?

If so, how do you feel about this incident?

“The Smalkowski case attracted national attention after Nicole Smalkowski was kicked off of the girls’ basketball team after refusing to stand in a circle with her teammates on the gymnasium floor of the Hardesty public High School and recite the “Lord’s Prayer.” After school officials learned that she and her family were Atheists, lies were created about her as grounds to take her off of the team.

When her father Chuck discovered conclusively that public school and law enforcement officials had lied to him about his 15 year old daughter, he and Nicole and her mother Nadia went to the home of principal Lloyd Buckley to attempt to discuss the matter with him. Outside of his front fence, the principal struck Chuck, who blocked the blow. Both men fell to the ground and Buckley sustained minor injuries, the provable origins of which were strikingly contrary to his under oath trial testimony. Buckley then took out misdemeanor criminal assault charges against Chuck. After Smalkowski rejected the offer to drop the charges if he and his Atheist family left the state, the charges were raised to a felony.”

Posted by: Arr-squared at August 19, 2006 9:05 AM
Comment #176425

Trent , you will never be put in the place where a young girl will have to be , to make the choice .That she will have to live with or die from.

Posted by: Sue McAvoy at August 19, 2006 9:12 AM
Comment #176426

You will never know the terror and helplessness a man feels when he is powerless to make a choice about the future of your family.

Posted by: JoeRWC at August 19, 2006 9:29 AM
Comment #176430

Excellent post, Paul. Reading all the comments that follow about abortion, student valedictory speeches, etc. point to the uphill struggle in this battle. Far too many people in this country associate “freedom of religion” with interfering with other people’s religious beliefs.

Posted by: Steve K at August 19, 2006 9:36 AM
Comment #176436

My recently deceased Mother use to say; ” it takes one to know one” - which is what I say to George Bush for calling terrorists “fascists”. - and this from a supposingly ” religious” man who should know better. But that’s pretty much how I think of Fundamentalist Christians - or Fundamentalist Muslim, or Fundamentalist Jew - as fascists - but only two have a real ” state” and could thus technically be called “fascists”. Muslims have no ” state” but are dispersed throughout the world. They are the largest religious sect in the world besides Roman Catholics. George Bush equates Islam/Moslem/ Muslims/ with terror and fascism which shows Bush is racist in his delivery of both war strategies and ideologies. Like all far right radicals, Bush takes the side of the “fight against modernity and post modernity” as some kind of religious duty - but under false pretense. He borrows upon the fear of fundamentalists everywhere and then spreads it to all everywhere and for very ” unholy purposes” I truly do believe in evil and that George Bush and company are the actual anti-Christ at the end of human history. I believe that most Americans as well as people around the globe barely understand oneanother or know what this dis-ease and suffering eminates from. Most Americans do not even know the history of the Bush family and its one hundred year liason with real fascists and real nazis and those who run guns, break consitutional laws, sell contras-ban drugs, brutalize and subvert not only the truer meaning of world religions as a whole - but the deepest, most profound levels of life and the human person of which this crowd has never truly cared about -

Bush is however just a mask of the American people themselves - a shadow - of their own inner landscape. He represents all our fear, manipulation, hypocracy, paranoia, double speak, hate filled actions and longings for
power. Bush represents the fundamental psyche of the American people who are afraid
and who are now numb materially, spiritually, and emotionally. This works as well in the pulpit when the preacher tells you - you are going to hell - as much as it does when they escalate their Homeland Security color keys, like so many badges which are pinned onto the people lining up in box cars for the gas chambers. Fear is not what Jesus is about.
Fear is not what terrorism is about. Fear results when we know that we are all guilty for racism, lack of knowledge, easy solutions,
and when we succumb to the lack of hope we should have, as Christians, in the power for all to rise above themselves and participate in the creation instead of using creation to destroy creation. Every Christian, Jew, and Muslim should be asking for grace at this moment in history and realize that we are all of the same branch of the Tree of Life. Bush is killing all of us and we must take responsibility for understanding what this conflict is really about and who the good guys really are. Ignorance is sin in every sacred book.

Dr. Compassion - OzLand

Posted by: Dr. Compassion at August 19, 2006 10:06 AM
Comment #176440

To those who wrote about the plight of women: I agree with you. I think abortion is the toughest moral issue we have. OFten, we are talking about young women who are in very difficult places, economically and emotionally. It’s a very very tough issue. I do support abortion rights up through the second trimester (or to some point; I admit the exact line is difficult for me). I have no sympathy for the view that from the moment of conception we are talking about a human being — I have no moral problem with destroying a few cells. But for me it gets tougher and tougher the longer the pregnancy advances. This isn’t just a logical issue, of course. And, of course, I am not a woman so I cannot fully understand how women may view this. I think pregnant women must have access to good medical services regardless of their economic condition. And of course no one wants women resorting to “back alley” or dangerous procedures. Look, I usually shut up during these debates or just come down on the side of pro-choice because this is so very tough an issue. Self determination is extremely important. I realize that abortion rights must be seen in the context of the women’s liberation movement. I don’t know. I really am not an activist on this issue and not likely to be one. I’m just saying that, for me, it’s become a much harder issue. If you say that it is the choice of the woman and not the man, I have enormous sympathy for that view. I know I sound wishy washy. I wish the issue didn’t exist.

Posted by: Trent at August 19, 2006 10:29 AM
Comment #176444
The Bill of Rights Amendment I (1791): Freedom of religion, speech, and the press; rights of assembly and petition 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.

No laws can force prayer in the public school, nor prohibit it, either. But, in my opinion, the institutionalization of religion in public school (and other public venues) is a bad idea, because it imposes on those of different beliefs, or no religious beliefs at all. And why should it be so important to those that struggle to get it into public school? Is it not sufficient that we are all free to exercise our freedom of relgion (including freedom from religion) without institutionalizing it?

While the entire issue seems harmless, it invokes fear and anger in many. Why is that? Just look at history. It is littered with persecution of those that don’t conform.

So, who is scarier? Those that simply ask not to be imposed upon? Or, those that insist upon it?

Posted by: d.a.n at August 19, 2006 10:45 AM
Comment #176445

Some people view the separation of church and state to simply mean no official church and no restrictions whatsoever on religion. They fail to consider that among many other things, the first amendment is meant as a truce, and that its restrictions protect them.

What one man can do, so can another, when the tables are turned. Atheists, Buddhists, and other religions can play the same game in places where their power and influence are strong enough. When the Right is out of power, it will be to Conservative Christian’s advantage that the Left cannot impose its religion on them.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at August 19, 2006 10:49 AM
Comment #176447

With regard to the valedictorian, the situation seems fairly simple to me. She was invited by the school to speak, same as any other speaker they may have invited to the ceremony. Thus, for that period, she is an agent of the school and subject to the rules imposed by the school on their agents. If we say that this is a free speech issue, then we are saying that the school has to sanction absolutely anything the girl may say, regardless of what she has previously agreed not to say. What if it was not religion she wanted to speak about? What if she started talking about sex in as much detail as she was talking about the Christian religion? If we accept that all free speech is inherently good, and must be allowed, that would have to be tolerated as well. Or is this free speech only good when it is religious in nature?

Posted by: Jarin at August 19, 2006 11:01 AM
Comment #176448

Woody, I like your formulation. Very succinct and very fair. Stephen, yup, I’m right there with you too. You know, I don’t blame the school for pulling the plug. If it didn’t, it might have to face an expensive lawsuit.

It is hard for me to reconcile the words of the the First Amendment with pulling the plug on the student. Sometimes if things seem absurd on the face of it, they are absurd! It took a lot of gyrations to get from the First Amendment to attempting to stop the student’s speech! Having said that, I understand the doctrine of separation of church and state, and I wholeheartedly support it. Remember what Whitman said about contradictions.

I see no villains here. In addition to what the student actually did, she also had other options. She could have simply took the podium, said the school censored her speech, put tape on her mouth, and stood there for several minutes. What a powerful statement. Or she could have said the school censored her speech and that if the audience wanted to hear it, met her at such and such a park.

Posted by: Trent at August 19, 2006 11:07 AM
Comment #176471

Ilsa, unfortunately religion has become part of the political process. Look at Pat Robertson running for president, and how the candiates of both major parties kiss the religious a** of the major religions at election time.

With the “under God” in the pledge, that was not part of it until the 1950’s. Remember at that time it was better dead then red, and it was to show that the communist were evil and did not believe in God. A form of brain washing for the kids in school.

I believe in God, and Jesus, but I also think that the different demoniations have subverted the truth to fit their ideas of what should and shouldn’t be. I don’t see where it says in the bible I have to confess my sins to a priest, or where it say I can’t drive a car other then a black one, or can’t live without electricity, or I have to follow what their headquarters say.

There is a limit to freedoms.

Posted by: KT at August 19, 2006 1:09 PM
Comment #176504


Legally, you may be right. I say “may” because these things are open to interpretation. Here is a link to a brief summary of the legal issues, footnoted with court cases. The audience at a school-sponsored graduation ceremony could be said to be captive. In that case, the establishment clause could kick in. Other considerations: Was the audience forced to participate? No. Was the speech proselytizing? Here is the full text of the speech. To me, it is debatable. To proselytize means to induce someone to convert to one’s religious faith. Was she merely speaking of what God meant to her or was she trying to convert? There is a distinction between proslytizing and evangelism.

I am not a legal scholar, and I look forward to someone with legal expertise going through the issue here. But from my understanding, these situations are not clear cut. Ironically, though, because of the fear of legal action, I suspect that schools may err on the side of censorship to protect themselves, thus creating a chilling effect on free speech. However, I believe the student is suing. School districts sometimes seemed to be damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Several people here have mentioned that the student agreed to edit her speech to remove the religios references. We are talking about a power imablance here. She is a student; school officials are adults with power over her. I am not going to claim she was coerced, but we liberals are usually concerned with power imbalances. Here is her side.

Some people here have assumed that they should not have to listen to anything they disagree with. That is not what the First Amendment is about.

For more discussion about the First Amendment and schools, check this link.

Posted by: Trent at August 19, 2006 5:02 PM
Comment #176507

Opps, here is the first link I mentioned.

Posted by: Trent at August 19, 2006 5:06 PM
Comment #176519


The establishment clause doesn’t matter. The school set down certain rules for its speakers, which she agreed to abide by. She didn’t, they cut her mike. Simple, and not a free speech or seperation of church and state issue.

It’s the same way a publisher does not have to publish everything that is sent to them. A school does not have to provide a forum for people to speak about anything they want to at a graduation ceremony.

Posted by: Jarin at August 19, 2006 6:48 PM
Comment #176532

Essentially, Jarin, you say it is not a First Amemdment issue because the school has absolute right to control speech at a forum. Can you support that legally?

Posted by: Trent at August 19, 2006 7:39 PM
Comment #176537

Here is a legal interpretation that discusses the free speech rights of students delivering graduation speeches.

At this point, because I know I seem to be single-minded, I feel the need to say again that I am not religious. I’m just taking the opportunity to examine my own preconceptions.

Posted by: Trent at August 19, 2006 8:06 PM
Comment #176539

Here is the Department of Education’s policy on the issue:

“Prayer at Graduation

School officials may not mandate or organize prayer at graduation or select speakers for such events in a manner that favors religious speech such as prayer. Where students or other private graduation speakers are selected on the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain primary control over the content of their expression, however, that expression is not attributable to the school and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content. To avoid any mistaken perception that a school endorses student or other private speech that is not in fact attributable to the school, school officials may make appropriate, neutral disclaimers to clarify that such speech (whether religious or nonreligious) is the speaker’s and not the school’s.”

This is a small section of the DOE guidelines, which are supported by case references. This makes a hell of a lot more sense to me than blanket censorhip of graduation speaker’s speeches.

Posted by: Trent at August 19, 2006 8:18 PM
Comment #176563

The young lady had to make and keep up her grades to win the honor to speak at her graduation as valedictorian. It is a goodby speech .That is why it is given at the end of high school or college . She is speaking for the whole class .I think it is more to say goodby.It really is not a religious ceremony.
It is a ceremony of conferring degrees or granting diplomas at the end of your school or college.It is a school not a church service.So really she was out of line in what she said about Jesus on the cross. There really is a time and place for everything
At our school there was a religious ceremony on Sunday afternoon it was called a Baccalaureate service, and then you had your time to do a prayer .These were held at each church in town that had a students graduating.
No one could have stopped her from making her final words” Go with God”.
But I don’t think anyone really wants a preacher to preach a sermon at your graduation.

Posted by: Sue McAvoy at August 20, 2006 12:32 AM
Comment #176569

I agree with Trent. I don’t know what to think about the graduation issue, I am not a legal scholar. I empathize with both points of view. I have two more incidents to bring up.

1)A student starring in a high school play was allowed to write a paragraph to thank people for helping him. When he included Jesus in his paragraph, he was ordered to rewrite it.

2)A teacher at a local school left a Bible on their desk during recess. Another teacher came in and saw it on the others desk. The Christian teacher was fired. For having a Bible on their desk. They never mentioned their faith in class. All he did was leave a Bible on his desk. And he was fired.

These are both ridiculous assaults on freedom of speech. The student was not speaking for the school. The teacher made no attept to convert or proseletize to students or even mention Christianity in their class.

As for abortion, I repeat that my religion leads me to believe that all abortion except to save the life of the mother is universally wrong. I welcome disagreement and debate. That sort of thing is what makes our country so great. The ability to decide what to do logically, reasonably and peacably. That some people don’t like that and would rather have a theocracy is their problem, they are welcome to move to Saudi Arabia. For now, power comes from ones mouth and mind, not the end of a gun.

Posted by: Silima at August 20, 2006 1:30 AM
Comment #176571

The seperation of church and state is necessary for democracy to work. Has there ever been a country where they combined church and state that didnt turn into a totalitarian country? Our fore fathers were facing all types of religious issues at the state level during the formative years of our country. They saw this as the problem it truely is and put the freedom of religion clause into the first amendment because it as important as the freedom of speach and assembly.
We the people of the country need to fight to keep our country a democracy not a theocracy. No one is prohibiting the christians rights to free speech.The Christians are attacking the rights of others while claimimg to suffer the same. It is propaganda in its worst form. It is half truths and out right lies perpetrated by power seeking preachers in an attempt to subvert the will of the people.

Posted by: j2t2 at August 20, 2006 2:17 AM
Comment #176592

I think the girl was given ample warnings about the school’s policies. She did what she did to spite them, to show them that she would not be prevented from giving the speech she wanted to give. She was, however, a student at that school, and such submission was part and parcel of that. They were not asking her to make a speech renouncing God, under the penalty of not graduating, they were asking her not to represent the school’s message in terms that would give the appearance of the school giving official sanction to a religious view.

I think she wanted to prove what a great Christian she was to her class. But they aren’t the ones she has to prove that to, and she could have given that version of the speech to an empty closet in her house and demonstrated her faith to the one who would reward her for it. She could proselytize on her own time and likely did. She did not have to give this speech to fulfill her religious obligations.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at August 20, 2006 9:52 AM
Comment #176603

Stephen, perhaps we will just have to disagree. Her motivations are irrelevant, even if they are as self-serving as you assume. The school policies are irrelevant, except insofar as they can be upheld Constitutionally. In links I’ve provided legal reasoning supporting her actions.

In close calls, my presumption is with freedom of speech. I think the Department of Education policy I cited, and which is backed up by legal reasoning, satisfies the Establisment Clause.

Stephen, even if I agreed with every sentiment you expressed (and I do, with most), it doesn’t matter. Sometimes in defense of important rights, we have to defend those we don’t agree with.

Posted by: Trent at August 20, 2006 10:50 AM
Comment #176620

When I think of free speech rights the first thing that pops into this tiny brain of mine is the “Free Speech Zones” this administration has set up when protesters want to exercise their free speech rights.
My point is this we appear to have 2 equally important rights in conflict when discussing the valedictorian issue. Perhaps when students feel the urge to prosylteize they could be put into “free speech zones” in an attempt to resolve this issue.

Posted by: j2t2 at August 20, 2006 12:47 PM
Comment #176621


First, I have to point out that your legal source is not exactly unbiased. Please look at the other cases the Rutherford institute is involved in: defending the “right” of a councilmember to say sectarian prayers before the start of a council meeting. Defending the “right” of a Christian band to perform music with overt religious content at a drug awareness rally the school was holding. They are also the lawyers in the case of the valedictorian in question.

While you are correct that, in strict terms, a simple disclaimer may have satisfied the establishment policy sufficiently to allow her to give her speech, the fact of the matter is that the girl entered into a verbal contract (at least, I don’t know if a written one was involved or not) with the school not to deviate from the speech which they had vetted. She broke that contract, and her right to speak at the school function was revoked. Seems pretty plain and simple to me.

Posted by: Jarin at August 20, 2006 1:26 PM
Comment #176624

Last semester, I and my students had a wide-ranging discussion about evocative passages in literature. Turning to one of my favorite books of the Old Testament, I brought up the sweeping fields of grain, the reapers harvesting, and Ruth gleaning behind them. That led a student to mention that God as a character was absent from the story, which lead to a discussion of God as a character, which lead to Job. My take on Job the character is that his insistence on his innocence is a mark of his virtue, and that if he had caved to the arguments of his friends, he would have been dishonest. When God swirls up, Job is silenced, but he never repudiates his claim that injustice was visited upon him. Ironically, if Job had changed his stance about his innocence, and that he was being unfairly persecuted by God (or his agent, the adversary), then he would have committed a wrong doing, and he wouldn’t have been the moral example God claimed he was. There is a deep paradox here that contributes to the book’s power. At any rate, in the course of discussing the book, I said God was acting like a dickhead. The class was shocked and so was I … I tend to be very passionate about literature in class, but I certainly did not plan to offend anyone — I was talking about a character who behaved very cruelly.

There were many Christians in the class, and of course I immediately apologized to those whose religious sensibilities I offended, and I expected to get in huge trouble, perhaps even fired. But no one reported me. I think it was because they knew I encouraged discussion of diverse opinions, that I go out of my way to be fair, and that it was clear in context that I was talking about a character in book, not a supernatural deity.

I think we sometimes underestimate students.

Posted by: Trent at August 20, 2006 1:37 PM
Comment #176625


You are correct; the Rutherford Institute has defended religious expression in other contexts. However, please look at other cases it is involved with and the position it takes. I think you will find many instances you support. At any rate, it is not a blind advocate of conservative views.

As I understand it, you concede all other points and now rest your argument on the verbal contract. It seems a shame that it has to come to this, but I suppose now we could look into how binding are verbal contracts, whether she was in fact pressured in the hallway without legal consultation to agree, whether minors can enter into such contracts, etc., etc.

It seems such a huge issue to settle on such a technicality. I have no idea what a court or jury would say about the verbal contract.

Is the policy of the DOE so terrible? It seems like a reasonable compromise between two important rights.

Posted by: Trent at August 20, 2006 1:45 PM
Comment #176629

Jarin, one other point. The school does not have to make the disclaimer. They may do so, but the right of the neutrally selected speaker is not dependent upon the school’s disclaimer.

Let’s not be so hasty to censor all religious speech. As long as the Establishment Clause is respected, that should be enough for us.

Posted by: Trent at August 20, 2006 1:58 PM
Comment #176644

When discussing freedom of speech, let us remember the words of Patrick Henry to the Virginia House of Burgesses,”Gentlemen, I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Posted by: Silima at August 20, 2006 4:16 PM
Comment #176985

In the spirit of open-minded discussion of the graduation speech issue, here is an analysis of the Department of Education’s 2003 guidance on prayer at public schools. It claims, in essence, that the Bush administration ignored some recent court rulings and misinterpreted others in devising the policy.

Posted by: Trent at August 22, 2006 2:22 PM
Comment #177157

This story about the Christian Coalition falling apart should be linked somewhere, and this thread seems more appropriate.

Posted by: Trent at August 23, 2006 10:17 PM
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