Monday, December 5, 2011

Local Culture Cannot Trump the Constitution

Here in the "Bible Belt" many schools do not follow the letter of the law.  Over the holidays there are frequently religious Christmas themes in the work children do.  Recently in a nearby county, the public elementary school participated in "Operation Christmas Child."  This project is run by Samaritan's Purse, led by Franklin Graham (son of famous evangelist Billy Graham).  Is that a problem?  Probably not.  The problem you see, was that each first and second grade child in this public school was given a little fill-in-the-blank questionaire to include in the box of little gifts.  The questions in this project included the following:

I love Jesus because_____________________________________________

An employee of the school sent an email to a friend.  The friend forwarded the email to everyone in his contact list.  Can you see where this is going?  Yes, the recipients and bloggers lit up the Internet with discussions about First Admendment rights.  Of course the word eventually got to the members of the school board and the principal sent out an automated voice message to all parents.  He indicated that the project was undertaken to give the students an opportunity to experience the joy of giving.  He said that he did not receive a single complaint about the Jesus question from any parent.  He did, however apologize and said the school will look more closely at documents to make certain they do not include any religious matter.

We had some First Ammendment problems here in Transylvania County two or three years ago.  It seems the school board and the County Commisioners both included an opening prayer in their meetings.  A concerned parent went to the school and county leaders stating that invoking the name of Jesus Christ to look upon the public meeting was not only offensive to non-Christians; it was also against the law.  The man was "blown off" by both boards so he called the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  An ACLU attorney called the boards and explained that the practice of Christian prayer could not be part of a public meeting and indicated that the ACLU was prepared to bring legal action if necessary.  So the boards reluctantly agreed to eliminate the prayers as part of the meetings.  The Chairman of the school board made a statement to the press.  She said that the prayers were not limited to one religion but that all religions were represented, including Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians.  [Does that send a message to all us Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Agnostics, etc.?]  One of the other members said something to the effect that if the ACLU was not going to permit the liberty of bringing Jesus Christ to the meetings then it did not support Americans or their liberties.

BTW:  Generally speaking, the reason many folks in western NC do not always recognize Catholics among the Christians is their mistaken belief that we "worship Mary."  My daughter was the only Catholic in her first grade class.  Upon learning that we were Catholic, her teacher asked me if it was all right for her to join the other children in praying just before going to lunch.  I told her that was fine with us and then bit my tongue to prevent me from adding, "But it's not all right with the Supreme Court."  Until we moved to Wisconsin, my children participated in Christmas programs at public school, including Christmas carols and the Nativity.  In Wisconsin, the program was "Winter Sing" and did not include any religious songs.

For the record, we do celebrate Advent and the religious meaning of Christmas.  We do have several Nativity sets around our house.  But our secular decorations far outweigh the religious ones.  Because this is my house, we can do what we please.  And I, for one, am glad that no public school first-grade child should feel uncomfortable because his or her parents are not of a particular religious (or non-religious) belief.

One of my favorite Santas, cradling some dolls he just made for the good little boys and girls.

There are folks who are surprised to find that I am Roman Catholic.  It's especially hard for those who knew me in my younger years to be Southern Baptist.  I think their surprise comes with the fact that I am vehemently pro-choice, I support birth control of all kinds, I strongly support marriage of same sex persons and I respect people of all faiths and non-believers as well.  I am just as furious as you are that the Bishops of the Church who turned a blind eye to child molestation by some priests were never held accountable.  I am definitely a cafeteria Catholic and pick and choose what I wish to believe.  Is this being hypocritical?  I think not.  The only religious dogma I could support without question would be the Church of NCMountainwoman.  Otherwise I can choose which parts of the church I will support and which parts I will cast aside.  I did the same when I was a Southern Baptist.


The Bug said...

We are so much the same when it comes to our beliefs - I'm definitely a cafeteria Episcopalien (and I was a cafeteria Baptist before I made the switch).

Ms. A said...

I am a God-fearing, spiritual person that no longer attends church. Not attending church or participating in a specific religious denomination has not diminished my beliefs one bit. I still have faith in God, it's people I've lost faith in.

troutbirder said...

Mmmmm. I think my good Catholic spouse could well have written this post. My own social progressivism tends to come from my moms Methodism and the fiscally conservative side from my Banker father. He definitely wouldn't have approved of Wall Street and Big Bank shennanigans in recent years though.... ;)

Rudee said...

Growing up, we always had a Christmas event in my public school where we sang religious hymns and carols. I was raised in the Episcopal church, but feel much the way Ms. A does. I see proof of my faith--and possibly where we go when our earthly bodies are finished-- in my line of work all of the time. All of the time. How could I not have faith?

Anonymous said...

I grew up a non-religious, cultural Jew in New Jersey. Until I was in the 3rd or 4th grade, we had prayer in school every morning. First we recited the "Lord's Prayer" and then a student would pick a prayer from the bible. Most often it was the 23rd psalm. This happened in the 1950s and 60s in our country. We did not recite prayers from any other religion. My mother (who is 86) and I had a conversation the other day about this, and she remembered reciting the same prayers when she was in school in the 30s. We laughed about it, but bemoaned the incredible assumptions, insult, and indoctrination.

abb said...

I come from Missouri ahd more than one of my relatives is a bible-thumping Christian that is aghast that prayer and Santa isn't allowed in public school. When I pointed out to one of them that neither are dreidels, menorahs, Kwanzaa, etc. etc., her response was "Why should those others be? They aren't true religions." Of course, she also thinks Catholicism isn't a true religion. Obviously the two of us don't spend a lot of time together.
I cannot abide narrow-mindedness, especially when it hurts other humans.
I'm through ranting now.

KGMom said...

For too many people, the confusion is between ESTABLISHING a religion as a state sanctioned religion and EXPRESSING a personal religion. The thought must be "if it's MY religion, it must be the right one for all."
Our schools had programs at Christmas time that nicely blended various traditions--so Christmas songs were sung, as were Hanukkah songs, and even Kwanzaa songs. Such an approach is fine with me. It's the exclusivity of one religion that rubs me wrong.

Ginnie said...

I, too, live in North Carolina and have for the past 32 years. I've had to swallow a lot of Bible Belt dialogue but I can see small changes. Your story of the fill in the blank questionaire however puts us right back to when I first moved here. Sad.

Vicki Lane said...

Preach it, sister! I enjoyed hearing your statement of belief. I, too, was surprised at how casually religion was included in the public schools. Just like when I was growing up in the Fifties. There's still not a lot of diversity in our county.

Busy Bee Suz said...

I could easily be a member of your church Church of NCMountainwoman! SOunds perfect...although, we know nothing is perfect.
We attended our local Christmas parade tonight in Naples....I was so please to see taht we were all allowed to say: Merry Christmas and there were several floats filled with Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the entire cast of O' Holy Night. Beautiful.

Wayfarin' Stranger said...

Unfortunately, too many Americans are also "cafeteria" patriots, picking and choosing those parts of the Constitution that they will accept. There was a news story this week about a church in Pikeville, KY, that voted to deny participation and membership to mixed-racial couples (they rescinded the vote after the story went public). When ignorance of both the Bible and U.S. history converge, there is ample opportunity for mischief.

NCmountainwoman said...

Thanks, everyone for letting me rant.

Bug - I'm not surprised that we have similar feelings.

Ms. A - Well said. I agree wholeheartedly

Troutbirder - I knew there was a reason I liked Mrs. TB. Have you heard Jon Huntsman and his take on the big banks? I think you might like his ideas. BTW: I loved his statement that he will not kiss Donald Trump's ring!

Rudee - I wish more people had the opportunity to work with the dying. It gives a new perspective to living.

Robin - I agree. Probably the only difference between your school and that of your mother was that her version of the Pledge did not contain "under God."

TSannie - Many of my relatives refused to attend my wedding because we were married in the Catholic church.

Donna - I have little doubt that the First Ammendment and the Second Ammendment are the most misunderstood and misinterpreted and quoted MOST LOUDLY. In fact,the less these folks know the louder they shout.

Ginnie - I think the biggest problem areas are in the far eastern and the far western parts of the state.

Vicki - I totally agree.

Suz - You would be most welcome.

Wayfarin' - Oh yes. Far too many pick and choose what parts of the Bible to quote as literal. And few of them know the actual words in the Bill of Rights, much less what they mean. And all of us are the worse for it.

KB said...

I was raised as a Catholic but became very unhappy with the Church as a young adult. My father grew up in Ireland... and the "troubles" helped shape him and our family. Eventually, I think that having that weight hanging over our family made me leave the church and Christianity altogether.

So, I am an atheist. That's a very hard thing to admit in this day and age. I feel as if our country is becoming a religious state. For that reason, I couldn't agree more strongly with you about the Constitution.

My family has gracefully accepted my decision. They even accepted it when I was a teenager, because I articulated good reasons for my rejection of the church. I feel lucky to have such an open-minded family.

Ruth said...

Canada is a very multicultural country and we celebrate more than one tradition at this time of year. There is a lighted menorah beside the Christmas tree in the city square (where the live nativity was last weekend). We aren't as passionate about politics and religion here (for the most part) and that is fine with me. I find that people of other cultures rarely complain about our Christian traditions but rather, people in authority who assume others will be offended.