07/29/2005: Thought for the Day:
There surely are instances in which overzealous school administrators and others go too far in the cause of nondiscrimination, silencing religious speech that is clearly protected by the First Amendment. Such infringements should be fought for reasons both principled, because Christians have the same right to free speech as everyone else, and political, because these abuses generate a backlash that ultimately harms the cause of church-state separation.
But the ACLU doesn't need to be told to take this stance -- it already has, despite attempts by the Christian right to distort its record.
In 2003, Jerry Falwell published a piece on the right-wing Web site Newsmax titled "The Case of the Offensive Candy Canes." "Seven high school students in Westfield, Mass., have been suspended solely for passing out candy canes containing religious messages," he wrote. A few paragraphs later, he continued, "The fact is, students have the right to free speech in the form of verbal or written expression during non-instructional class time. And yes, students have just as much right to speak on religious topics as they do on secular topics -- no matter what the ACLU might propagate."
In fact, the ACLU submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case defending the students on the grounds that, as the ACLU's attorney said, "students have a right to communicate ideas, religious or otherwise, to other students during their free time, before or after class, in the cafeteria, or elsewhere."
Nevertheless, stories about the ACLU and its evil plots against Christian confections proliferated in the right-wing media. And this points to the problem with taking seriously many of the Christian right's complaints about secular hostility to their religious expression. Last year, the evangelical right was up in arms over a so-called war on Christmas, symbolized by the decision of Federated Department Stores, which owns both Macy's and Bloomingdale's, to use the phrase "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." But that move was inspired by capitalism -- the company wanted to make as many customers feel as comfortable as possible in order to get their money -- not by legal secularism or anti-Christian bias.
--Michelle Goldberg [salon.com]
Len on 07.29.05 @ 05:50 AM CST