Dispatches from the Creation Wars

I love stories like this, when the religious right is up in arms over non-Christians exercising the same rights they went to court to demand for themselves. Most schools have a system for sending home flyers to parents informing them of school events. Most schools also allow outside groups, like the Scouts or the YMCA, use that system to get the word out about summer camps and the like.

In 2001, a Christian group tried to use a school’s system to inform parents of one of their events and they were refused. They filed suit and the 4th Circuit ruled in their favor, saying that if a school is going to allow some community groups to use that system, they cannot engage in viewpoint discrimination in choosing which groups to allow in. This was not unexpected; it fits with a long line of rulings on limited public fora that say, in essence, “allow one, allow all.”

But one could easily predict what would happen if a non-Christian group demanded the same access as Christian groups; all that talk of how unfair such viewpoint discrimination is would go right out the window. But we don’t have to predict this, we can see it in action in this Worldnutdaily article about a school in Virginia where teachers are throwing a fit over flyers from a freethought group advertising their summer camp, and even refusing to hand them out as instructed. And you’ve got to love the way they spin the situation:

Some teachers in the Albemarle School District in Virginia are rebelling against their managers’ orders to hand out to students as young as kindergarten a promotion for a summer camp that advocates for “Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists, Brights, or whatever…”

A representative of the teachers talked to WND only on condition that a name and school not be used, and said such advertisements provided by the district to hand out to children violate the teachers’ religious beliefs.

You’d think from reading this that the school district is behind the whole thing. Wrong. The school district has no choice but to distribute those flyers, which are provided by a non-profit community group – you know, just like the Christian group that went to court demanding access to the flyer system. Here’s what has their panties in a bunch:

“Camp Quest is the first residential summer camp in the history of the United States for the children of Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists, Brights, or whatever other terms might be applied to those who hold to a naturalistic, not supernatural, lifestance. Campers are encouraged to think for themselves and are not required to hold any particular view,” the ad says.

Gee, do Christians object to handing our flyers promoting non-Christian events? Funny, you weren’t concerned about how handing out flyers for Christian camps might “violate the teachers’ religious beliefs” if those teachers were Jewish, or Buddhist, or Muslim. In fact, when that was the case, all the talk was about how unfair it was for them to refuse to hand out such flyers. Ain’t it funny how the attitude changes when the shoe’s on the other foot? When Christians do it, it’s a brave fight for religious freedom; when non-Christians do the same thing, it’s obviously anti-Christian oppression. Quite convenient, that.

Telephone calls to school officials requesting a comment were not returned. But when WND reported on the “Pagan Christmas,” board chairwoman Sue Friedman told WND such ads are distributed because the school was forced to do so, following a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Maryland.

The ruling concluded if one community group is allowed to use a distribution program at a school, then all groups must be given the same access. The district then made a policy adjustment in order to accommodate that ruling, Friedman said.

“In order to allow the YMCA to tell you about their soccer league, or the Boy Scouts to tell you about their new troop, we have to allow all nonprofits,” she said. “That’s why we’re seeing this.”

And the school is right. Here’s the ruling.

The teachers’ representative told WND several teachers simply didn’t hand out the latest promotion, and of course now fear retaliation if their supervisors find out.

The representative said the teachers were “disgusted” with the latest addition to the pile of information that they call the “backpack express.”…

“They do put a disclaimer there, that the school doesn’t’ support it,” the representative said. “But we are expected to send this stuff home in childrens’ backpacks. It’s still coming from me and my classroom.”

“I took a stand and did not send it home,” the representative said. “Other teachers did the same thing.”

Guess what? You’re breaking the law. If you end up being punished for it, you have no one to blame but yourself. This is the same school where the teachers threw a fit last year when another group sent home a flyer advertising a seminar on the pagan roots of Christmas. The law has been explained to them, but they obviously just don’t care. They think Christians should get (irony alert) “special rights.”

Comments

  1. #1 Brandon
    May 29, 2007

    I agree with the point you’re making, but I need to call you out on a logical fallacy. You state that:

    Person A makes a statement.
    Person B, who is in the same group as Person A, makes a statement contradictory to Person A’s statement.
    Therefore, Person B is a hypocrite.

    I would like to see what happens if that particular school handed out a Christian flyer, and a Muslim teacher refused to pass it out. Would that same teacher (not a different teacher with similar beliefs, but our Mr. Representative) complain about anti-Christian discrimination, or does he genuinely believe that teachers shouldn’t be forced to hand out flyers contradictory to their religious beliefs? Until that happens, I would wait on calling this person a hypocrite.

  2. #2 nicole
    May 29, 2007

    What with all your postings recently on accomodations for religious belief, I have to wonder whether these teachers will get special permission to refuse to hand out the fliers and the school will have to find someone who doesn’t mind doing it hand them out to all their students….

    Of course, this is a great example of what someone linked to in the last thread – the article about how it’s not about religious belief but religious status. It’s not against any of these people’s religious beliefs to hand out fliers they disagree with, it’s a sign of their status as Christians that they refuse to participate.

  3. #3 Prup aka Jim Benton
    May 29, 2007

    Ed:
    There’s one aspect of this you didn’t mention. Laws are not self-enforcing. What provisions are there for enforcing it, and what criminal or civil sanctions are there for not obeying it? If a teacher or a school refuses to follow the law, how can they be compelled to?

    I doubt if there are any actual sanctions, or that a court could mandate a teacher be fired over it. And it would be very hard for Camp Quest — a wonderful group, btw — to prove damages in a civil suit. Barring a judge being willing to penalize the school district, school, or teacher for contempt, aren’t we in an Andrew Jackson position here — “John Marshall has made his law — now let’s see him enforce it.”

    And isn’t that a scary attitude for a teacher to take?

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    May 29, 2007

    Brandon-

    Here’s the part you’re missing: this is not the first time this has happened at the school, it’s the second. The first time it happened the teachers were explained the law and told that if they allowed Christian groups to have access to the backpack mail they had to allow non-Christian groups access to it as well. Those same teachers routinely hand out material from the YMCA, the Boy Scouts and even local churches and not one of them has ever suggested that there was anything improper about that. Only when they had to hand out something they personally didn’t like did they protest. So yes, their own hypocrisy is perfectly clear.

  5. #5 Brandon
    May 29, 2007

    Ah, I stand corrected. Well, I’d hate to be a student at that school.

  6. #6 dogmeatib
    May 29, 2007

    Most likely, for something this small (though the issue is a big one) the teachers would receive a verbal reprimand. Given the culture in the district, probably more of a tongue in cheek “don’t do it again.” Of course if the teacher already has a documented history of refusal to follow board/district policy, then it could lead to a letter/reprimand placed in their file.

    The problem is, and this is just from what I’ve read here and in the prior case, you have what is probably a very “Christian” district. As opposed to a secular district where members happen to be Christian, odds are good that this is a Christian district whose members happen to teach in secular schools. That means not only are the teachers “Christian” but so are the administrators, and likely the board members. It seems the board is reasonable regarding this (or at least listened to their legal counsel). Odds are good it would require a suit filed against the district claiming disparate treatment and claiming (quite correctly) that employees of the district are failing to meet the requirements of the earlier decision.

  7. #7 Poly
    May 29, 2007

    Prup queries:

    Laws are not self-enforcing. What provisions are there for enforcing it, and what criminal or civil sanctions are there for not obeying it? If a teacher or a school refuses to follow the law, how can they be compelled to?

    This is always going to be a problem where the social mores of a community are opposed to a legal requirement. Local law enforcement is supposed to enforce all laws, but this seems like it would fall ‘below the radar’, even if they were so inclined to follow up on it.

    A party with ‘standing’ can always file suit to obtain a court order demanding to have the law enforced. Then an officer of whatever court issued the order would be charged to enforce it, perhaps with the assistance of local law enforcement or perhaps not. Anyone refusing that order would be liable to contempt. If this seems like a long drawn out process, it is. Also, it’s expensive.

    There isn’t any easy answer. If people in a community don’t want to obey a law, and if no one in that community cares to make an issue out of it, it’s probable that nothing is going to happen.

    Ed is correct to raise this issue here, but to actually make an impact it has to be raised in the place where the offense is taking place. It is unlikely that the people in that community even read this blog, much less react to it.

  8. #8 Lonnie
    May 29, 2007

    Ed is correct to raise this issue here, but to actually make an impact it has to be raised in the place where the offense is taking place. It is unlikely that the people in that community even read this blog, much less react to it.

    Oh… I don’t know. I live in Albemarle and I’m reading this blog!

    Actually, keep in mind that Charlottesville/Albemarle is not a back-country conservative area. This is the home of Thomas Jefferson and a generally progressive area. The fact that this can happen here demonstrates that it can happen anywhere, and that’s why this is so important.

  9. #9 dogmeatib
    May 29, 2007

    Lonnie,

    I’m a bit surprised to hear that. I live in, by your classification a “back-country conservative area” and still would be surprised to have this happen. I’ve seen more conservative and conservative christian teachers in one school in this district than I’ve seen in all of the schools where I’ve worked (or studied) combined and they still (despite griping) would follow the guidelines.

  10. #10 Poly
    May 29, 2007

    Lonnie:

    I think you are missing the point. It isn’t the policy of the elected school board or of the school administrators that is under scrutiny. Although Ed may have garbled the story somewhat, the public agencies involved are, as far as I can tell, trying to do the right thing and follow the proper guidelines.

    The question under examination here is the action of at least some individual teachers who decided not to obey the law. So my comment still stands. If no one decides to take action against these individuals, then nothing is going to happen.

    And let’s not gild the lily, by the way. In the last election, over 40 % of your county voted for a candidate who was overtly racist, anti-gay, and pro-dominionist – T.J notwithstanding. So there is a substantial minority of your local population that is probably in sympathy with what these teachers did. After all, these teachers didn’t just arrive from outer space – they are all living in the area.

  11. #11 Lonnie
    May 30, 2007

    Poly,

    I’m not saying that we don’t have conservatives, especially in rural area. We certainly do; however, generally we pride ourselves on issues like diversity. Compare your stats to other areas in Virginia, and I think you’ll find that we are one of the most liberal areas (although NOVA might have us beat). Also, because of the weird ways that Virginia government works, Cities aren’t included in counties. That means that Albemarle’s stats don’t include Charlottesville.

    I actually do fault the school board for this one. They shouldn’t have caved-in so easily to Jerry’s demands. While I do think some school board members honestly thought that community members whould be able to handle a truely pluralistic program, I think that was pure idealism on their part.

    We may be generally fairly diverse; hoever that’s also because we rarely confront our differences directly. You have many parallel and seperate communities of different political, ethnic, religous and cultural background which basically keep to themselves (even though there are indeed some points of intersection). Unfortunately, that also means that we tend to develop incredible extremes living side by side, generally unaware of each others existance.

    What this flyer thing did was wake people up that conservative evangelicals have been making extraodinary in-roads while we weren’t watching. Likewise, it woke them up to the fact that maybe we aren’t the conservative town they thought we were. All in all though, I think the discussion it has provoked has been a good thing. People are finally looking around themselves and thinking, “Wow. I had no idea that there were so many [Insert group of people here]’s in Charlottesville!”

  12. #12 Poly
    May 30, 2007

    Lonnie writes:

    I actually do fault the school board for this one. They shouldn’t have caved-in so easily to Jerry’s demands.

    I’m still not sure I understand what you’re getting at.

    Exactly who is it that “caved-in”? And who is Jerry? As far as I can tell from the articles, the Board and the school administration are following proper procedures. As I said, it seems to be the actions of some individuals (teachers) who decided they were entitled to operate outside the law.

    One of the things I don’t like about this situation is the underhanded and covert way that these lawbreakers apparently behaved. They even lack the courage to put their names to their actions. If they were really acting under the color of a religion, I’d like to know which one it is – by name – that approves of their bullying, cowardly and hypocritical behavior. You imply that they are known as “evangelicals”. What is/are the name(s) of their congregation(s)?

    Perhaps as a local resident with local sources you know something that we don’t about this. I think we would really would like to know what it is – if you can tell us without reveling confidential information. But as much as we’d likr to know, it’s more important that the local residents know who are these people and what are their specific affiliations.

  13. #13 Lonnie
    May 30, 2007

    Sorry, when I said “Jerry”, I meant Falwell. It was his organization that bullied the Schools into accepting vacation bible school fliers.

    As to which group of teachers are responsible for not passing out the atheist fliers, and advertizing their illegal act on World Nut News, I’ve no idea. Clearly they are cowards indeed. When my group sent a flyer back in December, we used our names and had our photo clearly in the paper. If teachers are against this flyer thing, wouldn’t their words be best used on the School Board, not some right wing blog?

    That said, their anonymity works in favor of anyone opposed to the policy. For if the county knows there is open descrimination going on, then obviously the policy has no constitutional leg to stand on. Yes, I agree that an investigation of which teachers are violating the policy would be fairly easy, and that is certainly a pathway the county can choose to take whether it decides to keep the program or not.

    Yes, as a local, I do indeed have suspicions as to what kinds of congregations who have members that would have acted this way. That said, it’d be wrong to judge any of them without hard evidence, and I’m not sure that there’s any opposition to this on a Church level yet. I do know that one School Board member openly admitted that she knew of teachers that refused to distribute flyers in another instance. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were the same folks…

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