There are certain things said not to do when one is upset. Writing is not one of them. I’m quite upset about something I’ve been reading about in the papers the past week and now I’m writing about it. It concerns a young American girl who complained about the fact that the school she attends sports a writing against one of its walls which does not comply with her worldview.
Jessica Ahlquist (a beautiful Scandinavian surname it seems?) seemingly took offense at the fact that Cranston West High School (Rhode Island, USA) has a banner with a prayer directed to God from a Christian perspective hanging on one of its walls. She objected on the ground of the First Amendment as written up in the American Bill of Rights which roughly states ‘The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.’ If you dig further into it you might realise that as is the case with all other laws in free countries, the law will work in favour of the ‘reasonable’ man. It is built on reason and common logic. Or so you’d hope.
Jessica said that this banner offended her, as an atheist. Let’s forget about the fact that atheism, by definition, shouldn’t be allowed in the sphere of reason, and look at what she’s actually protesting against:
Our Heavenly Father.
Grant us each day the desire to do our best.
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically.
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers.
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others.
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win.
Teach us the value of true friendship.
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.
OK. Now back to the reasonable man. Say you believe Jesus lied about his Godly status or perhaps you believe he never existed. You now attend a public school which has a banner with these words up against their wall. This school is not allowed to respect one religion above another, the scholars are allowed the freedom to exercise religion together with the freedom of speech, amongst other freedoms. How did this banner get there? Former student David Bradley wrote the prayer as a seventh-grader in 1963 and the school now argues it hangs there as a historical artifact. So it was thus a former scholar who exercised his right to freedom of speech and to exercise his religion which resulted in this banner hanging there today. Did the school ever prevent students from other religious affiliations to hang similar artifacts? If they did they would’ve respected one religion over another and thus be in the wrong. If they didn’t: no worries! Would the wording of this banner offend any reasonable student, or more particularly any reasonable non-Christian student? I can’t see how (enlighten me if you do, please). On the contrary, I can only see how it encourages co-operation and positive interaction amongst students.
The only reason Jessica could possibly have taken offense was because she was uncomfortable with an alternative worldview to her own being displayed publicly – maybe she felt endangered or had bad experiences with those she felt were represented by it. Otherwise, she was simply being intolerant and acted out of spite – not willing to tolerate what was different just because. Unless of course, once again, she actually tried to put something similar from her perspective up there but the school refused her that privilege unfairly. I understand that she is only sixteen and although possibly intelligent, still deprived from many of life’s realities. Like the fact that everyone doesn’t always agree and many times you will just have to deal with it, especially if you are in the minority. You don’t just walk into an institution with a specific culture and demand the removal of any public communication of that culture simply because it ‘offends’ you, especially if it may be sacred to them. It is many times more honourable, effective and respectful to be a revolutionary, through example and reason, within an existing culture than to run to the authorities.
The blame shouldn’t be laid at her door for the final outcome however – oh yes, the school was first ordered to cover the banner up and then to remove it – as she seemed very decent through it all, unlike many of her ‘Christian’ opponents I might add, but at that of the judges who ordered the banner to be removed. They ought to know better (yes, I’m discriminating against her because of her age), they ought to know that a decision like this is against freedom and reason and not sustainable in everyday life. What if every person who walks into an academic institution finds fault with something displayed in there as it ‘offends’ them for some reason unknown to the reasonable man? Is there no room to practice tolerance anymore? Should we rather teach our kids to fall back on their ‘rights’ the moment things get uncomfortable than to engage an issue and fight it out amongst their peers in a healthy manner? Respect to Jessica for taking a stand and fighting a lone battle at times but shame on the ‘elders’ who are busy crushing freedom in the so-called ‘land of the free’.
I got this from an atheist’s blog as I read up on the issue a bit:
“Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there’s no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it’s just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses…and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it’s mistaken. It’s persuasion. It’s the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride”
“Let’s begin by asking what religion is. Some say it is a form of belief in God. But that would not fit Zen Bhuddism, which does not really believe in God at all. Some say it is belief in the supernatural. But that does not fit Hinduism, which does not believe in a supernatural realm beyond the material world, but only a spiritual reality within the empirical. What is religion then? It is a set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing. For example, some think that this material world is all there is, that we are here by accident and when we die we just rot, and therefore the important thing is to choose to do what makes you happy and not let others impose their beliefs on you. Notice that though this is not an explicit, “organised” religion, it contains a master narrative, an account about the meaning of life along with a recommendation for how to live based on that account of things…”
From both of these, with which I agree, I can see no way that any instittution can operate truly free from religion and also no reason why a court should demand the removal of something referencing religious views as it did in this case.
Al Pacino said this of the fictional Baird School in the film Scent of a Woman:
“As I came in here, I heard those words, “cradle of leadership.” Well, when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall. And it has fallen here, it has fallen! Makers of men, creators of leaders — be careful what kind of leaders you’re producing here.”
I say to the USA, known to us all as America, the land (formerly?) of opportunity and dreams: be careful of what you’re producing here.