OK, so here’s the redux: A JV football coach at a Bremerton, WA high school prayed with students after their football games. The school district said that if he didn’t stop doing that, he’d be fired. He continued. They fired him. He contacted the media and Kim Davis’ attorneys. Now we have Twitter flame wars and litigation. And you know how much I loves me some flame wars, haaaaaaaaaaaaay!
Yes, Coach Bumpkin can hold convocation on the 50 yard line after the game. And yes, so can the Church of Satan. For all I care, scientologists can give their personality tests on the 50 yard line of that Bremerton school. That’s not the issue here. According to all the reports I’ve read, the convocation was intended to be voluntary. So, not an infringement of freedom of religion. The audience of the game didn’t have to stay for the prayer just so that their sensibilities could get offended, although I highly recommend it, but more on that later.
The question that bears investigating is this: Did any JV player feel that their position on the team, or the amount of game time they played was contingent upon their participation in the prayer? My guess here is that at least one of them did. Otherwise, I don’t think that this issue would have made it to the school district. It’s only a guess, a hypothesis in need of testing, if you will.
That’s the core issue here. If a student’s participation on the team is even unintentionally contingent upon participating in a voluntary prayer after the game, then it’s not voluntary. It’s mandatory. It’s no longer a matter of freedom of expression, it’s a matter of violating the student’s rights to the free exercise of their beliefs.
I don’t have to agree with what you say to defend your right to say it. That’s the spirit of freedom of expression. To me, there is no difference between public prayer and protected speech, they’re both expression. The right I have to publicly call a Christian a hypocrite for violating their own holy book’s edicts on public prayer and their right to publicly pray like an idiot are one and the same.
That’s not to say that there aren’t limits to one’s freedom of expression. Namely, when it infringes upon other protected rights. This is the “yelling fire in a theater” limitation. Your right to free speech doesn’t impinge on my right to be reasonably safe in a public space.
Nor does one’s right to freedom of expression impinge on a person’s right to the free exercise of their religious beliefs. If game positions or playing time were determined by participation in the prayer after the game, even unintentionally, then this is a clear case of freedom of expression impinging upon free exercise of religion. A person’s personal religious beliefs, and the free exercise of them cannot determine playing time or position on the team. Full stop.
But it’s a question that needs to be looked at. Really, honestly, looked at.
We can’t fight religion by making it apocryphal. Any student of history knows that Christianity, in particular, thrives when it is made such. We shouldn’t object to the study of the Bible or the Koran in classrooms for its own sake. If only Christians and Muslims would actually read the Bible and the Koran; they’re the best cases there are for atheism. The problem comes when we stifle free thought about the study of a religion. When a teacher says, the Bible is true and everything else is false … that’s where it becomes a problem. That’s when religion is being forced upon the students.
We need to drag religion into the light, not suppress it because it offends our sensibilities. That’s what religious apologists do. They rely on the false sense of outrage about religious sensibilities being offended to draw people to their cause. They pump up the emotionality of controversy because they lack the substance of reason to support the clearly false claims they make. It’s a factual canard wrapped in an emotional red herring.
I once owned a t-shirt that stated “Nuke a godless communist gay baby seal for Christ” and wore it to classes at university. The President of the Christian Student Union asked me not to wear it because “he was offended” My response: “You should be offended.” On today’s campus, I’d have to send out a trigger warning tweet before wearing it.
Our sensibilities should be offended, and regularly. It’s something that should force us to re-evaluate our ideas and emotions and feelings about the problems of the world, and not something we should cry foul about. If I cried foul every time my sensibilities were offended, all I’d be doing is crying foul. Wait a minute! Could crying foul be a cottage industry in the United States? Puh-shaw, like that would ever happen in the land of the free. (That was sarcasm!)
In my opinion, Christians have had an extraordinary amount of privilege lavished upon them, and now they think that these privileges are rights. They’re not. Let’s not be hypocritical here and assume that our sensibilities have rights by participating in the same kabuki theater of out-screaming them when our sensibilities are offended. In fact, they do have the right to pray publicly. They don’t have the right to make me pray. Let’s be clear about this.
Nobody is forcing you to stay and watch the prayer. And even if you do, exactly how is it offensive? They’re talking to their imaginary friend. As delusions go, it’s pretty innocuous. Are you offended by the murmurings of a person suffering from schizophrenia? If so, it’s not schizophrenia that’s to blame; it’s your sense of entitlement. That’s some fucked up Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ logic that needs to be stopped dead in its tracks.
It’s organized religion that’s the problem. Praying on a football field is the symptom, organized religion is the disease. Let’s treat the disease and let the symptoms resolve on their own.
So, in the grand scheme of things, I really don’t care about a JV football coach in Washington having a little rap session with his imaginary friend JC after an ultimately meaningless JV football game. There are bigger fish to fry. I care about what gave rise to such behavior, Religion is the enemy here, not public prayer.