Why the Fuss?
Steve B left a long comment on my post about the cheerleaders quoting the Bible on the field; he asks some good questions, chief among them: Why not just ignore it?
These people are in Tennessee, I will never meet them. Who really gives a shit? To be totally honest, my life probably won’t change a bit, no matter what these people do. If they declared the high school a sovereign nation unbound by the Constitution, I wouldn’t miss them a bit. I’d say, let them go! Good riddance!
But they haven’t seceded, so I have to ask, what makes people American? I like to think that a big part of being American is that all the different governments that operate in this country have agreed to a certain minimal set of ground rules.
In this case, the cheerleaders represent the high school. The high school represents the town. The town is bound by the Constitution. When it decides on its own that a shitload of Supreme Court jurisprudence doesn’t apply to it, the town makes a little crack in the Constitutional framework. It’s not a big one. The republic isn’t going to collapse overnight. But, it is essentially saying that the town is unbound by the rules that bind us all.
Of course, the same would be true for any unconstitutional behavior. I think it’s the same when DC restricted gun ownership and every time cops violate the due process rights of a suspect. If people decide t0 abandon their strictures, the Second and Fourth Amendments aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
That should take care of the “who cares” element of your comment. As to the ‘plight’ of atheists – I don’t think there really is a plight. Why? Because the Constitution keeps the majority religion from insinuating itself into our civic lives. The whole reason I don’t feel oppressed is that the founders were wise enough to refuse to adopt a state religion or religious tests for officials.
No public prayer is going to make me become a Christian, but that doesn’t mean that public prayer is acceptable. I don’t say that as an atheist, even though I definitely am one, but as someone who respects the Constitution. Let me come off my high horse for just a second. If I lived in a country with an official religion, I would deal with it. It’s not the presence of religious thought that bothers me, it’s the endorsement of it by that school in this country. I wouldn’t want the cheerleaders to hold up a banner that says “there’s no god, so go score a touchdown on your own initiative” any more than I support the stupid banners that they had.
To address your final point – by pointing out their wrongness, I don’t increase the divide between religion and atheism any more than arresting car thieves increases the divide between car thieves and car owners. They are the ones in the wrong here, and that should be pointed out.
Finally, I leave you with a quotation from Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Baptist congregation from Danbury, Connecticut. With his typical genius, he gives voice to the notion that we all benefit from the freedom afforded to us under the First Amendment:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
Thanks for your thoughtful response, and keep ’em coming.