The list of Religious Right attacks on our freedoms – both religious and otherwise – is almost endless. And now it is approaching graduation time – which means enforced prayer time for many.
Which means we find Matt Barber, Associate Dean at Liberty University School of Law, for whom intolerance is a profession (see his bio at GLAAD), complaining at World Net Daily that we resist having religion shoved down our throats at public school graduation ceremonies:
Yet as surely as the stink bug infests Virginia in May, spring brings with it a swarm of secularist bullies in the public schools. At once agitated and aided by left-wing extremist groups like the ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Americans United and People for the American Way, these anti-Christian segregationists seek to remove God from graduation altogether and intimidate His faithful into silence.
Coming from the Religious Right, which actively promotes segregation, not only along religious but ethnic lines, that charge is laughable.
Barber crows about “his” victory over “anti-Christian stinkbugs” in Adler v. Duval County School Board:
In a precedent-setting case against the ACLU that went all the way to the Supreme Court, Adler v. Duval County School Board, Liberty Counsel defended the right of students to pray or give religious messages at graduation. The case established the legal principle that public schools are free to adopt a policy that permits students or other speakers to present either secular or religious messages, including prayer, at commencement ceremonies.
In fact, as Americans United explains the case, Adler v. Duval County School Board (1996) was not all that dramatic: “In October 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the en banc ruling and remanded the case for further consideration in light of its Santa Fe decision.”
In Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000), the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against student initiative prayer at high school football games as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Writing for the majority, Justice Stevens wrote that these student-initiated prayers, when delivered “on school property, at school-sponsored events, over the school’s public address system, by a speaker representing the student body, under the supervision of school faculty, and pursuant to a school policy that explicitly and implicitly encourages public prayer is not properly characterized as “private” speech.” It is public.
As Stevens pointed out, “Regardless of the listener’s support for, or objection to, the message, an objective Santa Fe High School student will unquestionably perceive the inevitable pregame prayer as stamped with her school’s seal of approval.”
Adler v. Duval County School Board was eventually decided by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. And in fact, as Fox News reported at the time,
The Supreme Court ordered the Atlanta-based appeals court to rethink the case in light of the high court’s decision in 2000 to bar student-led prayers at public high school football games.
So Barber is implying a Supreme Court victory which never took place (In fact, his cause took one on the chin in the Santa Fe ruling) but he implied the Supreme Court agreed with him, which it very pointedly did not, as you can see from its Santa Fe ruling and its recommendation to the 11th Circuit.
And here we thought lying was a violation of the Ten Commandments Barber wants to shove down all our throats.
And in fact, things get worse for Barber. As the Pew Research Center relates,
Other courts, however, have invalidated school policies that permit student speakers to include religious sentiments in graduation addresses. One leading case is ACLU v. Black Horse Pike Regional Board of Education (1996), in which the senior class of a New Jersey public high school selected the student speaker by a vote without knowing in advance the contents of the student’s remarks.The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals nevertheless ruled that the high school could not permit religious content in the commencement speech.The court reasoned that students attending the graduation ceremony were as coerced to acquiesce in a student-led prayer as they would be if the prayer were offered by a member of the clergy, the practice forbidden by Weisman in 1992. (Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who was then a member of the appeals court, joined a dissenting opinion in the case, arguing that the graduating students’ rights to religious and expressive freedom should prevail over the Establishment Clause concerns.)
Similarly, in Bannon v. School District of Palm Beach County (2004), the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Florida school officials were right to order the removal of student-created religious messages and symbols from a school beautification project.The court reasoned that the project was not intended as a forum for the expression of students’ private views but rather as a school activity for which school officials would be held responsible.
But what makes all this more interesting is that even while claiming a Supreme Court victory, Barber has said if the Supreme Court validates marriage equality that “This Supreme Court will no longer be legitimate.”
So Barber is promoting judicial relativism, where courts are legitimate only if they rule the way he wants them to rule, otherwise they don’t count. Do Supreme Court rulings count or not? This matters, because Ben Carson has said POTUS can ignore SCOTUS at whim.
Barber apparently agrees with Carson. And Mike Huckabee has said that the Supreme Court can’t overrule God.
At this point, a majority of Religious Right leaders seem to have agreed to ignore anything the Supreme Court rules if it is not to their liking.
In the event the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality, you have to wonder what Barber is thinking if he doesn’t reconsider his professional choices, arguing cases before a court that he doesn’t consider legitimate in the first place. Shouldn’t he be taking his case to church instead, which is the proper venue for all those prayers in the first place?
After all, the guy Barber claims to follow, Jesus, said only hypocrites pray in public, and that therefore his followers should pray in private (Matthew 6:5-6):
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
If the Supreme Court can’t overrule God, why is Barber arguing that they should? Barber says, “Let’s give these anti-Christian stink bugs a mouthful of constitutional bug spray,” but the guy he is really spraying is Jesus.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.