Thursday, May 10, 2012

We the People — A Departure

Perverted law causes conflict.
~Frédéric Bastiat



[Much thanks to the The Valley Breeze for publishing this essay on May 9, 2012. The Valley Breeze is a northern Rhode Island newspaper servicing eleven towns, distributing 62,500 community newspapers in 5 distinct, weekly local editions. Minor edits made in this version do not modify content as it was published in TVB.

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A story unfolds in the city of Woonsocket, RI, a city on the brink of bankruptcy, a story that is as much about the body politic as it is about religious beliefs, the Constitution of the United States of America, freedoms granted under such Constitution, and forces that endeavor to ensure those freedoms.

A story, too, about a just, rational and moral society, and a small parcel of real estate in Woonsocket which, for the most part, has gone unnoticed by its residents, save for a group of firefighters, and bloodlines of those for whom it was erected. The real estate: a corroding concrete monument topped with a white cross. Constructed in 1921 by a family honoring their beloved William Jolicoeur—a Christian, a WWI soldier, and one of the 53,000 plus members of the American Expeditionary Forces that were killed upon Europe's battlefields—the once nearly forgotten monument is now garnering national attention, and as such, is about to be improved, at no cost other than time, muscle ache and sweat, by those people who believe in a just, rational and moral society, and the preservation of such society, as fractured as it may be.

What has become a heated dispute on the streets and in the papers raises a simple question: Can a plain white cross on a ninety-one year old war monument in a forsaken parking lot in Woonsocket, RI survive the political left, atheistic scrutiny of those it offends?

Deep beneath the surface of this story lies another story, an uncomfortable truth about our just, rational and moral society, the state of our national psyche, human nature itself. But to fully understand the scope of the dispute, one must understand the history behind the monument topped with a white cross; a history that dates back to the signing of the Constitution, to the moment the monument was unveiled, to the day down-on-its-luck Woonsocket became unwittingly entangled, like many others, in a long-standing, freethinkers' crusade.

In 1921, when the monument was erected in Woonsocket on a center medium slab of Cumberland Hill Road, above the dark, thundering waters of the Blackstone River, a river of which powered the many textile mills scattered throughout the city, before the closings of those mills and long before the industrious city fell to hard times, the city thrummed with activity and commerce. It flourished with a healthy population of Catholic, French-Canadian immigrants who were drawn there, mainly, to work in the mills that lined both sides of the snaking River. For both the elite and working class people, social life centered around Woonsocket's churches; they were God-fearing, law-abiding citizens, proud of their heritage and adopted homeland.

When the cross-topped monument was rededicated in May of 1953 to three brothers from Woonsocket who lost their lives in the battles of World War II, a new plaque was placed upon the grey stone base, honoring the veterans of both wars. After the floods of 1954, Cumberland Hill Road was reconfigured, setting it back further from the river, and the unaltered monument would find itself situate still upon the medium, but in what became the northern end of the parking lot of Woonsocket's Fire Station No. 2.

Before the crumbling monument amassed national attention and two days prior to the monument's dedication by a decorated French Marshall, President Harding, in an elaborate ceremony in Washington, D.C. on November 11, 1921 (America's first Armistice Day) paid tribute to the Unknown Soldier with a poignant speech, and a symbolic, pale tomb at Arlington National Cemetery. The tomb: a white marble sarcophagus resting on the grave in which remains of unknown soldiers are buried. At the front elevation of the tomb, as the same was augmented in 1931, encased by the relief of an open laurel wreath are the words "The Unknown Soldier." Inscribed on the Tomb of the Unknowns are wreaths representing major battles of the First World War, and the words: 

HERE RESTS IN
HONORED GLORY
AN AMERICAN
SOLDIER
KNOWN BUT TO GOD

Harding's speech was no less than a beautifully crafted, emotional work of art. In it, he stated, among other things, "In the death gloom of gas, the bursting of shells and rain of bullets, men face more intimately the great God over all, their souls are aflame, and consciousness expands and hearts are searched. With the din of battle, the glow of conflict, and the supreme trial of courage, come involuntarily the hurried appraisal of life and the contemplation of death’s great mystery. On the threshold of eternity, many a soldier, I can well believe, wondered how his ebbing blood would color the stream of human life, flowing on after his sacrifice…”

Two days later, a Sunday evening, in Woonsocket, at the same monument in the center of the road—to be named that day as Place Jolicoeur (meaning "Place of Happy Hearts")—and after an extravagant parade where thousands of people stood in unbroken line across its route, mills brilliantly illuminated and whistles blowing, the French Marshall Ferdinand Foch and his party descended upon Place Jolicoeur. The band struck up France's national anthem, La Marseillaise, the crowd joined in singing, and Marshal Foch dedicated the rose and chrysanthemum embellished monument, a post at the time, as the spot that would mark a fitting tribute to the fallen soldier.

Foch, the Supreme Allied Commander of all Allied forces in the Great War, the First World War, the war that would end empires, had been beckoned to Woonsocket by its leaders. Foch was the man who led the Allied armies to victory in France's battlefields. He was to tour the nation in the fall of 1921, and his presence in Woonsocket would effectively make the monument an historic relic, regarded as a hard-set  portal to Europe's allies.    


There is no greater lie than a truth misunderstood.
~William James

Ninety-one years later, on April 13, 2012, roughly halfway across the country, at an unlisted street address in Madison, Wisconsin, along the southern shore of Lake Mendota, a letter of complaint to Mr. Leo Fontaine, the Mayor of the cash-strapped city of Woonsocket, was carefully drafted by a staff attorney to the radical group of freethinkers and self-appointed watchdogs of the Constitution's First Amendment, known as the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The nonprofit organization describes itself as a foundation working “to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism, and to promote the constitutional principle of separation between church and state."

The Foundation is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics and skeptics) with over 18,000 members, including notable honorary Board members such as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, media commentator Ron Reagan, author and former SNL cast member Julia Sweeney, and Mike Newdow, an atheist famously known for challenging the Pledge of Allegiance’s “under God” wording by telling the U.S. Supreme Court, "I don't believe in God. And every school morning my child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart, and say that her father is wrong.”

Well, who is to say he's right?

The Foundation’s website catalogues the many ways it promotes the constitutional principle under the Establishment Clause, of which they deem as “strict separation between church and state.” Their promotional methods include the filing of demands and lawsuits throughout the country where, they believe, church and state might interact, as if they were ever forbidden to do so.

From the Constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In other words, desirous of protecting its citizens from religious persecution and dictates, the creators of our Constitution made religious freedom inclusive among the freedoms granted to all citizens, ensuring that neither government nor religion have power over the other, mitigating bloodshed by clash between the two. So does this mean the two entities cannot interact?

No written law, no prohibition, exists in America that has the effect of drawing a strict line of separation between church and state.

"In God We Trust" is still on our money. Prayer is still held in the White House. The Tomb of the Unknowns still says, "KNOWN BUT TO GOD." In Annapolis, MD, the ornate onyx and burnt umber marble sarcophagus of John Paul Jones rests beneath the fresh-floral adorned alter of the U.S. Naval Academy's Chapel.

The Foundation coaches the public via outreach, as well as publications such as the books Just PretendA Freethought Book for Children; and, Abortion is a Blessing. They post billboards and signs across the valleys, plains, roads and highways of our country imprinted with bold messages like:



And others:

YES VIRGINIA... THERE IS NO GOD;

HEATHEN'S GREETINGS; and

ENJOY LIFE NOW, THERE IS NO AFTERLIFE

They encourage the use of banners, or memes, that can be found on their website, with epithets such as:

NOTHING FAILS LIKE PRAYER; and

Nobody died for our sins—Jesus Christ is a myth.

In their letter of complaint, the Foundation demanded that the city of Woonsocket remove the monument topped with a cross, the historic relic, the portal to our European allies, on the grounds that its presence on city property violates the Constitution's First Amendment, and the unwritten doctrine of strict separation of church and state.

Without citing a supporting legal statute the Foundation argued that the public display on city property of Christian symbols is unlawful, and blatantly violates the First Amendment by demonstrating a preference for Christianity.

Their co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, later said: "We expect to prevail without going to court." And, "Our assumption is that the city does not realize the law."

Two years earlier, the ACLU, representing a Cranston high school student, prevailed in a case against the city of Cranston, RI, forcing the removal of a prayer banner from a public school. The Foundation, for its part, awarded the offended Cranston student a $10,000.00 scholarship for bravery, under its recently established Atheists in Foxholes Support Fundwhich will provide funds and assistance to young persons exhibiting bravery, and furthering the Foundation's cause. 

Had Mayor Fontaine any idea of the Foundation’s fury, their persistent persecution of all things religious? He would soon come to discover the tenacity of their crusade. But the newly united city, and the support of those across the state and nation, including the Ocean State Atheists, would be a salve.

A half century or so after our founding fathers drafted and signed the Constitution, Frenchman Frédéric Bastiat, a liberal theorist, political economist and pioneer of free market capitalism (who, like the authors of our Constitution, was influenced by the tenets of 18th Century liberalism) wrote his seminal work turned book, The LawIn it, he said: "It is not true that the function of law is to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our wills, our education, our opinions, our work, our trade, our talents or our pleasures. The function of law is to protect the free exercise of these rights, and to prevent any person from interfering with the free exercise of these same rights by any other person."

But when the law is made an instrument of injustice, when words of our founding fathers are gnarled, quoted out of context to further radical agendas, the law becomes perverted, diluted with contentious declarations. It becomes an instrument of discord, partiality, and destruction, a slayer of liberty and property. A symbol of hate.

The truth, though, is that there are extremists on both sides of this matter. There are religious fanatics, as well as atheist zealots. Agitators flying on left and right wings deftly twisting truths—no one is served well by their uncompromising rhetoric.

In 1848, when Bastiat published The Law, he claimed that America, more so than any other country in the world, kept the law within its proper domain. But what will become of the relic of a monument topped with a white cross? How far will WE, the people, be willing to depart from the First Amendment’s intent? How willing are we to destroy or remove or relocate tangible tributes paid to those whose ebbing blood would color the stream of human life, flowing on after his sacrifice?

Every legal case is a new case. And with renewed spirit the city, and its supporters, will join in defending its rights, their rights, against the wrath of the Foundation. The future will tell the rest of the story; the outcome quite possibly dependent upon what we know to be, what is meant to be, what we hope shall be: a just, rational and moral judicial system.

Yet man, in his imperfect embodiment of atoms and molecules, muscle and bone, and perhaps even soul, in his primordial quest to be known and validated, to conquer, slave to his desires, will abide in threatening the rights, freedoms and unity of his country and people in the name of greed, pride, lust and envy. 

To the bitter end. The war to end all wars. 

And maybe, even, WE the people.

39 comments:

  1. 'But when the law is made an instrument of injustice, when words of our founding fathers are gnarled, quoted out of context to further radical agendas, the law becomes perverted, diluted with contentious declarations. It becomes an instrument of discord, partiality, and destruction, a slayer of liberty and property. A symbol of hate.'

    Jayne, my head and heart are swirling on the heels of your impassioned, articulate and incredibly well-constructed post. Has this been published, elsewhere?

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    1. Suze- Swirling. Oh no! I was swirling a bit collecting all the pieces for this. I'm resting today--not a even putting up a Frolic. ;)

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  2. Scrolling up again I see The Valley Breeze has published it. Thank you so much for reproducing it, here.

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  3. Jayne, I see your time spent in impassioned study and research has produced a logical and inspiring post. Instead of manipulating people with emotional blackmail or bribing them with scholarships, you have pointed out the simple facts.

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

    As you said, "No written law, no prohibition, exists in America that has the effect of drawing a strict line of separation between church and state."

    Ego seems to be at the head of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
    .
    As Ben Franklin said, "Half a truth is often a great lie."

    Well done Jayne.

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    1. "[...] manipulating people with emotional blackmail or bribing them with scholarships..." You go, Leah! Well, er, although I didn't specifically say it (oh, alright, perhaps intimated), it does appear that EGO is a driving force here, doesn't it?

      I think you saw my preamble, Leah, before I decided that this essay needed no preamble and took it down--that Ben Franklin perfectly illustrates the Foundation's national advertising campaign--which is what the preamble covered. Anyone can check out the video that was aired, by our national broadcasters, depicting JFK at the time he spoke his famous "I Believe" speech. They spliced the audio and pieced it together so that it appears his words were spoken in sequence, but they weren't. They were taken out of context, from the entirety of speech, and I believe there's a term for that type of advertising. Unfair and deceptive?

      I wonder how JFK's family feels about that ad... have not researched that angle... ;)

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  4. Jayne, although I am not religious, I keep this issue very close to my heart, right next to Freedom of Speech. I have the opinion that those who would work to extinguish those freedoms are ignorant of the fact that they also extinguish their own freedoms. How is it that they do not see this?
    I'm baffled by humans.

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    1. Nessa- True dat. Are we headed toward total censorship of all things religious? You know, the Foundation's work, at its core, fighting to protect our constitutional rights is noble. I'm not sure why, though, they need to go after a little monument in a little patch of city property. Could it have to do with the fact that the city doesn't have deep pockets?

      Me too, utterly baffled.

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  5. here we go again with the ultra extremists. is this time in our history going to be remembered as the mean season of extremism in our country? it worries me when groups have this need to hurt and raise havoc as their primary goal.

    thoughtful, informative, very well written, and, most importantly, filled with the truth jayne.

    i, too, am baffled and saddened every day by the behavior of human beings. has reason simply lifted off and flown away?

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    1. Sometimes a group, to prove its point, to get the recognition it so desires, has to do extreme things. In the 60s, women burned their bras (that was cool!), and well, I could go on, but I won't, you get the point. It's all about shock value. The Foundation's posters/billboards/books/rhetoric: shock value. Any news is good news.

      They're slowly getting noticed, and I fear their means of marketing could evolve into more egregious methods, and have the unfortunate event of attracting those with sickened minds who might perpetrate violence against others in furtherance of their cause. Not trying to get dramatic--these things happen, we all know it. Heck, it's been 30 years they've been attempting to get their message out, and they want to be noticed dammit!

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  6. A brilliant post, Jayne. It reminded me of this quote that I've reflected upon from a former American President: "Now, I realize that it's fashionable to believe that no one in government should encourage others to read the Bible. That, we're told, would violate the Constitutional separation of church and state established by our founding fathers in the First Amendment. The First Amendment was not written to protect people and their laws from religious values. It was written to protect those values from government tyranny".

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    1. Michael - You know what kids are saying? This is immoral. I don't believe that because someone is an atheist it means he's immoral. Not at all. But this demand of the Foundation's (as well as many others), doesn't speak well of morality. They fight for principle. They forget morality.

      Ronald Reagan said that. (I looked it up.) And he said more: "John Adams called it (the Bible) 'the best book in the world.' and Ben Franklin said, '... the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men... without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel... our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach, a bye-word down to future ages.'...

      And I hear that George Washington kissed the Bible at his inauguration.

      The Foundation really shouldn't quote our founding fathers--using the words of those great men out of context--in FFRF's promotional material--silly, silly. They need knew marketing consultants.

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  7. Oh gosh Jayne. This is an amazing article, full of passion and research and very well-argued. You really did a great job on putting this together.

    A good part of me feels the cross should remain, and yet another part sides with the Foundation's reasoning. It really is too bad things have come to this point but I fear much of it has to do with the fanaticism of religion fundamentalists. I don't have the energy to formulate a decent argument and of course this is not the place for one, but I was thinking that many of us who tend toward atheistic zealotry had major problems with religions as young children and possessed no recourse with which to deal with our confusion and pain. We grew up to hate religion and hate only begets more pain. I think many of us are still looking for an answer and do not want our children to suffer the same. It really is a terribly complicated argument and I see little chance of resolution any time in the near future. Sad. At the same time, I have hope that the debate can remain civil and peaceful on both sides.

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    1. Yep, Ru, I get their point, too. I get that religion shouldn't have a important role in government. I get that the drafters of the Constitution desired a secular government, and a country in which all were free to worship as they please, which was the single best thing they could do. They'd seen the carnage of two great forces opposing the other. So they set the stage for the two to peacefully coexist. Brilliant, they were.

      And if it weren't for them, we may not be having this dialog today. Imagine censorship. The Foundation wants us to imagine a world with no religion. Why? Why on earth do they want us to imagine this? In terms of religion coexisting with government, our country is a success. We don't need to censor religious thoughts and ideas and representations. I'm not getting it. I feel like my son at the Hockney exhibit. ;)

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  8. Indeed, what a beautifully crafted and impassioned piece. Well paced, thoughtfully constructed and doesn't devolve into emotive heart string pulling...well bloody done!
    I'm a secular humanist as you know, but have far more important things to busy my mind with than taking potshots at religion and belief. Perhaps those who are so against the placement of this cross stand back for a moment and see that this is not a church, a revival centre or even a threat to the freedom of thought. It is a symbol honouring those who lost their lives for (perhaps) what they thought were the defense of those freedoms.
    Whew, bit of a rave, but dang...I'm really disappointed in humans at times.
    Great post J! ;)

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    1. Dan--"'m a secular humanist as you know, but have far more important things to busy my mind with than taking potshots at religion and belief." Thank you for saying that, it pretty much sums it up. Rave on!

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  9. The Godless I pity them. To think all this is chance, my soul is a chemical soup and I am nothing more than a meatbot. Look at a sunset, gaze at a Monet. Tell me man has not soul and I tell you go find yours.

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    1. Well, CM, I don't pity them. They're free to believe what they want, we don't all need religion. We're all different and that's what makes the world go round. Maybe, for some, though, religion wouldn't hurt. ;)

      I think what we all need is morality and humility.

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    2. we dont all need religion. This from my French Canadian Catholic Friend. Really...Really Jayne. If you try to appeal to all you appeal to none.

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    3. Ah, born into a Catholic family, yes. But many, many things Catholic, I think you know (I think we've discussed) that I'm not fond of. Including, without question, the dogma. Cannot tolerate the dogma, nor the sexism, of Catholicism and its Church. There, let that be duly noted (in the event I've previously failed to note it).

      I can only hope that the call for more humility, and morality, does appeal to all. ;)

      (And if you want to further discuss this matter, you're going to have to take me out for a Guinness. Meet me at the Chieftain? ;))

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  10. One small correction, though. The monument was added in 1952, and was not part of the original dedication to Jolicoeur. In fact, the monument is to the Gagne brothers, and the only thing it has to do with Jolicoeur is that it was placed on a piece of land once dedicated to him. At the time of the dedication of Jolicoeur Square in 1921, nine other spots were also dedicated throughout Woonsocket, to nine other soldiers who gave their lives in WWI. All these other squares are forgotten, paved over, renamed and ignored. See: http://www.rifuture.org/jolicoeur-square-woonsocket-cross-not-so-special-after-all.html

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    1. Steve- Thank you for pointing this out. Though I'm not sure I understand what you mean. You're correct that the monument, itself, was added later, I think I made that clear by noting that the monument--or what we are calling the "monument", at the time, was a post. There was no cement monument in 1921, that's correct.

      My research included reviewing The Woonsocket Call on microfiche at Woonsocket's Harris Public Library. The Call dedicated a huge portion of its paper (for days!--"Foch Will Come to Woonsocket," "City Complete's Final Plans...," a "Proclamation of the Mayor of Woonsocket for the Reception of Marshal Foch.")

      This '[...] glorious event shall forever live in the annal of our Commonwealth and in the hearts of the people, and..." That's from the Proclamation made by Adelard Soucy--then mayor of Woonsocket. It's pretty wild stuff: called for all citizens of the city to decorate and illuminate their homes and businesses and HAIL the Marshall!

      I'm fully aware of the route, Steve, and the places Foch visited in Woonsocket; his route was laid out in agonizing detail over several days, before and after the big date, with lots and lots of ink.

      I did not, however, elaborate on Foch's entire route or additional dedications (including a visit to the high school, and St. Ann's Church) because I didn't see the relevance, not because I thought it would diminish the importance of Place Jolicoeur. Other than Fire Station #2's web site, Place Jolicoeur is the subject of the Foundatation's ire, complaint and demand, and this was the focus of my essay.

      I read your article. Excellent. Great pics, too. Brings back memories, but sad about the forgotten and lost monuments. Especially after all that fanfare. ;)

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  11. Well said, Jayne! While reading your essay, I felt my anxiety give rise and then a great weariness set in. The minute I saw the photograph of the monument, I knew where this was going.
    It's all just so wearisome...these people need better things to focus on- something positive, perhaps. How are they able to eat? I should think one's sphincter muscles would be too tight for one to enjoy food and life in general with such uptight attitudes.

    I like the quality of material The Valley Breeze publishes : )

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    1. Leonora- I felt he bp rising giving the FFRF this focus, but I couldn't pull myself from it. Things legal (especially when askew) tend to pull me in, and combined with my native city, well, I couldn't help myself.

      Ha! Yes, such muscles must burn, and I'd imagine they have a healthy stock of Tums in the office.

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  12. Whoa. Well worth the writing, and well worth the reading. Nice work!

    My head's with the atheists on this one. But they're behaving rather like the zero-tolerance maniacs, who will expel an elementary-school student for, well, take your pick. Possession of an emery board, or a box of cough drops, whatever. Because, y'know, "School policy CLEARLY STATES [blah blah]." A civil society doesn't just follow its head -- that's not a society I want to live in, at any rate.

    If I had my way, the first thing I'd outlaw would be (pardon my not-even-close-to-French) tight-asserie. People like this give me a headache.

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    1. P.S. I caught that little glancing aside about not doing a Frolic today. Grrrr. Maybe a Saturday Night Shuffle?

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    2. Ballet tonight with the Sprite! Sorry. ;)

      Everyone needs a cause, as they say. Fine, the FFRF attends to what they perceive as the government's blatant endorsement of certain religions (or, like the National Day of Prayer--which is a bit odd, I think). But the problem is is that they perceive just about any public hint of religious expression as the government's blatant endorsement of such religion. Particularly that of Christianity.

      A head is all they have to follow. It's all they believe we are. And it seems they'd like all of us to believe what they believe in. Oh boy, I'm going to stop myself there... I like you're French, JES. It's a bit Canuck, eh?

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    3. Over at 7-Imp, I just read this quote from Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez:

      "Far from learning, adults simply become set in a maze of prejudices and dreams and sets of rules whose origins they do not know, and would not dare inspect for fear the whole structure might topple over on them."

      Exactement*.

      ____________________
      *And if you liked the Canuck version, that may have really rocked you back on your heels. Even knowing that it's pretty much the limit of what I can do without checking spelling, let alone translate.com. :)

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    4. Whoops, meant to make "7-Imp" a hyperlink!

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    5. Ah, JES, exactement, oui! C'est parfait!

      Thank you for the link to 7-imp. Reminds me that I haven't been there in a while, and must pay Jules a visit. :)

      (It would be interesting to read non-fiction by Steinbeck. Should I add that one to the list as well?)

      Off to soccer... :)

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    6. Btw- Creative Brooding is in and, thus far, enjoying it muchly. ;)

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  13. I'm an atheist myself, but I'm not offended by the cross. I've got used to it. When I was a kid we had to stand straight saying a prayer (Pater Noster) every morning in school. I did it because I had to, but I revealed the nonsense in 2nd grade. To me the cross is just a symbol, of cultural heritage as much as religion. And I can just do like the satanists; turn it upside-down.

    Most important is that law and religion are separate. The "In God we trust" stuff is just seremony. It's dangerous only when the words and dogmas of the Bible (or Koran) enters the paragraphs of the constitution. In that sense, the French model is a good one.

    In Satan we trust >;)

    Cold As Heaven

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  14. While I believe that extremism in all its forms is anathema to civilized society, the tone of this piece worried me a bit, particularly in its use of phrases like this: " . . . the political left, atheistic scrutiny of those it offends, “a long-standing, freethinkers' crusade,” and “radical group of freethinkers and self-appointed watchdogs.” The language seemed to me to sweep an awful lot in its wake, whereas the target of the criticism was a tiny group—and a group with, I think, an important point to make. Indeed, I believe separation of church and state (as embodied in the Bill of Right’s establishment clause), is fundamental to a liberal (small L) democracy. Look, I may not agree with the group’s approach in this instance, but we have to remember, that there is, too, the tyranny of the majority. Language and symbols are important. They define us, and we must take care with them.

    When I was in law school, there were only fourteen women among a slew of men. Many things were taken for granted that should not have been. In one instance, I raised my hand to answer a question about a legal theory exemplified by a case. The professor, intending to compliment me for recognizing the theory, said, “that’s right, the reasonable man theory.” I retorted, “you mean the reasonable person theory.” He threw up his hands and said, “it’s just a term of art.” A debate about the term ensued. After the class, a group of male students protested to him that he should continue to use the term “reasonable man.” I give enormous credit to that professor. I am quite aware that he was mightily irritated at my making controversy out of what was, to him, a simple term of art. He announced in the next class that he had been approached to use the term “reasonable man,” but he understood the issue and would, from here on out, use the term “reasonable person,” in recognition that both men and women were training to be lawyers, not, as in the old days, only men.

    I am simply not ready to condemn the Foundation’s objection or arguments, though perhaps their approach is just a wee bit humorless. The cross can stay on the monument, just move it off public land, that’s all. And I do think the fire department should keep religion out of the dialogue on its website. That’s not the point, after all. The point is honoring those who fell in battle, helping to save enlightened democracy for all of us.

    For myself, I would prefer, however, a less legalistic approach to the debate—one that tries to engage the other party, and perhaps use a bit of humor to make the point. In this regard, I think one of the best commentaries on the issue of separation of church and state came from Samantha Bee on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, which, if I have done this right, can be viewed here.

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    1. Thank you, Susan, for your very thoughtful response. (I was one of those girls taking issue, w/my hand up in class, too!) I'm 100% in agreement with you with respect to the fire department's use of a prayer and angelic imagery on their website. I was surprised by it, but how many people actually look at the fire department's web site?! Not the point, I know, but it illustrates to what lengths this group will go to persecute (yes, I do mean persecute) and prosecute those who are not atheists).

      Ha! I understand what you mean by my "sweeping" language. It is sweeping, true, but it's reflective of my general feeling about this particular group. And because I was concerned about the essay's word count, I ended up making some deletions that may have further supported the sweeping statement. Still, I felt like those words were the right choice for the essay, and for more...

      Regardless of the relatively small size of the Foundation, they've been sweeping across the nation with their God is a fantasy Word, proving their intolerance of anything that hints religion. It's not their sentiment, though, with which I take issue, and not only their methods either (which includes a predatory history of forcing litigation in financially distressed cities and towns--although, in this economy, this could be said of many towns/cities), but rather their mean-spirited attacks on those who are not atheists. I've done a lot (probably too much) of research on this group, hoping to remain neutral, but it's been difficult as I've found that its leaders and members are not only hell bent on eradicating religion, but they also take profound joy in mocking, poking serious fun at, those who have religious beliefs. Evidence of the same can be found in their marketing and publications, as well as released videos, their Facebook page, and other public forums on the internet. They are clearly not a little, benign group, and they clearly plan on expanding to a point in which they hope to make tremendous impact in the country. And woe to those who stand in their way.

      That being said, guarding separation of church and state is a noble cause. I think, where we see blatant encroachment of the same, backed by significant government endorsement, our concerns must be addressed. But the NON-PROFIT Foundation (w/4 paid staffers, whose membership--gained by a $$ fee only--continues to grow), in this particular case (as well as others) is way off its mark. I think they've wobbled into a densely grey area of the Establishment Clause without thinking this through. There's plenty of legal precedent to indicate that its a losing cause for them. Still, they push on--in dire need of defending the principle of church/state separation, their raison d'être. What this indicates, to me, is that they are not reasonable observers, that they are, rather, slaves to ego, greed (check out financials) and envy.

      I'm not asking anyone to condemn FFRF. But they are an organization that, we, the citizens of this country, should closely watch. What are they up to, really?

      See the BBB's Charity Review, issued 1/12, of FFRF. They do not meet at least 5 of the 20 standards for Charity Accountability, including the standard for unrestricted net assets available for use (which shouldn't be more than the higher of: 3x the size of prior year's expenses or current year's budget).
      From BBB: According to its audited financial statements for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2009, the organization's total unrestricted net assets were $6,637,430, or 5 times the charity's total budgeted expenses of $1,451,500.

      BBB review here, for anyone interested.

      (Very funny video, Susan! Thanks for posting. :))

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    2. Oops- had trouble with linking to the BBB review. Will try again...
      See the BBB review here.






      Here it is:

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    3. Jayne: Thanks for the additional information, and you can be assured my radar will be up should I encounter this group. The last thing this world needs is more mean-spiritedness or fanatics of any stripe. I'm with you entirely there.

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  15. This is, as I expected, beautifully written. I find myself in agreement, and I want to tell these nontheists to get a freakin' life. I have been in my life a Christian, an atheist, a pagan...yet never have I desired to invalidate someone else's path, and certainly not to deface monuments. It's douchebaggery hiding as righteousness, and it drives me batshit crazy.

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    1. DB- Amen! I think many agree with you. Hey, nice to see you here at SS--are you blogging again?! :)

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    2. Yes, thankfully. I've come out of the craziness of tax season and into...different craziness it seems. :)

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    3. Yeah! I will be over to DL soon! ;)

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