Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tennessee School Parents Win Censorship Lawsuit

Parents in Wilson County Schools in Tennessee regularly put up posters for various events. But religious-themed posters, such as the ones talking about the Meet You At the Pole events, were censored. They had to cover up Biblical quotes, and they even had to cover up "In God We Trust" (which is our country's official motto!).

In this case, as in so many, the metaphor "separation of church and state" was invoked by the schools as justification. That was a phrase used by Jefferson to explain an aspect of the First Amendment, but Jefferson himself used the phrase "freedom of religion" much more often. In any case, the First Amendment puts a prohibition on Congress, preventing them from making a law establishing a national religion. Some people believe the 14th Amendment passes this prohibition "down" to state law makers. Assuming that's true, does allowing "In God We Trust" on a poster designed by parents come remotely close to establishing a state law?

Fortunately for the parents and students, the Alliance Defense Fund, a non-profit organization, stepped in to help. The school lost the suit and now knows they must not discriminate against poster solely on religious content.

Read more here:


LexAequitas said...

Have you considered that it's simply immoral to use such a motto?

I don't know if you've ever visited, but Alonzo Fyfe's argument is that those opposing "In God We Trust" and "Under God" need to start using a moral argument rather than a purely legal argument.

Essentially, his argument is:
1) There is nothing inherently moral or amoral about believing in a deity (i.e., simply saying "I [believe/do not believe] in a deity" says nothing about one's morality).
2) The exhortations regarding a deity in the national statements serve to exclude those who do not believe in a deity from public office.
3) This therefore amounts to bigotry against atheists.

I'd encourage you to go read his blog, and in particular his "Perspective on the Pledge" series of posts (which he compiled into a book).

History Matters said...


That's an interesting argument, but my main point on this blog is not whether certain actions are moral or immoral. It is whether they are unconstitutional or not. In this post, censoring the posters was not required by the Constitution, yet some apparently think it is.

But to your point, there are some posts here that point out how some earlier American quotes DID argue for belief in God or a "future system of rewards and punishments" as a good thing for practical reasons. If you ask a witness to give testimony under oath, consider two scenarios:

1) A man who believes in God swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,so help him God. Now, he could be of marginal faith and could have selfish reasons to lie, but if he believes in God even a little, it may affect his testimony positively.

2) A man who believes in no God whatsoever may take the same oath. He too may wish to lie for some selfish reason. But with no belief in a god, he may be less hesitant to lie.

If you do not believe in a higher power, you might still feel compelled to tell the whole truth on the basis of a personal moral code. (Although I'm not sure to what extent pure human logic would pull you against your own self interest.) But a Christian could be as likely to have the same personal tendency to lie, but might feel the additional "tug" of a higher power "looking over his shoulder."

This is essentially the logic some judges used in our early history to ban non-believing witnesses from testifying. It wasn't out of religious outrage (necessarily), but because there was one less reason to give credence to the witness' testimony.

Now back to my point. If you (the generic "you," meaning anyone) don't want your city council to pray before meetings, or if you don't like the religious themes in some posters, or if you don't want to allow a cross on the side of a city hospital, then address that with logic, reason, and morality; do not take it to court over "separation of church and state."

Thanks for the link and suggestion. It's fine, but it is already personally familiar to me. That type of logical approach is very much like my approach used to be many years ago.