Friday, December 14, 2007

Fine. I'm a Secular Progressive.

I've been trying to keep my mouth shut. It hadn't been all that hard, as I haven't been blogging about much of anything lately, but it's been getting harder.

Ted Strickland ordered a religious display be put back up at two state parks after local officials had taken them down in deference to citizens who were unhappy with government initiated religious activity, particularly activity that implied a religious preference for Christ-Worship*.

The reaction from the Ohio blogosphere has been something other than what one may expect. The right-wing sites have apparently been largely silent. More surprisingly, Plunderbund, a left wing site that is generally, if anything, more adamant on church/state issues than I am, has been silent on the matter. The lone voice has been Jerid at BSB, who has been taunting the righties with Ted's surprise co-opting of their pet issue. It seems that this is a brilliant political move for a Democrat to make.

I have long argued that meta-awareness of politics hurts the internet-based activist community. My argument goes like this: Erstwhile progressive politician does something that pisses off progressives, say voting against Habeas Corpus. Progressive on-line community says, "yeah, that sucks, but he's just making a political choice, and deciding that angry progressives pose less of a threat to his election chances than do terrorfied independents... It's important to me that he gets elected, so I can't get too mad..." at which point the candidate should realize that it can never, ever be in his best interest to vote the progressive position. Pandering has NO DOWNSIDE if nobody gets upset when he does it, and he gets more votes for doing it.

So, I realize that Mr. Strickland has always been a centrist, and I also realize that Dems have finally begun to do well by emulating Reagan's 11th commandment. As such, I was hoping that somebody else would step to the plate. But they didn't.

The nativity scenes don't belong on state property. Period. I realize that there may be some constitutional leeway as determined by legal precedent for nativity scenes. Legal doesn't mean appropriate, and these displays seem to me to violate both the letter and the spirit of those decisions, regardless. Park officials made a reasonable decision to take down the displays, and there was no need for the governor to get involved. He took it upon himself to override the decision and declare that some religions are appropriate, and some aren't. If he were a Republican governor, I would have gone immediately ballistic. In deference, I've given myself a cooling off period. Now, Mr. Strickland, I can say quite calmly, that this was not what I hoped for when I touched the screen a year ago. I would like some tangible progress on school funding. I would like to know that, despite the situation last week, you do firmly support maternity leave for all of Ohio's working mothers. And I'd like you to put the religious pandering where it's traditional and appropriate for someone in my position to ask you to put it.

*I apologize for not using the word 'Christianity,' and in using an alternate term I intend no disrespect to the practice of Christianity or to those who worship Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. I'm aware that some legitimate offense will be taken, and that is why I'm apologizing. For many people, the concepts "Religion" and "Christianity" are nearly synonymous, and it is difficult for them to take the perspective that their religion is one of thousands. My use of the term "Christ-Worship" was meant to amplify and clarify the difference between generic expressions of religion (which have, if no more ethical support, more legal support), and expressions specific to a particular religion or subset of religions (pretty much always a no-no for state entities), by naming it with a convention usually applied arbitrarily to non-mainstream religions.


Verdad said...

Ted, while a nice guy, is, in many ways, as beholden to the business community, gun lobby and religious right as most Republicans.

Say what you will about Barbara Sykes' tact on the recent maternity leave issue, but at least she was taking a stand for the very things she (and we) hoped Ted would be standing for. She didn't want to play ball with big (and small) business to "hear" their concerns (translation:capitulate to them). Good for her.

Look, we get it--paying for maternity leave can be expensive. But some of these anti-Mom folks would support tube-tying if it resulted in a sweet bottom line for them. Shame on them. And shame on TS for getting shoved around by the pro-business lobbies.

As for Ted being the lesser of two evils? It looks like he is, since Blackwell would have probably already tried to institute a State Religion by now. But that doesn't give me much comfort.

I hope you're reading this, Mr. Governor. Because I can assure you that you have a large number of neighbors here in Bexley that supported what you ran as but are not happy with what we've been given.

Please use the next three years to win us back.

BuckeyeStateBlog said...


Thank GOD (heh) someone waded into this one. I've just kind of been sitting around with a smirk waiting and waiting and waiting, but no one joined the fun.

Progressive on-line community says, "yeah, that sucks, but he's just making a political choice, and deciding that angry progressives pose less of a threat to his election chances than do terrorfied independents... It's important to me that he gets elected, so I can't get too mad..." at which point the candidate should realize that it can never, ever be in his best interest to vote the progressive position. Pandering has NO DOWNSIDE if nobody gets upset when he does it, and he gets more votes for doing it.

Excellent, excellent, excellent point. I've thought before about how a political focus can at times hurt your progressive interests. You want to show you're not all the bad boogey man stuff the right makes you out to be. So you compromise on what you care about. Heck, I'd be dishonest if I'd claim that I've never done that over BSB (ya' got me. Guilty as charged...but not on this one).

HOWEVER, this particular instance may tickle my political funny bone, I'm not too upset about the substance. From a progressive standpoint, I whole heartedly buy into the "traditional holiday display" argument...and I'm not the biggest fan of mixing church and state in other arenas. I was always one of the queasy kids in the room saying the Boy Scout pledge cause they had to go and mix god in it. I'm not against god, I've never revealed my religious views online - and don't plan to anytime soon - but forcing someone to take a pledge to a higher being just don't sit right with me.

But I do think there's a difference here (although it walks a serious line). We're talking about figurines that depict a scene of the birth of a religion's messiah, on state property, seemingly endorsed by the Governor. Warning sirens should be going off.

In my view it's intrinsically tied to the holiday. However, I think there's significant room for discussion there, and I'd hope the Governor would be open to the same treatment of other faith's in similar situations.

But above all of it, we should be talking in the first place. Thanks for kickstarting that.

Eric said...

Figured it might go without saying what this PlunderMonkey might think of all this. My lack of commentary is due mostly to my lack of blogging. This is a good kick-start and there are at least 3 things related that I might wanna jump off on. Maybe the holiday season would be a good time to get some blogging out of my system.

Mostly though - and I have to be honest and tell you here - I'm about at the point of giving up on any semblance of secular government or public anything. Hell, my daughters have both been told in school that they would go to hell because they don't believe in Jesus. They both now sing about dying and going to heaven in Girl Scouts as well as pledging to honor god in all they do. I get into hour long arguments with my own mother about how I should just let it all slide. I'm worn out. (have I mentioned I gotta get the fuck out of Delaware?)

I did talk two Mormon kids into meditating though. Only took like an hour of theocratic pugilism to get to that one. They walked away all "wtf?"

The other thing? I feel like if I ever really get going on this issue it would take over my life...but hey, that's bloggin' I guess!

Happy Chrismakwanzakkkuh to you and your family btw. ;-)

Bill Sloat said...

I'm with the governor. It is Christmas, there is a tree at the Statehouse. Too much religion? There is a huge painting of Moses getting the 10 Commandments in the Metzenbaum courthouse (the old federal building) on Superior Avenue in downtown Cleveland. It has been there for 90 or so years, maybe less, but you get the point.

I think these displays are cultural rather than relgious per se. The holiday is now secular -- there are plenty of legal rulings that say so -- and the name of the holiday comes from the kid who is in the creche. You make a powerful argument. It was the same argument that tried to get "With God All Things Are Possible" erased from the Statehouse plaza. It didn't work.

Eric said...

BS: (no pun intended - hah) So state government is endorsing Paganism? That's where the tree came from anyway. Makes me kinda chuckle about as much as Christianists letting their kids dress up like goblins on Halloween.

A nativity scene by itself is certainly NOT secular and the SC has ruled as much. The only loophole is that privately FUNDED displays seem to be OK on public property. The rub is the request to display a privately funded display of another religion would need to be approved as well or would seem to indicate a preference and endorsement by the government. The display in question does sound privately funded, but it is hard to know given the reporting. I'd suggest the person protesting apply to display something privately funded and see what happens. Could be an interesting challenge.

Publicly funded displays must have secular symbols (of which a tree qualifies, as does Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, or Santa even) included to be constitutional.

I don't particularly like the Moses painting or the 10 commandments and find it hard to view these not religious but "cultural", but would think if someone wanted to paint Mohammed they'd need to be allowed to, else the true intent of religious endorsement would seem to apply. Those are the tests that would reveal the true intent behind allowing such things. I think the challenges will eventually happen and the courts (and Christianists) will need to decide what battle they want to fight.

Eric said...

the last bit of my comment above was meant to get those Christians who might chest thump decisions like this to think humbly about what they are really doing. the original intent behind separating religion and government was to protect religion after-all, and not the government. consider shoe-on-other-foot scenarios in which something counter to your spiritual practice is the dominate and de-facto government religion.

Paul said...

Eric: Interesting notion that the 1st Amendment is meant to protect religion. I suppose that by prohibiting a single state-mandated religion, one could say that the 1st amendment creates the freedom to practice any or no religion.

And I understand how an implicit endorsement of a religion can be seen as the same thing as state support.

And when a majority of the citizens are followers of a particular faith tradition, I can see where we have to be extra careful not to confuse 'common sense' with 'common belief.'

That being said, I don't understand why in our local school district, Muslim kids are excused from class on Ramadan to pray in a room in the building which was set aside for this purpose, but at the same time a group of Christian kids must hold their prayer time outside.

One of the school system's PR folks said the most ignorant things relative to this: that Christians can pray anytime and anyplace without anyone knowing and therefore a Christian's ability to pray can never be limited (unlike Muslims, who I suppose she thinks can pray only when on their knees on a prayer blanket facing Mecca).

Nor do I understand why there was no outcry from the ACLU when officials of The Ohio State University invited a Native American group to hold a religious service inviting the good spirits inhabiting the about to be demolished student union to return when the new student union is completed.

But the ACLU was there when a Christian group wanted to hold a service of blessing, on the weekend, at their local public elementary school. Their access to the building was denied.

I am very concerned that we have morphed this 1st Amendment liberty into constraints on Christianity that are not applied equally to other faith traditions.

No I don't argue that Nativity scenes should be displayed on public property. But I think we've come to a point where the officials, when having to make judgment calls about what happens at the interface of religion and government, a more likely to draw the hard line relative to Christianity, but be more accommodating to other faith traditions.