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Remember last November 7 when we had midterm elections... the day many of you will likely remember as the day that the Congress turned blue again...
I thought I would x-post a Myspace blog I wrote about my experiences voting that day.
So I went to vote today... I know, big surprise... but true story:
I walked into my friendly neighborhood polling place, which happened to be the "Retirement Community" (or Old Folks' Luxury Experience or whatever they're calling it these days) down the street from my apartment.
First of all, there were no signs as to where the actual voting was taking place. Picture me wandering into the ornate, crystal-chandeliered dining room, interrupting the genteel luncheon conversation of dozens of 110-year-old women (some of them were older than women's right to vote itself) as I attempted to find my way to the unmarked center of democratic participation.
By pure chance, I happened upon the actual voting area. Long table manned by about 7 more of those 110-year-old people, four voting booths to the right... and as I look up, I see what else but...
A giant, 5-foot tall felt rendering of Jesus.
Hanging right above the voting booths.
So I take my little ballot, fill in the bubbles, write in Mickey Mouse for a few of the races, and shoot my ballot into the electronic machine that's supposed to tally it up.
I'm halfway out the door when I realize I can't, in good conscience, leave without saying something about Jesus. So I get the head election worker lady in my sights and say, in the most straightforward way possible, "Why is there a big picture of Jesus hanging right above the voting booths?"
All of a sudden, I'm accosted by another voter, a black woman around 35 or so. "Why not?" she asks me loudly.
"Because not all Americans believe in Jesus," I replied.
To which she says, "That's what this country was founded on."
To which I said, "This country was founded on slavery too, should we hang a picture of a white slaveholder above the voting booths?"
Actually, I didn't say that. I was thisclose to saying that, but I honestly didn't want a confrontation.
So in real life I ignored her and turned back to the election worker. "I feel that having this picture of Jesus in here is a violation of the separation of church and state. As a non-Christian American, I feel this is intimidating and inappropriate."
The lady replied, "It was here when we got here. But that's an honest opinion, thank you." And turned away.
I drove to work... seething. With each minute that ticked by, I got more and more upset by this encounter. Here I am trying to uphold the First Amendment, and I'm verbally challenged by a fellow voter and brushed off by election officials.
By the time I got to work, I had made up my mind. I had to take action, my conscience would not allow me to stay silent on this issue. So I looked up Election Protection, a non-partisan organization committed to protecting voting rights on election day. I called their hotline and reported the inappropriate religious symbol at the polling place.
Ten minutes later, I got a call back. It was the man from Election Protection on the line to tell me that the polling site had agreed to take down the picture of Jesus.
I'm not against religion or Jesus... in churches, where people choose to go. But I wasn't going to church, I was going to vote. Each citizen should be allowed to vote in a neutral and secular place.
Those who vote based on religious values will do so without needing to be reminded of their values by a giant likeness of their Savior. Those who vote based on other values, such as the value of social services, gay rights, health care reform, stem cell research etc. do not need to stare Christ in the face while they cast their votes.
I feel that today I won a very small, almost insignificant victory on behalf of the core American belief that each person's vote matters equally regardless of what they do or don't believe... and that there is no state-established religion nor do religious symbols belong in a room where democratic voting is taking place.
Perhaps, once that picture of Jesus came down, one or two or ten other non-Christian voters were able to vote in that room without feeling uncomfortable or intimidated by an inappropriate insertion of religion into their personal democratic process.
But mainly I hope I sent a message to the election workers. It is they who are charged with protecting the democratic process for the voters in their precinct. They must remember that no matter how deep into their own Christian-centric world they are, they live amongst people who don't believe what they do... and that there might be people who are Christian, who still don't feel that the voting booth is an appropriate place to display symbols of one faith.
Hopefully that election worker left today after the polls closed with her eyes open just a little bit more to the rights and feelings of others around her.
Each person we vote into office today will take a vow, which goes something like this: I pledge to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.
I may be just one citizen, and you are just one citizen too, but I think we should all make this pledge.
Have any of the others here ever been in a similar position? Either in public, on the job, or with a religious friend or family member?
I would love to hear your stories! How did you stand up for your rights, respect, or privacy as a non-believing person?
This was written by a Mr. Thorne; I've emailed him to find out how the heck he heard about me but I don't remember his answer. It was quite a while ago. Anyway, this happened when I was in 8th grade (it says 9th but I'm pretty sure I was in 8th). I did edit out my name and insert my sn since he says my last name and I'd rather not have that on JM. And yes, we did really get mail.
Danger: The Grinch is a Lawyer
And something of a police force for some federal judges.
Three years ago, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case of Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (530 U.S. 290). The court ruled it was not OK for a public school to favor students who adhere to a particular religious belief. It ruled that it was not OK for a school to have those students use the pubic address system to promote that belief.
When the court explained its ruling in Santa Fe, it said:
“School sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.”
But that’s a bunch of nonsense to the good folks of Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana. “See. That’s what we’re talking about: judicial activism. The First Amendment doesn’t say jack about nonadherents feeling like outsiders. It doesn’t say jack about some wall of separation and it doesn’t say we can’t pray wherever the hell we want to, and we’re not going to have some ######ed bunch of judges tell us that we can’t.”
We’ll see. The ACLU is prepared to haul the parish school district before a federal judge. Why? Because it continues to thumb its nose at the Santa Fe ruling. The ACLU’s filed suit in federal court claiming that Loranger High School is doing just what the Santa Fe ruling said it could not.
The Santa Fe case was about prayers delivered over a school’s PA system at varsity football games. The ACLU suit charges that the same thing is going on at Loranger High School in Tangipahoa Parish. The suit claims that just before each home football game, the Reverend Ralph Garner – who’s not only a preacher but also a teacher at the school – gets on the public-address system and says a prayer, just like he does in church on Sunday. But the Santa Fe ruling says this is not OK: it’s unconstitutional.
Joe Cook, Director of the ACLU of Louisiana, says school district officials continue to “confuse the public school with Sunday school.” Cook also says that some Tangipahoa Parish School Board meetings “resemble a revival or prayer meeting,” and that – in addition to the prayer broadcast over the PA system – the coach leads the football team in the Lord’s Prayer before each game. The problem with that, says the ACLU and the Supreme Court, is that a Jewish kid on the team is made to feel unwelcome, and he’s made to feel that way by an arm of the state: the school board.
Loranger High School Principal Billie Theriot says you can forget that. She says the school is warm and caring: the sort of place where loners and those who are different are welcome. And Theriot is hurt. Someone in the school went and called the ACLU?. She asks, “Why didn’t this person give us the courtesy of letting us know that something was bothering them?”
According to the school board’s attorney, Christopher Moody, the suit could have been avoided if the person who contacted the ACLU had merely filed a grievance. But now it’s a big deal and reporters are calling from all around the country to get the details on this backwater town that expects Jewish football players to participate in the Lord’s Prayer. “The ACLU doesn’t want you to fix a problem. They want to file a lawsuit and grab the headlines,” he said. “They’re determined to make this an issue.”
There may be a very good reason why the person who contacted the ACLU did not file a grievance. The Loranger Methodist Church is right next to the playground of the town’s elementary and middle schools. Loranger Baptist Church is just a block from Loranger High School. The town’s two churches are close to the schools in more ways than one; you can see students walking from school to church each day for what Emile Tasso, pastor of the Methodist church, calls tutoring.
It’s a cozy relationship. Tasso says it’s a model of President Bush’s faith-based initiative. The town’s leaders don’t like the idea of the ACLU questioning that relationship. That could change how things are done in Loranger, and anyone who invites the ACLU to do that is sure to be less than welcome from now on.
Just ask ACADIA. It was nearly three years ago, when Acadia was in the ninth grade. There was a school assembly to commemorate Martin Luther King day. Acadia looked at the printed program, and she noticed that right after the Pledge of Allegiance, there was going to be a prayer. And she knew that was wrong.
How did she know? Acadia is not your typical student. She’s the studious sort, interested more in books than in boys. She’s got politics and activism in her blood, she’s now competing to be a National Merit Scholar, and she actually studies such things as Supreme Court rulings. She knew about the Santa Fe ruling and she knew that the prayer should not be on the program. She pointed this out to one of the teachers, and the two got into a heated discussion about it. Next thing you know, Acadia’s mom is being called to school to pick up her unruly daughter.
Ever since that incident, people have been saying things about the diminutive Acadia, and some don’t mind if she hears what they have to say: she’s the little girl who doesn’t believe in God. Her mother (one of the faithful) still gets a regular dose of mail from do-gooders offering to save the girl (an Atheist) from a hopeless life of godlessness.
There are other examples of why students who don’t like the religious regime at school might just want to keep quiet. In the Santa Fe case, the original plaintiffs – two mothers – were known as the Does. They didn’t want to be identified. They didn’t want their children to be harassed for complaining about the regime. (In that case, the court found a pattern of harassment, condoned by the school district, against students who refused to accept Bibles that were being handed out at the school, or who declined to participate in religious observances at the school. One parent had to take her child out of school because of the harassment.)
Likewise, in the ACLU suit against Loranger High School, the people complaining about the regime are known as the Does in order to minimize their exposure to harassment. One of the students involved has been threatened. In three previous suits challenging the religious regime at Loranger High, anonymous threats were. . . how should we say . . . common?
On 4 November, the school board met to consider some advice offered by Cook: quit wasting the taxpayers’ money on these losing causes. After the meeting, the school board said it would like to reach a settlement. That’s fine by Cook, so long as the board is willing to follow the law and abide by court rulings.[/b]
I have no idea how he knew I'm short, or that my mom is Christian (Methodist, yes, but not practicing and wouldn't self-identify as a typical Christian).
Great job, Acadia! What an interesting story. Leading formal, school-sanctioned Christian prayers in a public school is so clearly against the First Amendment that it's scary. People think it's harmless, but yes, it does alienate those who don't believe in the same religion (or any at all!). It does favor those who agree with or believe the same thing. And you just don't always know who is being offended. Our spiritual beliefs are not etched onto our foreheads!
It makes me mad that the only thing they could find wrong with this was that there was a Jewish football player on the team. So if there hadn't been, then these prayers would have been ok? Even if 100% of the students and staff at a school are devout MORMONS, leading prayer in a public school is STILL unconstitutional!! Ugh!