June 07, 2013

Christian prayer yes, Native feather no

A good analysis juxtaposes two similar stories to show our inconsistent values:

Christian Student Cheered for Prayer, Native Student Snubbed for FeatherSo a white student decides to stand up and demonstrate his religious beliefs and gets cheered. A Native student does the same and can’t get her diploma and gets fined? A juxtaposition that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the online community.

A user-generated post titled “So a Native American girl gets no diploma and a $1,000 fine for putting a feather in her cap, while a Christian valedictorian disobeys rules by reciting prayer and gets standing ovation” on Reddit has been pushed to the front page of the site by other users with more than 15,000 upvotes and 1,630 comments. And those numbers are steadily increasing.

The original poster on Reddit says, “It’s just frustrating to me that when reading these two stories side by side, it comes across as ‘Hey you Indian, stop expressing your culture! This is no place for your savagery. No diploma for you, and now you owe me money for some reason! Oh, hey Christian kid, you weren’t supposed to be inciting prayer at this event. Ahh well, whattya gonna do? You little skamp, hehehe.’”

User Azbug on Reddit says, “What kills me is she worked for four years to get those grades and walk with her class. Somehow, showing one small bit of honor and pride in her ancestry automatically erases her four years of achievement... The other sad commentary is that young man had the opportunity to speak directly to his class, faculty, and the families of the graduates. Instead of saying something interesting or profound, he chose to cough up something that shows no introspection on growing up... On the other hand, the native girl merely whispers deep personal convictions, and is mercilessly stepped on.”
A Facebook friend suggested that Chelsey was merely expressing her culture. You know, like someone wearing a sari, a beret, or a turquoise bracelet. Which wouldn't be constitutionally protected, of course.

I said I was pretty sure this conflict raised freedom of speech and religion issues. I'm glad to see a lawyer agrees with me:

Student fined $1,000: Attorney Says First Amendment Rights Were Violated"Not only do you have no parents signing the contract, you don't have her signing the contract, and you have the issues of free speech," said Phillips.

In addition to First Amendment rights, Alex Alvarez, Ramer's former tribal teacher said the private school violated the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

"We should be allowed to wear our feathers," said Alvarez.

He added, "It has a lot of ties into our spirituality as well."

Phillips said he agrees. He stated she can sue the private school for breach of contract.

He stated, "Chelsey Ramer agreed to attend class. She met her commitments for graduation."

Phillips said, "Who breached the contract? The school breached the contract."
Fortunately, Chelsey won't have to pay the fine herself:

Poarch Creek Student’s Fine Raised by Online DonationsJust five days after starting a campaign to help the Ramer family raise the $1,000 the Escambia Academy school board said it would fine Chelsey Ramer, the money has been raised in full.

The “Chelsey Ramer can’t graduate because she is proud to be Native American” campaign was started by Dan Morrison, communications director at First Peoples Worldwide. Yesterday, the fund had $177, today it’s overfunded at $1,050. Morrison says on the campaign site that if more money is raised or if the academy doesn’t make the family pay, the money will go toward Chelsey’s education.

Chelsey is the 17-year-old member of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who wore an eagle feather on her graduation cap May 23 and been in the news since.

Contributions listed on the site ranged from $2 to $476 per person and comments were positive. Natalia Corres reminded Chelsey to know she is supported and Jeremiah LaRoche said “represent and always be proud.”
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Valedictorian Denounces Smudging Ban and Student Fined for Wearing Feather.

Below:  "Valedictorian Roy Costner IV of Liberty High School in South Carolina rips up his speech before reciting the Lord's Prayer instead."


Tournesol said...

interesting situation, but the Christian student broke the rule by praying not the school. Is the school responsible because the other students cheered? Wearing an eagle feather on your cap doesn't seem like a big deal, not something to ban the girl from graduation or fine her but I think the thing is, if they didn't have some kind of a dress code then students would be putting their saris, berets, etc over their graduation garb and then it would all look very jumbled and not very uniform as the school probably wants. And graduation is about a class of graduates, not for a few to grab the attention of the crowd. Near me a college has a graduation ceremony for Native students from any school, any grade to attend where they can wear their ribbon shirts moccasins, etc amongst the people who appreciate it. Or wear something under your gown that really means something to you and your culture close to your heart. Unless it really is all about showing everyone else. I am a Native person by the way.

dmarks said...

Cheers to Norm Jones, a very conservative /libertarian radio talk show host in my area... who spoke out in favor of the right of expression of this woman.

As he does, I realize the fact that what both people did is protected under the First Amendment.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is, I've never heard of an Indian sending death threats to a biology teacher. Christians are known to do that.

Okay, that was flippant, but seriously, how much can a school micromanage things?

Rob said...

I don't think anyone is holding the South Carolina school responsible for Costner's unplanned speech. A legal issue might arise if the school encouraged him to offer a prayer, or prevented him from exercising his free speech.