September 15, 2006

Prayer or address?

From the Press-Republican, 9/15/06:

Mohawks' Thanksgiving Address may yield to intelligent compromise"Today, we are gathered, and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people. Now our minds are one."

These are the opening words to the Thanksgiving Address at the center of a persistent disagreement in the Salmon River Central School District.

"The words that come before all else" had been heard with the daily announcements and Pledge of Allegiance at the main campus and the St. Regis Mohawk Elementary School until a complaint came last year.

The passage was labeled a prayer by attorneys advising the School Board. The lawyers say its recital was a violation of the separation of church and state.

Mohawk students and parents say it is a cultural expression, not a prayer, and should be allowed.
For the beginnings of this controversy, see Mohawk Students Silenced for Giving Thanks to Creation.


Rob said...

Actually, there is a "separation of church and state" issue here. A public school is a government-operated institution. Anytime someone utters a prayer under authority of a school, it's a church/state issue. That's why the Pledge of Allegiance case, a similar school conflict, went to the Supreme Court before it was tossed on technical grounds.

Rob said...

Russ wrote, "Obviously, there is no 'separation of church and state' issue here" without specifying what "here" referred to. I correctly noted that the First Amendment applies to any statement of religion under school authority--whether it's the Pledge of Allegiance, a Christian prayer, or the Mohawk address (if it is indeed a prayer).

As for whether it is a prayer, I'd say it's largely an issue of semantics. I could argue it either way.

Unlike "not a sioux," who would allow Christian prayers in school (but would wring his hands helplessly when schools banned prayers to Allah, Buddha, or Wicca), I'd err on the side of caution. I'd rather allow no prayers than "all" prayers, because authorities inevitably would decide which prayers were "good" and which weren't. But a compromise like the one mentioned in the article may be the best solution.

Incidentally, it's not "intolerance" if non-Christians, agnostics, and atheists have to tolerate Christian prayers while Christians don't have to tolerate anything. It's a violation of our right to be treated equally under the law. If "not a sioux" thinks this is a trivial violation of our rights, too bad. That's for us to decide, not him.

So "not a sioux" thinks an occasional prayer is okay but not a daily prayer? This begs the obvious question of how much prayer is too much. How about one prayer a week? Three prayers a week? A prayer every other day? Tell us where the dividing line is, since you seem to think you can draw a line between permissible and impermissible behavior.

Quoting Russ, I agree that "the white man makes all the rules (and) he expects all others to obey...while he schemes and plots to try to find ways around those rules for himself." This is why the libertarian ideal of no government is actually a prescription for "might makes right." In reality the rich and powerful would dominate the poor and weak, just as they did during the first century and a half of our history.

Rob said...

You wouldn't wring your hands helplessly when schools banned non-Christian prayers, "not a sioux"? Then what would you do? File a lawsuit? Burst in with guns and take hostages? What?

I didn't mischaracterize your views. I showed you how foolish they were. Your position may be perfectly neutral, but that's not true of the people who enforce the laws. They, not you, would decide which prayers are valid and they, not you, would discriminate. And you'd be partly responsible for their discrimination because you would naively and incorrectly assume they'd be neutral, like you.

So "occasionally" is okay but not weekly? You still haven't drawn a dividing line. Give me the exact number of prayers per year that you'd consider constitutional. One a year? One a month? One every two weeks? What?

Students almost never represent a school, so that's not the issue. The key constitutional questions include how much students say at an event and whether attendance at the event is mandatory. As I understand it, a student can thank God briefly but can't proselytize other students.

The Trail of Tears wouldn't have happened if the US government were libertarian? Got news for you, pal. The government was largely libertarian then. If the federal government hadn't intervened, people at the state and local levels would've continued running roughshod over Indian rights.

Jackson claimed he was acting to protect Indian lives and interests. What he did was merely transfer the conflict from the Southeast to Oklahoma. But the fundamental problem wasn't his actions. It was the government's failure to protect minority rights--the same thing that would happen under any libertarian system.

Rob said...

You know officials aren't neutral, but you'd let them conduct occasional prayers, knowing they'd discriminate in favor of Christian prayers. That's the same as saying you favor Christian prayers. If you're neutral on religion, the only practical solution is to ban all prayers. That way officials can't discriminate in favor of Christianity.

I still don't see any dividing line. Where is it? I'm waiting....

I don't hear many (or any) libertarians speaking up for the Indians' right to run their own governments or control their own lands. Where are all the libertarians who support Indian sovereignty as the perfect example of local self-rule?

In reality, almost every so-called libertarian is a conservative/libertarian. These people favor small or big government depending on which one benefits them the most. It's usually big government, since "small government" leaders such as Reagan and Bush have led the recent expansion of federal power.

There seems to be a big difference between how you think the world should work and how it really does work. The reality is that most libertarians are hypocrites who favor their own interests over their so-called principles. Alas....

Rob said...

Back in the early '80s? That must be when libertarians still had principles.

You may know a few "pure" libertarians, but the conservative/libertarians who claim to be for "small government" are almost all hypocrites.