Press release in my inbox just now:
Atheist Alliance International (AAI) has launched the 'God Does Not Exist' campaign to draw attention to the case of Alexander Aan, the Indonesian atheist attacked and arrested in January 2012 after posting 'God does not exist' and articles and cartoons about Islam on Facebook. Aan was convicted by an Indonesian court on 14 June 2012, sentenced to two years and six months jail and fined Rp100 million (c.US$10,600).
AAI urges people to exercise their freedom of expression by tweeting messages of support for Aan with the hashtag #goddoesnotexist and posting 'God Does Not Exist' on their Facebook page.
I mention this, because in similar cases in which people have been persecuted or prosecuted for making drawings of Mohammed, lots of folks on the "clash of the civilizations right" have been eager to show solidarity—and, not incidentally, insult Islam—by also drawing Mohammed. I understand the urge to blasphemy, but decided awhile back that it was mostly wrongheaded. The glee suggested to me that the intent of many Mohammed depicters was to blaspheme somebody else's faith more than to defend free speech. Their right, of course, but one that struck me ... distasteful.
I somehow doubt most folks who draw Mohammed will be moved to show solidarity with Aan this time by posting a statement—'God Does Not Exist'—that is general enough to implicate religions beyond Islam, to offend religious believers of a wider variety.
Alexander Aan shouldn't be in jail, period, for his expressions of unfaith. Are we willing to be just as vigorous—and offensive—in defending him as we are in other situations? I'm skeptical, but willing to be proved wrong.
Ben and Joel are joined by a stellar panel to discuss the books they would give as gifts this Christmas. Guests in this episode include Rick Henderson, editor of the John Locke Foundation's Carolina Journal; Pia Lopez, editorial writer for the Sacramento Bee (and Ben's weekly sparring partner in the Bee's "Head to Head" column, where they discussed books on Dec. 8); and Sam Karnick, editor of The American Culture and director of research at The Heartland Institute.
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," Joseph Spence
• "Gabriel's Message," Sting
• "Little Drummer Boy," Los Straitjackets
• "O Little Town of Bethlehem," Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra
• "Must Be Santa," Bob Dylan
• "A Holly Jolly Christmas," Burl Ives
Books discussed in this podcast:
In this, the second part of what may or may not become an ongoing series of interrogations, Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis ask Robb Leatherwood (a.k.a. Monkey Robb) what it means to be a libertarian... or an anarcho-libertarian... or an anarcho-capitalist/paleolibertarian. You really need to listen to find out.
(Part one, with Joel, is here. Part three, with Ben, will appear in a couple of weeks.)
Among the questions we discuss:
• How would Robb describe his political philosophy? Libertarian? Anarchist? What?
• What's the matter with nation-states?
• What's the matter with the Constitution?
• What do anarchism and Christianity have in common?
• Why is smaller better? Is it always?
• When is authority permissible? And how does it coexist with consent?
• Is universal consent required?
• Is there anywhere in the world freer than the United States?
• Is Robb more or less libertarian than he was 20 years ago?
• How much has marriage and family shaped his outlook?
Music heard in this podcast:
• Don't Tread on Me, Metallica
• Anthem, Rush
• Know Your Rights, The Clash
• We Do What We're Told, Peter Gabriel
• Freedom, Jimi Hendrix
Joel Mathis and I tackle the question of whether a multi-million dollar judgment against the contemptible Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church is an affront to the First Amendment. Joel elaborates on this post, in which he sides with Phelps and flatly asserts: "Either you believe in the First Amendment... or you don't." And Joel worries that "silencing Fred Phelps might be a step down the slippery slope to silencing us all."
This is simply hyperbole, I'm afraid. It's not a matter of merely "believing in" the First Amendment, because nothing is ever that simple. And while we should be ever mindful of slippery slopes, we should take care to avoid slippery slope fallacies.
But it's certainly fair to say Joel's position is shared by the American Civil Liberties Union, UCLA libertarian law prof Eugene Volokh, University of Chicago liberal law prof (and two-time podcast guest) Geoffrey Stone, the Cato Institute's Ilya Shapiro, and the editorial pages of most major newspapers, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal -- a lot of smart people who just happen to be wrong.
"Hard cases make bad law," Joel writes in the column. "Albert Snyder deserves our sympathy. But his hard case shouldn't lead the Supreme Court to make bad law for the rest of us."
Here's my take:
This isn't a hard case at all.
Fred Phelps and his congregation have the right to believe anything they please. They have a right to assemble peaceably and exercise their religious beliefs freely. They have a right publish newspapers and weblogs preaching against homosexuality. But the Westboro Baptist Church has no right to impose itself on a private funeral.
Context is crucial. When a group of people stands outside a military funeral -- even if it is 1,000 feet away -- holding signs saying "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and worse, you needn't be an Ivy League constitutional scholar to get the point.
As Sean Summers, Snyder's lawyer, explained: "(Phelps and family) turn funerals into a circus. They send out fliers in advance. There were... state, local, county police. There were ambulances. There were fire trucks. There was a SWAT team." Police even rerouted the funeral procession so the Snyders wouldn't see the protest.
In short, Phelps turned a private event into a massive public nuisance.
Phelps's broader message may be a sinful and unrepentant nation brings such calamities upon itself. But if you're the grieving family of a dead Marine, why should you have to entertain that idea for even one moment? What makes the case "hard" is the amazing logical contortions the Supreme Court has performed over the decades in the realm of First Amendment law. Fact is, the freedom of speech is not unlimited. We make exceptions for libel, slander, and "fighting words," for instance.
When free speech collides with the right to privacy, privacy should prevail. Phelps has a right to be "outrageous." But his outrageous speech in this particular context -- the context of a family privately mourning the death of a son -- is a breach of the peace, an assault.
Barring the Phelps circus from future funerals does no harm to the First Amendment whatsoever.
Given the space constraints of the column, some elaboration is in order here. (Click "Read More" below the icons.)
This is something very different for Infinite Monkeys, but we've always had a fairly "loose format" here so I thought I'd go ahead and post this. I've been a Sunday School teacher at my church (denomination: Presbyterian Church in America) for several years, and last week I was asked to deliver the sermon. We've been going through the book of Daniel one chapter at a time, so "my turn" was Chapter 8. Several friends and family were kind enough to come support me, and a couple of others asked to hear the recording, so without further comment...
Sarah Pulliam Bailey echoes and amplifies the point I made in our podcast with Jason Snell, except she did it for the readers of the Wall Street Journal (of which there are considerably more than the, er,...select audience listening to Joel and me):
The show's writers have hooked an invested group of about 11 million viewers, and these devotees want to believe some larger purpose exists in the storytelling, something meaningful that makes six seasons of watching worthwhile. Each week, however, every answer seems to lead to more questions, leaving enthusiasts with grave angst.
Yet this is how all of life unfolds. In the end, we may find only an approximation of the truth. The viewers' search for meaning in "Lost" exemplifies a microcosm of that experience. If we give the writers a little grace and extend some patience, the suspense leading up to the finale of this television show could teach us something about faith in general.
"I wish you had believed me," Parallel-Universe Locke says as he lies in the hospital. Later, Jack says the same thing to Locke. I've come around to the view that "Lost" won't answer every single question when it ends Sunday night. It might even leave open some big ones. That's okay with me. We don't call them "mysteries" for nothing. Not all mysteries can be solved.
Northhampton (Mass.) police say a woman "has been cited for running down a man named Lord Jesus Christ as he crossed a street... on Tuesday."
According to the Associated Press: "The 50-year-old man is from Belchertown. Officers checked his ID and discovered that, indeed, his legal name is Lord Jesus Christ. He was taken to the hospital for treatment of minor facial injuries."
The woman is being charged with "failure to yield." Seems to me they might want to add "attempted deicide" to the indictment.
I'm going to start the discussion with religion and spirituality, not because it's the primary reason we homeschool (it isn't) but because it's the reason many (most?) people assume families homeschool their children.
There are a lot of religious reasons to homeschool your children, but the most compelling one for me is that I believe that all education is inherently religious/spiritual. Meaning: Apart from very few subjects (typing perhaps?) you always rely on presuppositions, and those presuppositions are usually tied in some way to one's metaphysics and beliefs about spiritual reality. The idea of delivering some kind of "neutral" secular education is laughable. When you approach subjects like history, language, and science presupposing that the material universe is all there is, you will teach those subjects quite differently than if you presuppose that there is a spiritual realm.
In many subjects, public education is hamstrung by the anti-establishment clause on the one hand, and the inherently religious nature of education on the other. As children grow and their education develops, the material constantly calls out for value judgments. History, for example, is unintelligible if you refuse to acknowledge the religious and political motivations of its actors. How does one teach children about the crusades, the Roman Empire, the Enlightenment, or the wars of the 20th century without expressing SOME kind of moral judgment? Forget ONE, how do you enforce a set of standards for neutrality among THOUSANDS of teachers, knowing that they all come from different backgrounds and carry different spiritual biases?
Some other religious/spiritual reasons we, or other homeschoolers, might choose to keep our children out of the school system:
Also note that spiritual concerns go both ways. If you're an atheist in a district that has decided to teach Intelligent Design in its science curriculum, you might decide to keep your child home. Likewise other faiths.
The parenthetical comment should probably read, "the first in a series that will likely be abandoned about one third of the way through, like everything else I start here," but that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.
CRywalt left a comment on one of Ben's education posts that included this drive-by piece of snark:
Bad enough we've got evangelical, conservative Christians homeschooling to avoid their kids' learning about evolution or sexual reproduction.
As an evangelical, conservative Christian (I'm an officer in my church, which is part of the Presbyterian Church in America, one of the more theologically conservative denominations) who, along with my wife, has chosen to homeschool our children, I find it disappointing and a bit offensive that this line is delivered without a twinge of recognition that it is simply repeating a convenient stereotype. It belongs on the trash-heap of stereotypes that include, "women who work are putting their careers before their families," and "people from the South are inbred racists."
In the interest of shedding light on the many reasons parents choose to homeschool these days, I will try to do individual posts on these topics:
Not necessarily in that order, and not necessarily exclusively.
Watch this space...
Mike Fumento recounts what happened on Good Friday in 1992, when he, his then-girlfriend Mary, and his brand new Toyota MR2 took a fateful drive down the Pacific Coast Highway. He writes:
When it comes to any report of miracles, I’m highly skeptical. The vast majority can be debunked in an average of two minutes and 37 seconds. And I’m sorry, but I’ve heard too many stories about Jesus appearing on a taco shell and thousands of the faithful lining up for a peek. I’ve also known too many famous miracles that have been debunked. But it must be admitted that the ones most likely to be real are the ones you never hear about — the ones that don’t lead to best-selling books or inspire tourist centers that sell plastic figurines of the saints.
It's a powerful, astonishing story. By all means, read the whole thing.
As a (theologically) conservative protestant, let me say that I'll stick with Aquinas on the "social justice" issue, rather than the crazed rantings of a man who chose his religion almost incidentally.
Turns out that of the weak lot of pricey commercials that aired during Super Bowl XLIV, the most politically charged and polarizing wasn't the Focus on the Family spot featuring Tim and Pam Tebow. (By the way, does anyone take the National Organization for Women seriously anymore? Anyone? Really?)
No, it was that Audi "Green Police" commercial.
I thought the ad was cleverly written and produced (the anteater was a cute touch)... and utterly horrifying. Two bits in particular really bothered me: The part where the Green Police put some hapless homeowner in the back of a squad car as a news reporter explains the perp was caught using incandescent lights; and the Cops-like scene where the bewildered couple is rousted for setting their hot tub's thermostat too high.
My first reaction watching the YouTube was entirely visceral. I've watched it three more times however, and I still don't like it. But I'm aware this may be an overreaction. (Maybe.) Steve Hayward's pithy analysis is perhaps among the more sensible from my comrades on the right:
Is it mocking environmentalism? Um. . . yeah. Your moral authority is pretty thin when a major advertiser finds it safe to take this approach. Think anyone would ever try something like this about the civil rights movement? Or the feminist movement?
Hayward suggests that Republicans could successfully exploit the part of the ad I hated most in the fall: "I'm guessing a winner will be a repeal of the forthcoming ban on incandescent lightbulbs. I know I'm running out of space stocking up on them for 2012 or whenever the ban goes into effect." (It will be phased in between 2012 and 2014, FYI.)
I wish I shared Hayward's optimism. Sure, arresting a guy for installing incandescent lights or raiding a house because some schlub committed a "composting infraction" might be over-the-top now. But how about fining and jailing people for not maintaining proper pressure on their car tires? California's Air Resources Board proposed to do precisely that, for real, but quickly backpedaled once the public got wind and started making ugly noises.
Certainly, some environmentalists viewed the ad the same as Hayward did -- to their great consternation. Our friend Lisa Schmeiser tweeted how she was "bugged by the demonization of environmental measures. Seemed counterintuitive to the sales pitch." And Audi itself appears to be unsure whether the ad is wholly irreverent or maybe just a little bit serious.
The Green Police are a humorous group of individuals that have joined forces in an effort to collectively help guide consumers to make the right decision when it comes to the environment. They’re not here to judge, merely to guide these decisions.
Right. They're "guiding" the guy who chose plastic over paper at the beginning of the ad where exactly? (Incidentally, the lyrics of Cheap Trick's Dream Police redo, which are basically identical to the 1979 hit single but for one word, say the Green Police are "judge and jury." So put that in your carbon-loaded pipe and smoke it, Audi ad geniuses!)
The Audi Green Police page goes on to helpfully explain how
there are numerous real Green Police units globally that are furthering green practices and environmental issues. For example, Israel's main arm of the Ministry of Environmental Protection in the area of enforcement and deterrence is called; you guess it, the Green Police. New York has officers within the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation that are fondly called the "Green Police". The Green Police is also the popular name for Vietnam’s Environmental Police Department and the UK has a group who dresses in green as part of the Environment Agency’s squad to monitor excessive CO2 emissions.
Oh, and there was one other Green Police force that the German-owned carmaker doesn't mention, probably because... well, go and read for yourself.
Pains me as it does to link to it, if you can get past the "teabagger" guff, I think Grist's David Roberts discerns perfectly the message Audi is trying to get across in the spot:
The ad only makes sense if it's aimed at people who acknowledge the moral authority of the green police -- people who may find those obligations tiresome and constraining on occasion, who only fitfully meet them, who may be annoyed by sticklers and naggers, but who recognize that living more sustainably is in fact the moral thing to do. This basically describes every guy I know.
Ah, yes. What's a little loss of liberty for a life of contentedly "green" servitude?
The ad's payoff, don't forget, is that the guy in Audi's new clean diesel roadster gets to drive off when the Green Police wave him through their preposterous eco-roadblock. So if you want to keep the Green Police off your back, you can start by switching back to partially recycled paper bags, installing mercury-filled compact fluorescent lights, and driving a imported car. Brilliant. And, as I say, horrifying. It's just a commercial. Yep. Got it. I still hope the campaign blows up in Audi's face.
Another reason to put this year behind us? Mullah Omar and co. says 2009 was a "successful" year. "The enemy does not have a constant policy," an unsigned statement said, according to CNN. "Sometimes they talk about sending more soldiers and other times they speak of an early withdrawal. Their thinking is irrational."
Oh, yeah? Well, tell it to the Marines.
Who knew? Rich Lowry has the details.
All applaud this tree, which is acceptable ... at least until the data can be fudged by the enviro-scolds to frown upon it.
From Lowry's column:
Following it all closely will be the new Christmas scolds, who are as annoying as the old Christmas scolds, except greener. H. L. Mencken famously put down the Puritans — decidedly cool on Christmas celebrations — as people worried that someone, somewhere may be happy. The new Christmas scolds worry that someone, somewhere may be emitting CO2 over a glass of eggnog: Blessed is good, merry is nice, peaceful is advisable — but carbon-neutral is absolutely essential. ...
Ralph Reiland of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review points to a web publication called Alternative Consumer that recommends “A Freegan Christmas.” The festivities will include Christmas trees fashioned out of shopping bags and a celebratory vegetarian meal. No cards and no wrapping paper, of course. Someone captured the spirit of this holiday program long ago, “Bah! Humbug!”
It’s not an endorsement of every Christmas excess to appreciate merrymaking and gestures of generosity. After all, the Magi didn’t necessarily have to travel, or offer their gifts of frankincense and myrrh. That they did points to the ultimate reason for the joyous celebration of the season. Merry Christmas!
Yes. Merry Christmas everyone! I, for one, am enjoying the festive aroma of my natural tree. (For the record: I bought it from the guy on my corner and carried it home on foot. So, out of laziness and happenstance ... I'm "green" this Christmas.)
I'm probably not the best test case for this question based on many of my posts and comments around here, but an article in Science magazine posits that conservatives are "happier" than liberals. Or, at least, residents of "red" states feel happier than residents of "blue" states. The New York Times, riffing in a story about the study, says of to its home-state readers:
It’s rather dismal. If there were a National Happy League, we’d be the New Jersey Nets. We’re No. 51 out of 51 [Ed note: The District of Columbia was polled to get the list to 51].
This is an enormous generalization, but I've long thought that was true — that liberals are grumpier (or at least have less mirth and joy in their lives) than
liberals conservatives — based on anecdotal evidence, my observations of political discourse over many years spanning all sorts of varieties of who is "in power," personal experience, and other reasons I won't get into here ... at least not at this late hour. But, it appears that the polling data says says so, too, when it gauges "Gross National Happiness." As John J. Miller at The Corner says:
One snap conclusion, from scanning the list: Red states are happy, blue states are sad (relatively speaking). Make of this what you will.
And I suspect that we might make something of that conclusion around here. That all said and shared, I'm sure Joel and Khabalox will disagree with that study — and, in fact, insist that the opposite is true — yet still have a joyous Christmas. At least I hope so, because I wish it upon them.
As 2009 winds down, the news wire services have begun moving their year-end retrospectives. The Associated Press today publishes its list of the hundreds of notables who left the scene this year. By the way, it's never a good idea to die between Christmas and New Year's, especially if you are only sort of famous, or your fame and notoriety waned decades ago, or your speciality is no longer appreciated the way it once was.
Among the more interesting passings I missed just this month were Roy Disney and Sol Price. Disney was the irascible nephew of Walt and defender of traditional animation who hired and ultimately ousted Michael Eisner as the House of Mouse's CEO. Price was the founder of Price Club, one of America's first big box discounters, which later merged with Costco. But UC San Diego students know him better for the mall at the center of campus that bears his name. It's just a hop, skip and jump away from Theodore Geisel Library. You can't miss it.
The Monkeys noted several of these deaths (and a couple that didn't make the AP round-up) in 2009. Michael Jackson wasn't one of them.
• Chris Warden (Jan. 4)
• Ricardo Mantalban (Jan. 14)
• John Updike (Jan. 27)
• Estelle Bennett (February)
• Paul Harvey (Feb. 28)
• Ron Silver (Mar. 15)
• Jack Kemp (May 3)
• Billy Mays (June 28)
• TOTUS (July 14)
• John Hughes (Aug. 6)
• Ted Kennedy (Aug. 26)
• Irving Kristol (Sept. 18)
• Soupy Sales (Oct. 12)
James Delingpole of the Telegraph has a round-up of the rending of clothing and gnashing of teeth that followed the miserable conclusion of the climate change conference in Copenhagen.
"Copenhagen was worth it, after all – if only for the sphincter-bursting rage its supposed failure has caused among our libtard watermelon chums. (That’s watermelon, as in: green on the outside, red on the inside)," Delingpole writes.
George Monbiot is particularly emotional. You might say even hysterical.
Over at the Corner, Mark Steyn takes in the show.
"The climate has been 'changing' for billions of years. Who are you to presume to 'prevent' it?" Steyn observes. "From the barely veiled neo-fascistic whiff of Polly Toynbee's final paragraphs, you get the feeling that what most annoys this crowd is that they've been denied a shot at the ultimate exercise in universal Big Government."
Here is a possible twist in the story of Jalen Cromwell, the Taunton, Mass., second-grader who made national news for drawing Jesus Christ on the cross and getting psychoanalyzed for his efforts: Jalen's father, part-time janitor Chester Johnson, played story-hungry journalists for saps. That's what Attleboro Sun-Chronicle Editor Mike Kirby thinks.
"It was a story too good to be true -- because it wasn't," Kirby opines in a column published Thursday. He continues:
The father of an 8-year-old Taunton boy tells the local newspaper that his son, a special needs student, was suspended and ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation after the boy makes a crude drawing of a crucifix, with X's for eyes. The boy, the father says, had been asked by a teacher to draw something that reminded him of Christmas.
The story, naturally, takes off like wildfire. It seems like another example of the war on Christmas, of political correctness gone mad, of the lack of common sense in our education system, of the left-wing overtaking Americans' Constitutional right to practice their religion.
But the more the father -- who at first hid behind a veil of anonymity -- talks, the sketchier the story sounds. Because it's a story that's just too good to be true.
(Click "Read more" below for the rest of this post.)
The father of Jalen Cromwell holds the drawing of the crucified Christ that has caused so much controversy.
The Taunton Gazette reports today:
A meeting between Taunton School Superintendent Julie Hackett and the family of a boy who drew a picture of Jesus that has caused a national uproar did not materialize Wednesday.
“They did not show, they gave no indication that they were canceling the meeting, and we have not yet rescheduled,” said Hackett, responding to questions e-mailed to her.
Later Wednesday, a civil liberties organization representing the family released a statement, calling the incident in which 8-year-old Maxham Elementary School second-grader Jalen Cromwell’s drawing was deemed inappropriate an “overreaction by school officials.”
The boy’s father, Chester Johnson, stayed inside his Oak Street apartment Wednesday, deferring all media inquiries to a spokesperson at the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit international civil liberties legal group based in Charlottesville, Va. The group specializes in defending constitutional and religious rights.
In a news release, Rutherford’s President, John Whitehead, asserted the student “was allegedly forced by school officials to undergo psychological evaluations. ... The psychological damage to this family is appalling."
According to the Rutherford Institute's statement:
In a letter to the superintendent of the Taunton Public Schools, Institute attorneys pointed out that the effective suspension of Jalen from school deprived him and his parents of their constitutional rights to due process and punished Jalen for engaging in expressive activity protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. In light of the fact that this incident has made Jalen's continued attendance at Maxham School untenable, Institute attorneys have also requested that the school arrange for Jalen to be transferred to an out-of-district school and for his parents to be compensated for the associated transportation costs.
Notice, no "war on Christmas" rhetoric there, or elsewhere in the Institute's press release. So this Kevin Cullen column in the Boston Globe completely misses the point. Although the religious aspect of the controversy is unavoidable, the First Amendment implications are secondary (perhaps that's why it's mentioned second in the paragraph above). The problem is how school officials reacted -- or overreacted.
The story about the Taunton, Mass., 8-year-old "suspended" and subjected to a psychiatric evaluation for drawing Jesus Christ on the cross is more complicated than first reported. I still see the current hullaballoo as a species of zero-tolerance gone too far, but the initial story now demands some revision and further explanation.
Taunton Mayor Charles Crowley on Tuesday spoke out about the row, saying school Superintendent Julie Hackett should apologize to the boy's family and ordering the district to pay the for the psychiatric exam the child had to undergo as a condition of returning to class.
But Hackett pushed back, categorically denying the Maxham Elementary School second grader was ever suspended and saying the father's account of what happened was incomplete at best.
Meantime, Chester Johnson, the 8-year-old's father, elaborated to journalists on what school authorities allegedly told him. GateHouse News Service in Massachusetts reports:
(T)he father of the second-grade student said on Tuesday that school officials were concerned that the 8-year-old boy may have intended to depict himself, rather than Jesus Christ, on the cross.
“They told me there was a kid at Taunton High School who drew a picture of knives and guns, then killed himself,” said Chester Johnson, the boy’s father.
Apparently, the teacher and the school's principal and counselor thought the boy might have been in some sort of distress. But the father tells it differently.
The child initially insisted that the picture depicted Jesus on the cross, but after being questioned for the third time, the boy told school officials that the drawing was of himself asleep on the cross, Johnson said Tuesday. Based on the reactions of the teacher and principal, the boy sensed that he was in trouble for drawing Jesus, but then changed his story in an effort to avoid being disciplined, the father said.
Johnson also told a reporter that "the teacher and principal questioned his son three times about the drawing before notifying a parent." Behavior like that invites lawsuits, which, of course, Johnson is contemplating. (For what it's worth, an ACLU attorney said, "They owe this kid an apology and his family an apology.")
But Superintendent Hackett sent a statement to Taunton city officials and the press that disputes several key points. According to the Boston Globe:
(T)he student was never suspended and that neither he nor other students at the Maxham Elementary School were asked by their teacher to sketch something that reminded them of Christmas or any religious holiday, as the newspaper reported and the father suggested.
She said it was unclear whether the boy -- who put his name above his stick-figure portrait of Christ on the cross -- even drew it in school.
"The inaccuracies in the original media story have resulted in a great deal of criticism and scrutiny of the system that is unwarranted," she said.
She said the boy's drawing was seen as a potential cry for help when the student identified himself, rather than Jesus, as the figure on the cross, which sparked the teacher to alert the school's principal and staff psychologist.
She declined to comment on whether the teacher had reason to believe that the student might be crying out for help.
She added: "Religion had nothing to do with this at all.''
Hackett pointed out that Taunton is known as "The Christmas City." Visitors come from across the region to see the annual lighting on the Taunton green, according to the city's website.
Although many other commentators have played up the religious angle of the story, I was -- and remain -- most interested in the zero-tolerance and therapeutic aspects of the case. Any whiff of deviance is a potential threat. When in doubt, call the shrinks (or the cops). That view is further supported by this story in Wednesday's Boston Herald:
(Johnson) acknowledged that the boy was not suspended, but said he was told the boy could not go back to school until he received counseling, which Johnson said he considers the equivalent of a suspension. He said his son was out Dec. 3 and 4.
The boy was allowed to return to class Dec. 7 after a two-day risk assessment by Taunton licensed social worker Helene Titelbaum reported, “(The boy) does not appear to be a threat to himself or others at this time.”
According to (Melissa Cromwell, the boy's mother) and Johnson, officials at the Lowell M. Maxham School were concerned the boy’s drawing of Jesus nailed to the cross suggested possible violent tendencies.
And I think it comes back to that. It could have been the picture of a crucified Christ, Santa Claus machine-gunning Iraqis, or bunnies with assault rifles. The school would have reacted the same -- with horror and concern -- to any artistic depiction of violence, even though more often than not, the drawings have no relationship to harmful behavior.
(Incidentally, a friend e-mailed in reply to my earlier post: "My sister teaches kindergarten in Cleveland. She had a kid who drew a picture of Jesus with a gun. Jesus was shooting the little children rather than loving them. This kid's dad is in prison for murder. Nothing happened with this kid when my sister went to see the principal to voice her concern." Evidently, public school administrators are latter-day Manichees.)
"It is unfortunate that the actions of our district staff have been classified as 'religious' in nature when, in fact, they were based solely on the well-being of the student," the Taunton district’s statement said.
They're so concerned about the student's well-being that they're willing to traumatize him to keep him "safe."
(Update: See this follow-up post on the school district's push-back against press reports.)
(Updated below with details from the Associated Press, video from New England Cable News, and other commentary.)
Just in time for Christmas, some soulless, bureaucratic automatons at Maxham Elementary in the hamlet of Taunton, Massachusetts suspended a second-grader from school and ordered him to receive a psychiatric evaluation for drawing a picture of Jesus Christ on the cross. Looks like zero-tolerance idiocy strikes again.
Here is the story, according to the Taunton Gazette:
A Taunton father is outraged after his 8-year-old son was sent home from school and required to undergo a psychological evaluation after drawing a stick-figure picture of Jesus Christ on the cross.
The father said he got a call earlier this month from Maxham Elementary School informing him that his son, a second-grade student, had created a violent drawing. The image in question depicted a crucified Jesus with Xs covering his eyes to signify that he had died on the cross. The boy wrote his name above the cross.
“As far as I’m concerned, they’re violating his religion,” the incredulous father said.
He requested that his name and his son’s name be withheld from publication to protect the boy.
The student drew the picture shortly after taking a family trip to see the Christmas display at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette, a Christian retreat site in Attleboro. He made the drawing in class after his teacher asked the children to sketch something that reminded them of Christmas, the father said.
“I think what happened is that because he put Xs in the eyes of Jesus, the teacher was alarmed and they told the parents they thought it was violent,” said Toni Saunders, an educational consultant with the Associated Advocacy Center.
I'm not certain that the school violated the boy's religion, although it wouldn't be the first time a school trampled on a student's First Amendment right to portray religious themes in art. If nothing else, school officials violated common sense.
The drawing supposedly "violated the code of violence in the school handbook," according to the Washington Times. But this wasn't a case of a Cub Scout bringing a camping tool to class or even an older student having a knife locked in his car. This was a picture. Even the "violence" depicted in it is relatively benign. And in any event, school officials make a grave and fundamental mistake when they equate pictures of violence with actual violence. (Interestingly, a number of schools suggest "writing stories or poems or drawing pictures" as a prevention tool. Makes sense. It's cathartic.)
Turns out, the boy is a special education student, but he reportedly has no history of discipline problems. Could that have influenced the school's decision?
Naturally, the district superintendent justifies the school's overreaction with the usual butt-blanketing bureaucratic balderdash: "Generally speaking, we have safety protocols in place," Superintendent Julie Hackett told the Taunton Gazette. "If a situation warrants it, we ask for outside safety evaluations if we have particular concerns about a child’s safety. We followed all the protocols in our system."
I believe that is correct -- they followed "all the protocols." Does that not suggest something is very, very wrong with the protocols? And isn't it funny how the protocols almost always exclude or present parents with faits accompli about what needs to be done to their children?
Update: Oh, dear. According to the AP:
Chester Johnson told WBZ-TV that his son made the drawing on Dec. 2 after his second-grade teacher asked children to sketch something that reminded them of the holiday.
Johnson said the teacher became upset when his son said he drew himself on the cross. Johnson, who is black, told WBZ he suspects racism is involved. He said he thinks the school overreacted and wants an apology.
Hard to say, from this distance, whether or how race was a factor in the teacher's response or the school's decision. But certainly the school overreacted in any event. The Associated Press story also fleshes out some details about 8-year-old Johnson's reaction to his circumstances:
The boy was cleared to return to school on Dec. 7 after the evaluation found nothing to indicate that he posed a threat to himself or others. But his father said the boy was traumatized by the incident and the school district has approved the family's request to have the child transferred to another school.
"They owe my family an apology and the kid an apology and they need to work with my son (to) the best of their ability to get him back to where he was before all this happened," Johnson told New England Cable News.
Too late. The school can't undo what it's done. In an effort to play it safe, the school harmed this child. Does anyone think that Chester Johnson's son will ever forget what happened to him when he drew a picture of his savior? So stupid.
Here is the video of the story from New England Cable News.
Update: Ed Morrissey writes:
It’s hard to imagine a more clueless, knee-jerk response than the one given by this school. First, Jesus on a crucifix has been a symbol of Christianity for two millenia. Since Christmas is in fact a Christian holiday, at least nominally, the crucifix in this drawing clearly came from Christian symbolism and not some latent threat of a reenactment of the last scenes of Spartacus from a second grader. How dense or deliberately obtuse must a teacher and administrators be not to understand the symbolism involved in this drawing?
And a commenter at Joanne Jacobs's blog reiterates what I've been saying all along about zero-tolerance rules:
This kind of incident does not enhance the public view of the education establishment and those who inhabit it. There’s a toxic combination of silly, “zero-tolerance” policies and no common sense or judgment in their application. It’s a total cop-out on the part of the perpetrators; a refusal to accept the responsibility to make sensible judgments and accept the consequences. It’s the same mindset that sees bringing an aspirin or a plastic knife as deserving of expulsion.
The Taunton Gazette editorializes:
Why didn’t the teacher just talk to the child when he was drawing the picture and ask what it meant? Couldn’t that have spared everyone the grief?
The child was just doing his assignment. He wasn’t drawing this picture to cause any harm. He was just doing his schoolwork.
Yet the school district has turned this into a major story that is now gaining some national notoriety.
All for a little picture.
Related posts on school zero-tolerance policies run amok:
• Vindication for Zachary Christie
• No vindication for Matthew Whalen... yet
• Who is George Goodwin?
• Where is the school board on Lansingburgh's insipid, mindless zero-tolerance policy?
• Well, OF COURSE Lansingburgh school administrators overreacted
• Vindication for Matthew Whalen... maybe soon
• On zero-tolerance policies: "Schools' get-tough rules cross the line"
• No vindication for Matthew Whalen
A second-grader at Maxham Elementary in Taunton, MA was suspended from school for drawing what he says depicts Jesus on the cross. Idiocy.
I'm up to my eyeballs in California land-use regulations, so I didn't actually listen to President Obama's speech in Oslo today and just read it quickly. I haven't quite digested it enough to have an opinion, but I see that Joel played off of Justin Paulette's analysis at NoLeftTurns. I think Joel is a bit to quick to dismiss "just war" theory, what with its centuries-old intellectual pedigree and all.
I do think Daniel Drezner's post-speech challenge is worth highlighting, however:
A contest for readers: pour over the speech and look for evidence suggesting Obama favors the following approaches:
• Neoliberal institutionalism
• Social construcivism
• Democratic peace theory
• Feminist IR theory (I think it's there, but you have to squint)
• Human security
It's easy... and fun!!
The Heritage Foundation's Conn Carroll seems to have noticed the same thing, but offers a more dour take: "What comes first — freedom or peace, interests or values? For those with a taste for textual deconstruction, President Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech offers ample opportunity."
Jules Crittenden, rarely one to play coy, praises the speech with faint damns: "Maybe, like Nixon going to China, it takes an Obama to make the defense of freedom acceptable. I wonder what happened to him in that Situation Room. Hard, inescapable dose of responsibility?"
Even Commentary's Jennifer Rubin found much to like: "But this speech is perhaps the closest he has come to throwing the American antiwar Left under the bus. America will defend itself. There is evil in the world. And yes, we are at war with religious fanatics... It is not at all what the netroot crowd that lifted him to the presidency had in mind. It seems that reality may be dawning, however dimly, on the White House."
Obama is no neoconservative, and just as it was too early to hand him this rather overblown "honor", it's still too early to say whether this administration is waking up to reality. As always, I recommend anything and everything Angelo Codevilla has to say about foreign policy generally, and Obama's foreign policy in particular.
My friend Doug Bandow has a provocative article on National Interest Online about Switzerland's vote to ban new minarets on mosques. Bandow believes the vote violates the religious liberty of Muslims living in Switzerland. But he also believes that Muslims living in nations that violate the rights of Christians are in no position to criticize the Swiss.
Indeed, as Bandow demonstrates, the loudest protests have come from countries where Christians, Jews, and other religious minorities suffer varying degrees of discrimination and even persecution.
"Switzerland is a beacon of liberty and reason compared to the Muslim nations," Bandow writes.
Duke Hefland of the L.A. Times has a predictable story today about the American Humanist Association's campaign to promote secularism during this month of religious holidays. I say "predictable" because, of course, such "offbeat" and contrarian features are more likely to get into print than articles about this or that denomination's efforts to minister to the sick, the homeless and the lonely during this season. According to the story:
The group, consisting of atheists and others who say they embrace reason over religion, has launched a national godless holiday campaign, with ads appearing inside or on 250 buses in five U.S. cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco starting today. The placards depict smiling people wearing red Santa hats with the slogan: "No God? . . . No problem!"
Just as predictably, some religious organizations think the atheists' $40,000, five-city ad campaign amounts to... (sigh)... "an assault on religion." Hefland does his best to sample the reactions of Catholics, Jews and Muslims. I found myself wincing at the Catholic League's Bill Donohue, nodding at Rabbi Elliot Dorff, and feeling my eyes widen at the pronouncements of Imam Muzammil Siddiqi.
Now, Joel and I tackled the "war on Christmas" for the Scripps-Howard column a couple of weeks ago. "All most people want is to say "Merry Christmas" without a bunch of politically correct Grinches and litigious Scrooges getting bent out of shape," I wrote. "We've traveled a long way to reach this absurd point in American life."
Indeed we have. But the American Humanist's ad campaign doesn't bother me one bit. First, because it doesn't seem to be aimed at anyone other than co-relig... er, fellow skepto-agnostic-Americans. They're preaching to the converted, for the most part, and trying to reassure the faithless that doubt is indeed safe. (As if there was any doubt about that.)
Second, because the ads betray a certain insecurity. As the Times story notes, "Humanist leaders say the... ad campaign... is meant to counter a barrage of religious messages during the holiday season, letting free-thinking atheists and agnostics know that they are not alone." Well, no kidding. Is the American Humanist Association worried that 30 days of incessant department store sales, 987 covers of "Jingle Bells" and "Silent Night," and the odd broadcast of "It's a Wonderful Life" will lure their members into the embrace of monkish superstition or evangelical Christianity? Dawkins forbid! Seems like the opposite would be more likely.
Although my own faith isn't what it used to be -- and that may well be an understatement -- I've never understood the weird, embattled sense of entitlement espoused by some atheists and agnostics. Is it the idea that so many people believe "nonsense" that grates? As if secularists aren't prone to irrational flights of fancy. I realize that it's impossible to simply "live and let live," but the Christmas season was so much more pleasant and peaceful when people swallowed their personal grievances for a flawed but nevertheless greater good.
If the holidays are supposed to teach anything, regardless of whether or not you are a person of faith, it's that it isn't about you. If you drop the "faith," you're still left with "hope" and "charity" -- and two out of three ain't bad.
Monkey friend and frequent comment contributor Rick — otherwise known as Deregulator — sent me an email asking why I haven't been all over the collapse of the global warming fraud. Thanksgiving week explains most of it. And there is also the fact that there is just so much fraud to expose and comment upon.
Since the blogosphere is already well down the field on the Climategate scandal — I like the term "Climaquiddick" — I'll contribute here by sharing what a columnist from the Toronto Sun found when trolling through the incriminating emails that expose the global fraud meant to reorder the societies of the Western world. Actually, the columnist didn't find it. The nerd the global warming statists hired to analyze the data found it.
From a column aptly titled "Botch After Botch After Botch," the nerd put in charge of trying to make sense of the data upon which the United Nations (and our Congress) would impose punitive taxes and force us to live more "green" ... well, could make no sense of it. This matters because this guy is a programmer, and he could make no sense of the program that crunched the "science is settled" data:
"But what are all those monthly files? DON'T KNOW, UNDOCUMENTED. Wherever I look, there are data files, no info about what they are other than their names. And that's useless ..." (Page 17)
"It's botch after botch after botch." (18)
"This surely is the worst project I've ever attempted. Eeeek." (31)
"Oh, GOD, if I could start this project again and actually argue the case for junking the inherited program suite." (37)
"... this should all have been rewritten from scratch a year ago!" (45)
"Am I the first person to attempt to get the CRU databases in working order?!!" (47)
"As far as I can see, this renders the (weather) station counts totally meaningless." (57)
"COBAR AIRPORT AWS (data from an Australian weather station) cannot start in 1962, it didn't open until 1993!" (71)
"What the hell is supposed to happen here? Oh yeah -- there is no 'supposed,' I can make it up. So I have : - )" (98)
"You can't imagine what this has cost me -- to actually allow the operator to assign false WMO (World Meteorological Organization) codes!! But what else is there in such situations? Especially when dealing with a 'Master' database of dubious provenance ..." (98)
"So with a somewhat cynical shrug, I added the nuclear option -- to match every WMO possible, and turn the rest into new stations ... In other words what CRU usually do. It will allow bad databases to pass unnoticed, and good databases to become bad ..." (98-9)
"OH F--- THIS. It's Sunday evening, I've worked all weekend, and just when I thought it was done, I'm hitting yet another problem that's based on the hopeless state of our databases." (241).
- "This whole project is SUCH A MESS ..." (266)
Looking at this bit of evidence, Toronto Star columnist Lorrie Goldstein asks:
And based on stuff like this, politicians are going to blow up our economy and lower our standard of living to "fix" the climate?
Are they insane?
Yes. But are we?