A Redding, California woman has decided to make it her mission to require schools to “provide children the opportunity to listen to or perform Christmas carols” or face litigation. According to redding.com, Merry Hyatt is collecting signatures (she needs 433, 971 by March 29th) in order to get her initiative put on the ballot next year.
According to the article…
Schools currently are allowed to offer Christmas music as long as it is used for academic purposes rather than devotional purposes and isn’t used to promote a particular religious belief, according to an analysis by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.
That sounds reasonable. Given that this country is comprised of people of many different ethnicities, cultures, and religions, it makes sense to avoid singling out one particular religion for favoritism. It’s also constitutional, which is no small thing.
However, it seems it’s not enough for Erin Ryan, president of the Redding Tea Party Patriots, who seems to lack quite a bit of understanding about this country, our constitution, and the existence of other holidays.
“Bottom line is Christmas is about Christmas,” said Erin Ryan, president of the Redding Tea Party Patriots. “That’s why we have it. It’s not about winter solstice or Kwanzaa. It’s like, ‘wow you guys, it’s called Christmas for a reason.’ “
I can’t argue that Christmas is about Christmas. That’s like saying that blue is blue. Her second sentence, however, is a bit puzzling.
I’m not positive, but I think she’s implying that December is the “Christmas” season… to the exclusion of all other December religious holidays like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Ashura, Litha, Hijra, and Zarathosht Diso. She must feel that she, as a Christian, has an entitlement that gives her special privileges, allowing her to place her religion on a high pedestal above anyone else’s religion. Either that or she just is so blindly ignorant of the existence of other religions that she can’t quite grasp the idea that someone else might not share her beliefs… though I doubt that’s the case.
Rob Boston, senior policy analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, says that Hyatt’s initiative is “blatantly unconstitutional” and has little hope of passage. Even if the absurd happened and Hyatt got enough signatures, got it on the ballot, and it got enough votes, the courts would strike it down.
Boston said he thinks Hyatt’s initiative represents a larger issue of religious conservatives being unhappy with the changes resulting from American society becoming more diverse.
“The frustration some religious conservatives have is they want a mythological religious America that probably never existed,” he said.
I think that’s a huge, huge part of the problem. The more diverse this country becomes, the more diverse the religious beliefs become and that frustrates religious conservatives who feel their religion should have favored status in our culture (it already does) and our legal system (it does, but it shouldn’t). Whenever anyone makes a move to treat people of differing beliefs with equal respect, they cry foul.
Hyatt, a substitute teacher who moved to Redding from Riverside, said her motivation for the initiative was to help restore children’s moral compasses by inviting Jesus to school Christmas parties.
“He’s the prince of peace; he’s the only one who can get these kids to stop being so violent,” she said in November.
That, in a nutshell, is one of the biggest problems in this country today. Whether it’s Christians, Muslims, Catholics, Jews or any other religion, when one group starts trying to force its beliefs onto the rest of society, our freedom is diminished. Discussing beliefs, arguing beliefs, criticizing beliefs, even proselytizing… that’s all fine, but when the attempt is made to base legislation or public policy on religious beliefs or to favor a particular religion, it not only becomes unconstitutional, but it becomes morally and ethically irresponsible. Policy should be based on rational thinking that creates conditions of equal treatment, not the morally questionable “teachings” of ancient religious texts.
Hyatt said she believes it is Americans’ First Amendment right to worship.
“It’s our right to have freedom to worship,” she said. “That’s why we came to this country. They came to be Christians and they’re trying to take that away. They’re out of line; we’re not.”
Yes. It is a First Amendment right that we have a freedom to worship (or not) as we please. What Hyatt doesn’t seem to understand is that nobody is trying to take that away. This country is inundated with churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious buildings and establishments, all of which enjoy a special tax-exempt status and a freedom of operation. Anyone in this country has free and open access to worship as they please, anytime they please, without government intrusion or interference… in church or out. The religious right will cry from the rooftops that they’re being oppressed and that their right to worship is being stripped away by an increasingly secular society, but it’s nonsense. Religion, Christianity in particular in this country, gets an absurdly high level of preferential treatment from our government and from the population in general.
“They’re looking to the public schools system or the government to provide them a religious experience at Christmas,” he said. “If you want a full-throttle religious Christmas experience, it’s at church … there’s no shortage of those.”
The religious right seem to forget that they have churches… on practically every street corner… in which they can have their religious experiences, teach their religion to others, worship to their hearts’ content, and put up displays of their faithfulness. I can count at least twelve churches on my thirty-minute drive to work and there are three churches within a quarter mile of where I live.
We don’t need to turn our schools into churches, too.