Thursday, September 23, 2010

Where is the ACLU ??

Most Americans have not heard about the following story. I recently received this video of students from Wellesley Middle School in Wellesley, MA on a public school field trip to a mosque. The field trip was taken under the guise of it being "educational." It turned into more than the chaperone's had bargained for.

My purpose here is neither to condemn nor promote Islam. Furthermore, it is not about the controversial connections that members of this mosque are alleged to have. I am simply pointing out a double standard. I am wondering where the ACLU and the national news media are in regards to this story. We have seen the ACLU cry "foul" time after time when it comes to any reference to Christianity in the public square. So, why have they not raised an objection to public school students being taken on a field trip to a mosque and some participating in Muslim prayers ?? Why has the news media not reported it ?? If the students had been taken on a field trip to a synagogue, church, or temple both the news media and the ACLU would have had a fit. The news media would have run numerous reports and commentary after commentary for days. They would have cried foul about "right-wing religious nuts indoctrinating children." The ACLU would have been filing lawsuits on top of lawsuits alleging that the field trip violated the constitution in regards to "separation of church and state."

You know I'm right. It would be the mother of all brouhahas. My point is that if there is going to be a ban on religious references under "separation of church and state," then it needs to be applied across the board to all faiths, NOT just Christians and Jews. Fair is fair.
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Liz said...

Great post. I saw this on Fox news. Haven't heard a peep about it anywhere else. But you can bet there would be no end to the uproar in the mainstream media & the ACLU if this had happened in a Christian church.

The Second Chance Sheepdog said...


You're one up on me, then. I hadn't seen anything about it anywhere until I received an e-mail with it included.

Doug Indeap said...

I think your complaint is born of misconceptions.

1. The First Amendment constrains the government (including government-run schools) not to promote or oppose religion. In keeping with this principle, schools can and do teach students about religions, as long as they refrain from promoting or opposing any religions. The Wellesley School sought to do just that, but things went awry on the field trip when some students went from observing to participating in the service. The school acknowledged that was an unintended mistake and apologized.

2. The First Amendment does not prohibit "any reference to Christianity in the public square"--far from it. Indeed, the First Amendment's "free exercise" clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views--publicly as well as privately.

The First Amendment's "establishment" clause constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties (e.g., public school teachers instructing students in their classrooms), they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment's constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please. If their right to free exercise of religion extended even to their discharge of their official responsibilities, however, the First Amendment constraints on government establishment of religion would be eviscerated. While figuring out whether someone is acting in an official or private capacity in any given circumstance can be complex, recognizing the distinction is critical.

Doug Indeap said...

Part 2

3. Mindful of the foregoing, the ACLU does not cry foul time after time, as you assert, at any reference to Christianity in the public square. Rather, it tries to keep the government from straying beyond the constraints of the First Amendment; try as it may, the ACLU can hardly respond to every government misstep. I haven't heard of any ACLU statement on the Wellesley School episode. Since the school (a) intended only to teach about Islam and did not intend to promote it and (b) admitted the field trip did not go as planned and apologized for the mistake, I suspect the ACLU sees little reason to say or do anything. A lawsuit over this? Surely you jest.

4. You are right to call for government to refrain from promoting or opposing all religions. If you mean to suggest, though, that Christianity is somehow being treated worse than other religions, you need to clear your eyes and look again. Christianity in its various forms is, by far, the dominant religious influence in our society, and some Christians seem unable to restrain themselves from trying to use government--federal, state, and local--to promote their religion. Such efforts are pervasive, and occur across our nation daily. Some officials engaging in such activities even hold up their abuse of power as a badge of honor. So, while we should endeavor to keep government from promoting or opposing any religion, including Islam, let's recognize the Christianity is the 800 pound gorilla in this regard, and for every episode involving Islam, there are countless others involving Christianity.

Wake Forest University recently published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state--as applied by the courts rather than as caricatured in the blogosphere. I commend it to you.

The Second Chance Sheepdog said...


Part 1

Thanks for your comments, but there's a few things in them with which I do not agree. However, I do agree with you that The First Amendment "... does not prohibit any reference to Christianity in the public square" and that it "... constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion." Over the years, the ACLU and others have filed lawsuits and twisted the First Amendment into something it's not. They've opposed nearly any mention of prayer or religion of any kind in the public calling it "unconstitutional." This liberal view of the First Amendment is simply not in line with what the country's founders intended. Their goal was that something similar to the Church of England would never exist in America. I would argue that these lawsuits have been unconstitutional by prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

continued ---->

The Second Chance Sheepdog said...

Part 2

Also, your statement that, "... the ACLU does not cry foul time after time ..." in regards to public religious displays is grossly incorrect. Just watch the news or read a newspaper to see the examples. For instance, consider the multiple lawsuits brought by the ACLU over The Ten Commandments being displayed in courthouses. Many of our nation's current local, state, and federal laws were inspired by The Ten Commandments. There's also the recent suit brought over the cross in the Mojave Desert that was erected to honor the nation's veterans.

Lastly, in regards to your statement regarding my implication that, "... Christianity is somehow being treated worse than other religions ..." and that I "... need to clear (my) eyes and look again," I believe it is you who need to take another look. If you have not seen the evidence, then you have either not been paying attention or have just simply chosen to ignore it.

Continued ----->

The Second Chance Sheepdog said...

Part 3

While reviewing comments you have left on other sites, it became apparent to me why we disagree on this issue. You have left several comments on sites that deal with atheism which gives me a pretty good idea about your religious beliefs. Therefore, I think it's safe to say that you and I are never going to agree on this issue. We'll just have to agree to disagree.

The Sheepdog
John 3:16

Doug Indeap said...


Thank you for your thoughtful response. Yes, as I am a lifelong atheist and you are proudly Christian, I see little prospect we'll agree on the existence of god(s). We could well find much agreement on separation of church and state, though, since people of all manner of beliefs can and do come to similar views on that constitutional principle.

I'll comment on two aspects of your response. First, with respect to the ACLU's actions, my primary point is that the ACLU, while aggressive in defending separation of church and state, recognizes the distinction between "public square" and "government" and focuses its attention on situations where the government itself appears to be promoting or opposing religion and not on situations where citizens exercise their individual rights to express their religious views publicly. It is important to distinguish “individual” from "government" speech on religion. As you and I have noted, the First Amendment protects the right of individuals to exercise their religions--publicly and privately--and constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. With respect to symbols and such, generally, if a monument is displayed “by” a government on its land, then that likely will be regarded as “government speech” to be assessed for compliance with the establishment clause. If a monument is displayed by a private person or group on government land, it may well be regarded as “individual speech” to be evaluated under the free exercise clause. In the latter case, the government, of course, cannot discriminate against particular religions and thus generally must allow other persons or groups equal opportunity to express their religious views on the government land. In sorting this out, much depends on the details of each case. The Wake Forest paper does a nice job of describing how the courts have approached the issues in this context.

Second, while the First Amendment undoubtedly was intended to preclude the government from establishing an official church as you note, that was hardly the limit of its intended scope. The first Congress debated and rejected just such a narrow provision ("no religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed") and ultimately chose the more broadly phrased prohibition now found in the Amendment. In keeping with the Amendment's terms and legislative history, the courts have wisely interpreted it to restrict the government from taking steps that could establish religion de facto as well as de jure. Were the Amendment interpreted merely to preclude government from enacting a statute formally establishing a state church, the intent of the Amendment could easily be circumvented by Congress and/or the Executive doing all sorts of things to promote this or that religion--stopping just short of formally establishing a church.

James Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to "[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government." Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., "the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress" and "for the army and navy" and "[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts"), he considered the question whether these actions were "consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom" and responded: "In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion."

The Second Chance Sheepdog said...


You are correct in that there are some things in which we can agree. One is that we are fortunate to live in a country where we can freely carry on a discourse, such as we have, without fear of retribution. I also would like to thank you for the courtesy you have shown to me during our discussion. You've seen the news stories just as I have where folks disagree on an issue and the next thing you know it has turned ugly.

It is obvious you have researched the issue of "separation of church and state" very thoroughly and are very knowledgeable about it. The original point that I was trying to make is that I believe wholeheartedly that if this class field trip had been to a church, temple, etc. we would have heard much more about it regardless of whether an apology was issued or not. I believe we very likely would have seen protests and lawsuits based upon other instances involving "church and state" over the years. I think it's possible that as soon as the notices went out to the parents prior to the field trip that someone would have objected and probably done so very loudly. It just appears that there is frequently a double standard today in not only "church and state" issues but in other matters as well. I believe everyone should be treated the same in regards to this issue and any other. Why ?? Because the founders wanted us to be a nation of laws and not respecters of men. Plus, fair is fair.

The Sheepdog