Ignorance and Insult in the Local Rag
I managed to get all steamed up today when I read my town’s weekly publication, the Wednesday Journal. Ms. Virginia Seuffert’s piece, School’s wrestle with ‘December dilemma’, is what got the blood boiling.
Ms. Seuffert manages to offend in the first sentence:
This column is being written right after Thanksgiving, when even atheists — who do not acknowledge the existence of a deity to give thanks to — are happy to soak their employers for a paid day off.
Considering that her opinion piece is about the use of religious holiday symbols in the classroom, particularly Christmas decorations, I don’t know why in the hell she felt it necessary to bring up Thanksgiving at all, let alone atheists’ relationship to the holiday. Incidently, I always thought Thanksgiving was more about “being thankful” than “giving thanks”. But what do I know? I’m just an atheist eager to squeeze my employers for free money. Well, if I had employers. Oh crap, I guess there was no point to my celebrating Thanksgiving this year, since I’m currently unemployed and can’t get a paid day off.
She then goes on to basically say that people only want to keep Christmas decorations out of the classroom because they are afraid their non-Christian children will convert, and that in Italy people were outraged about when they tried to take the Crucifix out of the classrooms, and that really, the United States is a Christian nation founded by Christians on Christian principles (despite what our current president says!) and that “symbols threaten no one, but their loss threatens us all”!*
So I wrote the following in response; we’ll see if it makes it into the paper:
This column is in response to Ms. Virginia Seuffert’s opinion piece entitled “Schools wrestle with ‘December dilemma’”. Ms. Seuffert appears to be laboring under the misapprehension that a push for secularity within the classroom, or the keeping Christmas trees out of it, is done in the “fear that a lit-up evergreen with shiny bulbs might be seen as an enticement to embrace Christianity.” It seems unlikely that many people, if any, object to Christmas trees in the classroom on these grounds. The objection to religiously-themed holiday decorations arises from the need to make schools welcoming and inclusive. Just because children “practically trip over Christmas-themed decorations at shopping malls” doesn’t mean they should be subjected to them at school. Most students already suffer the feelings of being out of place, of not “fitting in” or not being “normal”. They don’t need schools putting up Christmas trees and angels to add to their stress, and make them feel even more like “outsiders”. Students deserve to be able to learn in a comfortable and welcoming environment; one that doesn’t emphasize that some of their beliefs or certain aspects of their lives exclude them from the majority.
In addition, it is inappropriate to compare our public schools to Italy’s schools. Italy is a nation that for the majority of its existence has had a state religion. Only recently has their government moved away from officially endorsing Catholicism. The United States has NEVER subscribed to a particular religion, and despite what Ms. Seuffert claims, our Founding Fathers were NOT Christians, most of them were Deists, and they did not found the country on “Christian principles”. In fact, many of them had negative things to say about Christianity. Benjamin Franklin stated that “I wish it (Christianity) were more productive of good works … I mean real good works … not holy-day keeping, sermon-hearing … or making long prayers, filled with flatteries and compliments despised by wise men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity.” (Benjamin Franklin, Works, Vol. VII, p. 75) and Thomas Jefferson, in his conviction that religion and politics had no business being together, said “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose.” (Thomas Jefferson to Baron von Humboldt, 1813) James Madison makes it clear that he believes a just government has no need of religious organizations, “What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.” (James Madison, “A Memorial and Remonstrance”, 1785)
In response to Ms. Seuffert’s claim that “symbols threaten no one”, I would ask how she would feel if a symbol of Islam, or an Atheist manifesto, or a statue of Ganesh, were put up in the Capitol building instead of a Christmas tree. Would that symbol threaten you? Or at least make you feel uncomfortable? Keeping symbols out of schools will not make them “lost” as Ms. Seuffert seems to fear, so let’s keep symbols where they belong: in churches, mosques, temples and our homes.
*I wonder if Ms. Seuffert has ever seen a Klu Klux Klan robe? Now there is a symbol that threatens! I’m in no way suggesting that a Christmas tree would be like a KKK robe, but to say unconditionally that symbols don’t threaten is ridiculous. I’m as white as they come, and the one time I saw a real KKK robe I felt chills of horror. I’m not Jewish either, and the swastika fills me with a kind of dread. Symbols can be VERY threatening, even terrifying.
Update: My article was posted with a few revisions (all discussed with and approved by me) on December 16, 2009.