I have always possessed a tormented relation with organized religion. My feelings were openly discussed with my mother as early as middle school – in hindsight she provided incredible tolerance, understanding and guidance – her words were always accompanied by a smile and her blessings. “You have been imbued with religion and the church, you will return.” Because I am willing to admit my ambivalence, does not mean I swore against supporting others rights to worship. Absolutely, I understood the importance of religion (a belief in something); this too was always part of the discussion. Sure, she always rolled her eyes when I started talking about the sun, moon and wind. When contemplating a major in college, I considered a divinity degree; even the mere mentioned caused her to revisit the subject – the same guiding hand directing me elsewhere – “maybe not, maybe not” … “read, study, understand and appreciate … you have no intentions of using a divinity degree to provide for others….” She was right again, I changed majors, continued studying, trying to understand – while always wanting never, ever, to infringe on another’s right to worship.
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David Savage worked for Los Angeles Times, and the last time I checked he still does. His long-term assignment is reporting on matters before the United States Supreme Court. Mr. Savage travelled to Galveston to meet the Doe clients, clients who sued under fictitious name(s) to protect their identities, anonymous. Savage expressed he wanted to hear the clients’ story, and provide the Los Angeles Times’ audience, and reach, the backstory. He related he understood the clients’ protecting their identities because of their living in a small town, still having school age children, and because of their concerns over the volatility of religion and faith. For the uninformed, the Doe(s) were not conflicted with regards to organized religion. They were not atheist, did not purport to be agnostic, questioning, questioning, questioning. They were not of the belief that human existence just happened, with no explanation needed, nor did they assign human existence to luck, chance or magic. The Doe families were of the Mormon and Catholic faiths.
Savage agreed to protect the clients’ identities, recognizing the Doe(s) had undertaken a challenge most would never undertake. They challenged their local school district, and its board, for imposing religion in their public schools. The school district, Sana Fe, is and remains a public school (meaning taxpayers dollars). The dominant religion-sect was, and still remains, Southern Baptist. Such was the setting, trying times, a challenge and one of our society’s most emotionally charged issues. A challenge probably more aptly described by the venerable songstress, Roberta Flack, “Trying times what the world is talkin’ about. You got confusion all over the land, yeah” – so it seemed.
Mr. Savage’s agreement to protect the clients’ identity however was with a caveat – he wanted the opportunity to ask them to make an exception for his paper and for him. I explained that the Doe families had consistently refused others offers and that I didn’t believe their position was going to change. With such an understanding, I agreed to allow the interview to happen.
The interview took place. The Doe families, I believe enjoyed the interview, telling stories they were never able to tell the federal district judge (the backstory). They got off their chest their understanding of the Constitution – there exists no religious test; that the public schools should stay out of religion and that they as parents should be allowed to provide their children religious training of their choice, not the school’s. They were particularly galled the school district thought otherwise. When the interview was drawing to a close, the reporter, of much repute, finally asked the question he wanted to ask early on but did not – “Whether they would trust him enough to expose their names to the public.” Any sleep threatening my participation in the meeting disappeared at that point. However, my awakening and anxieties were misplaced – the Doe parents well-understood how dangerous the issue was and with school-aged children, they were not about to expose their children to their decision to bring suit. Their answer was the same, always a consistent one, “No.”
When Texas Monthly published a story indicating, inferring, artfully writing – that possibly one of the people they interviewed (and published pictures of in the story) was one of the Doe family members – the Doe(s) remained quiet, saying nothing. I remember the family who appeared in Texas Monthly. The visited but abruptly fled when fear gripped them, compelling them to refuse to participate as plaintiffs. After the lawsuit was filed, and won, the frustration of seeing their fifteen minutes of fame escape them was too much.
When the Hugh Hefner Foundation wanted to honor the Doe families for their courage, they had one stipulation – they, the Doe(s) had to reveal their identities. The Doe(s) settled instead for their principles, ignored the money and recognition and went back to raising their families. The award was never forthcoming. Television news shows, journals, and newspapers received the same consistent message – “no, thank you.” I have seen their children over the years and they have expressed to me their relief that their parents’ were able to protect them, while still protecting their faith – a message always delivered with a smile, a handshake – a hug.
I muse not because of the Doe families and surely not because of the results of the case. The Supreme Court decided and hopefully the case will stand the test of time. I muse because we as a society continue to make the same mistakes. With the recent debate of religious-based admission into the United States, to the painting of an entire faith as terrorists, to candidates for public office forgetting they are seeking office in a Union formed without a religious-based test, to these same candidates fumbling over the tenets of their own faiths while condemning others, I can’t help but fume and still muse at the same time.
How dare them. Yes, how dare them. They can’t make the Constitution say Christians only – unless they rewrite it – or can they? They wouldn’t dare repeal the Bill of Rights, or strip away our protections, the core of the document, prohibiting “Congress making no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” – they wouldn’t, couldn’t, do that, would they? They wouldn’t dare pass laws providing for religious-based admissions into the United States – no, no, no – that’s not possible, is it? Have these folks ever played dominoes? – “What goes around comes around!” Wait, that’s not how it goes… “A count (points) ignored will always come back around!” Wait, wait, wait… that is not a good analogy, please bear with me a little longer.
I muse because anything is possible. We, as a society, are a resourceful people, capable of doing great things if done as a collective whole, meaning we, as a society, are also capable to doing collectively bad if the rest of us don’t recognize they is us and unless we fight to protect our/theirs/others individual freedoms, then we are doomed to allow them to do anything they wish.
When a local Mormon group came bearing their book of faith, after the Doe(s)’ victory, they extended an invitation to visit their house of worship – I waited for them to ask me to reveal who brought the lawsuit – they never did. I visited, accepting the congratulations on behalf of the Doe(s) even though I well understood the Mormon’s historical view of blacks (a view now discarded). When a local Muslim group came bearing their book of faith, no invitation to visit followed, just a profound thank you and a request I deliver their love and appreciation to my forever silent clients. No, none of the Doe family members were Muslim, but they were (“I’m Muslim, but not”). Only one of the families was of the Mormon faith, they too are Muslims, but not. Both families probably remembered history’s tale, one time subjecting both faiths to the same frightening rhetoric as their Muslim brethren, exclusionary policies and hostilities, threatening their very existence, all coupled with potential and actual violence. Their faiths are long past having to prove their humanity – why should Muslims be required to do so.
Hypocrisy is also what I protested as a child – something my mother did encourage, providing her blessings to my insanity. So I muse – for holding any of us to an impossible standard is fundamentally unfair. If we ignore these historical lessons – they (they, which the Constitution says is us) – do win.
A Happy New Year it is…