The Contrarian: Living Lines, Limiting Liberty

—by , December 13, 2011

I never thought I would say this, but Rick Perry might have a point. In his new campaign ad, dressed in a thoroughly ‘Merican looking hunting jacket against the backdrop of what looks like a golf course, Perry proudly proclaims, “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there is something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” He goes on to promise that as President, he will do away with Obama’s “war on religion” and attacks from the left on the “religious heritage” that America was built upon.

Watch the full ad HERE.

The Establishment Clause removed organized prayer from public schools, while a student of Muslim faith may be accommodated in their daily prayers. In McCreary v. ACLU of Kentucky (2005), it deemed the presence of the Ten Commandments in county courthouses to be an unconstitutional display of religious intent, while students around the country have been suspended for T-shirts expressing their personal beliefs.

Perry purports that the liberal agenda means to eradicate the free practice of Christian faith in favor of secularism, and he isn’t entirely without ground. The “war on religion,” more often than not, involves precedents set by decisions that censoring instances of explicitly Christian tenets and imagery, qualifying Perry’s wounded sentiments by this observation.

Now, these landmark cases were decided on the rationale that the minority deserves as much right as the majority to practice the belief system(s) of their own choosing without government imposition, as per our most easily quoted (and most commonly known) unalienable right. Implicitly, this also means that the facilitation of this equity must prevent the violation of these rights by any party, whether it be government or the individual.

When individual expression infringes upon the liberty of others, it must be sanctioned to protect the rights of all; this relates to laws against other crimes of expression such as slander, perjury and harassment. We have a right to bodily safety, regulated by laws regarding the threat/act of physical violence and, in turn, the right to feel safe in our person, regulated by laws protecting our intangible assets (reputation, mental health, etc.). To recall the textbook application, you have every right to yell “Fire!” in a soundproof room when there is none, but do not have the same right in a crowded movie theater full of innocent people.

Going back to Perry’s ad, the GOP hopeful seems to find the repeal of DADT offensive on the count that it protects the right of homosexuals to serve openly in the military without fear of persecution (doubly offensive if you consider Perry’s personal and political views on homosexuality), while Christian children can’t openly celebrate Christmas, one form of expression seemingly valued over another.

However, there is no law that prevents children from praying in school if it does not interfere with their classmates’ right to not partake. As mentioned, if a Muslim child requests accommodation for their daily prayer, a Christian child would have the same right if they were to ask. The aforementioned restrictions on religious expression are meant to prevent the government mandated institution of religious practices rather than the pointed stifling of the individual right to Christian expression, which is, as Perry so aptly reminds us, rooted in our foundations.

This is why in McCreary v. ACLU of Kentucky, the removal of the displays was sound due to their inherent religious purpose being inappropriate in an vehicle of government regulation, while that same year, Van Orden v. Perry (yes, this Perry is also Rick Perry) ruled in favor of maintaining a 40-year-old granite statue of the same Ten Commandments, despite it being on Texas capital property, because it was not a symbol of religious enforcement.

Even further, this is why organized prayer is not allowed in public schools, yet individual students have been suspended for wearing religious T-shirts: The context of the latter involved hate speech and offensive language directed towards homosexuals. Religious or not, dress codes and codes of conduct are meant to create a positive environment for diversity without fear of the things we are not, and fear of the things we are.

These unalienable rights are also a personal responsibility that the government is meant to protect, not to provide. If it is so important that a child be able to partake in organized prayer ignoring other religions, to wear a T-shirt that says “Homosexuality is SHAMEFUL,” or to not be forced to tolerantly share the company of threatening cultural minorities (like those poor heterosexual military men, subjected to potential sexual threats, unlike women…), they should be sent to private school. If that is unaffordable, there are vouchers (an entirely other, but related, debate); if those aren’t available, try home school. If you can’t deal, move.

A note to school administrators: You mean well, but being told “Merry Christmas” if you are not Christian is not the end of the world, and to stigmatize it punishes the admittance of faith and forces language of inclusion that, without a proper explanation, reinforces the nurturing of insecure, bigoted people. Give the kids more guidance by giving them more credit. If rights are derived from natural law, then our children know them best.

And calling pranayama “bunny breathing” takes something away from the cultural diversity yoga meant to add to the physical education curriculum; besides not presenting the opportunity to pronounce a phonetically spelled word, it’s just embarrassing.


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