Liberty Institute/Texas Values, the religious-right litigation group based in Plano, is addicted to outrage (OUTRAGE!). The group seems to thrive on manufacturing and feeding it with strained distortions, whether the issue is gay adoption (vanishing moms and dads!), sex education (anal sex!), anti-bullying bills (special rights for homosexuals!) or the mythical “war on Christmas.”
Now the group is outraged (OUTRAGED!) over a classroom exercise in an Intercultural Communications course at Florida Atlantic University. Details are sketchy (aren’t they always?), but Liberty Institute and other right-wing groups are upset because the exercise allegedly asked students to stomp on a sheet of paper with the name “Jesus” written on it.
A Florida television station reports that a devoutly Mormon student told the instructor he was offended and then was suspended from the class when he went to the instructor’s supervisor to discuss it two days later.
Some groups and right-wing media sites have highlighted that the course instructor is an officer of his county’s Democratic Party. “Dem Party official makes students ‘stomp on Jesus,'” screams a World Net Daily article. The article goes on to include the predictable charge that the exercise is an example of “the rising confidence and aggression of the new secularists and atheists, especially at our sick and surreal modern universities.”
On Monday Liberty Institute announced that it will represent the Mormon student. The group even has a nifty illustration (OUTRAGE IN FLORIDA) to get folks riled up (upper right).
Not surprisingly, media reports on what happened are short on specifics. The university itself hasn’t provided a lot of specifics either (also not surprising considering that it will likely become a legal issue). But that doesn’t mean all details are missing.
The university did release a statement pointing out that the exercise was based on an example in a study guide to the textbook Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach, 5th Edition. The release includes an apology and disputes some claims:
Based on the offensive nature of the exercise, we will not use it again and have issued an apology to the community. It was insensitive and unacceptable. We continue to apologize to all the people who were offended and deeply regret this situation has occurred.
No students were forced to take part in the exercise; the instructor told all of the students in the class that they could choose whether or not to participate. No students will be disciplined in any way related to this exercise, either inside or outside the classroom.
The University holds dear its core values. We sincerely apologize for any offense this caused. Florida Atlantic University respects all religions and welcomes people of all faiths, backgrounds and beliefs.
And what about the course instructor, the county Democratic Party official and poster boy for the arrogant “secularists and atheists” in our “sick” universities? He serves on the usher board for his church, Lighthouse Worship Center Church of God in Christ. From that church’s website:
We believe the bible to be the inspired and only infallible Word of God.
We believe that the redemptive word of Christ on the cross provides healing for the human body in answer to believing in prayer.
Golly. Seems odd that a Jesus-hating, secularist, atheistic college instructor would be a member of such a church, yes?
It doesn’t take a genius to suspect there’s quite a bit more to this story than we’re hearing from Liberty Institute, World Net Daily and their allies on the right. And it doesn’t take a fortune-teller to know that we’ll soon be seeing fund-raising appeals from these outraged (OUTRAGED!) groups looking for money to help stop the Jesus-stomping in Florida. Bank on it.
UPDATE: The Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale has a description of the exercise:
The exercise was part of an instructor’s manual, written by Jim Neuliep, a communications professor at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin. It was part of a chapter dealing the power of certain words.
“This exercise is a bit sensitive, but really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings,” the exercise states. Of the stomping, it said, “most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”
Fox News quotes a representative from Liberty Institute:
Hiram Sasser, director of litigation at the Liberty Institute, told Fox News the university’s behavior is “outlandish” and called their press release “inaccurate.”
“We believe the university punished him in retaliation for him exposing the class assignment to the public,” Sasser said. “Sadly, it is a testimony to the indoctrination that some of the public schools and universities are engaging in – to demonize anything that was valuable in the culture.”
4 thoughts on “Texas Religious-Right Group Hypes Manufactured Outrage (OUTRAGE!) over Jesus-Stomping 'Controversy'”
I wish you had posted this the other day. It would have saved me some work. Someone on FB had posted a WND (online news source that’s seriously biased and is known for not checking it’s sources) article about that. I checked for legitimate sources to verify the article but all I found was stuff from other very questionable news sources. No one had debunked it yet (at least no one who had showed up on the first page of my Google results).
I wonder where these OUTRAGED! people were when a Jehovah Witness student was forced to participate in a school program against HER religious beliefs?
Voluntarily stomping on the word “Jesus” written on a piece of paper in single university class? That’s nothing. Even worse coercive indoctrination goes on every day in tens of thousands of Texas public school classrooms. Texas law requires students to stand every morning and recite the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance and then the Pledge to the Texas flag, both of which prominently mention “under God,” turning the patriotic pledges into sectarian prayers. Many students and teachers do not want to participate in this coercive religious exercise (because they are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Pagans, Wiccans, Native American Religionists, Hindus, Buddhists, Polytheists, Deists, Pantheists, Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, Secularists, etc.) but are nevertheless compelled to do so. Most simply stand (so as not to attract attention to one’s self) and remain silent. That’s certainly what I did as a teacher. Where is Liberty Institute/Texas Values when you need them to stop this infringement of individual religious conscience? Oh, of course. They are hypocrites.
Students in Texas can’t seriously be compelled to recite the pledges, can they? Isn’t that illegal? Yes and no. Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to pledge allegiance to a flag because they considered it idolatry, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in 1940 that they could be compelled to do so. That led to intimidation, harassment, physical attacks, and mob violence against the Witnesses when they continued to refuse to recite the Pledge. The Supreme Court reversed itself in 1943, voting 6-3 to forbid a school from requiring the Pledge. That is still the law from a decade before “under God” was added. Saying the Pledge (or any pledge) is voluntary, and several subsequent federal courts have stated this as a justification for permitting schools to reserve time every morning to recite the pledges for those students who wish to, but students in Texas are deliberately not informed of that fact. They are led to believe it is compulsory. A 2007 amendment to the pledge requirement adopted in Texas in 2001 (i.e., when Republicans gained total control of Texas state government) that wished to “ensure that students are not coerced to participate in the recitation of the pledge of allegiance” and required that “a sign to be posted in each classroom near the state flag that states a student may not be coerced to participate in the recitation of the pledge of allegiance” was voted down.
The amendment was proposed by Democratic Representative Lon Burnam in an attempt to counter the rationale of the amendment of Republican Representative Debbie Riddle that added “one state under God” to the Texas Pledge. Burnam questioned the analysis of Riddle’s bill, which justified the inserted phrase because it would “acknowledge our Judeo-Christian heritage.” Burnam pointed out that “today there are citizens that are Native American, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Baha’i, Zoroastrian, Wiccan, etc. . . . that there were 88 Buddhist, 34 Hindu, and 13 Sikh congregations in Texas. ‘Is it fair then to those individuals to put ‘under God’ in our pledge to any of the people that I’ve asked you questions about, the last ten or twelve questions. Is it fair to these individuals to impose this addition to the pledge?'” Currently, Texas statute (in the Texas Education Code) requires students to recite both pledges without any notice to them that the recitation is purely voluntary. (www.netstate.com/states/symb/pledges/tx_pledge.htm – Just Google this if the URL is missing.)
The Texas Education Agency promulgated a rule for students to voluntarily opt out of saying the pledges. The rules require any student who wishes to do this to obtain written permission from his or her parents. Here is the most recent statement of this rule:
September 27, 2012
TO THE ADMINISTRATORS ADDRESSED:
SUBJECT: Procedures for the start of the day
Please allow this letter to serve as a reminder of statutory requirements for procedures at the beginning of every school day. Section 25.082 of the Texas Education Code stipulates: The board of trustees of each school district shall require students, once during each school day at each school in the district to recite:
(1) The Pledge of Allegiance to the United States flag; and
(2) The Pledge of Allegiance to the Texas state flag.
A school district may excuse a student from reciting a pledge of allegiance upon written request from the student’s parent or guardian.
Following the recitation of the pledges, the statute requires that all districts provide the observance of one minute of silence at each school. During the one-minute period, each student may, as the student chooses, reflect, pray, meditate or engage in any other silent activity that is not likely to interfere with or distract another student.
Each teacher or other school employee in charge of students during that specific period shall ensure that each of those students remain silent and does not act in a manner that is likely to interfere with or distract another student.
If you have any questions about these procedures, please contact our Legal Division at (512) 463-9720.
Commissioner of Education
This TEA rule is unconstitutional and thus illegal. Students have the right now, because of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and a 1943 Supreme Court decision affirming that secular right, to not recite the Pledge or any pledge. They should not be obligated to get a parental permission request to exercise that right. Over the years I have asked the Texas ACLU and Americans United to do something about this but without success. Now, I ask you, isn’t this implicit coerced requirement for students to recite religious Pledges every morning in every Texas K-12 public school much worse than an instructor-stated voluntary request to stomp on a piece of paper with the word “Jesus” written on it? I think so. Why don’t our state freedom-loving and litigious right-wing litigation organizations such as Liberty Institute/Texas Values get on top of this issue and do something about it? Or is hypocrisy their primary Texas value?
Why be outraged (OUTRAGED!) when you can be outrageous (OUTRAGEOUS!)?