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.”
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.”