Monday, December 17, 2012

Editorial: Objection to ceremony is wrong

Wow, the group that wrote letters objecting to the religious content of the courthouse lighting ceremony really got the unnamed editor's goat! I haven't before seen a Courier editorial written with such anger, seen not just in the word choices but in the hasty, sloppy thinking.

First to the facts: It's not the "Freedom of Religion Foundation," as seen in the news piece, but rather the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and it's not an "atheist group," as seen in the headline and body copy of same, but rather atheist, agnostic and nontheist. I'm sure that's a little nuanced for the mouth-breathers around here, but an editor ought to have the circumspection to get it right. Clearly "atheist" is meant as an offensive epithet.

When civil libertarians object and sue to halt religious use of public resources, the adherents to the affected cult (pretty much always white Protestants) go to the mattresses as if the next step is to raze the churches and put them all in reeducation camps. They invariably forget that the strongest protection for their religious practices is keeping all such practices out of government.

Had the editor been able to take a breath and think for a second, his defense could have been a lot more sober and effective. As far as I know the courthouse lighting is supported entirely by private funds and groups, primarily the Chamber of Commerce. If that's true as I suspect, the ceremony does not infringe on constitutional protections and there's no legal case to be made against it. The Wisconsin-based national watchdog group responded to a local complainant, probably without access to the accounting or other pertinent facts. Given the penchant among small red-state towns across the country to play fast and loose around religion, the objection isn't surprising, but it's likely an overreaction.

That said, it would be a good idea for local leaders to take this as a cue to check themselves on where the legal lines are. Prescott's state recognition as "Arizona's Christmas City" is likely over that line, for instance, both when the Legislature placed it on the statute books and whenever the City puts money into promoting it. To be within the law, we have to ensure that only private funds and resources go into this sort of nonsense, and the City stays officially clear of it.

Staying within the law (which despite all the religious wannabe legal eagles is clear and well established: church and state must remain strictly separate in this country) isn't any more difficult than adhering to the speed limit on 69, and most importantly, it protects all the silly celebrations and freedoms of religion. People of faith should be the first to support and maintain that separation.


Anonymous said...

BRAVO and another bullseye.

Thank you for stating it so well.

Doris Green said...

My question concerns the policy of this and other news agencies to decide what detail of information the readers should/need to see. Specifically the restraint of identifying the perpetrators of various crimes, expecially the recent mass killers. Why is it editorial policy to withhold their names. Seems to me that the public should have all the info and let them determine how to handle such information. Stop with the censorship, already!

Steven Ayres said...

Doris, the policy you speak of is well established, and for good reason, and that's to prevent what the newspaper prints from skewing judicial proceedings, leading to perpetrators walking free. The presumption of innocence, even where the perp has done the deed in full view of the public and recording cameras, is an essential right under our system, and if a perp can show that the system was or even reasonably could have been biased against that presumption, the case falls apart.

I'd also encourage you to examine why you feel you need to know with official certainty right now who did a deed that you just saw on TV. Is there no value in slowing down a little a letting the professionals do their work?

Now, to the topic of this post. If I can do a little inferring from your comment, I don't think it's the editor's policy to withhold information on the facts of the Christmas Story Caper, rather he just went off in the editorial without thinking that there might be another legitimate perspective on it. Rising to a position of responsibility doesn't make you smarter or less blind to your own biases. That takes regular practice. My purpose in writing here and in the comments section of the paper is to remind the editor that as a journalist he has a responsibility to inform on the facts. I think his column on today's op-ed page may be a response to that.