To the Editor,
This is in response to “Our View: Frivolous’” on the Editorial page of Midlothian Mirror posted Oct. 25. Both of the potential lawsuits (one by FFRF that may still be filed and the other by Mr Greene of San Antonio who has since dropped that effort) have substantial merit and do not fit the legal or conventional definition of frivolous. Both suits seek to force MSID to remove religious plaques from public buildings based on long upheld Constitutional principles and legal precedent. In the case of Mr Greene, deciding to not go forward with the suit does in no way diminish the merit of the case.
The often repeated chorus of “these people don’t live here so why don’t they mind their own business” has very little bearing on the situation considering the legal precedents being used are state and national, not local. When public money is used to prop up specific religions, it’s everyone’s business.
Certainly while they are hunks of metal, and small at that, they are symbols that have meaning to our community and country. The harm of these small and superficially unmemorable symbols are substantial. The Mirror may want to label the plaques as “… dedication markers. Nothing more. Nothing less,.” but the uproar they have created say they are indeed more. The Mirror also admits that these markers are a prayer being said for the students. How about those students that are not of the majority faith, do you think they feel included by such a symbol at the entrance to a public school?
The only reason we do not have religious instruction and organized prayer inside the walls of our schools is because the Constitution won out a half a century ago when school mandated prayer was removed from the schools. Well at least inside the walls, anyway. Just as a reminder, individual and group prayer in our schools has always been legal and I hope always will be. As long as it is not lead, organized, or instituted by the schools or their employees and it is not disruptive to other students or the curriculum.
A true dedication for a building of public education would be to the learning process and all those that make that process possible and productive. The plaques’ significance may even be somewhat ironic when considering the story history tells about the net value of organized religion’s contribution to advancement of knowledge. So let’s replace it with something profound and worthy of our public schools and the job they do, without regard to religious viewpoint.
The fact that the plaques were donated and not purchased with MISD money is also irrelevant. While I agree it would have been a simpler argument if they had, the cost is not the prime issue here. I don’t believe for a minute that had other organizations also offered a free plaque for the building when it was built, they would have been given equal representation. The often misapplied “majority rule” principle was just as strong then. If any group wants to gather at the dedication of a building and offer prayer, or any ceremonial activity, in support of its success, more power to them. If we want to commemorate all those participating with a spot on the wall, I’m good with that. I suspect if all were given a spot, neutrality would look pretty attractive.
The plaques have caused many people to consider what these small pieces of metal represent, on both sides of the issue. What I hope the adults and children take away from this is a better understanding of what religious liberty means and what it meant to those who were instrumental in creating our Constitution and our country. That it is not “majority rule.” That religious liberty is about protecting the individual’s liberty to observe any religion or no religion at all without coercion from the majority. It also means protecting individuals from other religions or no religion. Be careful what you allow when you are OK with 50 percent of the population plus 1, determining the officially sanctioned religion. The predominant religion today may not hold that position in the future. The religious liberty guaranteed by the Constitution may be called on to protect your viewpoint. That liberty is strengthened by a neutral governing body. Are the schools willing to be honest and unbiased when they teach what religious liberty really means, even if it is not in line with what the ‘majority’ wants? What I hope they do not take away from this lesson is that unless you are part of the majority, your views are secondary and the Constitution is not there for you. That you do not have the same voice or rights. That when the government mistakenly takes sides, you will not be represented equally.
I do agree that “Remember Mt. Peak and Longbranch” can be a rallying cry. I hope it is for a leap forward in educating our children about the form of government they will soon participate under. A form that must consider the liberty’s of the minority before the majority, because those in the minority are the one’s needing protection.
There is much at stake and the effort is far from frivolous. Certainly not “ … much ado over nothing.”