High school student dresses up as Jesus for “Fictional Character Day”

I don’t know as I would have done this in high school, but I certainly would seize such an opportunity now:

A couple of months ago, Summit High School in Spring Hill, Tennessee held a “Fictional Character Day” in which students could come to school dressed as their favorite fictional character. Like the Mad Hatter. Or Darth Vader. Or SpongeBob SquarePants.

Jeff Shott came dressed as Jesus.

Before class even started that day, Shott was asked by the principal and other staffers to remove his costume. It was inappropriate, they said.

That’s sort of the default excuse the courts have given to schools, isn’t it? You want to do something remotely controversial? Nah. Sit down and shut up so you don’t disrupt anything. Or, in other words:

Here is part of what Jeff had to say about this in his own words:

I’d arrived at school this Monday before 8:15 a.m. and waited in the cafeteria until classes started, eating breakfast with friends and adding finishing touches to my Jesus costume.

The head principal, Dr. Farmer, soon came up and asked me to come to his office. The assistant principal, Ms. Lamb, and Officer Pewit, school resource officer, were waiting outside the cafeteria. Dr. Farmer asked me whom I was portraying. I told him that I was Jesus Christ. He said he had been hoping my answer would have been Zeus (or some other variation of a mythological deity).

Even though I’m typically very openly atheistic and have no problem discussing my views, I was a little distraught that all three school authority figures were addressing me at once. Dr. Farmer claimed I couldn’t have things both ways — I couldn’t complain about teachers talking about Jesus and also dress up as Jesus on Fictional Character Day.

Apparently one of Jeff’s “science teachers” is a creationist and had expressed as much, undermining the theory and fact of evolution with typical creationist tripe. Now it looks like the administration at Jeff’s school understands the constitution about as well as its teachers understand science. The fact is, whether or not dressing as Jesus is allowed on school grounds, Jeff’s teacher was promoting Christian creationism in the classroom, something which has long been established as illegal. It doesn’t matter if Jeff has a problem with that and he wants to wear a funny costume. Indeed, what a teacher tells her students and what a student wears as a costume are independent situations.

Anyway, Jeff has been given a $1,000 scholarship from the Freedom From Religion Foundation because of all this, so the end result isn’t so awful. And even better? I guarantee more students have been talking about him at school than ever would have if he wore his costume for the whole day.

National Day of Prayer challenge tossed

In an incorrect decision, an appeals court has tossed out a previous ruling on the constitutionality of the National Day of Prayer.

A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation did not have standing to sue because while they disagree with the president’s proclamation, it has not caused them any harm.

When I read the headlines about an overturned ruling, I expected some BS premise about the day being private and/or not government endorsed. But no, instead there’s this flimsy reason about standing. Apparently the government can actually endorse any religion now because no American citizen has any sort of standing to make a legal challenge.

Bizarrely, though, despite the piss-poor reason given, the justices decided to go ahead and attempt to make an argument for the constitutionality of the law. This makes no legal sense. By ruling on standing, it is only personal – not legal – interest that is motivating a continued response:

The appeals court said in an opinion written by Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook that while the National Day of Prayer proclamation speaks to all citizens, no one is obliged to pray “any more than a person would be obliged to hand over his money if the President asked all citizens to support the Red Cross or other charities.”

Except the First Amendment doesn’t establish a wall of separation between charity and state. Analogy fail, jackass.

National Day of Prayer struck down

The National Day of Prayer is a purely religious statute endorsed by the government. It is unconstitutional – and obviously so.

“[I]ts sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function,” a Wisconsin judge wrote in the ruling, referring to the 1952 law that created the National Day of Prayer.

“In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience,” wrote the judge, Barbara B. Crabb.

This is an obviously reasonable ruling. Unlike Christmas, there is no secular function or secular need for such a day. Of course, not everyone is so clear-headed.

Conservative religious groups called on the White House to appeal the decision.

“The National Day of Prayer provides an opportunity for all Americans to pray voluntarily according to their own faith and does not promote any particular religion or form of religious observance,” said Joel Oster, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund.

This makes no sense. It’s the same nonsensical crap religidiots are always peddling. “It’s freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion!” All these Joel Osters of the world are doing is demonstrating their poor grasp on prepositions and how they pertain to the First Amendment.

The promotion of any religion is a violation of the First Amendment, even if that promotion includes all religions – the constitution does not somehow exclude atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers (or even those whose religions exclude prayer).

This really shouldn’t be that hard to grasp.

The irony

The atheist sign in Washington state is still causing discussion. Unfortunately, some of that discussion is ironic.

But upon further review, we also feel that some of those protesting the sign make a good point about the message. Rather than just being a statement for atheism or observing the Winter Solstice, it steps over the line and attacks religion. The sign sponsored by the atheistic Freedom from Religion Foundation calls religion “myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

A key aspect of the message being sent out by humanists and atheists is that religion has a privileged position in our society and it is precisely unworthy of that position. To say this group was over the line is to undermine the notion of free and open discussion.

So, while we’ll defend the right of the atheist group to hold its views, we do think the message itself should have been monitored and disapproved. In this holiday season when people of certain religions are celebrating peace, as is their right, a mean-spirited message is out of place on public property.

So if a religious group puts out a message which says something to the effect of “May we defeat the evil that is Satan” then that is a “mean-spirited message [that] is out of place” during this season of celebrating peace, right?

The more pertinent point here, actually, is that certain religions aren’t actually celebrating peace. They’re celebrating their belief in myths and the sense of community these myths tend to harbor. That’s part of the reason the likes of Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers have Christmas trees in their homes during the season. They obviously aren’t celebrating any myths, but they are celebrating their love of family and community.

As I’ve said in the past, religion clearly brings a sense of community with it and that can be a good thing (and may be a contributing reason to its existence in our evolutionary history). What this atheist group is doing is celebrating what brings them together – reason and rationality. That is, a lack of belief in devils and angels are other fabrications of the mind are one common thread which strings these people together. For that, we all, too, should embrace the unharmful, open discourse that threads us together as a nation based upon liberties and freedoms.

Oh, Billo

Washington State has recently granted permits for three displays in its Capitol building. One is a “holiday tree”, the other a nativity scene, and the third a sign from an atheist group which reads as follows:

At this season of
the Winter Solstice
may reason prevail.

There are no gods,
no devils, no angels,
no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but
myth and superstition
that hardens hearts
and enslaves minds.

Okay, fair enough. The state is allowing permits for displays which are privately funded. Assuming there isn’t profanity or pornography involved, there is little reason to deny a group a permit. Washington, being the generally progressive state it is, of course, allowed the display. We can all disagree and do it in harmony, no?

No.

Billo is a mook. Around 1:45, he goes on to say Christmas is a federal holiday honoring Jesus. Actually, Billo, Ganulin v. United States, 532 US 973 (2001) found that Christmas had been so sufficiently secularized that its status as a federal holiday was permissable. In other words, had they found the point of the federal holiday, in its modern form, to endorse Jesus, they would have taken away its holiday status.

Billo next goes on to rhetorically ask if it is necessary that a sign be placed next to the likeness of Martin Luther King Jr for people who disagree with his religious views. There’s a disconnect. We celebrate MLK’s civil rights movements, not his religion. The holiday is to honor his achievements, not his Christianity. Beside that, yes, if one group has a right to obtain a permit for a display on public property, so do other groups. This doesn’t mean they have the right to put their display where they please – the KKK cannot put a sign in front of a bust or portrait or whathaveyou of MLK. Just the same, no group would be allowed to do that.

Asked whether he was bothered by the atheist display next to his Nativity scene, Wesselius said, “I think the Nativity scene will speak for itself.” But he added, “I appreciate freedom of speech and freedom of access. That’s why they’re in there, and hey – you know, that’s great.”

This man, from the original article, has the correct attitude and outlook. We can disagree, but we can do it in harmony.

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