Thursday, February 26, 2009

are some religious symbols better than others? does the gov't have the right to choose that?

yesterday i arrived at a seminar and noticed 3 students with ash on their foreheads. "aha, ash wednesday" i thought, and then i thought about how this really made these students stand out from the rest of the class, designating them as the practicing catholics and the rest of us not.

normally this is where these thoughts would end, but this seminar happens to be one where homeless youth are interviewed in front of a class of soon-to-be clinicians (i am just an observer). overall it is a great experience for everyone involved (if you have questions about it email me). this evening in particular, one of the youths told us he was kicked out of his house at 13 years old because he wouldn't go to church. he spotted those ashes and was maybe a bit more apologetic than he should have been. i couldn't help feeling a little frustrated with these students. it was one of those moments where my mind did not align with my heart. i think that everyone should be free to practice, or not practice, religion as they choose, but i wanted that teenager to be as comfortable as possible.

religious symbols have run up against secular law in many societies. the first one i can think of the turban issue in france. perhaps these issues would not be so loaded if the cultures of each religion weren't clashing with each other on other fronts.

why am i rambling on about this in the first place? well, the supreme court just issued a unanimous ruling that a city park in utah does not have to take a donated monument from a small religion called summum even though it has a 10 commandment statue. although the ruling was unanimous, the justices had differing opinions about its impact. the conservative judges were okay with labeling the 10 commandments "government speech," which i think they implied is also protected by the 1st amendment. the less conservative judges were not so sure about "government speech" and thought the city should make an effort to not appear to be the establishment of religion.

so i guess this isn't such a strong "wtf" posting, but more a way to work out my feelings on this matter. personally, i still think the individual should get to choose what they want to convey about their religion.... even if it makes people (including me) uncomfortable, but goverment should stay the heck out of it. if i ruled the country, established religious monuments could be grandfathered in, but here on out, there should be only secular monuments for what should be (but often isn't) secular government property.

what do you think?

article about supreme court decision
recent article about turban issue in france
joe biden and others with ash for ash wednesday


howdoyoustopthiscrazything said...

I agree with you 100% about the (non)use of government property for religious monuments.

Of course, one tactic sometimes used by pro-Ten-Commandments-monumenters is that they represent a world view that is ethical rather than specifically religious, and therefore something everyone should be able to get behind. In real life, though, I'm pretty sure I've never seen a secular ethical code that begins with "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

Unknown said...

there is an interesting contrast between the way you process the situation with the homeless youth and the title of this blog...