03 July 2006

Case In Point On Official Prayer

As though right on cue, here's a concrete example of exactly what is so harmful about official prayer (h/t Pharyngula and Seeing The Forest):
A large Delaware school district promoted Christianity so aggressively that a Jewish family felt it necessary to move to Wilmington, two hours away, because they feared retaliation for filing a lawsuit. The religion (if any) of a second family in the lawsuit is not known, because they're suing as Jane and John Doe; they also fear retaliation. Both families are asking relief from "state-sponsored religion."

The behavior of the Indian River School District board suggests the families' fears are hardly groundless.

The district spreads over a considerable portion of southern Delaware. The families' complaint, filed in federal court in February 2005, alleges that the district had created an "environment of religious exclusion" and unconstitutional state-sponsored religion.
I'm sure Matt will tell us that this is harmless and anyone who fights against it is (or at least looks like) some kind of extremist, since, after all, if you can get so riled up about something so minor, you must be on the fringe. Of course, it should be obvious what an outrage this actually is. And if that didn't get your attention, maybe the death threats and eliminationist rhetoric will:
On the evening in August 2004 when the board was to announce its new policy, hundreds of people turned out for the meetng. The Dobrich family and Jane Doe felt intimidated and asked a state trooper to escort them.

The complaint recounts that the raucous crowd applauded the board's opening prayer and then, when sixth-grader Alexander Dobrich stood up to read a statement, yelled at him: "take your yarmulke off!" His statement, read by Samantha, confided "I feel bad when kids in my class call me Jew boy."

A state representative spoke in support of prayer and warned board members that "the people" would replace them if they faltered on the issue. Other representatives spoke against separating "god and state."

A former board member suggested that Mona Dobrich might "disappear" like Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the atheist whose Supreme Court case resulted in ending organized school prayer. O'Hair disappeared in 1995 and her dismembered body was found six years later.

The crowd booed an ACLU speaker and told her to "go back up north."

In the days after the meeting the community poured venom on the Dobriches. Callers to the local radio station said the family they should convert or leave the area. Someone called them and said the Ku Klux Klan was nearby. [emphasis added]
As Ed Brayton observes, "If even 10% of the allegations in this case are correct, it's one of the most outrageous cases I've ever seen." This is exactly why religion needs to be kept entirely out of government; not only is it oppressive in its own right, but it approves - even encourages - lynch-mob intimidation in the wider community.

See also Bartholomew's Notes On Religion for some background.



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