(4) Fri 16 Jun 95 0:04 By: Robin Murray-o'hair To: All Re: +quot;Free Speech+quot; or Forc

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(4) Fri 16 Jun 95 0:04 By: Robin Murray-o'hair To: All Re: "Free Speech" or Forced I St: ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ @EID:b135 1ed00080 @MSGID: 1:382/1006.0 883005A8 @TID: WILDMAIL!/WC v4.11 94-0279 "FREE SPEECH" or FORCED INDOCTRINATION? A Salt Lake City Flap Has Less to Do With "Freedom of Expression" Than It Does With Intolerance and Indoctrination. OPINION by Conrad F. Goeringer Nearly a quarter-century -- and a few gray hairs -- ago, I was part of a student movement that helped to open colleges campuses throughout the country to controversial, even downright inflammatory public speakers. The memories of one battle are particularly vivid. It involved Angela Davis, a media-ordained "representative" of the Black Power Movement, linked to George Jackson and other members of the controversial Black Panther Party. "Sister Angela" was a symbol of many things which the U.S. Government -- and lots of university administrations -- didn't like. She was Black, a woman, an admitted member of the Communist Party, and she became the center of "free speech" fights across the country. It took letters, petitions, demonstrations, and even threats of worst things to come in order to cajole the university administration to let "Sister Angela" speak. Many of us argued that universities especially had no right or just cause to muzzle controversial, even extreme viewpoints and representatives. We wanted a free speech-slug-fest, a demolition-derby of competitive ideas. Bring on the commies, the Nazis, the socialists and anarchists -- let the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan debate Huey P. Newton. Students could decide for themselves which opinions they'd accept; we didn't need an office full of professional administrators in suits controlling the flow of information or denying ANYONE the right to speak out. As it turned out, I was pretty disappointed in what Sister Angela had to say. She was doctrinaire, unoriginal, and too authoritarian for my political bent. I agreed with about half of what she had to say -- about as good a percentage as I've found for nearly any speaker to whom I've bothered listening. So when students at West High in Salt Lake City decided to exercise their "freedom of speech" during a graduation ceremony last week, I paid attention. A graduating senior named Will Badger moved to the podium to lead some students and audience members in singing the religious song "Friends." Apparently, a number of students joined in, and copies of the lyrics apparently had been passed throughout the audience. School administrators now are talking tough, threatening "appropriate disciplinary action" against those kids who "disrupted" the commencement exercises. It brings back memories. A generation ago, university and high-school events like graduation were being disrupted throughout the country to protest a variety of issues, including war, racism, and the fight for free speech. It had started in Berkeley, California, when a student named Mario Savio organized students to protest university rules prohibiting distribution of literature and other materials on the campus mall. Thanks to Mario and a lot of other students, the Free Speech Movement (some called it the "Filthy Speech Movement") was born. All they wanted to do was exercise their First Amendment rights. But is free speech the real issue in Salt Lake City? A number of groups such as the Christian Coalition have promoted the idea that government is "hostile" to the expression of religious ideas and that prayer in schools is, somehow, a manifestation of free expression. The school day, however, is distinctly different from an auditorium to which one goes in order to hear a political debate, or a magazine to which one subscribes, or even a movie or television show one chooses to watch. Schools involve a "captive audience" where, presumably, attendance at the business of the school -- education -- is mandatory in order to meet graduation requirements. Students, as individuals or groups, have every right to express a range of political, social and religious ideas in a voluntary, non-coercive setting. But a classroom or an official function of a school is a different situation. Children are there for a course of instruction which, according to the Constitution, shall not include religion. Students should not be "held hostage" while other people -- ministers, teachers, parents, priests, and even other students -- take advantage of that situation to proselytize on behalf of a religious faith. That's precisely what William Badger -- and the students and parents who joined him -- did when they sang a religious jingle during a school graduation ceremony. The Need for Sect Respect Ideally, religious belief -- or the lack of it -- is a private matter where government plays no active role. Public schools, government meetings, parades, official holidays and other state activities should reflect that official ambivalence or neutrality. Classes and graduation ceremonies should not become pulpits. It has been said that good friends should never discuss politics or religion. While people can "agree to disagree" on the former, the latter seems to elicit animosity, fear and divisiveness when promoted in a public setting. Will Badger, for instance, says that we "should honor the traditions of both Judaism and Christianity." What about Islam? or Shintoism? or Hindu superstition? Would Will have us "honor" Scientology, or the unique Christian fundamentalism of snake-handler churches? How about Christian Scientists where children die because medical intervention is considered "profane"?What about the intellectual "tradition" of those who have no religious faith? I suspect that it's primarily Christianity that Will and others at West High seek to honor, especially a Mormon version. I don't think that Will Badger, or most of the others who joined in the singing, would have displayed such enthusiasm for singing a Catholic hymn -- or a Buddhist chant. I suspect, too, that had the West High graduation been opened with prayer and included religious commentary, "equal time" for free expression would not have been given to those who disagreed with such a practice. And I think that West High, despite its high scores on SAT tests which have earned it public acclaim, has failed an important goal -- giving students like Will a sense of tolerance and an understanding of freedom, civil liberties, and constitutional rights. Otherwise, Will might have realized that there were students last Wednesday night at West High's graduation who weren't there to hear him -- or anyone else -- conduct religious services. Nor did those students come to the graduation ceremony to be singled out for NOT joining in what clearly was an unwarranted, unconstitutional and inappropriate display of religious self-righteousness. The point is that Will, and other students, parents, and bystanders, didn't have the right to take over a graduation ceremony and transform it into a camp meeting. That's NOT freedom of speech. It's religious bullying. It was also an insult to a 16-year-old sophomore named Rachel Bauchman -- and many other students, and their parents -- who thought that Wednesday night was a graduation ceremony, not a religious service. Rachel had already gone to court to ensure that religious songs would not be part of any official program at West High. The prayer-singing didn't bring students any closer together, and it distracted from the importance, and maybe even the solemnity, of a graduation night. It possibly ruined an important event in the lives of some of those students -- especially those who respected the privacy and convictions of their fellows. Rachel Bauchman has two more years to go at West High; she wants to go on to Harvard for a law degree. That fact tells me that she'll have worse knocks than what happened last Wednesday. Ironically, it was a song titled "Friends" which has split a community, turned student against student, parent against parent. And maybe out of it all, Rachel Bauchman, Will Badger, and everyone else will learn an important lesson about the real meaning of freedom, and the very real need for tolerance and respect. --30-- --- * OLXWin 1.00 * Dial-THE-Atheist at (512) 458-5731 --- WILDMAIL!/WC v4.11 * Origin: American Atheists Online (512) 302-0223 (1:382/1006.0) SEEN-BY: 102/2 850 851 890 943 270/101 280/1 31 333 396/1 3615/50 @PATH: 382/1006 29 91 92 3615/50 396/1 280/1 102/2 851


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