We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In the Shadow of the Burqa

Bell County High School football
Just a month ago, I posted an article (here) on the European fight over the Islamic dress for women, the burqa.  In that posting, I made a couple of points.  First, both sides in the battle are sincere, reasonable, and make good points.  Second, people of faith should be better than others at working through issues like this.  We should be more patient, loving, and willing to listen.  But most of the time we aren't.

In actual fact, we constantly live under the shadow of the burqa here in the U.S.  A recent news article on Kentucky.com (here) reports on events in Bell County where by long-standing tradition, a minister led the crowd in prayer before high school football games.  Bell County, Kentucky, is Bible belt country, and no one seemed to mind.  Praying before the game was an expression of local beliefs and culture.  Apparently, however, one or two families objected and eventually an outside group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, became involved.  According to its website, the FFRF is an advocacy agency for "nontheistic" concerns that has engaged in many courts cases with the goal of ending "state/church entanglements."

The FFRF has a point, which is that our government is secular, a choice made for us by our founding fathers.  They had seen the ills of state supported religion first hand and did not want it for their children's nation.  In America, at least, governmental agencies have no business promoting religion.  That's a good point.  Another good point is that apparently the large majority of folks in Bell County think of themselves as people of faith.  It is perfectly acceptable to ask a minister to pray before football games.  Those who don't want to pray don't have to—just wait a moment & it'll be over.  No harm, no foul.  It is, furthermore, an outside agency that promotes a religious agenda, so-called "nontheism," that has threatened the school district with a lawsuit if the practice of praying before football games continues.  The point is that in this regard not praying is also a religious choice.

It is, you see, complicated.  The games are public events staged by a local government agency, the public high school.  By law, the school can't promote religion.  Granted.  But, it would seem that the choice to pray or not to pray is a religious choice and not praying promotes a religious position as much as praying does.  In the end, the FFRF apparently stands on more solid legal ground, and we have to accept that fact.  We probably should do so graciously and gracefully.  Still, it seems like a culturally intrusive thing and not entirely fair to the good folks of Bell County.  Living in the shadow of the burqa is complicated.