Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Some Kind Of Local Trouble

It's not very often that the state or national news focuses on my little end of Wisconsin. Today, sadly, is one of those days. I spend quite a bit of time on this blog attacking the Christian fundamentalists and their oppressive social policies. Normally, I have the luxury of shaking my head from afar, as I watch the debacle in South Dakota for example. However, this time, the Christian Right has struck too close to home; right in the town of Viroqua, WI, where I live.

From 365Gay, via No Capital:

For the second time Viroqua High School has cancelled Diversity Day after conservative Christians balked at the inclusion of gay speakers.

The day, held every two years for juniors and seniors, was to have been held on Thursday as a opportunity to promote diversity in the community.

Speakers were to have included representatives of the African American, Latino, Jewish, Muslim, native American and gay communities.

Diversity Day was cancelled in 2004 as well, due to a petition drive spurred by local Lutheran churches. While I don't agree with that approach either, at least it had the advantage of being citizen driven. Not so, in 2006.

From World Nut Net Daily, who I refuse to link:

This time, a fax from Liberty Counsel stated local pastor Don Greven of Bad Axe Lutheran Church and the grandfather of a senior at the high school raised concerns about no Christian, or formerly homosexual, viewpoint being included among the speakers, the Tribune reported.
Liberty Counsel argued a federal court in Michigan had ruled a similar exclusion unconstitutional.

"By excluding the Christian and ex-gay viewpoints, the (Viroqua) District violates the Establishment Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection," the group said.

Perhaps Liberty Counsel's legal rationale is sound; I don't know as I'm not familiar with the Michigan case. However, a certain aspect of this story is missing, as was reported on WI Public Radio news this morning. The intentions of the Christian and ex-gay speakers were in clear contravention of the purpose of Diversity Day. Per Gregg Attleson, a teacher on the planning committee for Diversity Day, the Christian speakers intended to proselytize their message, using Diversity Day as a forum to denigrate homosexuality and evangelize to the students, which, by the way, would make those organizations guilty of the same Constitutional offenses of which Liberty Counsel claims Viroqua High School would be.

So, who is Liberty Counsel and why are they involved? Well, let's see what their website says about them:

Liberty Counsel is a nonprofit litigation, education and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family. Established in 1989, Liberty Counsel is a national organization headquartered in Orlando, Florida, with branch offices in Virginia and hundreds of affiliate attorneys in all 50 states.

Recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization, Liberty Counsel is funded by donations from concerned individuals, churches and organizations across the country. Donations to this ministry are tax-deductible.

I've added some emphasis to what I feel matters in this "About Us" bio. It infuriates me when religious-political organizations use coded language like "advancing religious freedom" when they really mean "advancing the prominence of conservative Christian morality in public and private affairs". Such organizations use this coded language as an attempt to side-step First Amendment issues and to protect their 501 (c)(3) status. No sense in rendering unto Caesar if you can avoid it. A little more honesty should be expected from a Christian "ministry" like Liberty Counsel. If only the Bible had some sort of restriction or Commandment against lying...

Again, I can't say whether or not there is a genuine First Amendment issue here, but I suspect not. I can't imagine what kind of claim Pastor Greven thinks he's making by complaining of a lack of Christian diversity at Diversity Day. Conservative Protestantism is the status quo in Viroqua. It's the baseline that begs the need for diversity education in the first place. Unfortunately, diversity in faith or morality is not something conservative Christians are even willing to consider, since there's is the "One True Faith" and all. In any event, the purpose of Diversity Day is to educate students about the differing lifestyles of others, not create a forum for debate on the societal merits of such. Conservative Christians have such an axe to grind against homosexuals that they can't even bear the slightest hint of anything that might paint homosexuality in a positive light. It's a gross failure of faith and community, frankly.

Homosexuality is not going to disappear from the country, no matter how hard ministries like Liberty Counsel or Bad Axe Lutheran fight against it. The currents of progress always flow on, and just as racism and sexism fade more with each generation, so will bigotry against gays. Attacking things like Diversity Day only demonstrates an irrational hatred, and will certainly be even more instructive to the young folks of Viroqua than any speech. Pastor Greven and his ilk are an anachronism of a darker past, and the sooner they are consigned to the dustbin of history, the better.

[Editor's Note: Stay tuned, as Gifted-1 will be addressing the personal side of this story in a separate post. - S. Sam]

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