Monday, February 8, 2010

Funny Because It's So True

A man was being tailgated by a stressed out woman on a busy boulevard. Suddenly, the light turned yellow, just in front of him. He did the right thing, stopping at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection.

The tailgating woman was furious and honked her horn, screaming in frustration, as she missed her chance to get through the intersection, dropping her cell phone and makeup.

As she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up.

He took her to the police station where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a holding cell. After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects.

He said, "I'm very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping off the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I than noticed the 'What Would Jesus Do' bumper sticker, the 'Choose Life' license plate holder, the 'Follow Me to Sunday-School' bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car."


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Friday was an exceptionally stressful day for me at work. Not only did I have to navigate the treacherous waters of state and district public school policy and federal law, I had to do it while biting my tongue. You see, it seems there are many more degrees of separation between Kevin Bacon and me than there are between the public schools in which I work and the free exercise of religion.

This is my first time back to work in the public school system in 10 years. In the interim, I have worked in mental health, academia, and at home (homeschooling my children). In all those years, and with respect to those occupations, separation of church and state was never an issue. Not so, this year.

The first dose of culture shock came when I realized that nearly every workspace in the district compound contained some kind of poster, picture, throw pillow, or nicknack of a religious nature. Believe me when I say that I totally believe that a person has the right to display in their own personal work space anything they choose, so long as it does not violate a standard of professional common sense. I guess the sheer amount of explicit religiosity just took me by surprise. In this case, though, the problem is more mine than theirs.

Some examples of religious infringement on my right to separation of church and state incudes receiving religious-themed email on my work account, being expected to participate in group prayer at faculty/staff gatherings at school, and having to respond out of courtesy to the many incantations of "Have a blessed day." Unlike the many personal mementos I encounter in other people's offices, these things are cumulatively very annoying because they invade my personal space. On Friday, though, there were 2 incidents that I thought might finally compel me to take that dive over the edge.

The first one happened first thing in the morning, when I had to facilitate a very difficult meeting between a parent and student, staff representing the child's base school, and the representative of the alternative school to which the student was recommended for placement. Things started out quite hairy, but progress was made when the alternative school representative explained in great detail what the child's experience at her school would be like. She peppered it with lots of expressions like "praise Jesus", "God love 'em", and "our little cherubs". She constantly referred to the student as "Lovey", which I found kind of creepy, considering the student in question was a 14-year-old boy, but the parent of the child just ate it up. My pinnacle moment of discomfort came when the parent asked this woman if everyone at her school was as spiritually connected as she, and the woman answered very sincerely, "You have to be," to which everyone at the table laughed but me. I just wanted to shout, "These are public schools people! If you want spiritually connected, attend a private school!" Of course, I need my job, so I kept quiet.

The second incident occurred later in the day at another meeting. In this case, a teacher was discussing with a parent church-related work options for her daughter with special needs. Let me just say that I think the world of this teacher. She is a very fine person. However, when the conversation turned to the Christian tolerance that this young woman would receive by working for her church, I nearly choked. Where was this Christian tolerance when churches were (in the not-so-distant past) condemning individuals with special needs for being possessed by Satan, or at the very least, being some sort of punishment by God for some perceived sin by the parents? Is that the type of Christian tolerance to which my colleague referred? So...for the second time that day, I bit my tongue.

Now, in the overall scheme of things, are these offenses that big of a deal? Probably not. However, what really gets under my skin is the fact that these types of comments were taking place in the supposedly secular public schools. I don't go to other people's churches, synagogs, mosques, or homes and bring up my lack of belief in God, my lack of spiritual connectedness, or my personal opinions on Christian tolerance. It would be inappropriate. Likewise, I just feel that the same courtesy should be extended in school.

Quote of the Day:

"State churches that use government power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights....Erecting the 'wall of separation between church and state,' therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society."

--Thomas Jefferson