Argument by Misrepresentation

Right, so I stumbled upon the Townhall.com podcasts this weekend. I think these podcasts are as close as I can get to todays right-wing thought without paying any money. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly have podcasts, but you have to pay the fee and become a member to listen to them.  Michael Medved used to be the same way.   You used to have to pay the fee and become a “MedHead” before listening to his podcasts–but now he has a feed at Townhall.com from which you can apparently download his podcasts for nothing.   You can actually listen to the guy without converting your head into any strange, “Med”-type biological constructs…..

So right off the bat with this Townhall.com podcast, I was treated to an Ann Coulter presentation entitled:  Why Liberals are Wrong About Everything. It focused mostly on abortion and gay marriage (If this is “everything” to Ms. Coulter, then might I suggest she get out and experience a little more of the world?), but it opened with this interesting quip about public prayer:

The Democratic Party is becoming more and more insane. … Among the pillars of the democratic party now are not allowing people to pray in public, stripping Ten Commandments from any public place–and by the way, on those two, I was thinking we ought to have a disclaimer sign at Ellis Island when new immigrants come, saying: “Welcome to America. You’ll no longer be making sixty-nine cents a day. You won’t be sleeping in a cave. But you may see Christians praying.[canned laughter.] Now if that’s okay–don’t–no running off to the ACLU when you see a Christian praying in public.”  Okay, banning prayer, taking down the Ten Commandments, gay marriage, and the single most important sacrament to the Democratic party is abortion, as we’re seeing now with the fight over Alito…..

Okay, now look.  Ann Coulter, and everyone else for that matter, certainly should should oppose those who would “ban prayer”.   The problem is that I’ve been listening to the podcasts of the ACLU, Democracy Now!, the National Lawyers Guild and even the Freedom from Religion Foundation–real left wing radicals–for quite some time, and never once have I heard from them anything that resembles a call to “ban prayer” in general.

What you do get is an often-over-zealous effort to stamp all traces of religion out of publicly funded institutions like schools and statehouses. What happens is that public high-school football coaches are prohibited from praying with their athletes before a game, even if none of the athletes object.  And I agree with Ms. Coulter and her inspiration, Phyllis Schlafly, that this sort of thing goes too far.  These coaches ought to be able to pray with their athletes, provided that no student is required to participate, and that there is an understanding that when the coach prays with them, he does so in his personal capacity and not as a representative of the State. The same could be said of State social workers who decorate their cubicles with religious paraphernalia in full view of their clients.  Some of these workers have been required–unjustly, in my view–to redecorate in the wake of Establishment Clause challenges.

But never have I heard a call for anything as broad as a general “ban on prayer”.   Imagine, if you will, a guy and his family sitting down to a meal at Applebee’s, or whatever, and muttering a prayer of grace to themselves and blessing themselves before they eat, in full view of the other patrons.  The way Ann Coulter has set the stage for us, we would expect the ACLU to come in and want to give them all tickets or something, or throw them into the gulag for the offense of “praying in public”.  This is what I would consider to be a “ban on prayer”.   And of course I agree with Ms. Coulter that a policy like this would be abominable.  What I don’t understand, though, is why on Earth Ms. Coulter wants us to believe that the ACLU is pushing for this to be our national policy.  It’s just–I’ve never heard anything of the sort from them, and I’ve been following them for a while.  You’d think something like this would have come up in an event podcast or an interview podcast or something.  But it hasn’t….

Now I don’t dispute that there are people out there who want to “ban” prayer.   It’s well known that people like this took over in Communist countries and violently imposed Atheism on their citizenries.  Here in America, though, I think you really have to look hard to find someone who pushes that point of view.  Like I said, I’ve been listening to radical left-wing propaganda for years, and I’ve never heard this proposal.  In fact, opposite seems to be true.  Take this episode of the ACLU Freedom Files, for example. Rather than flogging the high-school graduate who was denied a request to print her favorite Bible quote as a tagline under her yearbook picture, the ACLU fought vigorously on her behalf.  They reasoned that nobody could reasonably construe the quote under her picture in her yearbook to be a symbol of a religious establishment.  Why would the same organization that wants to “ban” prayer reason this way?

The essential element in every ACLU religion case that I’m aware of is a nexus between the challenged religious expression and some form of State sponsorship. The football coach is government employee.  It may appear to some paranoiac atheists that the coach’s prayer is a symbol of a religious establishment. The same is true for the religious social worker. It may be far out, but that’s the limit. That’s the border, as far as I’m aware.  I would not construe that as pushing for a blanket “ban on prayer,” would you?

And yet this is the language Ann Coulter uses to describe the ACLU’s goals.  If the ACLU and other organizations are working toward a “ban on prayer”, it’s certainly a covert operation that they are hiding well from their supporters.  To justify her claim that the ACLU is making an effort to “ban prayer”, Ms. Coulter would have to point to at least one ACLU religion case that involves no State sponsorship.  Now I’m not too familiar with Ms. Coulter’s body of work, but within the context of the speech I considered, she had not met her burden of providing this case.  And yes, the burden is properly on her to come up with a case that demonstrates her point, rather than on me to troll through every case the ACLU has ever brought so that I may prove at last that no such case exists.  If she, or anyone else for that matter, finds such a case, then sure, I’ll recant and admit that I was wrong.  But until then, I feel that Ms. Coulter’s language in describing the ACLU’s mission must change.

Why is this so important?  Why don’t I just dismiss Ann Coulter, like so many do?  The reason is that there’s nothing to be gained from ignoring the fact that the woman sure can move books.  One of Ms. Coulter’s ideological mothers, Phyllis Schlafly, podcasts her Conservative talk radio program.  In it, she makes many of the same allegations against the ACLU that Ms. Coulter does:  That they are are working to impose Atheism on the public by “banning” prayers and religious holidays.  I recommend that you subscribe to this podcast and listen to the people who call in.  Most of them hate the ACLU with a searing passion.  Many of them have this sort of tunnel vision about it.  A lot of the time this hatred of the ACLU gushes from their mouths as uncontrollably as vomit, without any regard whatsoever for even the relevancy of this opinion within the context of the program their calling into.  Phyllis could be talking about–oh I don’t know–dangerous products from China,  and some single-minded listener will call in and barf their hatred of the ACLU over the public airwaves.  It’s really incredible.  And the only things these callers ever complain about with regard to the ACLU are its “killing” of Christmas, its “banning” of prayers, and its defense of pornography.  And this is because these are the only alleged accomplishments that Ann Coulter and Phyllis Schlafly and Tony Perkins and rest ever attribute to the ACLU.  And there’s no telling how many of these people are out there–how many people in this country vote under utter the misapprehension that the ACLU exists solely to kill Christmas and ban prayer.

So what I need to do, I suppose is come up with a list of the ACLU’s top ten cases.  Or maybe I’ll be fair and make a five best and a five worst.  And what you all need to do is forward this list to your Ann Coulter-loving friends and relatives, lest they continue to labor and vote under her misapprehensions and misrepresentations.

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5 Responses to Argument by Misrepresentation

  1. Stacy F. says:

    The funny thing is, if the family was ticketed at Applebees for praying, the ACLU would be the entity defending their rights.
    Fundies like Coulter will never mention that because it may erode her misguided point.

  2. Netterox says:

    I didn’t read her book, but I remember hearing something that leads me to believe that while she supports prayer, she may not believe that prayer is valid if it comes from non-Christians. Personally, I don’t see why publishing companies pay her money… Don Imus got the shaft and so should she. Unfortunately, history tells us not to ignore the bigots. I hope your list idea works. I’m sorry if this is disjointed, jumbled and lacking any sense. I’m tired! Hope you’ll be down the shore this weekend!!!

  3. autofyrsto says:

    I’m not sure what she feels about the validity of anyone’s prayers, and I sure wouldn’t want to venture a guess at the risk of misrepresenting her. Personally, I’m not convinced of the validity of anyone’s prayers. The last thing I want to do, however, is ban them and take away this pleasure for people. I don’t even really want to stamp all traces of it from government the way the ACLU and the Freedom from Religion Foundation do. I do have a personal line, though, and the government does cross it. When it does, I’m thankful that the ACLU is there to call the government on it. ~tg

  4. autofyrsto says:

    A little honesty and respect goes a long way with me. Here are a couple of short podcasts from the Conservative Christian legal organization, The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), in which they speak honestly and respectfully about the ACLU. I’d much sooner lend a sympathetic ear to their grievances than I would to any of Ann Coulter’s.

    Jay Sekulow: Funding the ACLU
    [audio src="http://www.aclj.org/media/audio/LJ013008.mp3" /]

    Jay Sekulow: The ACLU
    [audio src="http://www.aclj.org/Media/Audio/LJ072506TUE.mp3" /]

  5. autofyrsto says:

    Perhaps I spoke a little too soon about the ACLU. Here they are in one of their videos making the same allegations described above.

    [video src="http://www.aclj.org/media/video/PGM84.mp4" /]

    Now, the Freedom from Religion Foundation does advocate in the so-called “court of public opinion” that people should abandon their religious superstitions. But this is to be distinguished from working to “ban prayer”. FFRF regularly reminds its listeners that they support the basic right to pray, but that they challenge the government when it either establishes religious institutions or appears to do so.

    Here is a concrete example from the video: During a commercial break–at 17:00–Jay Sekulow alleges that the Freedom From Religion Foundation is “demanding that warning stickers to be placed on the Bible.” This is an exaggeration. The FFRF does sell these stickers on its website and it encourages people to place them on Gideon’s Bibles that they find in motel rooms as a kind of tongue-in-cheek protest. I don’t agree with this campaign because I feel it borders on encouraging vandalism. But still, this is a far cry from “demanding that warning stickers be placed on the Bible,” as if they were pushing for some sort of labeling requirement.

    Also, It’s wholly unfair to commingle the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The ACLU has always spoken highly of religious freedoms and regularly fight on behalf of religious people and institutions to preserve freedom of religion.

    At 21:23, Jordan Sekulow points out that ACLU defends sex offenders and people who protest at military funerals. Jay Sekulow retorts: “Of course when it came to defending pro-lifers’ right to free speech, you never heard a word from the ACLU.” Although it sort of talk makes for good Conservative Christian radio, the claim is demonstrably false. My current teacher of Problems in First Amendment Law took a case on behalf of ACLU and represented pro-life demonstrators who enjoined from picketing on the public sidewalk outside of an abortion doctor’s private residence.

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