Posted by: bkivey | 5 January 2011

They Usual Suspects Once More

Before the 2010 holiday season fades too far in the rearview let’s take a moment to remember the folks at the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and their continuing efforts to affirm that a loudmouthed jackass is still a jackass.

On 30 December the local paper reported that the town of Prineville, OR, had removed their city Nativity scene after receiving a letter of complaint from FFRF.  That’s it. Just one letter from a Madison, WI based organization. No local public outcry, and as far as is known, no local complaints from non-Christians who felt like they’d been ‘excluded’, to use the letter’s language. As is usual for the professional busybody, the folks at FFRF allege harm without showing instance or proof. I can only imagine that the legions of non-Christians in Prineville too cowed by a Nativity display to voice their concerns to their own City Council are thanking their benefactors at FFRF for speaking for them.

I’m somewhat familiar with Prineville from spending most of 2006 doing work in nearby Bend, and I’ve done work in Prineville proper. It’s a nice little town located in an oasis of a green valley in the high desert of central Oregon. Home to cattle ranchers and farmers and more recently a new Facebook data center, the people are not the sort you’d expect to put up with meddlesome outsiders. Yet the local government couldn’t cave fast enough. After reading the story and looking at the City of Prineville website, I was moved to write a letter to the City Council, reproduced in full minus the headers and closing:

Dear Folks,      

In the 31 December 2010 edition of The Oregonian a story appeared detailing the city’s decision to remove a Nativity scene from city property as the result of a complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). I was disappointed to see that an elected body would capitulate so easily before an organization that can be described as a couple of busybodies with a website and a fax machine.

I can only imagine that the Council’s action was taken out of fear of a lawsuit and not because of any distress expressed by the citizenry. Perusal of the FFRF website shows only fifteen legal challenge successes in the prior 33 years, and some of the so-called successes are loosely defined at best. Only two of the cited lawsuits involved Nativity scenes, and neither of them appears to parallel the situation in Prineville. In fact, one suit concerning a public crèche display was rejected so soundly that FFRF no longer files in Wisconsin state court.

Acquiescence by public officials to fringe groups unhappy with cultural norms engenders neither trust nor confidence: indeed, quite the opposite. My understanding of city government is that its purpose is to serve and be responsive to the local citizenry, not outsiders who view the Establishment Clause as a vehicle for the imposition of their views. By removing the Nativity scene the Prineville City Council gave legitimacy to a group that are nothing more than professional busybodies. Absent local concerns it’s hard to see what harm would have come from leaving the display up as was custom.

At some point those who wish to keep their culture have to make a stand. To take the path most convenient is to have one’s course defined by others. I hope that the Prineville City Council will continue to serve the interests of the people of Prineville, and not those of some meddlers from Wisconsin. 

I don’t live in Prineville, nor do I have any business or civic interests there, so in that respect FFRF and I have something in common. On the other hand, I don’t go looking for problems. Neither do I presume to impose myself or my views into situations that should be purely local affairs. If the citizens of Prineville or any other community want a Nativity scene, I hardly see how that disenfranchises someone from Wisconsin or anywhere else. I’m pretty sure that any folks in Prineville who might be uncomfortable with such a display are capable of speaking for themselves.

Outside of their incurable meddlesomeness, the people at FFRF are in deep denial of their humanity. From the Stone Age shaman to the neo-pagan practicing global warmism the need to believe in a power higher than oneself is as much a part of being human as breathing. The members of FFRF and their ilk believe that belief somehow translates into attenuated mental capability, a conclusion not supported by the evidence. I suspect that the public display of a Menorah during Hannuka or a Crescent during Ramadan would draw the same response. It’s not religion they’re uncomfortable with, it’s themselves.

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