All Hell has Broken Loose

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All Hell has Broken Loose
an essay (2005)

When I was in high school I just wanted everyone to like me and to have a boyfriend. Neither of those pursuits turned out very well. I would never consider complaining about anything important. And if I did anything assertive it was as part of a group and as soon as any kind of confrontation occurred, I would be the first to back down.

Last year when I sent my complaint letter to the superintendent of schools about graduation in church, I was frightened. For days afterward, I had this feeling of dread. The superintendent was an important person and here Iíd gone and chastised him. Back then, I still looked at public officials with a respect they obviously donít deserve. This week, as I signed a letter I wrote to the mayor of Palm Bay, instead of fear, I feel something like sinister glee. [Heh, heh. All your best evil atheists enjoy a bit of sinister glee at times like that.]

Thereís a lot going on in Brevard County right now.

Calvary Chapel of Melbourne is recruiting volunteers to teach a state approved abstinence program.

The city of Palm Bay has "In God We Trust" on its official website along with a picture of a cross lit up within the American flag. [The City of Palm Bay doesn't give a rats ass about non-Christian soldiers!]

[Update: The City of Palm Bay now has a beautifully modern  new website and I've yet to find any religion on it. Thank you for growing up, Palm Bay.]

And this past week, a program called Life Choices was presented for several nights at Calvary Chapel for our schools. This program was advertised only in the schools and the kids were offered bribes of free time at Andretti Thrill Park for attending. This is a very religious program using emotional and fear-based appeals to get students to stop doing drugs and having sex, etc. No concrete life skills for dealing with these situations were offered to the students beyond turning their lives over the "lordship" of the "savior" Jesus Christ. [I know this because I forced myself to watch the live streaming of the program. I finally found the report I wrote up about the whole shebang! You can read it here. I thought it was put on by a relative of Cassie Bernall, ("the girl who said yes") but it was actually a relative of Rachel Scott, a girl apparently mocked for her faith before killed at Columbine. This relative sang a song about a girl's "flower" and how precious it was and she shouldn't let a know, deflower her or something. Ew! Wilted, used flower!]

Americans United told me I shouldnít talk to anyone about the graduation case because negative public opinion could derail the settlement. And as far as I know, itís not settled yet. It has to be entered into the court or by the court or something like that. Hopefully that will be done very soon, but after this past week, Iím just not so sure.

When the school board voted to settle the case, reporter James Dean of Florida Today was at the meeting. He called me that night for a comment. I was confused. AU had given me the impression none of this would be made public, but I guess the board has to vote in a public meeting. Anyway, Iím grateful to Mr. Dean for the comments that he printed, because I said some things that wouldnít have looked very good had he included them at that time. [Probably something like, "Those god-damned Christians and their crazy freakin' church--why is it so freakin' big, anyway? You know they've got a food court in there? They're so god-damned smug, aren't they? Why can't they just get that we don't want to go into their stupid church!" (Geez whiz, people, relax. I'm kidding. I have no idea what I said.)]

The result of his article was two days of letter blocks on the editorial page at Florida Today. The first dayís letters were all negative. People were very unhappy that the school board was settling. The second dayís block contained two positive letters, but the rest were negative. One woman called on Christians to contact the school board and demand that they allow graduations in the church.

So, if that wasnít bad enough, I was faced with the Life Choices program controversy. AU was aware of what I was doing, letters I was writing, etc. and they didnít tell me to stop, so I went ahead. The result of my complaints was that Space Coast Freethought Association and my name were again linked to a separation issue both on television news and in print. [Yeah, so? Did I not expect that? Am I bragging or complaining here?]

I was told that at the last county commission meeting, District 5 Commissioner Jackie Colon reprimanded the school board for settling in the graduation dispute and dared them to give in on this Life Choices complaint. My husband, who for some odd reason enjoys watching tv preachers and listening to fascist radio programs, told me that on Wednesday morning on AM 1240, School Board member Amy Kneesy said the school board would not "buckle under" this time. [That's right. Because keeping Christians from using our schools to proselytize is "buckling under" to those creepy atheists! Way to understand freedom of religion Amy. Really gives a person confidence in the education system here in Florida.]

Well, that gives me hope that they plan to continue with their "buckling under" in the graduation case at least. But it makes me realize that this isnít about whatís right and whatís wrong, not for them. For them, itís about how many times they get their way and how much religion they get to push on a religiously diverse population.

Part of the problem is that most people donít understand the actual facts in these cases and the reporters do nothing to help with this. They often leave out the meat of the controversy and go for fluff or misconceptions. [Right. If the average person just understood the facts, they'd be all for separation of church and state. My god I was naive back then.]

With the graduation case, the headline given to Deanís story was "Church Graduations Banned." Thatís not exactly true, and could in itself have caused negative public opinion to derail the settlement. And here, AU had censored me from trying to correct the misconception. [The misconception was that if the church would just put away all their prayer books and cover up their ginormous cross, the kids could have graduated there. But heaven forbid they should make the place secular! By God! It's a holy sanctuary. God sits in the front row! How dare you even suggest we cover up who we are! And why can't you Muslims and Buddhists and atheists just take a big fat chill pill and come sit with God under the presence of our incredibly HUGE symbol of torture and death to get your stupid little kids their diplomas? Because you know what? We think they'll like our church so much they'll come back. Even if it's just for the food court and the comfy seats and the air conditioning! That's all that matters, you know...getting pictures of our sanctuary in the paper and more of your kids in the seats.] Fortunately, I have allies on the Florida Writes for the Wall email list, who wrote letters to the editor about the problem, one of which did get published. [One got published. Wow! That email list is now defunct. It got boring.]

The truth is that Calvary Chapel of Melbourne is unlike any church Iíve seen. The outside of the building looks like a community center. There are no traditional religious symbols present. Inside, Calvary Chapel looks like the food court in a mall. But in the sanctuary, they do have the problem of their enormous cross.

According to the settlement, for graduations to be held at a church, any overtly religious symbols outside would have to be covered as well as those inside. So, we could still hold graduation ceremonies at Calvary Chapel, if they agreed to cover up the cross. They refused to do that this year when Jennifer graduated and I have no idea if they will agree to do it in the future. (They did not. Because let's face it, the truth is that they wanted to get the pubic into their church, especially the young people. They wanted them there in hopes they'd return for services later. And they knew damn well that the cross backdrop to graduation meant something really big to the Christian students.) [I said that much better in my snark above.]

I learned some valuable lessons in fighting this case. First, I learned that most government representatives donít care what I have to say. They may respond once to my appeals, but itís only to tell me that Iím wrong and theyíre going to go ahead and do what they want to do. And because of their arrogance, I learned that I have to stop caring about what they say. I canít let them make me feel unimportant or unreasonable. [Creepy politicians!]





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