If I could remember these watershed life lessons, maybe they would be easier to pass forward to the kids.
All kinds of particularly American freedoms came up in discussion, from Martin Luther King's famous speech to Schoolhouse Rock to Mel Gibson in Braveheart and to those teachers in school who graded us on our ability to memorize key historical dates and places. We gave stilted, index-card-heavy presentations on the Boston Tea Party, on President Lincoln abolishing slavery, Rosa Parks taking a stand by keeping her seat. In sixth grade Mrs. Signori asked us, are we we free when we are children, or do we only become free as adults? What would it mean to be free? "Yes, Suzanne?" Suzanne Bronsard lived across from my grandparents on Manhan Street in Waterbury, CT.
"It means we could do what we want? Um...when we want?"
We were even sold a bill of goods known as "freedom of religion" that might, depending on who you are, just might be the very first thing to turn us snotty and cynical as teenagers, because that's usually the age when we first realize that religious freedom exists only on paper and that in real life it's actually a crock of shit.
My position on the utter wrongness of politicizing our neo-religious leaders is well known among my circle of friends. The disgusting hypocrisy and downright unlawful practices of elected officials who create policy based on privately held religious beliefs is an outrage. The instant anyone with a microphone and a bid for public office starts to crow about "it says in the bible," that should warrant an automatic disqualification for the job. It is miraculous to me that this does not in fact happen.
Back in Mrs. Signori's class when we learned about freedom, we never did learn how it's even possible, let alone tolerated, to wield one's "freedom of religion" as a weapon aimed at abolishing another person's same religious freedom. That is to say, abolishing another person's freedom to practice religion or not!
It's one thing to have strong personal beliefs as a private citizen, but to force your own religion upon the public sector when you are in a position of power should be considered abuse of that power.
Valarie Hodges. This too-outrageous-for-satire state representative from Louisiana was at the center of my absolute most-favoritest-ever news story of the summer. I wish that this story had gotten a lot more attention than it did, because it was delicious. It was like an after-school special about bigots. It was like the last ten minutes of Dirty Dancing.
Here's what happened. In the late spring of 2012, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal pushed for a taxpayer-funded voucher program that would benefit schools. "HB976, now signed into law as Act 2, proposed, among other things, a voucher program allowing state educational funds to be used to send students to schools run by religious groups," reported the Livingston Parish News. Act 2 was passed in June, largely due to the enthusiastic support of Valarie Hodges. Other state reps, also Republicans like Hodges, opposed the program, citing that public school funds should stay with the public schools, not be given to any religious schools.
I agree with those Republicans. They were absolutely right. Use taxpayer money to make the public schools awesome, please, but if a school is geared towards a certain religion, then that school is private. No taxpayer funding. The conservatives fighting against funding private schools correctly identified Act 2 as mis-use of taxpayer-funded education.
But Valarie won, the other conservatives lost and I'm sorry, it was a good fight. Act 2 was signed into law by majority vote, among those cheering its victory, of course, Mizzuz Hodges.
But soft! Soon after Act 2 was passed, someone apparently must have taken Valarie aside and informed her that there are, um, other religions.
You see, a Muslim school applied for the program.
I wish I could have seen her face. The state rep who had waved the flag hardest for state funding religious schools immediately launched a furious reversal campaign, a whole raft of inane blather that essentially amounted to: I thought 'religion' only meant "Christian."
This is appalling. Do you see what happened here? A grown woman, an elected public official no less, is so under-educated and narrow-minded that she hears the word "religion" and never even considers for a split second that it doesn't always mean her religion. To think nothing of voting bills into law, specifically to allocate taxpayer money to further her own private, right-wing extremist something-something-Christian agenda.
How do you live with yourself as a public official to think it's right to vote in favor of religious freedom and then renege when you're informed that it doesn't only apply to you? Seriously?
Where was the outrage? A gasp of incredulity should have swept the nation in the face of such discrimination. This was another blatant, in the bright light-of-day and quotable, provable bigoted slap-in-the-Constitution from yet another so-called patriotic "conservative." Nobody cared.
I have a question. Where the hell are all the normal, nice, educated Christians? They God squad haven't all gone full-tilt crazy, have they?