February 24, 2010

Enemies Who Deserve Each Other

OPEN SCENE:  Southaven, Mississippi.  An AGNOSTIC and the MAYOR are debating.
A:  Hey, when I go to court, I notice that the seats in the gallery are church pews!  Complete with crosses engraved in the side!  That makes me feel unwelcome in the court when I go to defend myself from a wrongful accusation of shoplifting!

M:  But we bought those pews from a church that closed, so we could provide seating in the court for the public cheaply.  No one ever mentions them and you're the first person in years who noticed them, and your religion or lack thereof has nothing to do with your guilt or innocence.

A:  Well so what?  I want to sue you for violating church and state separation if you don't remove the pews altogether!

M:  "I welcome the challenge ... Maybe it’s time the religious right stands up to the liberal left and says enough is enough. Where do you stop? Where’s the common sense? I’m not taking them out."

That last line is an actual quote, not a paraphrase.

The agnostic in this story is right in principle but wrong in approach.  To be sure, you shouldn't have to see religious symbology in a neutral court.  A court must not only be actually fair but labor to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.  Christian crosses on seats in the courtroom create the appearance of impropriety.

In the meantime, the mayor is wrong as to the law but right to resist the lawsuit.  A lawsuit is not the answer here, but the mayor's desire to preserve the crosses has blinded him to the real solution.  Which is this:  judicious application of a router on the sides of the pews, and about $500 worth of painted ceramics and glue to put the seal of the City of Southaven or that of the State of Mississippi in place of the crosses.  Now, suddenly, the pews become "benches" decorated with secular, governmentally-appropriate symbols to which there can be no objection.  No claim of church-state violation; the city continues to save money, and the court can get back to the serious business of deciding whether the agnostic was guilty of shoplifing from Wal-Mart or not.

See, we don't always need to go to court to solve our problems.  But when everyone digs their heels in and insists that they must be 100% right, easily-resolvable disputes become intractible lawsuits.  Same thing if people insist on turning everything they do into political theater.  Then, only the lawyers win.  Which is okay with me, I guess, but there are better global solutions available here.

Hat tip to Friendly Atheist.

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