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A Lesson In Civic Action

September 4, 2014 Frontpage No Comments

By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK

One of the responses that parents and teachers might get when they encourage young people to “get active” to promote a cause is that “it won’t make any difference” and that “no one will listen.” It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a letter-writing campaign, a petition drive, or working for a charitable group or political party.
There are times when this complaint may be little more than an excuse to not get involved in the issue the young people are complaining about. We all know how much easier it is to gripe than to roll up our sleeves and do something about problems that confront us.
But not all young people are in that category. Many of them want to do something but feel genuinely overwhelmed by the challenge of taking on powerful institutions and vested interests.
The first point that should be made to young people with this frame of mind is that there is a difference between getting the authorities to “listen to you” and getting them “to agree with you.” All too often when young people complain that “no one listens” to them, what they are really complaining about is the authorities’ decision not to give them what they want. It is a bout of petulance. It is important for these young people to realize that someone can listen to your protestations, and then come to the conclusion that you are wrong. Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly do not mean the right to get your way.
But it is also important to give our students examples of successful civic action; to illustrate that it is not hopeless to protest to the “powers that be.” American history is filled with groups, both admirable and not, that have used peaceful protest to change society and government policy. In early August, members of the United States Navy, active and retired, showed us how it is done.
When I first read the press accounts, I thought there must be a mistake. But it turned out to be true: In reaction to a complaint filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Navy Exchange sent out a directive in June ordering that the Bibles be removed from “base lodges,” the housing that the Navy provides enlisted men and officers on Navy bases around the country. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is an atheist group, which alleges the Bibles were a violation of the U.S. Constitution and amounted “to a government endorsement of that religious text.”
Could it really be true that the U.S. Navy had ordered the Bible to be removed from its housing units to placate an atheist group?
It was true. The Bibles had been provided to the Navy’s base lodges by Gideons International, the same group that provides the copy of the Bible that you will find if you open the night-table drawer in your room at most hotels in the United States. Gideons describes itself as “an association of Christian business and professional men and their wives dedicated to telling people about Jesus through sharing personally and by providing Bibles and New Testaments. While we are known worldwide for our work with hotels, we predominantly share Scriptures in schools and colleges, prisons and jails, hospitals, and medical offices. To date, we have placed 1.9 billion Scriptures and are on our way to 2 billion.”
Sometimes the good guys win. According to Todd Starnes, reporting on the website of Fox News on August 15, a Navy spokesman has confirmed that “Bibles will be returned to base lodges” and that the Navy has “launched an investigation” to determine why the Bibles were removed from guestrooms in the first place. Navy spokesman Ryan Perry said the decision to remove the Bibles “was made without their knowledge.”
Then who issued the order? According to Perry, “In June 2014, Navy Exchange Command (NEXCOM) made a decision, without consultation of senior Navy leadership, to transfer religious materials from the Navy Lodge to the local command religious program. That decision and our religious accommodation policies with regard to the placement of religious materials are under review.” During the review process, Perry said the “religious materials” that were removed will be returned.
The Fox News story goes on to report that “Tim Wildmon, of the American Family Association, called the Navy’s decision ‘great news.’ He said thousands of their supporters contacted the Navy to protest the removal. ‘We must be alert to what the secularists are doing inside the military,’ said Wildmon. ‘But this reversal proves that those who believe in religious freedom can make a difference when we take action’.”
Ron Crews, the executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, told Fox News he was “overwhelmed with calls from active duty and retired Navy personnel who were livid that Navy Exchange pulled the Good Book.” He credited their outrage with forcing the Navy to reconsider the ban.
“I believe it is because people like these veterans rose up and said enough is enough. I am most grateful that the Navy has decided to keep Bibles in their lodges and guest quarters while they review this policy. It is my sincere hope that Navy leaders will realize that there is nothing wrong with allowing religious literature to be placed in these rooms.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has not responded, as I write these words. But it is doubtful that they will not hit back at the Navy’s decision. Remember, as things stand, the decision about the Bible is still “under review” by the Navy. Things could get interesting. If things heat up for the Navy, it will need support from those who do not think the atheists should get their way on this one. Keep your powder dry.
In the meanwhile, our young people should not take from this story a belief that they will get similar successful results if they launch a petition drive in response to some government policy with which they disagree. Maybe they will, but maybe they won’t. The moral is that peaceful protest can work, not that it always works.
On another topic: the ongoing battle over Common Core. Readers of First Teachers who oppose Common Core (not all do, by the way), the federal government’s attempt to set standards for the country’s schools, will be pleased to hear that the Cardinal Newman Society agrees with them, and has come up with a clear and concise statement in its summer 2014 newsletter explaining its stance. The newsletter can be accessed at a special website the Newman Society has set up to deal with Common Core: CatholicIsOurCore.org.
There, one will find ten rational and calmly presented reasons for why Common Core is a threat to our schools, especially Catholic schools. It is worth a read.

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Readers are invited to submit comments and questions about this and other educational issues. The e-mail address for First Teachers is fitzpatrijames@sbcglobal.net, and the mailing address is P.O. Box 15, Wallingford CT 06492.

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