Nearly a year ago, I blogged about a fairly humanizing documentary of the Westboro Baptists done by BBC’s Louis Theroux. His2007 documentary, “The Most Hated Family in America”, was a huge hit. You can watch it here.
Four years later, Theroux returned to WBC to do a follow-up documentary, “America’s Most Hated Family in Crisis”. A lot has happened since 2007. Just last month, the Supreme Court ruled in the Westboro Baptists favor to protect their First Amendment rights to protest military funerals and express hateful anti-gay rhetoric. Despite that decision, however, the church still has challenges. Its numbers are dwindling, with several young people having recently left the group, and the members confront steeper opposition wherever they picket. But the effect of these challenges, as the documentary shows, has been to make the believers more determined and dogmatic.
The Texas state board of education, which earlier this year stirred national controversy with its overhaul of social studies standards, today narrowly adopted a resolution warning textbook publishers against infusing their materials with “pro-Islamic/anti-Christian distortions.” The resolution was approved by a 7-6 vote by social conservatives on the board, who warned of what they describe as a creeping Middle Eastern influence in the nation’s publishing industry.
The resolution declares that a “pro-Islamic/anti-Christian bias has tainted some past Texas social studies textbooks,” and that the board should reject any future textbooks that favor one religion over another.
The Washington Post points out that the “facts” used by the board in making the decision were not accurate; however, facts probably stand no chance against the political machine that is the Texas school board. It also raises the question of whether we should worry about the pro- or anti-religious biases of duly elected or appointed public officials. Texas wields considerable clout in the textbook publishing world as the largest “adoption state” in the U.S., where a central body approves public school textbooks rather than individual districts. It’s not clear whether the resolution will prompt textbook publishers to make immediate changes to sections devoted to Christianity and Islam.
Meanwhile, the Association of American Publishers claims that textbooks are already necessarily fair and balanced because “there is no good reason for them to submit things that would be biased”. Luckily for America, “bias” and “reason” go hand-in-hand.
Yesterday, Brigham Young University’s student paper The Daily Universe featured a letter to the editor that argued that the legal case for Proposition 8 is “indefensible.” Its author, BYU student Cary Crall*, also asked Mormons to admit that their only opposition to gay marriage is religious. The letter attracted enormous attention and praise from both the Mormon and ex-Mormon online communities. People were most impressed that BYU—in a refreshing display of academic freedom—published it.
But shortly after the letter was posted to the Universe‘s website, it was quietly pulled**. This is disappointing, but not terribly surprising; the letter nearly didn’t get published at all. Crall told me in a Facebook message that he submitted the letter to the Universe a few weeks ago, but it was rejected by the summer editor who felt it was inappropriate for a “newspaper funded by the LDS Church.” It wasn’t until after some edits and the approval of a new editor that it was published, albeit briefly.
Thankfully, Crall was kind enough to email me the original copy of his letter with permission to reproduce it here. (The bracketed sentences did not appear in the Universe.)
The Dove World Outreach Center (what a name) is going to hold a “Burn the Koran Day” event on Sept. 11 to mark the falling of the World Trade Towers. While they are within their rights to do so, there has been some discussion of it potentially becoming a PR disaster for the US in the Muslim world. General David Petraeus wrote that “Images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence.” He is arguing that Qurans should not be burned because it endangers the men and women of the US armed forces serving overseas. The full story can be found here.
It should be noted that there is opposition to “Burn the Koran Day” by a group of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders. One member, Richard Cizik said “Watch out, for if you so casually trample on the religious rights of others, your own children may someday see their religious liberties deprived. As an evangelical, I say … you bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ.”
What do you think? In times of war should we refrain from some forms of freedom of speech? Is it noble to do so, or would you look down on someone who did that? Do you think Petraeus has a point? Should we refrain from other types of protests against specific religions? What if they were burning a Bible, Torah, and Quran all together? Is that ok?
To start us off: I personally don’t have a problem with someone deciding to not participate in such an event if they thought it was too offensive (whatever that may mean) to the target group. I would not think of that as allowing the target group to dictate the terms of the argument, I’d think of it as a personal decision not to fight that particular fight.
The Center for Inquiry (of which SHAFT is an affiliate) just released a PSA to advertise their “Campaign for Free Expression Video Contest.”
CFI invites you to make a short video about the importance of free expression, upload it to YouTube, and tag it with “Campaign for Free Expression Video Contest” by September 30th, 2010. The top three winners will be announced that day and awarded a grand prize of $2,000 dollars.
Go here to learn more about the contest and how to enter.
I’m sitting in the Phoenix airport (waiting for my flight back to Salt Lake) without much to do. I might as well post something to the blog. But it’s a slow news day and I’m not feeling creatively inspired, so I’m just going to recycle an article I wrote about BYU and its limits on academic freedom and history of homophobia. The article was published by QSaltLake in 2006, but it was initially just a response to my Mormon friends who were asking me to attend BYU at the time. Its tone is more strident and polemical than my writings today; I hope it does not offend.
Giddy over their best football season in years, students at BYU are brimming with school pride. The Cougars handily defeated the Aggies, my school’s team, and narrowly squeaked out a win over the Utes. But though BYU’s students have earned some bragging rights, I am hardly envious of their school choice.
They are missing out on the marketplace of ideas other universities enjoy. I’m not talking about the filtered porn or lacking cable selection, but the onerous censorship of information about the government and the LDS Church with which the university is affiliated.
In 1998, the American Association of University Professors voted to censure BYU for infringements on academic freedom that were “distressingly common” and a climate for academic freedom that was “distressingly poor.” Despite this condemnation, BYU has persisted in a systematic purge of any freethinking faculty. The two most recent victims: BYU professors Steven E. Jones and Jeffrey Nielsen.
Nearly two weeks ago, tens of thousands of people participated in the Everybody Draw Muhammad Day event in defense of free speech. As you can imagine, most Muslims found this offensive. Several Muslim countries responded to the controversy by boycotting or banning Facebook. Other Muslims used Facebook as the medium through which to express their disagreement with Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. One popular Muslim response is the event Everybody Draw Holocaust Day set for June 30, 2010. The event has nearly 1,400 Facebook “fans”—many of them Muslims from the United States and Western Europe.