Made it, ma: Top of The Blaze!

June 2, 2014 • 12:45 pm

The Blaze is a conservative website that is very popular. Or so I was told by a man from the radio station in Lebanon, Missouri, who interviewed me about my objection to Principal Lowery’s goddy remarks at the Lebanon High School graduation. Doing my day job, I’m unaware of much of this fracas, but I’ve been receiving hate mail all day from the good citizens of Lebanon, and got a really nasty phone call in my office about an hour ago. Never have I received such vituperative from non-readers over an issue, and that includes the Hedin case at Ball State. The faithful simply must have their public prayer, and they must excoriate those who object.

At any rate, The Blaze has the LoweryGate story at the very top of its page, and here’s the screenshot (there are four headlines, with each story obtained by clicking a dot at the upper right). If you click it you’ll go to the story:

Screen shot 2014-06-02 at 2.29.59 PM

It’s strange, you know—people really wonder why some “carpetbagger” like me should care about this kind of stuff. Well, an erosion of Constitutional rights in one place affects us all, for we’re really on a slippery slope that leads to theocracy, and our only pitons are constant defenses of the Constitution.  In his interview, the radio guy, playing the devil’s advocate, asked me why I cared about what happens in Lebanon. I responded by asking him, “Well, why should you care if a black person is denied the right to vote in Mississippi?”

After reporting Lowery’s remarks and showing the video of his speech, The Blaze adds this:

Lowery’s comments, though, attracted a response from Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, who wrote that they constitute a First Amendment violation.

He complained to Lowery, the school board, the local superintendent and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a church-state separatist group.

But Hemant Mehta, an atheist blogger, had a different take, saying that while the comments were inappropriate, he’s not sure they posed an illegal constitutional violation.

A voice message and email seeking comment from Lowery have not been returned to TheBlaze.

I beg to differ with Hemant: I think the remarks were a blatant intrusion of religion into a public school ceremony. When the principal said, after the bogus “moment of silence,” that he prayed to God, he was imposing his views on a captive audience. And that’s a Constitutional violation.

I’ll bet Hemant $100 that the school will back down when it receives the inevitable legal warnings. If he’s right, and it’s not a constitutional violation, the school might stand its ground. How about it, Mr. Friendly Atheist? Are you on?

I see there are 146 comments at the bottom of The Blaze post, and the radio guy warned me that some of them aren’t pretty, but I have a book to write. Maybe I’ll have a look tomorrow. It should be amusing.


p.s. If you don’t know what my title refers to, go here.


90 thoughts on “Made it, ma: Top of The Blaze!

  1. Does anyone else loathe the vagueness of the nearly impossible to parse “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion?”

    Like the 2nd amendment’s arms bearing non-sequitur it’s crappy construction is the real problem here.

        1. Seems crystal-clear to me. Alternative interpretations are nothing but attempts to twist the meaning of the original words.

            1. Keeping in mind that “establishment” has several meanings even today along with 18th century shades of meaning that may no longer be present.

              1. Your tone suggests that whatever ‘translation’ I have to offer will be rejected, but since you seem so eager to make it so:

                “No law should be made to favour one religion over another by making it settled as a model of government.”

                It is longer than the original version to capture the nuances of the word as it was used in the 18th century — arguably in exactly the same way it is used today: to signify something that becomes settled or stratified to serve as a foundation or model for further thought or construction. It’s possible the ‘model of government or rule’ has become less significant in modern usage, but it seems to be the one that is most relevant to this context.

                I have a feeling, however, that there have been several doctoral theses written on trying to determine exactly what the founding fathers meant, which is a pointless exercise as they are long dead, and because the general meaning of the phrase is self-evident, regardless. To claim otherwise is to make hens out if feathers, and God knows [pun intended] we have enough poultry running for office as it is.

    1. I would disagree, it’s actually a precisely worded and very general prohibition.

      “shall make no law having anything to do with [“respecting”] any recognition of or promotion of [“establishment of”] religion [not just particular religions, but the whole arena of religion is off-limits]”.

      1. Hmm…

        I kinda agree with sensorrhea. The theocrats will, and do, argue that “no law respecting an establishment of religion” means there can be no legal prohibition of religious establishments, like prayer at school assemblies or the like. This is the infamous “freedom of religion”.

        Theocrats may be twisting the intent, but not necessarily the actual wording.

      2. It’s been 30+ years since I studied Con Law, but my recollection agrees with what Coel has said.

    2. Yeah, why couldn’t those 17th century guys parse their amendments in 20th century style
      English! The nerve of them, using their own contemporary turns of phrase instead of ours!

  2. I’ll be curious to know if my mom sends me anything on this today. She loves her Blaze site.

  3. I hope Jerry is right and Hemant is wrong. This is ridiculous. What is wrong with these people? Let them have a Muslim (or even a Jew) get up there and “pray”. See if they cheer him. They always say “Judeo-Christian” but they don’t mean that. They mean Christian.

    1. They also don’t want a sectarian Christian prayer. Imagine if he had said “I was giving thanks to the Holy Mother of God who acts as intercessor…” or “As Jesus said in his second coming to the New Israelites in America…” Blood would have been spilled!

      I agree, I think the Blaze would have a very different take on a Muslim principal who opened the proceedings with the call to adhan (prayer).

      Hey, you know where people (public official or not) are allowed to pray publicly without restriction?

      A church! A house! A restaurant! A street corner! A place of business! Under a bridge! Over a ridge! In a car! In a bar! Even at a PRIVATE school graduation ceremony!

      You can pray most anywhere… but not in your capacity as a tax-supported public official doing their job at a tax-supported public function, where doing so ostracizes those of minority religious views in attendance.

      I pay my taxes, I’d rather not fund efforts to make me feel specifically excluded in a large group. If the Christians want a chance to add a religious element to the graduation proceedings, it would have been a simple thing to sponsor a prayer meeting before or after the ceremony.

      It’s not that they want the right to pray… they can do that anywhere. They want the right to make the rest of us participate in that prayer unwillingly at our own expense.

    2. “They always say “Judeo-Christian” but they don’t mean that. They mean Christian.”

      This faux-inclusiveness bugs me, too. First of all, it’s only minimally inclusive. Second of all, it’s nowhere close to sincere.

      1. Some of the comments are pretty explicit in not wanting any “judeo” mixed in with their “Christian” religion.

        1. One comment specifically talks about Jerry being born to Jews. Yeah, I don’t think they have any intention of including anything but Chritianity. Another comment brings out the ridiculous canard about freedom of only Christian religions.

  4. Hemant Mehta says:

    Jerry Coyne says this is “clearly a violation of the First Amendment.” I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t believe it is. Lowery didn’t actually ask everyone to pray or make any explicitly Christian references.

    Even if he didn’t “ask everyone to pray” he was still promoting religion, which violates the first amendment. The point about “Christian” references is irrelevant: The first amendment says “religion”, not “Christianity”.

    The “let’s have a moment of silence” followed by “let me tell you what I prayed during that moment” is an obvious end-run round the rules and clearly not legitimate.

    1. IANAL but I think the constitutionality question will hinge on three related legal questions. In order of importance:

      1. Was the principle an “invited graduation speaker” giving his own opinions (think Hirsi Ali and Brandeis), or was his part of the agenda to represent the administration? If the latter, its probably prima facie unconstitutional. If the former, probably not…but see questions 2 and 3.

      2. Even if he was an ‘invited speaker,’ how much leeway or artistic freedom does the school typically give to such speakers? Are their speeches pre-approved? Does the school give guidance or rules out about what can be said? The more editorial control the school exercises, the less likely it is to be constitutinal.

      3. Even he’s an invited speaker and speakers are given complete editorial freedom by the school, would his “dual hatted” nature (the Principal acting as a private speaker) lead a reasonable student member of the audience to think the administration was promoting Christianity? IOW, even if the intent was to allow a private speaker to voice his private thoughts, was the effect one of government imprimatur? Q3 is where the emails Jerry has received may be very legally useful to the FFRF, because they show that (regardless of what the school was actually trying to accomplish), the audience understood this to be the school endorsing religion.

      I originally agreed with Hemant on this, but the more I think about it, the more I lean towards Jerry being right.

      1. How could the guy who is the top administrator of a school be considered an “invited graduation speaker” at a school event he is in charge of? That’s just making mockery of the English language. It would be like describing the President of the US as an “invited speaker” at the State of the Union speech.

        1. I think you’d have to look at the facts of the case to figure out the question. If he’s on the program year-in and year-out as Principal (i.e., “Principal’s address”), then obviously he’s not the invited speaker, he’s speaking in his official capacity. OTOH if the principal is not typically scehduled to speak during the program, and Lowery was given the spot in program typically assigned to the invited speaker, then the school could certainly argue that this particular time they decided to invite Lowery as a speaker rather than as the official principal. I’m sure stranger thing have happened than a class or school honoring one of their own administrators.

          1. Come on, eric, give me an effing break!

            Do you know what a principal is? The principal is in charge!

            “They decided to invite Lowery as a speaker” is the same as “He decided to speak.”

          2. I literally can’t imagine a commencement address that doesn’t include remarks from the principal. It’d be like an Easter Mass without the Eucharist; that’s just not how these things are done.

            Every single such ceremony I’ve ever been to, at all levels of academia in multiple states, the titular head of the school congratulates the students, and almost always throws in somewhere a line about how this is not an ending but a beginning.


          3. “OTOH if the principal is not typically scehduled to speak during the program, and Lowery was given the spot in program typically assigned to the invited speaker, then the school could certainly argue that this particular time they decided to invite Lowery as a speaker rather than as the official principal.”

            maybe someone has already mentioned this, but, just congenially curious, if that were so, specifically who would invite the principal? An affirmative plurality/majority vote of the faculty? (Surely not the principal himself.)

            1. The FFRF letter clearly states that it doesn’t matter if the guest was invited. They could invite the Pope and it wouldn’t be acceptable for him to lead a prayer in that setting.

  5. I took a look at some of the invective in the comments and the nasty ones come up pretty quickly. Let’s just say that the comments do little in dispelling the South’s reputation for promoting racist, ignorant and homophobic attitudes. These Christians are making themselves look pretty bad and I’m surprised that any publication would allow such a forum for such remarks.

  6. Sorry Dr. Coyne, as phrased I think that’s a fairly bad bet that you’re likely to lose.

    Look how many don’t back down when it’s obviously unconstitutional. (c.f. Jessica Alqhuist (sic?))

    1. Oh, I’m pretty sure they’ll back down, and by backing down I mean that the principal, Superintendent, or the school will apologize and promise never to do it again. I’ll bet you $25 on that. If you’re so sure my bet is a bad one, just verify here that you’re on.

      If nothing else, the looming costs of litigation in a poor state will convince them.

      You on?

      1. …and, if Rob or Hemant would rather not do personal wagers like this, how ’bout the loser makes a donation for that amount to the FFRF in the name of the winner?

        I might even be tempted to match Jerry’s bet under such terms….


  7. A Friendly Wager? 🙂

    I agree with Jerry on this issue. The mandate to keep public affairs free of religion is not being respected if the (nominally) neutral “moment of silence” is just followed up by the presiding official describing, to a captive audience, what he did during the MoS. He may as well have just said the prayer and gotten rid of the middleman.

    1. “Captive audience” is the key point. I guess that little move strengthens the likelihood that he will remain appointed or reappointed to his position, regardless of whether he/the school board apologizes.

      The principal is as obligated to hear from any given graduate or attendee what the graduate (no longer a student under his tyranny) was thinking after the principal publicly popped his bill. Again, the problem for such a respondent is the aftermath of responding, having to bear up under living among pietistic religiosos.

      (Of course, I’m saying this as “an old(er) head” significantly removed from the secondary school halls of ivy. Occasionally I contemplate somehow returning to that scene as the callow young fellow I once was but cognitively armed to the teeth and possessed with the orneriness of older age. 😉 )

      1. Some of the more reasonable Blaze comments suggest he has done this on other occasions as well.

      2. In my mind the captive audience is important but not the main issue. Had they brought in some outside speaker such as a celebrity, ‘captive audience’ wouldn’t have made it illegal because it would be clear in that case that the school was not doing any endorsing. The important issue here is that it was the principal doing the speaking. And even if he was speaking as a private individual, it would be very easy and rational for an audience member to think that not-going-along with the principal’s beliefs might land them in trouble.

        1. By your theory, the school could invite a preacher to speak and it’d be okay for the preacher to give a fire-and-brimstone sermon.

          In reality, there are even restrictions on students self-organizing religious activities with school facilities. For example, the cheerleaders at a school football game can’t chant for Jesus.

          What the principal did was not merely over-the-top, he was blatantly daring the courts to strike him down. He said that he knew that he wasn’t permitted to pray at the ceremony, so he was going to call for a moment of silence, after which he said that he prayed. And that wasn’t the only prohibited proselytizing he engaged in. Indeed, it was nothing but a prolonged rant of “neener-neener.”

          In legal terms, he chopped off his own head and placed it on the platter to be served.



  8. You college professors get all the good salaries 🙂

    How about drinks are on me next time we meet if I’m wrong?

    That said, it’s possible the district could just say “We won’t do it again” without admitting they did anything wrong. I’d be more interested in hearing what a group like FFRF would do in this situation. Would they send a letter? Or would they just shake their heads and move on?

    1. Ha, the Friendly Atheist is now the Cheapskate Atheist! Okay, if that’s what you’re down to, we’re on, but I’m having an Islay malt!

      As for the FFRF, I don’t think we’ll have to wait long to find out what they’re gonna do, if anything.

  9. OMG there are comments over there that made me LOL. They mix up fascism with Marxism and socialism and one guy brought vampires into the mix. There was a perfect response to the vampire remark: obviously you’ve watched to many vampire related TV shows.

  10. I wouldn’t bother going to the comments section of the Blaze article – the concentration of stupidity and ignorance of, well, everything, will probably cause your eyes to melt. I only just got out in time and I was wearing a welding mask.

    1. There seems to be an inverse correlation of good grammar to number of up votes in the comments as well. Spew ignorance combined with misspellings and missing punctuation and you’re likely to be well over 100. Construct a coherent paragraph with reasonable and respectful arguments and you’re well below 0.

  11. I agree with Dr. Coyne on this one. I think that previous Supreme Court cases like Lee v. Weisman (1992) and Santa Fe v. Doe (2000) set a good precedent. In this case, the principal makes it pretty clear the he knows he should not talk about religion, but does so anyway. If you want a religious graduation speech, there are plenty of private religious schools. Public schools cannot endorse a religion (or lack thereof), even if every single student is Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or (gasp!) atheist.

  12. Let me get this straight. Jesus himself purportedly said (Matthew 6:5-6): “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men . . . . But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Despite what Jesus himself supposedly taught, and despite the strictures of the First Amendment, by some twisted logic christians somehow believe it to be an act of religious and civic righteousness to commandeer our government, its personnel and its properties for the purpose of publicly proselytizing their religion.

    The fact is that there are MILLIONS of christian churches, christian homes, christian businesses and other christian-owned buildings and properties where they can preach or erect their crosses or religious monuments. MILLIONS! That means that when christians nonetheless insist on having public prayers instigated by government employees in our legislative bodies and in our public schools, and insist on erecting religious monuments in our public spaces, the rest of us have to ask, WHY? Can it possibly be that the millions of other christian spaces are not enough for those purposes? Was Jesus just talking out of his ass when he said not to pray in public? Unless christians can honestly answer “yes” to both of those questions, then the usurpation of our public employees and public spaces for religious purposes smacks of sheer, unadulterated bullying intended to prove to the rest of us that since christians are in the majority, they can simply do whatever they want, wherever they want.

    Suffice it to say that when non-christians finally stand up and resist being bullied, it does not constitute “persecution” of christians nor is it a denial of their right to free speech or religious freedom.

    1. The fact that they had a “moment of silence” instead of a prayer means it was likely discussed and agreed on during the planning stage of the commencement.
      The principal thought he had found a clever way to evade the rules and give the finger to all them damn libruls who are always pushing xtians around.

      1. All the time.

        Matthew 6:9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

        10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

        11 Give us this day our daily bread.

        12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

        13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

        You may have heard it once or twice before….


            1. Ben,

              This could certainly be true on an individual basis (generally, the more liberal the Christian, the more picking and choosing) and on an objective basis looking at the tens of thousands of denominations who all interpret things how they see fit, and none agree on everything.

              I think tour statement drastically overlooks a trademark of many Christian sects, the RCC comes to mind first and foremost. They may pick different ways of interpreting scripture, but they’re notoriously consistent. Hell, they’re so adamant about it that when it comes to stuff like birth control, they absolutely refuse to reconsider past views. This mentality also extends to most other denominations where group think runs rampant, and you’ll find consensus among 99% of issues.

              1. You’re just referring to a slower pace, or something that changes due to schism rather than reform. Remember Purgatory? If Purgatory is up for debate, anything is.


  13. Whether in your country where it is a constitutional issue or in others where it isn’t, the first thing that one should ask people like these is always the following:

    Would you have been happy if somebody else had stood precisely in your place and given a public Muslim* prayer instead?

    If the answer is “no”, which it will be in upwards of 99.99% of the cases, then the case is closed, and one would hope that they kind of dimly perceive the problem considering that the basic idea of fairness is something even toddlers understand.

    *) In Muslim countries, substitute “Christian”.

  14. It’s not clear to me if the “radio guy” was a real reporter or one of The Blaze’s minions, but if he was one of the latter, I’d venture that, no, he doesn’t care if a black person is denied the right to vote in Mississippi.

  15. This is one of the comments that tickled me:

    “The atheist should have his adze kicked.”

    If this fellow actually knew what an adze is, he wouldn’t be in such a hurry to kick it.

      1. Normally I don’t like to promote what ignorant people say but seriously this is hilarious. I have to post the word for word vampire comment:

        This is easy, those complaining about this Principal words are Marxians with vampire complex not atheists(unless atheists are vampires indeed), put a Muslim to do the same and let’s hear the silence of these tolerant hypocrites echo the halls of their beloved Darwinian Indoctrination Centers…..

        For people who think Americans are exaggerating about what they are up against, read this quote again! Srsly, Jerry you’re such a “Marxian” LOL!

        1. ‘This is easy, those complaining about this Principal words are Marxians with vampire complex not atheists(unless atheists are vampires indeed), put a Muslim to do the same and let’s hear the silence of these tolerant hypocrites echo the halls of their beloved Darwinian Indoctrination Centers…’

          It is always dangerous to attempt to decipher incoherence (including my own, on occasion :>) ), but this paragraph stands out. The vampire complex I won’t take a stab at, ’cause I got nothin’, but aside from that I think the writer wants to say that atheist’s would not make a peep if a Muslim prayed to Allah because it is a known truth that Marxist Darwinian’s only oppose Christianity, not other religions, and particularly not Christianity’s mortal enemy religion, Islam. Because atheist’s friend is the enemy of their enemy, and their enemy is Christ/Christianity.

          I know, I know, this insanity is inconsistent almost to the point of incoherence, but it seems to me this is the writer’s claim.

          Darwinian Indoctrination Centers are universities, of course, and maybe public schools also. The U of Chicago connection may rule out K-12 schools, though, and the point is insignificant at most.

          Where I am completely flummoxed, though, is with this ‘echo the halls’ bit. WTF?

          I think he means to imply mindless repitition of dogma/doctrine imparted from figures of authority (failing to notice the big red IRONY sign lighting up directly in front of his eyes, if my surmise is accurate), but when I try to fathom how to echo sounds in a corridoor in a building, the literal meaning of his description, I am defeated. Echoing an echo chamber, which pretty much describes any crowded building hallway I’ve ever walked through, has to be a leading competitor for Worst Analogy Ever.

          1. I think the echo the halls was supposed to mean that you’d hear atheists not caring about Muslims preaching but he forgot that we were supposed to be silently allowing this to happen.

        2. ‘Marxians’. I like that. Must refer to alien Marxists from Mars. Not for nothing is it called the Red Planet…

              1. Actually, I think their home is in close proximity to a giant gasbag somewhere between the orbits of Saturn and Neptune….


    1. Yeah I saw that too and didn’t get it. Thanks for illuminating. I still think the vampire comment was the best though.

  16. The Blaze claims you are going after the principal. I wouldn’t characterize complaining to the school board about a thinly-veiled, willful violation of the Constitution during a graduation address, “going after” the principal.

    1. Well, xians *are* a tiny minority of people who have to hide in catacombs to avoid being captured by roving bands of atheists and fed to lions in the NPR-funded arenas. You gotta admit that.

  17. I think it’s difficult to predict what this particular Court will do if a case like this came their way. Four saying it’s definitely unconstitutional and five saying it isn’t, is not uncommon lately. Scalia likes to read the papers of the framers to get their “original intent” and then gets it totally wrong. If I had to bet, I’d err on the side of right wing opinion with a case like this. Sad, but in the long run, I’d come out ahead in the case-betting game.

    1. Yeah, funny how the framers’ original intent corresponds so well to Scalia’s current intent iddn’t it?

  18. “Teh Blaze” is kookoo bananas Glenn Blecch’s media empire, which at least is a step above Dead Bleitblart’s wingnut blog.

    Of course, as the old saying goes, that little white bit on the top of a pile of chickensh*t… is still chickensh*t.

  19. Given the number of references to g*d, I can’t see how this could be anything less than proselytizing. A direct plea prayer may be absent, but he is clearly promoting his beliefs (i.e., religion).

    If this is not a constitutional violation, he’s chosen to walk a very thin line, and as appears, did so quite intentionally.

    The fact that he chose to do it during a high school graduation demonstrates his absolute lack of consideration for his students. This ceremony was THEIR time, not his to use as a platform for expressing his personal grievances. The fact that he just fucked it up for them should result in his termination, or at least reprimand. He clearly lacks professionalism and his opportunistic behavior is selfish and self-serving.
    What an ass.

  20. hmmm, it seems that “carpetbaggers” were the ones who also, while taking advantage of ignorant people, also pointed out that the “south” was doing its best to ignore the law of the land.

  21. I must say that I appreciate web sites like The Blaze and Yahoo (just go and read the Yahoo comments M-F, the weekends are better because the usually-at-work people balance out the unemployed nutters). These people used to form large mobs and lynch people, now they vent on the internet. It’s a public service, if you ask me.

  22. Wikipedia:

    “In Lee v. Weisman (1992), the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the offering of prayers by religious officials before voluntarily attended ceremonies such as graduation. Thus, the Court established that the state could not conduct religious exercises at public occasions even if attendance was not strictly compulsory.”

    Seems clear enough.

  23. I just read that Blaze article and some comments. It’s den of ignorance, supported by ignorance, for the sake of ignorance.

    Wrong site for me. Oh, and the comments under the article about global warming… I didn’t know it was a conspiracy by energy companies to trick us into buying their more expensive “green energy”.

    Some days all I can do is pet my cat and hope they stoopid themselves to death.

  24. I’ll bet Hemant $100

    C’mon Prof CC. When the astrophysicists make bets amongst themselves, they at least make some effort at imaginative stakes. E.g. “an encyclopaedia, from which information may readily be retrieved” in a bet over the preservation and retrieval of information in black holes.
    FSM face-hugger, perhaps? A clue-by-four with the (whichever it was ; not 2nd) Amendment burned into it with a poker tip? A bound volume of hatemail, to save irate goddists from actually having to send you any (this could save a lot of people a lot of grief, and sore finger tips, if it got passed around the HorsePersons of The Athiest-ocalypse ; just add some choice ones for each crop)?
    If I hadn’t closed my tab into the depths of Amazon, I’d find out if there’s any good collections of hatemail already out there. It’s obviously a genre in which many people dabble, but where standards are probably depressingly low. (I remember my stuff from Yahya-ists was really tediously dull.)
    Actually, you may have already started gathering such material?

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