I smell trouble in Lebanon

June 6, 2014 • 11:10 am

. . . with a capital “T” and that stands for “theism.”

Reader Bob J. pointed out, in a comment, this article from today’s Lebanon Daily Record. It starts like this:

Screen shot 2014-06-06 at 1.02.14 PM

It goes on to reiterate Lowery’s “apology” that I reproduced in the previous post.

Like the Dover Area School Board in Pennsylvania, I don’t think the Lebanon School District realizes what it’s getting into. There is not a whisper of an apology by the school board for what Lowery did, nor the slightest hint that changes will be made.  I wonder if “the great things [Lowery] has done” include praying at graduation and continually praying before school assemblies. . .

As lagniappe, reader Steve Kern sent me an email he just dispatched to Principal Lowery, the Lebanon School board, and the Superintendent of Schools. I thought it was too good not to share, and I post it with his permission (and willingness to use his name):

Principal Lowery refers to his most recent statement as an apology.  However, he is still unwilling to directly admit that what he did was wrong and to apologize for that action.  When I wrote to you the first time I noted that my message was directed to his arrogance rather than the constitutional issue.  That is still the case.  I’ll try to make my message clearer…  in black and white.
If Principal Lowery were to stand before the graduating class and boast about how wonderful it is to be Caucasian, without actually criticizing people of any other race, would it have been wrong for him to do that?  “Arrogant” would be too gentle of a term to describe such an act.  But there was a time in our country when that wouldn’t have been subject to as much criticism as it would be today.  We have come a long way in dealing with racial discrimination and arrogance.  We have a long way to go in dealing with religious discrimination and arrogance.
Steve Kern
Maybe his simile will get through to some of the school-board members who seem blissfully oblivious to what’s happened.



73 thoughts on “I smell trouble in Lebanon

  1. They seem to be honestly blinkered as to why this is such a big deal – most likely the effect of living in a Christian bubble. It’s like they have had their version of an “iron curtain” (theist curtain) draped around their community.

    1. Blinkered is putting it mildly. I am sure that the principal and his supporters view themselves as modern Daniels, praying to god even in defiance of the king’s orders. This courage to follow your religion in defiance of a government trying to force you to abandon it is held up in every church as a signature value for believers. It is a sad irony, then, that they are oblivious to the fact that in the current story they are not the persecuted Daniel. They are Darius, the government officials attempting to force unwilling others to bow to their god. They are playing the villains according to their own story, and they do not see it.

  2. That vice that I mentioned in that other thread that Lowery put his balls in and dared somebody to tighten? The Board decided that the’d like their balls in the same vice, too — make it a nice and cozy family affair.

    I have no clue what could possibly make somebody think that this is a good thing or why they would look forward to what’s about to happen. Then again, I never did understand any other form of masochism.

    Were I to be as charitable as possible, the Board has yet to run this past any lawyer with relevant expertise, and they truly don’t understand what’s going on. But even that’s a condemnation of gross incompetence and negligence.

    Ah, well. At least the good news is that Lebanon’s public school system is about to get a thorough and much overdue power wash. And I don’t think it’s going to take all that much of the FFRF’s resources to accomplish it, either, which is good.


  3. It sounds like the school is pretty much run as a Christian school. They are about to get an education in First Amendment law.

    1. Do Indiana youngsters buckle their knickerbockers above or below the knees? Do they play billiards or pool?

          1. Not sure how I came up with Indiana; River City, Iowa, is the setting of “The Music Man.” There’s a river called Missouri. Professor Harold Hill claims to have graduated from a non-existent conservatory in Gary, Indiana.

  4. Look, they could either spend the money on teaching kids, or teaching themselves, they choose the latter.

    John, ever the cynical

    1. Fundamentalists tend to define “victimization” as “not being permitted to suppress viewpoints that don’t agree with ours like we used to”.

  5. I can haz trouble?

    Besides, I thought the board was supposed to stand in front, handling complaints directed the way of the school. So far they are supportive of Lowery’s (not-)apology, which indeed seems “leading from behind”.

    Don’t they want to handle the complaints too? Lawyers will flock to a dead carcass.

  6. As a veteran teacher in several similar Missouri schools, I can attest that local school boards are often little kingdoms where prominent business people do more or less as they please. This reaction is unsurprising and will have unfortunate repercussions on any openly gay, atheist, muslim, etc, students. Thankfully it’s summer vacation and this will most likely be forgotten in the excitement of a new football season in the fall … IF the board does what it should. Otherwise … well …

  7. I commented on an earlier post regarding the bet with Mr. Mehta that it would likely be impossible to ever strictly say whether this was “unconstitutional” since I doubted it would ever go before a court (though I agree entirely that it should be). Well, my powers of prognostication are obviously off! I think Professor Coyne must be quite right when he says the school district doesn’t understand what it’s getting in to. I am sort of glad for the district’s recalcitrance, as I was regarding Kitzmiller v. Dover–the more judicial bolstering we have, the better. But I am still a bit apprehensive, as it’s always possible to wind up with a terrible judge. Judge Jones of Kitzmiller and the Pennsylvania same-sex marriage case, though, helps restore my faith in even the conservative side of the bench.

    1. Unless their judges are elected rather than appointed, it shouldn’t get past the first level, if that. The case law is pretty clear. Lowery’s attempt to get around it with his not-so-clever rhetorical device won’t pass the smell test.

      1. Even if the judge is elected and a raving Glen Beck blowjob, odds are still good that the Board will get appropriately slapped down.

        Before it gets to court, the Board’s legal team will have to get involved — and, frankly, I’m astonished they haven’t already. Those lawyers, unless they’re grossly incompetent, will tell the Board to settle as quickly and eagerly as humanly possible.

        If it makes it to a judge, before the trial, the judge, again assuming a lack of perfect incompetence, will know full well that no appellate court is going to side with the Board. If the judge were to rule in favor of the Board, the judge would get royally reamed by the appellate court. As such, the judge will offer a stern admonition to the Board to get their balls out of the vice before the screw is turned any tighter.

        If it actually does make it to an appellate court, chances are good that you’d even have the Justice Department investigating at that point to figure out the level of corrupt cronyism that could have resulted in such an open-and-shut civil rights case making it so far up the food chain.

        This is definitely now a case worth grabbing a fresh bag of popcorn for, but it’s not going to be long or drawn out. Potentially spectacular, yes, but short-lived.


        1. Let me be clear, I fully agree with you Ben Goren and ladyatheist; I think it’s clear which way the decision should go and is overwhelmingly likely to go. However, one can never be too sure, and on the heels of some recent amazing decisions (the Scott Walker “halt the investigation” decision by Judge Randa springs to mind) I approach even sure bets with trepidation.

  8. This tune gets played with only minor variations to the score every year in America in multiple locales. In each venue a dispute sets off down potential Adjudication Lane, while both the principal’s leading and the community rushing headlong behind issue the same impassioned statements in their defense, heedless (at least seemingly) of that cliff edge ahead everyone who preceeds them already surged over. For years I’ve read the monthly letters in the FFRF newsletter, and the belief virus is at least as immune to experience lessons as ever, perhaps even mutating to more powerful resistance.

    1. They think the Bible is historically accurate but they can’t be bothered learning the history of their own country. If it weren’t for Fox News they wouldn’t know what they were supposed to think of this.

  9. The problem as I see it is that the principal doesn’t see that he’s done anything egregious. Because Christianity has always dominated the community it has developed a position of privilege. Many Christians simply believe their rights are more important than those of people of other belief systems or no belief. Further, the right-wing narrative that people standing up for their rights is an attack on Christianity causes some to act in a quite irrational and aggressive manner. It is not Christianity that is being attacked, it is the historical assumption of Christian privilege. The stridency of the far right tends to silence the reasonable majority. Frequently, once these issues are brought into the light in fora such as this, the silent majority, who are reasonable and fair-minded discover their voice. This will happen here. Kudos to Jerry, those students who have spoken out, and FFRF for their support.

    1. Yes. Many of the Lebanon minorities, skeptics as well as reasonable theists supportive of free religion, has evidently found their voices or got a new fora to use them in.

      That is among the results of Jerry’s many years of book & web effort. There must be something about biologists and the efficient use of ATP…

      1. Oops, I mangled the minority/majority issue. Arguable the reasonable majority may have some of the fair-minded free religion theists. Hence the “Yes”.

  10. Jesus Christ! These people think they fighting the Lord’s fight. You’d think if the Lord really wanted prayer in school, he would have just made this country a theocracy.

    1. The scary thing is a lot of people “on the other side” of this concern and related ones seem to honestly think that the US *is* a theocracy, in some sense. Ridiculous – in fact, it is likely constitutionally one of the most secular countries on earth, but …

  11. Several of the students who have commented here have spoken highly of the Principal. They accept that he has done great things and don’t want him to be sacked.

    Unfortunately, the board and Principal are failing to address the bad thing that the Principal has done. Graduation day became a stage for the Principal to practice his religious beliefs – to the hollering delight of some in the audience. Did any offended members of the audience holler out their objections? That seems unlikely.

    They have chosen to express their feelings here. And action has been initiated to test whether the Principal has broken the law.

    How long before the board gets it?

    1. I’ve lived in these places. The board will Never “get it”. They may decide a law suit is too expensive on their watch, but they will never even entertain the view that they could be wrong.

  12. Does anyone else read the last quote of the principal to be as damning as I do? He explicitely disowns any nonchristian member of the Lebanon community!

  13. I am not sure “how wonderful it is to be a Caucasian” analogy is going to get through to these people, because I’m pretty sure the board is also mainly Caucasian and proud of it. I think a better analogy would be to ask them to imagine Principal Lowery how great and merciful Allah is, praise Islam for algebra, and offer a silent prayer to Allah instead of Jesus. It shouldn’t be strange in a place called Lebanon, after all.

      1. An interesting snippet from that page: “Notable onetime residents include Walter Reed and novelist Harold Bell Wright, author of The Shepherd of the Hills. While in Lebanon, Wright wrote the scathing The Calling of Dan Matthews as an indictment of the general hypocrisy of the town of Lebanon. In the novel a young preacher becomes disgusted with the closed-mindedness of his parish. Several real-life sites are mentioned in the novel.”

        I think we’ve stumbled onto something that runs far deeper than Principal Lowery’s fulminations at commencement ceremonies.

    1. I’d suggest that if Principle Lowery had made a speech in such one-sided high praise of Caucasians as his was of god, without mentioning any other race, then that speech would be deemed offensively racist.

      1. Since this would be a purely hypothetical analogy, we could just ask the school board to imagine Lowery making both speeches at the graduation.

  14. I suppose Lebanon (Lebanese?) taxpayers have a lot of extra cash they’d like to burn through. The school must be fully funded, the textbooks are all new, the buildings are modern and up-to-date, the teachers have refused to take yet another salary raise…so why not spend it on something like this?

  15. Can you say “persecution complex”? The wagons are getting circled to save their precious religion against the outsiders who just don’t understand. Let’s face it–no one likes getting pushed out of their comfortable, privileged way of life.
    However, having grown up there and having seen how minorities of all kinds were treated, I would like nothing better than seeing a few noses get pushed into the crap they spew. Maybe some of them will get the message that it’s not only about them.

  16. The town I grew up in – Douglasville, GA – had a case that went to the Supreme Court in the 1980’s centering around a member of the band and school-led prayer before sporting events. The school board lost, like they should have. The kid who started the suit was getting death threats from the good Christians who somehow thought not getting to pray before a football game was a threat to their religion. Over twenty years later, I saw someone I knew from HS bragging about his friend beating the kid up in the bathroom – I just don’t get the level of anger people can have in the name of a “loving god”.

    Seeing everything that went on made me really start questioning religion. And the more I looked, the more I realized that the emperor has no clothes. Doug, if you happen to be reading this, thanks for standing up for yourself.

    1. Dave, I grew up in Carrollton GA where every football game and other event started with a prayer. We have corners where you can stand and see 2 churches, never mind the church on every corner. We’re right next door to Douglasville which I’m sure you know. I often wonder if they’re still doing it.

      1. And by the way, I often wondered, what does the other team think while the praying person is asking god to help the home team win?

        1. ” . . . what does the other team think while the praying person is asking god to help the home team win?”

          From my own limited high school experience, I don’t recall the “prayor” being so gauche as to say that out loud (though no doubt he secretly so supplicates, eh?).

          Very unlikely that any smaller town pastor, if asked to pray at a game, can afford to refuse, no matter how fatuous and inconveniencing to the deity (already overburdened by such Friday night prayer requests) he considers it to be. As So. Baptists put it, if he refused he’d get “churched” (dis-fellowshipped), or, “after prayerful consideration,” say that he and his wife had been “led” or “called” to minister at another location.

          For sure, at such football-worshiping schools, it’s very unlikely there will be equivalent prayers for success during major exams.

          Perhaps the visiting team hopes that there will be lingering vibes from their own last home game prayer radiating on them.

          Re: calling on a deity’s help: can’t beat another team, can’t do well on that organic chemistry test, etc. by ones own devices and efforts. 😉 Yep, per The Book,” “If God be with us, who can be against us?”

      2. I went to a soccer game at DCHS last year, and there was no pre-game public prayer. Don’t know about football, though. Now, the graduations I’ve been to lately reminded me of old-school tent revivals – but from the students, not the faculty. Another end-around.

        1. As a matter of “equity,” ought there not be prayers at, for example, school chess tournaments? Or is that too much like an academic activity? 😉

          At football games prayers include requests for good sportsmanship and avoidance of serious injury. Perhaps at wrestling matches the prayer could include a reference to Jacob wresting the angel and a request to spare wrestlers from Jacob’s resulting lameness.

          (And of course the team has a prior prayer in the locker room, so they get a double dose though, from my limited experience, it was always by rote, memorized – “The Lord’s Prayer” and something done because it was expected of us and to get out of the way.)

          We’re familiar with football coaches’ quasi-military drill instructor techniques – yelling in the ear, sprints/push-ups as punishment for mistakes, etc., as opposed to going to “time out” and writing a reflection on why one dropped the football, and what I can do to try to keep from doing it again. 😉 Players submit to them generally without complaint; if they complain, they don’t play.

          Players’ parents and fans apparently have no problem with these techniques which, if so appropriate on the athletic field, then no doubt they will be equally, enthusiastically accepted in the classroom . . . er, uh, never mind . . . .

          1. I’m proud to report that as a member of the chess team, I was never asked to write an essay about why I dropped the bishop and will never do it again. Thankfully we also had no prayer before chess games. I don’t think I could’ve played had we.

          2. yelling in the ear, sprints/push-ups as punishment for mistakes, etc., as opposed to going to “time out” and writing a reflection

            For both soldiers and athletes, the former builds vital skills and muscles that will make the difference between either life and death or victory and defeat; the latter would actually be counterproductive.

            When shells are exploding all around you or the crowd roars, when you have to heave that cannon into place or throw your teammate (with ball) over the scrimmage line, you’ll be glad for all the extra insults in your ear that you learned to ignore, and for the extra pushups you did to give you the strength you need.

            Of course, the exact opposite is true for, say, an English composition class….



            1. Kind Sir – to congenially respond and inquire – how would you propose to motivate the football coach insult-(borderline abuse-)tolerating jock to strive for academic excellence? Too many student athletes (and of course non-athletes too) take great umbrage at or are enraged by the mildest rebuke from a core course teacher.

              (Willing to take a bushel basket of abuse from a coach and memorize a small phonebook of complicated diagrams for the sake of the football religion, but not willing to spend 20 min on your algebra homework or simply pay attention in class and leave your bloody smartphone in your backpack?)

              I’ve heard of more than one student lamenting, several years after high school, “My teacher should have MADE me do this, made me do that.” Really?

              Were you (trumpet, right?) in high school and university band? Band directors have a similar unsubtle reputation. How much of their guff would you take before saying adios? A (female) friend of mine got hit in the face by a high school assistant band director, whose own university band director role model was a tyrant whom I observed in action (“g.d. this, g.d. that”). Coaches have been known to hit, though it rarely happens anymore. Are we getting soft?

              If all those extra wind sprints and push-ups and insults are in fact all that efficacious, then it seems to follow that one should all the more encourage mistakes and foul-ups, eh?

              Actually – as coaches do try to rile and thereby motivate their players – I think that it would be more effective for the coach to give the offending player a pencil and reflection sheet (as one might to a misbehaving third grader in PE or art) – in the presence of the other players – as a motivation to do better. Or is that too insulting and embarrassing for a brawny football player? On the other hand, it would cheat him out of those extra sprints and push-ups.

              As regards coaches’ insults and the like, how does your perspective square with the success of UCLA’s John Wooden, seemingly an avatar of rational civility? Or is he (and basketball) somehow an exception?


              (I apologize for the length, Gentle Readers.)

              1. It’s not the coach’s job to urge the students towards academic excellence any more than it’s the job of academic faculty to urge students towards athletic excellence. Sure, there’re always opportunities for cross-disciplinary cooperation and all faculty should be concerned about their students as complete people, but we have specialists in those positions for very valid reasons.

                None of my music teachers have ever used military-style training techniques, and those sorts of practices are as uncommon and irrelevant to musicians as they are to painters, poets, and playwrights. There is a small subset of musical ensembles — the drum and bugle corps — which grew out of a military tradition, and some might maintain minimal military disciplinary modes…but even the most hard-core of them are nothing like football training or boot camp.

                And, of course, there are individuals who are petty tyrants; you’ll find them in all walks of life and branches of academia. I have a relative by marriage who’s a community college biology professor who gets his kicks by humiliating students through demonstrating their ignorance or naïve trust. He’s no more representative of biology professors than some random hoo-rah DI wannabe marching band director at some podunk high school.



    2. The anger makes sense when you realize that deep down (very deep) they know it’s fake. This is the “Emperor’s New Clothes” syndrome. As long as everyone, and that means EVERYONE, goes along, no one has to question anything. But when one person admits that there is nothing there, everyone else is threatened. That is why blasphemy is punished by threats of death.

  17. I strongly suspect that the school board members, prior to taking office, took an oath to uphold the Constitution (most officeholders do, as do attorneys, for example).

    The policy or practice of school officials to allow school prayer as performed by the principal is unconstitutional.

    Thus, the school board members are without integrity, regardless of how often a bible gets thumped. If they believe in official school praying, they must leave their posts (and perhaps seek to change the law) to keep their integrity.

  18. I grew up in a town in Kansas not unlike Lebanon. Isolated and, shall we say, not very progressive. I can virtually guarantee you that the Principal’s remarks have enhanced his standing in his local community and among his school board. He’s probably now almost a folk hero. If it comes to law suits, things may change, but even then I doubt it. It would be more costly for the school board politically (assuming they are elected, as was the case in my home town) to fail to back him. They’d be voted out for sure. If it’s like similar-seeming towns I know, most people there think there needs to be a right to pray at these events and that a liberal court somewhere has robbed them of this god-given right and if they don’t think this, most won’t rock the boat to disagree–jobs and business could depend on it). Only a serious court case will affect much of anything, although this thread has probably been a big help to a few students in Lebanon and all the places like it. That’s no small thing.

  19. This case isn’t primarily about Lebanon, though it’s the concrete example we have to deal with here. But this sort of things could (and does–often unreported) happen in many small towns across states like Missouri, Kansas, the South, and elsewhere. I’m guessing if Lebanon is sued, some religious group with lawyers will step in to help them, but even if not, a lot of the people there would be will doing spend the money as a symbolic gesture (many states in the South are passing laws on abortion, health care, voting rights, that they know are almost certain to be struck down, but they are happy to spend the money to defend them. It’s good political strategy, given voters’ utility functions. Maybe money is tighter for a town, though.

    1. The lesson will slowly be learned as court costs pile up and, more importantly, non-believers com out of the closet. There are many of them. It takes great courage for the first of them to come out. Over time it becomes easier for others. Things will change.

      1. I grew up in a town like Lebanon. I wish you were right that there are many non-believers there, but my experience leads me to doubt it.

  20. FFRF has an acronym quite similar to FFRFA (Foundation for a rabbit-free Australia). It seems that both organisations will have difficulty achieving their goals!

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