Airline High School of Louisiana has a problem. Airline is a public school that has become embroiled in the latest example of right-wing Christian overreach disguised as “religious freedom.” Today we’re going to talk about how this case illustrates the various excuses the Christian Right is using for their misbehavior, and why those excuses are bullshit.
First, some background. The school is located in Bossier Parish, Louisiana. (“Parishes” are basically counties in that state.) About 125,000 people live in this parish. The residents there enjoy a slightly higher income than most of the rest of their state, with slightly fewer of them living below the poverty line and slightly more of them having graduated high school and college than most Louisiana residents. The parish has five high schools, of which Airline is one. Airline is very proud of its academic credentials, with about 300 kids in its graduating class and roughly an 81% graduation rate. So it’s a relatively affluent, high-performing area.
Unfortunately, some of its authority figures are more focused on forcing schoolkids there to endure illegal proselytization than they are with educating them, and more focused on enforcing their religious privilege than they are on following our country’s laws–to the point where they’d far rather waste their district’s limited funds on doomed lawsuits than follow those laws or even Jesus’ specific commandments about loving their neighbors and abiding by the law.
Their principal, Jason Rowland, has recently been revealed as disobeying the laws of both his country and state in order to force Christian miseducation and evangelism down the throats of students. In response to the ACLU’s stern warnings, the principal, his school, his district, and his fundagelical-dominated town have only dug in their heels.
I’ll let Slate take it away with a description of what kind of overreach we’re talking about here:
During health class, students at Airline High, a public school in Bossier Parish, Louisiana, read Bible passages, and their teacher asks them to identify their favorite verses. Airline students told me they are taught creationism as science and pressured into attending Fellowship of Christian Athletes club meetings. During gym class, girls are warned against contraception by a “born again virgin” from the local crisis pregnancy center, a Christian anti-abortion, anti-birth control, anti-premarital-sex advocacy center.”
Anything on that list would be completely outrageous, but kids there are subjected to bullshit like this every single day. Some of those students eventually got brave enough to complain loudly enough to get some attention, at which point World War III broke out.
I’m going to go through the excuses the hypocritical Christians in this specific case have offered for why they have chosen to deliberately flout our country’s laws to forcibly indoctrinate and evangelize unconsenting children in a public-school setting.
Excuse #1: Nobody complained, so that makes lawbreaking okay.
“I’ve never had a complaint from a student of ours who was offended by the fact we saluted a message or even said to them God bless you.” — Principal Jason Rowland
Excuse: Nobody ever complained to King Him, which means he can do whatever he wants.
Response #1: No wonder nobody complained. Look what happened when someone finally did.
Response #2: That doesn’t excuse away the fact that you know perfectly well that what you’re doing is illegal, or that you’re lying both about the extent of the forced proselytization and whether anybody complained before.
Response #3: Why are you lying about the extent of your illegal activities? It went a whole lot further than that. (Kudos to Jeff for pointing this out!)
The quote above is from Slate and it is quite possibly the lamest example of an excuse I’ve ever seen out of a Christian! Given this principal’s general belligerence-for-Jesus, his obvious love of his own power, and his inability to empathize with the children who have actually complained, it doesn’t surprise me at all that a student might not have complained to him personally. Children in these situations (and adults for that matter!) might be very reluctant to speak up about something they don’t like to an authority figure out of fears of retribution, especially in a small school that is top-heavy with proselytizing Christian fundagelicals in it.* That’s actually why it’s not okay, legally or ethically, for a public school’s representative (like, uh, Mr. Rowland) to be seen as endorsing Christian overreach. It creates an atmosphere of coercion.
Other students in similar situations in other school districts show us exactly why students in Mr. Rowland’s school haven’t tried until now to push back seriously against his overreach–the response of the “loving” Christians in those cases included sending death and rape threats to the students complaining, as well as ostracizing and bullying them for speaking up. Christian fundagelicals think of themselves as loving, kind, and charitable people and indeed some of them actually are despite their ideology, but when they start feeling challenged they can turn vicious on a dime.
It’s worth noting that the environment created by these “loving” Christians after being challenged sounds like an absolute horror show–a furious, aggressive circus full of enraged assholes. Indeed, I’ve no doubt that some of those kids who complained are regretting ever saying a word–which is exactly what this kind of display is meant to accomplish. (This behavior doesn’t sound loving to me, but as I’ve noted repeatedly, not much about modern fundagelicalism is actually loving. It’s a religion centered around perpetuating its own power, not around following Jesus’ direct orders.)
When someone isn’t complaining to an authority figure, that can mean that there’s simply nothing to complain about, but it can also mean that the people who want to complain are too scared to say anything. When the situation involves religious overreach and captive audiences, like this one does, that possibility approaches certainty. Toxic Christians have been showing us for decades that they are totally okay with the idea of intimidating anybody who’d speak up about their behavior–and then pretending that a lack of vocal opposition means that everybody is fine with what they’re doing. And this illusion they have that everyone agrees with them is, in fundagelical eyes, adequate justification to break laws–but only if it’s them pushing their religious beliefs onto others. If they (almost always mistakenly) think others are doing it to them or their kids, then it’s awful and the law needs to stop it.
However, something doesn’t magically become legal just because nobody’s complaining about it. It’s a little strange that Mr. Rowland is gauging his own wrongdoing by whether or not those he has power over can summon the courage to to say something to him personally about it even under the threat of social censure at his own hands for doing exactly that. I thought Christians were supposed to be moral, but apparently it’s okay for them to break the law as long as nobody’s fussing about it–or if they are, then it matters who exactly is doing the fussing. Of course, if someone does complain, Christian fundagelicals will reserve the right to harass that person, threaten them, make their school environment nonproductive, and turn their educational process into a platform from which they can grandstand to whine about persecution. When the complaining stops, they’ll then assume that means that everything’s okay again and that they should go back to what they were doing–while pretending that it’s okay because nobody is complaining.
Worst of all, according to Slate, some of these kids actually had complained about the excessive religiosity in their school. Mr. Rowland acts like he never heard any of them say a word.
This is the superior Christian morality handed down by an objective lawgiver who never ever changes?
Excuse #2: It’s their culture, so therefore they’re allowed to force it on everyone around themselves.
“Where’s our culture … if that’s going to be offensive to someone.” — Principal Jason Rowland
Excuse: It’s simply Mr. Rowland’s “culture” to be a willfully ignorant, grandstanding Christian fundagelical who forces the children in his charge to listen to Christian sermons and blatant evangelism during public-school hours on the taxpayers’ dime and in violation of state and federal laws.
Response: Despite his rather strange way of using the word “culture,” he doesn’t have the right to force his religious views down the throats of other people, especially not in an environment where they are his captive audience and subject to his whims.
Here Jason Rowland betrays his own religious narcissism. To him, “culture” means “his particular brand of fundagelical right-wing Christianity.” That the kids he’s forcing his views upon don’t actually want his “culture” doesn’t even occur to him. Their “culture,” whatever it might be, is inferior to his own, so he’s forcing them to listen to his sermons and evangelism. He seems completely indignant that they don’t appreciate his efforts to sneak illegal indoctrination into their classes!
But “culture,” to Christians like this guy, certainly does not mean an environment in which atheists can put up a billboard announcing the innocuous message that not everybody believes in “God”, or in which people can open a church that is totally antithetical to Christianity, like the recent Church of Lucifer that opened in Texas. Only fundagelicals get to have “culture!”
If someone tries to express their views in a way that Christians like Jason Rowland don’t like, then they’ll demonstrate, they’ll scream and yell, they’ll march, they’ll boycott, and they’ll even use vandalism and threats to get their way. And if everyone else with an inferior “culture” backs down and lets them have their way, they’ll simply assume that “Jesus” miraculously strong-armed their opponents into changing their minds. Fundagelicals are the Designated Adults of America, there to parent all us silly little toddlers who don’t understand Christianity like they do and aren’t wise and discerning enough to acceptJesusasourpersonallordandsavioramenthankyouJesus like they did.
If they can’t have permission and consent, then they’ll happily take grudging compliance. As far as they’re concerned, there isn’t any difference. Silence gets taken for consent, and any shady tactic is acceptable as long as nobody important is kicking a huge fuss over it. And if someone does kick a huge fuss, then the tribe will make them sorry for ever having opened their big mouths.
These are the same people claiming that atheists are always shoving their ideas down Christians’ throats. They’d like us to believe that they are the good guys who want kids to make up their minds about Christianity so they always present a fair and balanced view of everything, including science.
Excuse #3: This is totally legal for the school to do.
Rep. Johnson told me at the rally that everything the school district was doing is “totally legal.” He accused the ACLU of “trolling” the Internet to find Christians to attack. — Slate
Excuse: This overreach is legal for the school’s authorities to do so they’re doing it.
Response #1: Fuck the what here? NO, you blithering troglodytes, what you are doing is not legal.
Response #2: Even if it were legal, the students involved have complained. They do not consent to being fed misinformation and deceptions in their scholastic classes. They do not want to be proselytized while they’re supposed to be getting educated.
The State Representative who represents this parish has flat-out declared that what this school is doing to its children is legal. He’s gone on the offensive similarly to how the Duggar parents did, by declaring that anybody criticizing their lawlessness and shadiness is simply “trolling” in a concerted effort to destroy Christianity.
(As if Christians exactly like these are not doing enough by themselves to drive people away from their mean-spirited, dishonest tribe of power-mad bigots.)
The Center for Public Education would like to disagree with them there, though. In fact, I can’t think of a single lawsuit that’s ever been raised against a school doing exactly what this school is doing that resulted in a win for fundagelicals. Countless dollars have been spent by fundagelical-dominated school districts trying to fight these lawsuits, money that really could have been better spent educating children, and all it’s resulted in is loss after loss after loss–for the religious blowhards who refuse to back down, while their wiser peers settle out of court.
One could argue that winning these lawsuits might not actually be the goal. I mean, the right-wing legal group Liberty Counsel—representing Concord Community Schools here in a similar situation–seems like it loses more trials than it wins and usually shits all over the board in the process. (They also represent Kim Davis, the law-defying Kentucky County Clerk, remember?)
It seems far more likely that the goal isn’t winning the inevitable lawsuit coming this school’s way, but for tribal Christians to get another chance to feel like a beleaguered, persecuted, oppressed minority fighting back against the serried forces of darkness when the reality of the situation is the exact opposite of all of those things and they are actually totally and completely in the wrong here.
Of course, when–not if–they lose or must settle that lawsuit, the Christians involved here will just whine about “activist judges” and claim that they only feel compelled to obey the Bible, “a higher power” than the Constitution they fetishize until it disagrees with them, except when they don’t obey it, in which case they’ll retreat behind their “sin nature” or “context.”
Well, maybe they can go find a nice theocracy to live in. There are still some of those in the world. I realize that they think that a Jesus-centered theocracy would be sooooo much better than the non-Christian ones out there, but maybe they’ll start noticing all the alarming similarities between their pipe dreams and those of the rulers of these other theocracies. If they want to live in America, then they have to abide by our rules, and not forcing religion down kids’ throats in school is one of our rules. Their elected representatives do them a serious disservice by being this ignorant of those rules.
Speaking of which:
Excuse #4: Religious freedom blah blah blah persecution blah blah blah.
[David Vitter said he] was there to fight against “the left who wants to push religion out of the public square.” . . . Gov. Bobby Jindal, in a press release, called the ACLU’s warning part of a “war on Christianity.”
Excuse: This overreach must be allowed because it is simply part of how Christians like these express their religious faith; they simply can’t express themselves freely without trampling over other people.
Response #1: Their freedoms end where other people’s rights begin. Nobody has the right to trample other people’s rights.
Response #2: It’s not really very loving to force oneself on others without their consent.
This is not a case of Christian persecution, any more than any of their other dismal defeats are. It’s an example of their grabby hands getting slapped away from other people’s stuff. They reached for those kids’ rights, and once those kids got up the courage to complain about it, they freaked out and tried to clamp down harder on their privilege and dominance.
There simply isn’t a right that Christian fundagelicals have that allows them to trample on others, to force others to listen to their blather, or to proselytize and preach to children on taxpayers’ time. I get that they have a really rough time differentiating genuine persecution from getting their grabby little hands slapped, and maybe that’s one of the beautiful things about living in a society with such strong protections on religious expression. Christians in the United States simply have no idea what persecution looks like. But they are starting to understand what having their privilege peeled away looks like.
And they don’t like it.
So Christians have come up with this self-serving and disingenuous attempt to re-brand their grabbiness as “religious freedom” while innocently batting their eyes, as if they’re asking us to pretend along with them that they’re seriously suggesting that their “freedom of religion” can only be had at the cost of everyone else’s rights. Our freedom of religion? Haha, we don’t actually have any. Fundagelicals literally think that only Christians have the freedom of religion.
They’d like us to pretend along with them that simply living their lives and believing on their own time isn’t enough; we must also allow them to run roughshod over others to force us to endure their constant sales pitches (and misinformation and smear campaigns). It’s not like we didn’t decode what “religious liberty” actually means some time ago, but they would like us to pretend they’re serious.
Even if these Christians were being persecuted–which, again, they absolutely are not–their Bible gives them one and only one response they are allowed to make to martyrdom, at risk of facing eternal physical torture for noncompliance: walking straight to their dooms with big toothy smiles on their faces and praise in their hearts. It does not allow for them to be “Prayer Warriors,” as someone called this smirking Christian principal at this fundagelical-infested school, or to talk about armed insurrection and rebellion against the United States of America for not letting them trample all over other people’s rights. In fact, Romans 13:1-7 seems to demand that Christians follow earthly authorities’ laws even when it seems strange to them because “there is no authority except from God.”
Christian history is replete with examples of martyrs who went to their doom under far worse circumstances than what American fundagelicals face in our country. But martyrdom is hard to find in a country that respects and encourages religious pluralism. Scorn and derision is about the worst they’ll face and that won’t kill anyone; moreover, nobody’s suggesting being mean to Christians simply for believing nonsense.
All we want is for them to keep their nonsense on their side of the table–but that’s the one thing they cannot do because it would be a concession that they are not in power anymore. So they act like not getting their way amounts to persecution–which only shows how little they understand of persecution.
For a people so hung up on persecution that they martyrbate to the idea, such Christians seem eager to go to war both literally and metaphorically to protect their privilege and dominance–and if they can’t get real persecution, then they’ll happily lie about it to further their agenda.
Summation: the race to the bottom.
It’s hard even to imagine anybody thinking that what Airline is doing is going to bring tons of people to their faith. But I doubt that’s what the goal is anyway.
Those who call Christians out for being hypocrites can expect the same tantrums we’re seeing here at Airline High School–which is, again, exactly why they do it. They’re implicitly warning other dissenters about what to expect if they say anything–and they’re beating their chests to demonstrate the strength of their tribe.
Of course, if they really were strong, they wouldn’t need to intimidate children into silence, or to grab for what isn’t theirs. This display of fundagelical overreach is another visible sign of both the sickness in the religion’s heart and its coming end of dominance.
The best part? Their persecution fantasies are a big part of what repels folks from their religion.** They’re proving by their behavior that they are perfectly aware that nobody sane would ever voluntarily listen to them, so they have to resort to trickery and force to get anybody to stand still long enough to hear a word they say. Even better? Despite all their efforts, those kids they’re trying to forcibly indoctrinate into fundagelical teachings are, statistically speaking, largely going to reject the religion by the time they’re out of college. The harder fundagelicals try to cram their beliefs and teachings down kids’ throats, the more forcible that rejection is going to be. Their strong-arming is already starting to backfire.
Irrelevance really couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of people. We’re going to talk about that a little more next, because there’s some great news on that front.
All I can hope is that the parents in that district start thinking about all the money that Airline is going to cost them in the lawsuit that is surely coming, and hold that district and those administrators accountable for wasting all of it.
* I spent my teens and young adulthood in Houston, so any school with less than a 1000-student graduating class sounds like a one-room pioneer schoolhouse to me.
** The Christian god’s self-elected representatives certainly don’t help matters. David Vitter thinks hitting people is perfectly okay and likes cheating on his wife with prostitutes, while Bobby Jindal of course is the skeevy Republican fighting his own scandals while pretending he’s a Creationist to pander to the fundagelicals in the hopes of tricking them into nominating him for President. Isn’t it weird that the god of the whole universe, who is totally for real a real live god, can’t find genuinely good, honest people to represent him?
Bonus kitten photo for reading this long post all the way to the end!