Thursday, February 25, 2010

With a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for "pew"

So, I'm wandering through in internet, like I do, and came across a news story. It seems that a man in Southhaven, Mississippi was going to court to plead "not guilty" to a disorderly conduct charge, and he noticed that the court pews were formerly from a church, with big ol' crosses carved in them. And, being an agnostic, he felt that this was a violation of the separation of church and state.

Now, reading through the story, I actually felt that the man, Carrol Roberson, was overreacting a little. Then I reached the end of the story.

So I did a quick google search, and discovered that the city of Southaven has a "contact us" page, and I thought I'd give it a try.

They say that the'll respond within 24 hours. We'll see how that works out.

(Update, 36 hours later: They lied.)

Dear Mayor Davis,

I happened to read about your current fight with Carrol Roberson, and felt that I should point something out. He's the guy who filed a brief stating that the religious decorations on the former church pews was a violation of the separation between church and state.

Now, I'll admit, I can see your side. Reading the story, I see that the pews came from a closed-down church that the city purchased to convert to a community center. You had the pews, the courtroom needed them; it all seems reasonable so far.

In fact, as you said yourself, "We moved them to the courthouse when we were renovating as a cost-saving measure. We've had them for more than seven years and this is the first complaint we've had about them."

Well, the thing is, now you do have a complaint. And, really, as the city administrator, you are actually supposed to address these complaints, right?

At first reading, Mr Roberson's statement might be a bit over the top. "I didn't want to be judged in a courtroom representing a specific religion. I felt they may be biased against me because I'm not part of the group. I don't want to be found guilty in a prejudiced courtroom."

But then again, Mississippi is known to be in what we sometimes refer to as the Bible Belt, isn't it? So maybe he's felt a certain amount of pressure on him for not fitting in. Let's grant him that, shall we?

The community, for the most part, hasn't really noticed the crosses, judging by the comments. Which is fine. And as you pointed out, "I don't think we're sitting up here saying you have to be Baptist,or you have to be Methodist. Or Episcopalian. Or Catholic. Or Jewish."

True enough. Of course, it would be polite, I guess, to ignore the fact that what you just said was essentially "We're not trying to convert people to Judaism by showing them a cross." Kind of goes without saying, doesn't it?

OK, so, to recap. Pews in the courtroom. Didn't cost the city a cent (at least, nothing that they hadn't already paid). Nobody's complained, until now.

See, you were in the right, up to that point. You had a position you could justify: in a recession, this guy wants us to spend money we can't afford. But then you had to go and open your mouth one more time.

You said, "I welcome the challenge. Maybe it's time the religious right stands up to the liberal left and says enough is enough. Where do you stop? Where's the common sense? I'm not taking them out."

Now, do you see where, by saying that, you just gave weight to Mr Roberson's argument? What he was saying boiled down to "My values don't match the community norm, and I feel like I'm going to be discriminated against."

And then you had to go and say "We're keeping the religious symbols in the courtroom," and you turned it into a fight between the Religious Right and the Scourge of Liberalism. You came down firmly on the side of the Right, and changed the focus of the problem. You justified his complaint.

You may be trying to be fiscally responsible, but you were politically irresponsible.

Now, if I were you, if I wanted to be (like I said) fiscally responsible, it might be best to get Maintenance down there with a power sander, and either sand them out or fill them in. Or cut them out and round off the corners - I'm really not sure how the pews are carved. But even if you hire out the work to a local handyman, it will cost the city less than the lawsuit that you've just won for Mr Roberson.

At least, that's the way I see it. Is there some detail I'm missing here?


Suicidal Jane said...

Did you ever get a response?

Nameless Cynic said...

Nope. A week later, and they just don't feel like explaining themselves...