Monday, July 03, 2006

Separation of Church Skate and State

Apparently, it's not OK to rollerskate to tunes about Jesus Christ. Or at least, you can't advertise a rollerskating event in any way that alludes to his name.

Skate Time, a roller rink in upstate New York, was accused of discrimination last month for an advertisement run in a local newspaper promoting its upcoming "Christian Skate." The Skate Time owners received a letter from the state's Division of Human Rights noting the juxtaposition of the words "Christian" and "skate" in their advertisement could be construed as a Christians-only event, thus making their ad's wording discriminatory.

The Skate Time owners explained Christian-themed music would be played at the event, and the public--regardless of faith background--was welcome to come skate. To appease the state, Skate Time also changed its advertisement to read "spiritual skate."

If Skate Time held an event such as Latino Nite, Caribbean Skate, or Hawaiian Luau, no one would have blinked twice. We'd all recognize these as themed events, not efforts to discriminate against non-Latinos, non-Caribbean folks, or non-Hawaiians. (C'mon, everyone knows when dance clubs hold "Ladies Nite," it isn't about kicking out the men.) What about public parades or displays to celebrate Irish or German or Mexican heritage, or even Jewish or Hindu culture? Such city-sanctioned events take place all the time.

But there's something threatening about the word "Christian" that makes people do a double take. Some cities and businesses proactively squash Christian language and displays, hoping to avoid potential lawsuits. A Christian Bible study group recently was asked to stop meeting in the common area of their apartment complex (see Apartment Owner Boots Bible Study Group). The apartment's management company was afraid other residents would complain it was showing religious preference. Students no longer have "Christmas vacations"--they're "Winter breaks." In my hometown, one resident fought displays of nativity scenes at Christmas on city-owned property. To the dismay of thousands of residents, the city caved. The displays had brought residents together in the city's downtown business district and provided much needed revenue to the area. But hey, at least one guy was happy about the lack of holiday cheer.

Yet, in the name of religious tolerance, Christians are expected to suck it up when co-workers make derogatory statements about God and Christianity. (It's their right, right?) Students typically are discouraged from religious discourse at school. How is it the best-selling book of all time isn't included in public-school literature courses?

Apparently, it's OK to be a Christian these days, as long as you confine it to the privacy of your own home. To me, it seems America's got a bad case of minority tyranny on our hands. And unfortunately, Christians are perceived as the majority which needs to be toppled.

For kicks, let's read the First Amendment of our American Constitution together now:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,

Yup, we get an ear-full of that part plenty often, but not so much the second half of this first sentence:

or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

That seems to mean it isn't a felony to carry a Bible down the street. Or to hold a Christian-themed skate event. And this next part, it's really good:

or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;

Too bad the Skate Time owners weren't allowed to freely publicize their event with words of their choice. But thank goodness some members of the press still have common sense and are willing to speak up, as seen in The Times-Reporter editorial, "This is discrimination?"

Oooh, here's another good part:

or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Hmm, perhaps I do have a grievance. It grieves me we have to worry about using the word "Christian." It grieves me we have to worry about our public expressions of faith. My church recently gathered at a public beach to barbecue hotdogs. We sang some worship songs. Nearby, a Christian youth group was holding a Bible study. Could the day come when we aren't allowed to sing or talk about Jesus in public places like this, since it just might offend passers-by?

That sounds pretty far-fetched, doesn't it? But I never would've imagined my hometown, under threat of a lawsuit from a single individual, would stop putting up those nativity scenes at Christmas, either.

Maybe, instead of just grieving when this stuff occurs, I ought to recognize this is a legitimate grievance. Maybe I ought to start speaking up.

I'll start with this blog post.

State lets roller-rink owners skate by with Christian night

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