Floristgate: How Petty Can You Get?

Cranston High School prayer mural
Quick recap for those who don’t visit the atheosphere much, or who have been living under a rock: Cranston High School West in Cranston, Rhode Island used to have a mural with a “School Prayer”. Jessica Ahlquist, a student at the school, tried to have it removed on the grounds of it being blatantly unconstitutional, and eventually had to sue. And she won.

Naturally, the good Christians of Rhode Island realized that religion is a private matter that shouldn’t be pushed in public schools, and accepted the ruling graciously. Ha ha! Just kidding! Actually, they inundated her with insults and threats of bodily violence.

To date, I’ve only seen two responses from Christians condemning their coreligionists’ behavior:

(Sorry, the Washington Post’s comment system doesn’t allow linking to individual comments.)

If there are more, I’d like to hear about them. But so far, the moderate Christian community is endorsing these bullies by its silence.

And then it gets pettier: Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation wanted to send Ahlquist a dozen roses to thank her for her courage. She with her local florist, who then forwarded the order to a local florist in Rhode Island. Three florists in Cranston, RI, turned the order down. One included a
note saying “I will not deliver to this person”. (They eventually got a shop from Putnam, CT, to deliver the flowers from out of state.)

At first glance, this looks like plain old bigotry, no different from hanging a sign in a store window saying “whites only”. But NBC 10 in Providence reports

Raymond Santilli of Flowers by Santilli in Cranston said someone from the foundation told him the delivery person might need police protection and show identification to gain access to the home.

“We refused the order because we really don’t want to cross lines,” he said.

Santilli said he had personal feelings about the issue and because it’s his shop, he can choose to deliver or not to deliver flowers to whomever he wants.

If I send flowers there, somebody may get upset with us and retaliate against us,” he said.

(emphasis added.)

So either this florist is a bigot or a liar, which doesn’t speak well him and, to the extent that he represents the people of Rhode Island, doesn’t speak well for Rhode Islanders in general; or else he has justified concerns for his safety if he is seen to do business with (hushed tones) atheists, which doesn’t speak well for Rhode Islanders either.

And then there’s the Facebook page I Stand With The Cranston Florists (which I thought was publicly-visible this morning, but now appears to have reverted to the default Facebook visibility setting of “fuck you if you’re not in the Collective”), which appears to be the work of radio personality John DePetro, who has, from what I’ve seen, consistently taken the anti-constitution side of the argument.

But the thing is, this sort of thing isn’t rare. I wish I had a genuine moment of “Whoa! What the hell just happened?” surprise at the Christian reaction. But I didn’t. The most surprising thing here is that this happened in Rhode Island rather than a Bible belt state like Alabama. I wish I could believe the usual excuses that “these are just a few bad apples” or “they’re not True Scotsmen Christians™“. But we’ve seen this happen all too often whenever the majority is reminded that they’ve overstepped their bounds.

Update, Jan. 24: The Rhode Island Council of Churches has announced a press conference to call for tolerance and civility, to support Ahlquist’s right to challenge the banner, and condemn the insults and bullying aimed her way (via Hemant Mehta).

Freedom Of Religion and Freedom From Religion

This particularly hateful letter,
published in the Kenai, AK Peninsula Clarion (registration required; see also here), promulgates a popular misconception:

The United States is based on having freedom of religion, speech, etc., which means you can believe in God any way you want (Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, etc.), but you must believe.

Let’s consider a scenario: the government in your state allocates X million dollars to buy rosaries to be handed out in public schools, to hire priests to lead the school in reciting “Hail Mary, full of grace” over the PA system each morning, to bus students to mass on Sunday mornings, and so forth.

Most Americans, I suspect, will think, “Wait a sec! How come the school is pushing Catholicism on my kids? That can’t be right!” Then they’ll look up the bit in the first amendment that says, “Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion” and see that no indeed, that can’t be right.

So what the first amendment says is that the government can’t push Catholicism on you. You have freedom from Catholicism.

Except that the constitution doesn’t explicitly mention Catholicism. It covers all religions. So the first amendment says that the government can’t push any religion. You have freedom from religion.

Yeah, it really is that simple. Why don’t people get it?

(HT My Confined Space, via Pharyngula.)