Vol. 21 No. 7 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. -
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Is Nothing Nonsacred?
Why We Left Little League
By Josh Benaloh
Steven was six years old. He loved baseball. So Little League seemed a natural thing for him to do.
As his father, I have a responsibility to vet organizations with which my kids are involved. I remembered that when I was young, Little League had fought against admitting girls. I checked and found that its current policies seemed fine. Little League has rewritten its own history to describe their loss in court as a victory for everyone. So Steven joined the Redmond West Little League, had a great time, and everything was fine--until the following fall when we received the local league newsletter which included the "Little League Pledge":
I trust in God.
I love my country
and will respect its laws.
I will play fair and strive to win.
But win or lose
I will always do my best.
[The boldfacing was part of the pledge-- not added here for effect.]
I was outraged at everyone in sight. I was probably most angry at myself, because it meant that Steven would be withdrawn from the league and that this would hurt him. I had failed my child by not protecting him from this organization. Had he not been enrolled initially, he would not have had to suffer being pulled.
I wrote the president of the local Little League to inform him that Steven would be withdrawn due to the league's discriminatory policy. In my anger, I also copied Redmond city officials to inquire about the city's policy on organizations that discriminate on the basis of religion. The league enjoyed what seemed to me to be a special relationship with the city in the use of its facilities. Several messages were exchanged with both the league and city officials, but the traffic soon subsided. The outcome was clear. Steven would not be in Little League. There seemed to be nothing more to say or do. It was over.
Then, the following January, I received a call from Nick Perry, a reporter for the Seattle Times. Apparently a Redmond city councilor had inquired of the city parks commissioner about this and related city policy during a public meeting of the city council. I obtained a videotape of this meeting and have to admit to some amusement at watching the councilors and parks commissioner squirm for several minutes in an orchestrated dance, as each took great pains to avoid saying anything of substance that they might later regret. I told the reporter that I would be happy to answer his questions, but added that I questioned whether there was a story here.
Emboldened by this, I did some research on the legal issues and asked to speak to the Redmond West Little League Board of Directors. The legal landscape is not encouraging. Little League International enjoys a Congressional charter similar to that of the Boy Scouts of America (whose right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court). The meeting with the league's board was courteous. There was a small amount of sympathy and a similar amount of hostility, but mostly they just wanted me to go away and let them get on with their planning for the coming spring season.
Again, the issue was forgotten. Arrangements were made for Steven to play baseball in another organization, and things returned quickly to normal--until late February, when I received another call from Nick Perry saying that he still wanted to write an article for the Seattle Times. We met in person, talked at some length, and he arranged for a photographer to take pictures of Steven and me. When he was doing his fact checking, I succumbed to the chilling effect of extremists and asked to be described as an agnostic rather than an atheist--deciding I'd rather be hounded by those who wanted to convince me of the error of my ways than by those who considered me a blight that should be removed from the face of the planet. We then sat back to wait.
Two mornings later, we were awakened by a phone call from a local news radio station. I answered their questions--on tape--and then went downstairs to read the article. A large photo of Steven hitting a baseball appeared with Nick Perry's article on the front page of the local news section. It was a light news day. By the time the day ended, I had done three additional interviews with local radio stations (all live on-air) and filmed four reports that were aired that evening on the local ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX television stations (at one point, film crews were queued up in my yard). I also turned down interviews with two of the more rabidly conservative local talk radio stations. Nick Perry said that he received far more mail on this story than on any other he had ever done, and I was quite pleased at how many supportive comments I received from his readers and others.
As Andy Warhol (and several of the local news reporters) had predicted, the attention dissipated almost as quickly as it came. The greatest residual seemed to come the following weekend, with the airing of one of the local conservative radio talk shows on which I had declined to appear. The host had strung together out-of-context clips from several of my interviews to make me appear inconsistent. He then chided me for having been "afraid" to accept his invitation, which he made a big deal of having issued by just finding my name in the telephone book. It was a clear signal to his listeners to look up my number and call to harass me. We quickly told our kids not to answer the phone and braced ourselves for the forthcoming onslaught. As testimony to the size (or perhaps intelligence) of this host's audience, I include the grand total of the number of calls we received: zero.
Josh Benaloh is a cryptographer at Microsoft Research. He received his bachelor's degree from M.I.T. and his Ph.D. from Yale University, where he wrote his dissertation on "Verifiable Secret-Ballot Elections." (An aside: This, too, has been a hot topic lately, and he was quoted as an expert on the subject in the New York Times two days before this Seattle Times article appeared. It was a busy week.) For nearly twenty years, he has been happily married to his wife Laurie (with whom he selected the name "Benaloh" to adopt as their new family name upon marriage). They have two children: Deborah, age 10, and Steven, age 8.
September 2004 Excerpts