Comparing a "Bible Education Ministry" program to "Sunday School," a federal judge in Tennessee issued a forceful decision on Feb. 8 declaring the classes in Rhea County public schools unconstitutional. The federal lawsuit was brought last April by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of parents with children in the schools.
"Rhea County, Tennessee, is no stranger to religious controversy," wrote U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the opening of his 19-page decision.
"In 1925, the Rhea County Courthouse was the site of the well known 'Scopes' or 'Monkey' trial, wherein high school teacher John Scopes was tried for violating a Tennessee statute making it a misdemeanor to teach 'evolution theory' in the State's public schools. The trial pitted William Jennings Bryan, the 'Great Commoner,' representing the State, against Clarence Darrow for the defense. The legacy of that trial in some respects gives rise to this lawsuit," Edgar wrote.
The Foundation's lawsuit on behalf of John Doe and Mary Roe pitted the rights of the parents--under a protective court order in the hostile Dayton-area community--against an obdurate school system, which refused to honor more than five decades of Supreme Court precedent against religious instruction in the public schools.
The school board, which remains ineducable, has voted unanimously to appeal the decision. At the Rhea County School Board meeting on Feb. 14, only one community member spoke against appealing the decision. Another speaker called for the "impeachment" of Judge Edgar. (Federal judges are appointed for life.)
The audience of 300 erupted into applause when the school board voted to appeal.
School board member Bruce Majors said "we want to teach our children that the bible is the truth. Our only course is an appeal."
The Herald News, a hostile bi-weekly published in Dayton, quoted a local mother, Rebecca Jones, saying in support of the Bible Education Ministry class: "Whoever took it out should be strung up."
The bible instruction, carried out for 51 years in grades kindergarten through five in three Rhea County elementary schools, had been taught during regular school hours for 30 minutes each week without parental consent. The bible program, operated by students from Bryan College (a bible-based college founded after the Scopes trial) to help public school students become "exposed to the Bible," had no public school oversight.
An assistant professor who is Director of Practical Christian Involvement supervised the program, which Judge Edgar characterized as what might be found in "a Sunday School class in many of the Christian churches in Rhea County."
"The lesson plans retained by Bryan College," Edgar wrote, "reveal that the children are being taught that the Bible conveys literal truth about God and Jesus Christ reflective of the Bryan College 'Statement of Belief,' that the bible is literally true. Students are asked to memorize bible verses, act out skits of biblical stories, and sing [religious] songs. . ."
At oral argument, the judge's decision noted, counsel for defendants even admitted the bible is being presented "as the truth."
Aside from the content, Edgar said, "the wholesale delegation of the administration of that program to Bryan College, a decidedly religious institution, by itself results in an impermissible entanglement of government and religion."
". . . the government, through its public school system, may not teach, or allow the teaching of a distinct religious viewpoint," wrote Edgar, saying the BEM program has "both the purpose and effect to endorse and advance religion in the public schools."
"The Rhea County courses are being taught to the youngest and most impressionable school children by college students who have no discernible educational training and no supervision by the school system."
"This is not a close case," Edgar observed, pointing out that since 1948, when McCollum v. Board of Education was decided by the Supreme Court, religious instruction in public schools has been barred. The Rhea County practices do not differ substantially from McCollum, "except that, if anything, they make out an even stronger case for violation of the Establishment Clause," Edgar concluded.
Vashti McCollum, the Champaign, Illinois mother who brought the McCollum challenge, is now nearly ninety, and is an honorary officer of the Foundation. The Foundation recently reprinted a new edition of her acclaimed account of her dramatic lawsuit, One Woman's Fight.
"The Bible Education Ministry program was a flagrant and atavistic First Amendment violation. It's tremendously satisfying to see the wall of separation between church and state be reinforced by such a strong decision," said Dan Barker, public relations director of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The attorneys representing the Foundation and its plaintiffs are Joseph H. Johnston, Nashville, and Steve Doughty and Alvin Harris, Nashville.
The case, John Doe, Mary Roe, and Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Sue Porter, Supt. of the Rhea County School System, and Rhea County Board of Education, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Case No. 1:01-cv-115, is excerpted on pages 8 and 9. The entire decision can be found online at: http://ffrf.org/legal/rheadecision.html
Ashcroft . . . as quoted by conservative columnist Cal Thomas on his radio show on November 9 (and belatedly denied by a Justice Department spokeswoman): "Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you." Not to get too wound up in theology here, but if the Christian God sent his own son to die doesn't that make him, according to Ashcroft's definition, a Muslim?
The Nation, March 4, 2002
I think what you have to recognize is I've never gotten a death threat from an atheist or a Buddhist, only bible-quoting, true believers. Most people don't know that there's this dark and hostile side of religion. I think they saw it on Sept. 11. --Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 23, 2001
No matter what you believe about abortion, a procedure that more than a million women choose in this country every year, those who believe in human rights have to be repelled by the notion of religious fanatics who believe they can harass, injure or murder people on the say-so of a direct pipeline to God, or Allah. There's no real ideological difference between these people and the people who flew planes into the World Trade Center. --Anna Quindlen "The Terrorists Here at Home" Time, Dec. 17 2001
Where has God been since 1973 regarding the New York Knicks? I'd like to know. If one wants proof that God does not side with someone who merely invokes his name frequently, take point guard Charlie Ward (please). --Roger Rosenblatt "God Is Not on My Side. Or Yours" Time, Dec. 17, 2001
Utah is the nearest the western world gets to a functioning theocracy. --Matthew Engel "British Visitor to Utah Finds 'Strangest' State [London] Guardian, Jan. 27, 2002
God almighty will give the United States a pill that will puke them to death. --Brigham Young, late 1850s New York Times, Feb. 3, 2002
Even in the valley of the shadow of death, two and two do not make six. --Tolstoy on his deathbed After being urged to rejoin the Russian Orthodox Church ("Passage," by Connie Willis)
So far, that list [of Roman Catholic officials who knew that an area priest was molesting and raping children for years] includes a cardinal, five bishops and several parish priests. In the real world, we send guys who rape children to prison. In the world that is the Roman Catholic Church, guys who rape children get transferred to another parish. Again and again and again. --Columnist Regina Bretta Cleveland Plain Dealer, Jan. 31, 2002
Foundation member Donald A. Mosher was one of five people asked to write an essay about where they would draw the line on sacrificing personal freedoms for the sake of homeland security by the Post-Crescent, the daily newspaper in Appleton, Wis. Here is his response (originally appearing on Nov. 20, 2001).
The First Amendment is in serious danger with the present efforts of the religious right to put "God" (whose version?) into our government.
The proliferation of "God Bless America" signs assures us that our God is bigger than their God. Should we have a right-wing Christian Taliban, based on Old Testament commandments, running our government and our lives? After all, the terrorist attacks were examples of "faith-based initiatives."
The attacks of Sept. 11 are characterized as political by our leaders. The attackers were (and are) religious fanatics who happen to be Muslims. Our own leaders fall all over themselves to stress that Islam is a religion of peace, and that the attackers have contorted the Koran.
Actually, the attackers hewed to the fundamentals of their Abrahamic-revealed religion. Their "how-to" manuals were laced with religion and prayer, not political writings. "Kill the infidel" is a key and prominent feature of Islam. Fortunately, most Muslims are not that zealous.
Jewish and Christian holy scriptures each advocate the same style of religious violence. The Old Testament is a litany of wars and terrorism in the name of God. The God-given commandments (not just 10 of them) are still there, calling good Jews and good Christians to perform the same gory executions of non-believers today.
Again, good thing most Jews and Christians are not that zealous. Jesus did not advocate changing "one jot or tittle" of the Old Testament: "Unbelievers should be brought hither and slain before me."
We should call on Muslims, Jews and Christians to disavow these violent writings of the past--but that is something they cannot bring themselves to do.
The day oral arguments on the Ohio school voucher case were heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, I was one of several guests invited to discuss the topic on arch-conservative Alan Keyes' TV talkshow "Making Sense" on MSNBC.
Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, joined me in one segment as an able advocate of secular public-funded schools.
Keyes asked what is wrong with giving parents a "choice" to send children to religious schools.
"It involves state funding of indoctrination," I replied. "And let's look who the big beneficiary is of the voucher programs in Cleveland and Milwaukee. It's the Roman Catholic Church. Two-thirds of these schools that are being used are Catholic. We're bailing out the failing Catholic church [schools] with this.
"It's something that could topple not only the wall of separation between church and state, but it could destroy our public school system, which is supposed to be the great melting pot.
"There's no virtue in religiously segregated schools. People shouldn't pat themselves on the back for wanting to segregate children on the basis of their religion. Church schools are not better schools. I think that the Supreme Court, if it approves this, could ruin our country. I think that Bin Laden would support the Cleveland program. Look where the terrorists came from: the religious schools.
"And they're divisive. Look at the example of Ireland, what was happening to the Catholic children last September, being assaulted on the way to school, because we have religiously segregated systems in that country where the Protestants and the Catholics never meet.
"I think that our public schools are the richness of our country, and we should be supporting them."
I could only shake my head for most of the rest of the discussion, which, contrary to the show's title, did not make much sense.
A pro-voucher guest, Caroline Hoxby, made the voucher movement's most disingenuous, dishonest and insincere case--that defunding public schools in favor of private (religious) schools actually helps struggling public schools.
Hoxby claimed her studies showed test scores had improved in Milwaukee Public Schools as a result of the voucher "competition" (ignoring the effects of Wisconsin's SAGE program to limit class sizes, for instance). The mind-boggling irony is that Milwaukee's voucher schools are exempt from such standardized testing! There is zilch accountability, with harsh standards for public schools and very few for voucher schools.
So much is at stake with the similar voucher program in Cleveland now before the Supreme Court. The facts are so damning. More than 99% of the approximately 4,000 students enrolled in the 6-year-old Cleveland voucher program attend religious schools.
If that's not enough evidence of state subsidy and endorsement of religion, look at the cozy set-up: Just as in the Milwaukee voucher program, state checks for vouchers of up to $2,250 a year are sent directly to the schools for parental endorsement.
Where public dollars go, public accountability should follow. Yet Cleveland voucher schools don't even have on-site inspection. Voucher schools can apply for exemptions from Ohio standards on open records, teacher certification and background checks, and fire, health and safety inspection laws.
A notorious case exposed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer involved the Islamic Academy School of Arts and Sciences, which operated under voucher funding for two years. Its 110-year-old building was a fire and lead-paint hazard, a majority of instructors lacked state teaching licenses, and one had even been convicted of first-degree murder. A state audit found misuse of $70,000 in tax dollars when the school claimed tax money for students who were not enrolled.
The Golden State Christian Academy, a parent-run school, taught students by videos provided by the Pensacola Christian Academy, "dedicated to serving the Lord through Christian education." After two years it was finally defunded for gross noncompliance, including keeping no immunization records, and safety lapses.
The tax money, of course, is raided from the Cleveland district's portion of the state Disadvantaged Pupil Impact AID program, with Cleveland schools losing up to $11 million a year in such aid (and estimated to climb to as much as $22 million this year).
Voucher schools can exclude many disadvantaged students, such as those learning English as a second language or severely handicapped children. About the time the voucher program started, all-day kindergartens in many Cleveland public schools were cut--due to lack of money. Tax money could be used for reading programs Cleveland schools would like to inaugurate, and to keep class sizes smaller, a proven method for improving learning. The predictable effect has been that the operating costs of the Cleveland public schools have continued to climb, while it is losing significant state aid.
About a third of the children in the Cleveland program, ballyhooed as helping low-income children, were already enrolled in private schools by their families. The U.S. Court of Appeals, in ruling the program unconstitutional, noted that almost 40% of students receiving vouchers in the 1999-2000 school year were above the poverty line.
A state-ordered audit found that $1.4 million was spent on transportation in the first year, mostly in funding $15-$18-a-day taxi rides, compared to average nonvoucher transportation costs of $3.33 per day. More than $419,000 in overbilling by taxi companies since 1997 was uncovered in January 1999.
Study after study has found no statistical difference in scoring for students in public versus voucher schools. Studies have found lower grades for voucher students attending new start-up schools, according to People for the American Way.
Of course, while these problems with voucher schools are maddening, they are not the point. The issue is whether, under our Constitution, taxpayers can be forced to subsidize religious schools. Many of the remarks by Supreme Court Justices at the Feb. 20 oral argument strayed distressingly far afield of this essential question of law and principle.
Did you know the Catholic Conference of Bishops first began campaigning in the 1880s to force the government to fund its parochial schools? More than a century of lobbying has finally paid off.
If religious prayer and worship in taxpaid public schools are unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court has held since 1948, how then could it be lawful to coerce taxpayers to support and maintain religion-based schools that conduct daily prayer sessions, masses and religious proselytizing that are at the very heart of their religious missions?
And how can we taxpayers possibly afford to fund two systems: one secular, the other religious? It would bankrupt the country, and eviscerate the very heart of the First Amendment.
A fundamentalist campaign to post "In God We Trust" in every public school classroom--an idea floated before state legislatures by rightwing religionists for at least a decade--has gained steam in the religion-equals-patriotism backlash following the Sept. 11 faith-based terrorist attacks.
While Sept. 11 is being bandied as the rationale for forcing a captive audience of schoolchildren to eye a religious slogan every day, the American Family Association announced its campaign to put " 'In God We Trust' in every classroom in America" back in May 2001.
The American Family Association, based in Tupelo, Mississippi, is run by Donald Wildmon, notorious for leading rightwing boycotts, especially against the entertainment industry, attacking everything from "All in the Family" and Harry Potter to "The Last Temptation of Christ." He served as co-chair of the Buchanan for President campaign.
It is no coincidence that the first (and to date) only state requiring "In God We Trust" to be posted in every classroom is AFA's home state, Mississippi, which passed such legislation last year.
Michigan saw passage of a law "encouraging" the posting of "In God We Trust" in all public buildings on Dec. 31. Some Michigan public schools are already posting the slogan.
Bills in various state legislatures appear to be tailored to make use of the AFA campaign, which is selling 11 x 14" "In God We Trust" posters. Many of the proposals require that the "In God We Trust" posting be 11 x 14" or larger, and contain wording that the motto was adopted by Congress in 1956, which just happens to appear on the AFA poster.
Congress had adopted the "In God We Trust" slogan at the behest of the Knights of Columbus, which undertook a national lobbying campaign during the height of 1950s zealotry. The original U.S. motto, chosen by a distinguished committee of Jefferson, Franklin and Adams, is the Latin E Pluribus Unum (From Many, [Come] One).
A direct challenge of the religious motto has never been heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, assisted by Colorado attorney Robert R. Tiernan, filed a federal lawsuit in 1994 challenging both the law adopting the religious slogan (1956), and the law requiring it to appear on all U.S. currency (1955).
An appeals court upheld a federal judge's decision not to hear the case, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the Foundation's appeal asking for its day in court. Evidence of the unconstitutionality of the motto which the Foundation sought to take before a court was a national opinion poll by Chamberlain Research (900 adults, May 18-23, 1994), finding that 61% consider the motto "religious," 71% believe it endorses a belief in God, and a majority regard the motto as preferring religion over nonreligion.
As Foundation president Anne Gaylor says, the religious motto isn't even accurate: "To be accurate it would have to read 'In God Some of us Trust,' and wouldn't that be silly?"
Historically, the incursion of religious slogans and symbolism on public imprimatur or property has been the result of crusades by religionists.
"In God We Trust" appeared for the first time on a U.S. coin in 1864, directly as a result of a campaign by Baptist minister Mark R. Watkinson, who suggested the motto to "relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism" during the Civil War.
It gradually became customary to use the slogan. By 1938 it was on virtually every coin (but not dollar bills). In 1955 Congress mandated that it appear on all U.S. coins and currency. A $1 silver certificate bearing the legend first appeared in October 1957.
Similarly, the presence of most Ten Commandments monuments on public land, including many city halls, courthouses and a few state capitols around the nation, is due to a joint campaign by the religious Fraternal Order of Eagles, in cahoots with movie-spectacle director Cecil B. DeMille. The desire of Judge E.J. Ruegemer, an Eagles member, to see the Ten Commandments in courthouses (and to patriotically promote the granite industry of his home state of Minnesota) turned into a public relations coup for DeMille's 1956 epic, "The Ten Commandments."
Religionists, thwarted in attempts to force school prayer and place the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms, see the national motto campaign as a back-door ploy to finally get "God" into classrooms.
"Friends of the First Amendment should take alarm at this campaign," warned Anne Gaylor. "We would hate to see any precedent created to force government-endorsed belief in a deity upon a captive audience of schoolchildren."
Some current legislation:
• Virginia is facing three separate "In God We Trust" bills. One, requiring "In God We Trust" to be posted in every courtroom, passed the House of Delegates and moved on to preliminary approval in the Senate Courts of Justice committee on Feb. 13 in a 10-3 vote. Dissenter Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, demurred: "I believe in God, but there are others who don't." Sen. Janet D. Howell, D-Reston, objected that the bill's intent is to permit one religion to dominate others. Another bill requiring Virginia's public schools to post "In God We Trust" was approved 30-10 by the Virginia Senate. A similar bill passed the state's House of Delegates. (Each house needs to consider the other's bills.) Only Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw spoke against this bill, saying it trivialized the word "God." Yet a third Virginia bill would require "In God We Trust" to be posted in other public buildings.
• Arizona: A bill encouraging the posting of "In God We Trust" in Arizona public schools was killed in committee in early February. Still pending action is a bill promoted by state Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, a Mormon legislator who wants to require the motto be displayed in every classroom, school auditorium and school cafeteria. The Arizona Republic (Feb. 13, 2002) editorialized against the bills: "The Arizona Legislature does not need to cram patriotism and religion down the throats of schoolchildren," saying if the bill survives, supporters "should be condemned for a shameless, election-year promotion of their religion in public schools."
• Utah's house passed a bill in late January making it mandatory for all public schools to display "In God We Trust." The bill will now go to the Mormon-dominated state Senate.
• Florida's House Council on Lifelong Learning in mid-February unanimously passed a bill requiring school superintendents to allow "In God We Trust" to be posted prominently in schools. The bill now goes before the full House. Editorialized Florida Today (Feb. 13): "More than two centuries ago, British satirist Samuel Johnson astutely observed that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. "Were Johnson alive today, and aware of the goings on in the Florida Legislature, he might well conclude that public piety serves the same function. . . . the idea of posting 'In God We Trust' in public schools should go no further . . . Just because Congress long ago ignored the Constitution in approving the motto for some U.S. currency notes and coins, that's no reason for the Florida Legislature to repeat the mistake."
• Indiana's State Senate voted in February to put the motto in 60,000 classrooms across the state. The bill goes before the Indiana house.
• Connecticut Rep. Art O'Neill, R-Southbury, introduced a bill in February to place "In God We Trust" in every public classroom. Countered Senate President Pro Tem Kevin Sullivan, D-West Hartford: "I don't trust politicians who come up with ideas like this to make headlines."
• Louisiana: The Tangipahoa Parish public schools voted in February to distribute the AFA "In God We Trust" placards with a recommendation, but not a mandate, to display them. State Rep. Almond Gaston Crowe, Jr., R-Pearl River, donated 100 posters and claims 600,000 AFA posters have been given to the nation's schools.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation contacted Dr Pepper's consumer relations department to thank it for keeping a patriotic design on its cans secular, after Christian groups targeted the company. The can, featuring an image of the Statue of Liberty, displays the words "One Nation . . . Indivisible."
The company distributed more than 41 million special edition cans to regions in a dozen states starting in November. Mike Martin, director of Dr Pepper's communications office, told the Dallas Morning News the design reflects "our pride in this country's determination to stand together as one" after September 11.
A bible academy in Iowa, soon joined by Donald Wildmon's American Family Association, recently targeted the company for "leaving out God on the cans."
"It wouldn't have been practical to print the entire pledge in the area available on the can," Martin reasonably pointed out.
Martin said many of the thousands of emails Dr Pepper received revealed confusion. Some complained Dr Pepper had "changed the words in the Declaration of Independence" or believed the entire Pledge of Allegiance was written in the can with the phrase "under God" deleted.
The phrase "One nation, indivisible," ironically was turned divisive when Congress, in 1954, belatedly inserted "under God" into the secular Pledge.
The following is an account of my experience as a female growing up in the Mormon faith. I was born into a family whose Mormon heritage stretches back for generations. My ancestors trekked across the United States pulling handcarts. I spent my formative years surrounded by other Mormons in a mid-size northern Utah town. The population in Utah is around 75 percent Mormon. In rural Utah that figure may be as high as 90 percent. Salt Lake City is considered diluted with an estimated 60 percent of the residents reporting to the Mormon Church house on Sunday.
I developed a strong sense of self at an early age. I also had a fierce independent streak. The trouble I faced as a young woman in the LDS (Latter-Day Saint) Church stemmed from the conflict between my knowledge of who I knew I was and the person the Church taught me I should aspire to be. With each new principle I learned, I discovered that my natural self was an enemy to God (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3:19). 1 could not accept this. If God existed, surely He wasn't so sadistic as to force me to deny the traits with which I had been born. Was it possible that the Mormon God really intended that I reinvent myself as a new person, devoid of individuality? Was I really expected to follow the teachings of the Church leaders, like all those around me seemed to do, without question?
I was very happy for the first twelve years of my life. As a child I was unaware that anything was amiss. Until the age of 12, Mormon children attend Primary class on Sundays. In Primary I learned about a cute, cartoon God who loved and missed me very much. Once my time on earth was completed, if I obeyed all the commandments, I would be able to live with God for time and all eternity. As a child I felt God's feelings would be hurt if I weren't a very good girl. I was certain I could live up to the challenge.
At age 12 a Mormon child graduates from Primary into the Young Women's or the Young Men's group where he or she will stay until the age of 18. At this time the young men receive the Priesthood. In a nutshell the young men are given "keys" to the ministering of angels, the gospel of repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, according to the Mormon text, The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 13. As the young men mature, their holy powers increase and they may act in the name of Jesus Christ conducting his work here on earth. The Priesthood is vital to the plan of Salvation. Mormons believe that only a man who holds the priesthood may enter the kingdom of heaven.
As the boys I had grown up with were receiving the keys to Salvation, I was in the Young Women's group learning what it meant to be a woman in the Mormon Church. After the excitement of making the transition from child to woman (in the eyes of the Church) wore off, I noticed the first crack in my faith. I was 13. The Prophet and the Apostles continually impress upon members the high regard in which women are to be held. Even so, I began to feel like a second-class citizen within the walls of the religion. The holy texts, rituals and teachings of the Church simply do not support the repeated assurances that women are wondrous and precious. It began to sound very condescending.
In the Young Women's meetings my teachers were more specific about the requirements that I needed to meet in order to enter the Celestial Kingdom (Mormon heaven). Since I was female and was not allowed to hold the Priesthood I would not be able to enter on my own. LDS Apostle Erastus Snow preached the following: "No woman will get into the celestial kingdom, except her husband receives her, if she is worthy to have a husband; and if not, somebody will receive her as a servant" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 5 p. 291). This point of doctrine is still in place but the emphasis is now on the general importance of a temple marriage for both males and females rather than specifically pointing out the necessity for a woman to have a man in order to get into heaven.
Marrying a good Priesthood holder wouldn't automatically provide me with entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. Naturally I would have to do my part. A combination of Bible doctrine and latter-day Mormon doctrine advises women of their divine role here on earth. The Bible teaches that "[women] shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety." (Timothy 2:15). Modern Mormon text states: "[F]or [wives] are given unto [their husbands] to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment . . . and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified." (Doctrine and Covenants 132:63)
As a girl with seriously underdeveloped maternal instincts I hoped that a life on earth bearing and rearing children would be spectacularly offset by my eternal rewards. As it turns out, heaven would be more of the same. If I obeyed my husband, bore my children and held true to the teachings of the church, my eternal husband and I would become the God and Goddess of our own worlds. I, the eternal breeder, would supply the inhabitants of these worlds. Fortunately the responsibility of bearing billions of spirit children might not rest on my shoulders alone. My husband had the option to take as many eternal wives as he wished. I was taught that, because women are more spiritual than men, the Celestial Kingdom would have an overpopulation of women. Any woman fortunate enough to have a mate on earth, should show compassion in the afterlife to a woman or women who lacked an eternal companion. In an act of charity and love I should welcome them into my eternal family as additional wives for my husband. The crack in my faith widened to a crevice.
Though my personal beliefs had begun to separate from the teachings of the church, at age fifteen I didn't have the strength or courage to extract myself. Every member of my family was a faithful Mormon. Not one aunt, uncle, cousin or grandparent had strayed. I saw every one of my friends in church every Sunday and since I was a church insider, I knew how Mormons really felt about nonbelievers and therefore knew I would lose all my friends if I left. Also, the fear of God was alive and well in my soul. Even though I couldn't swallow all I had been taught, I still worried that it might really be true. Every Mormon knows of the severe penalties faced by someone who has been made aware of the fullness of the gospel only to reject ft. I decided to continue along my path in the church.
Since, when I reached the gates of heaven, I would not be able to stand on my own merits alone, I went to church every Sunday to be coached on how to land a good man and thereby be saved. Finding the right LDS man is tricky business. Just as in the rest of the world, it all comes down to appearance and behavior. The difference in Mormonism is that as Mormon women look for a mate they must be plain and unadorned and must not arouse or entice men in any way. The written and spoken words regarding the proper attire and accepted appearance and behavior of the ideal Mormon woman are plentiful. The former Prophet Spencer W. Kimball had this to say: "Any young woman who conducts herself so as to be attractive spiritually, mentally, and physically, but will not by word, nor dress, nor act stir or stimulate to physical reactions, she is a jewel" (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 285).
Every bit of counsel the church directs toward women about appearance or behavior is followed by a suggestion of the effect that a woman's actions will have on men. At best the authorities encourage women to toe the line in order to attract honorable, worthy men. At worst the church leaders berate women for placing men in the path of temptation.
President Kimball had something to say about this also: "I wonder if our sisters realize the temptation they are flaunting before men when they leave their bodies partly uncovered or dress in tight-fitting, body revealing, form fitting sweaters" (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 227). By making such an irresponsible statement, President Kimball placed the burden of any impure thought a man might have squarely on the shoulders of women.
The potential effect on men wasn't the only thing I had to consider while getting dressed each morning. The Mormon Church advocates moderation in all things. I enjoyed then, as I do now, seeking out odd clothing and wearing outlandish makeup and hairstyles. I love expressing my internal individuality by my external appearance. Unfortunately for my free spirit, President Kimball taught that extreme styles betray a weakness of character.
The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, says, "To be overdressed, to be gaudily dressed, to be dressed to look sexy, to be overdecorated is bad taste, to say the least." He went on to say that, "Perhaps there is no transgression in painted eyelids or dangling earrings or fancy hairdos, but surely all these eccentricities and extremes betray character. There may be no harm in the style itself, but it may indicate some weakness, some insecurity, some unsureness" (p. 287). To really drive the point home he added a bit of guilt by warning that irregularities in appearance not only brand the individual as weak but also cause the family of the said individual to be judged poorly.
At age 18 the crevice in my faith had widened to a gaping chasm. I turned my back on the Mormon Church. I certainly wasn't anti-male or anti-marriage. What I opposed were the specific and rigid gender roles prescribed by the Church. Also, I could not abide the dual standards for men and women. Even though both men and women are required to demonstrate worthiness, a woman must account not only for herself but also for any effect she may have on men. Additionally, I found it unbearable that I was required to marry and required to bear children in order to achieve a place in heaven, and even then I could only enter at the bidding of a man. Finally, it was the shackles placed around my desire to do the simplest thing--to dress as I desired--that tipped the scales and caused me to walk away. The Mormon Church exerts control over every aspect of its members' lives, especially the lives of the women. As far back as my first Primary class, I remember being taught the importance of free agency but the LDS church only talks the talk, it does not walk the walk.
At age 21 I married a perfectly heathen man in a perfectly heathen setting. That action sent my family into a tailspin. Until I married outside the faith, my family maintained hope that I would change my mind, get married in the temple and be saved. After my wedding my family members were placed in the awkward position of (1) hoping my marriage would fail, thereby allowing me to try again for that temple marriage, or (2) accepting that I was lost to them for eternity. A non-temple marriage in the Mormon Church is like a death in the family. My marriage was not cause for celebration.
I thought I had purged the religious conditioning out of my system. I hadn't. It wasn't until my 27th year, after my husband and I moved out of Utah, that I began to acknowledge the lingering effects. Once I was out of the shadow of the temple I began to rediscover parts of myself that had been dormant for many years. I had buried many talents and dreams so deeply that I didn't even realize they were still clinging on somewhere inside.
As my 30th birthday approached, I paused to reflect on where my journey in life had taken me. I knew I wasn't fulfilling my potential. With the exception of leaving the Mormon Church and later choosing my partner, every action in my life had been happenstance. I had let life happen to me rather than plotting my own course. Though I hadn't given it a thought in years, the battle between who I really am and who the Mormon Church taught me I should be had never really ended. Walking away from the religion hadn't been enough. I had not been deprogrammed and, like a computer virus, church teachings lurked inside, crashing and deleting the new files I created for myself.
It's amazing how rejected dogma can still have a forceful, almost unseen, effect even years later. To this day fear and self-doubt plague me. Sometimes I stop to investigate the source of my paralyzing inability to pursue the things I desire. I find a slippery thread tied back to the years I spent trying to find a place in a religion in which I didn't belong.
It is my opinion that no woman belongs in the controlling world of male dominated religions, but there are hundreds of thousands of Mormon women who would beg to differ. To each her own, I guess. However, I will always maintain that a woman may do as she pleases. She may think as she pleases. She may dress as she pleases. She need not carry the burden of chastity for the entire male gender on her shoulders. If she is a believer in a god, she may walk into heaven on her own merits. And whether she is spiritual or not she may let the light of her true soul shine brightly all her days, without reproach.
A new resolution reaffirming Boy Scouts of America's exclusionary policy against nontheistic members and gay Scoutmasters has prompted the Freedom From Religion Foundation to once again call upon United Way of America and all of its affiliates to halt funding of BSA.
"In the past 10 years, BSA has become increasingly rigid, right-wing and doctrinaire, even taking its campaign to rid its ranks of so-called 'undesirables' all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court," wrote the Foundation to Brian Gallagher, CEO and President of United Way of America.
The BSA resolution, dated Feb. 6, 2002, reaffirms its exclusion of "avowed" homosexuals from serving as Boy Scout leaders, saying "an avowed homosexual cannot serve as a role model for the values of the Oath and Law."
The resolution affirms that "duty to God" is "an obligation which has defined good character for youth . . . throughout Scouting's 92-year history." BSA "has made a commitment to provide faith-based values to its constituency in a respectful manner."
The resolution notes this national policy may not be deviated from by local troops: "BSA's values cannot be subject to local option choices, but must be the same in every unit."
BSA promulgates a written religious test on its membership form, including a statement of religious principles.
"If Boy Scouts of America stands for bigotry, it should stand alone," says the Foundation.