Isn't this where we came in? It's definitely time to head for the nearest exit when the movie starts bearing an unmistakable resemblance to the one you've already seen time and again.
This one features the same cast of characters Arkansans have seen go through their practiced paces till the audience can recite the dialogue in unison with the players, who must be as bored with the film as all the rest of us. This less than all-star production would naturally get a rave review from state Senator Jason (Bad News) Rapert of Conway, who says he's deeply offended by the united efforts of all these strange bedfellows it's brought together in a not so grand alliance that stretches all the way from devout Christians to the American Humanist Association and many points far beyond and in between. Hail, hail, the gang's all here and ready for a rip-roarin' lollapalooza of a show in the best American tradition, which is always both wildly revolutionary and profoundly conservative.
Gentle Reader can decide what brings this holy and/or unholy alliance together. It's all kind of bizarre, yet as star-spangled as any other collection of red-white-and-blue Americans, but you pays your money and you takes your choice. Welcome to America in all her infinite variety. Just look over the names and affiliations of the motley crew who've asked Arkansas' secretary of state Mark Martin to get rid of the 6-foot-tall monolith now adding to all the flotsam and jetsam obstructing the view of the state Capitol's lawn flowing unimpeded down to the curb.
There's dear Anne Orsi, president of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, bless her heart, and a writer to boot (who isn't these all too expressive days?); the Freedom from Religion Foundation; a member of the Episcopal Church for a dash of respectability; someone who describes herself as a practicing New Testament Christian with no fear of redundancy; a solitary Wiccan, Pagan and Buddhist who clearly has a lot of irons in this particular fire; Rabbi Eugene Levy; Rev. Vic Nixon, a Methodist minister; and agnostic Walter Riddick, counselor-at-law. Put 'em all together and there's no telling the combustible result. It all sounds like a typically American fireworks display about to get underway with a bang and not a whimper.
Rita Sklar, who directs the Arkansas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union with vim and vitality, couldn't disagree more with Senator Rapert, for as she explains: "The courts have been clear that the First Amendment protects religious freedom and prohibits the government from engaging in this kind of overt and heavy-handed religious favoritism." Not to mention the only slightly more subtle tactic of defending religion while pretending to be defending only the civil law. If you're going to be a believer, why not come out in the open and say so? It would be more honest, whatever the legal consequences, and more worthy of respect.
Senator Rapert, who could never be accused of understatement, fired a verbal shot across the bow of the good ship America by describing those on the other side of this question as, yes, "anti-American organizations." He seems blissfully unaware that about the most anti-American accusation one can make is to claim that one's opponents in this debate are being, yes, anti-American.
For here we believe in the free exercise of not just religion but speech. And are willing to risk the candor that goes with saying what one truly believes.
Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Editorial on 06/03/2018
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