“Victory”! The militantly secularist group declared on their website (no, I’m not naming them or linking to them—I will not help with their SEO).
They had pressured the city of Steubenville to agree in principle to remove the cross and steeple that represents Franciscan University of Steubenville (my employer) from its brand new logo. The spokesperson for the group, one Annie Laurie Gaylor, said the inclusion of the chapel steeple and cross is a sign “that Steubenville is a theocracy and is a Christian city where nonChristians or nonbelievers are not favored citizens.”
The city does not have the financial resources to defend itself against any lawsuit the group might file, did not seek outside help initially, and so decided the most prudent course of action would be simply to change the logo.
Victory, they declared.
Within hours of the story becoming news, at first only local, then going national, and international, a number of organizations contacted the city offering to defend the city’s case pro bono. Now the issue is “on hold” as the city weighs its options.
Gaylor was not pleased, and she said some rather remarkable things. From an article in the National Catholic Register:
Gaylor was glad the city originally backed down, and her organization’s website claimed it as an “[redacted] victory” on July 25. But on July 29, Gaylor said she fears a fight from the Becket Fund, the Liberty Counsel, the American Center for Law and Justice or other organizations that defend religious liberty.
“These organizations are buttinskis,” Gaylor said. “They are outside groups that interject themselves into these controversies. If they want to fight us, I’m sure we can find a plaintiff.”
All emphasis mine. Let’s look at that.
- She fears a fight. Excellent. All bullies fear a fight. Bullies bully those whom they are confident they can manipulate and keep down through fear and intimidation. As soon as the bullied either bulks up or gets a friend the bully’s cowardice shows.
- Perhaps the most hand-smacks-forehead line in the entire affair is “These organizations are buttinskis.” Read that again. She who sits up there in über-liberal Madison, Wisconsin, inserted herself into local affairs of a small town on the eastern edge of Ohio; she who who refuses to name a heretofore unknown local complainant; she condescends to inform us that Becket, et al., who are offering to defend the city against this coercion from outside bullies, *they* are the “buttinskis” here. I think along with God she also rejects irony or self-awareness.
- “I’m sure we can find a plaintiff.” What, your local complainant won’t step up and out of the shadow? Sez somethin’.
I’m getting an image in my head. It’s like when a cat has a chipmunk or small bird by the neck in its mouth but hasn’t killed it yet and you try to intervene to save the poor thing or put it out of its misery: the cat, who could be as nice and pleasant every other time, suddenly turns on the menacing growling and lashes out, deeply perturbed that you would dare try to save what it has *rightly* captured and subdued, and knowing that you could, very well, snatch its prey away and set it free.
Gaylor’s antipathy to religion-in-the-public-square isn’t reserved just to logos, though. She views merely entering a church, any church, for a government-related purpose as harmful:
Gaylor said she knows firsthand that mixing government and religion “causes injury” to atheists.
“My polling site was moved into a church one year,” Gaylor said. “I could not vote. I actually didn’t mind the church. It was a liberal church. I had attended concerts there. They often had liberal political functions there. My dad had been the janitor in that church. What caused injury was being told I had to enter a church in order to vote. It represented government coercion.”
Merely entering the hall, not even the sanctuary, of a church of unknown denomination —one she had entered willingly for concerts and otherwise finds common cause with—“caused injury.” It “represented government coercion.”
Again: she had, under her own power, with full knowledge, entered that church for concerts. The concerts possibly even had somewhat-sacred music. And she was okay with that. But when the polling location was moved to the church hall, all of a sudden she could not enter.
And we are valuing her opinion concerning what is and what is not a violation of the Establishment Clause?
If we cannot fight back against bullies like this I don’t know what fights we could still muster.
P.S. The Steubenville City Council meets in about an hour for a regular meeting at which this issue will be discussed. The big sticking point right now is the ability of the city to pay any legal fees and associated costs should they pursue the case and lose. The likely scenario should the city decide to fight the case with pro bono counsel is that the atheist group will back off, having been duly counter-intimidated. The case is eminently winnable on the merits, and both sides know that, but due diligence dictates that the city waits to pursue the potential litigation until they are certain those costs, if incurred (not likely), will be covered without further depleting the city’s limited resources.