Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Wall of Separation is a Load-Bearing Wall

So let me tell you about last night's local city council meeting. I'm going to give you the version that won't appear in the papers, because it's subjective, subtle, and based in part on hearsay and a little guesswork, but it is quite revealing--and hey, this is my blog, not court. 

It was a light agenda, only three items. One of them was "Council will consider whether to move Halloween trick or treating, from Sunday, October 31, 2010 to Saturday, October 30." This proposal was raised by a newly elected city council member at its previous meeting two weeks ago. The reason? Because of church. He made some noise about how it was also out of concern for Sunday's being a school night, but given that Radford traditionally has trick-or-treating on Halloween, without regard for the day of the week, this can be striken as an obvious pretext. 

I should be a judge [Correction: see comments]. 

Citizen comments come near the start of the meeting, before council begins discussing items of new business. The agenda contains two instructions for citizen comments: state your name, and limit it to five minutes. The goodly mayor repeated these instructions at the beginning of this portion: state your name, and limit it to five minutes. 

One citizen (OK, she's one of my best friends, but that's not relevant here) stated her name and spoke about the inconvenience, confusion and significant disruption this would cause. She made a great case and kept it under five minutes. 

The next person did NOT state his name. He did, however, offer a rebuttal to my friend, saying, "What you've gotta realize, this is on a church night." At one point, he pointed toward my friend and questioned her religious beliefs, and not in a nice way; he said, "I don't know what HER belief is, but . . ." I'm calling him The Pointer. 

The next citizen also neglected to state his name [Correction: see comments]. He said, "[It's] a matter of keeping the Sabbath day, that's . . . what it is for me and him" (indicating the previous speaker). 

I'm assuming that's what it was too for the city council member who brought it up in the first place. See, the reason no one asked The Pointer to state his name is because, as I later learned, he's the council member's father [Correction: see comments]. I'm guessing the next speaker is also known to the council member, perhaps through his church. 

Three more people (including me) presented opposition to the move. We all stated our names, we all kept it under five minutes. If I'm not mistaken (public speaking throws me into my own personal hell of anxiety, so I don't remember everything perfectly), each one of the four of us expressed respect for others' religious beliefs

Apparently, respect is a one-way entitlement. I was told later that the council member who raised the issue, as well as the other recently elected member--who included church involvement in his campaign materials--could be seen rolling their eyes during comments in opposition.

The relationship between church and state in our country has become almost incestuous in recent years. It's not supposed to be this way. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine went to great lengths specifically to ensure that it wouldn't.  

The rest of my story is that no council member made a motion to consider the proposal, so they neither discussed nor voted on it. Trick or treating will be on Halloween. 

Thank you, Founding Fathers. Over 200 years later, and you've still got our backs.


  1. Glad I didn't go. My hair would have stood on end, my eyes would have glowed and I possibly would have been deemed a witch by The Pointer's wife and sentenced to public hanging. =)

  2. See, this is the reason for evidentiary rules in court: they help guarantee the truth. I made two big errors in this post but am leaving it intact as a lesson to myself.

    One, The Pointer is NOT the councilman's father. He was sitting next to the councilman's mother (she told me this herself as we were walking in), and someone told me he was his father, but that is not accurate.

    Two, the speaker who followed him DID state his name. Apparently my own personal hell renders me deaf.

    Mea culpa.