A View From The Handbasket

Thursday, July 06, 2006
"Moral values" on display
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:08 PM
There was a lot of discussion after the 2004 election about the "moral values" voter, which the exit polls indicated made up a large portion of the vote for Bush. Though at the time I assumed that this was just code for "homophobes drawn out to vote by the presence of gay marriage bans on the ballot," it seems that I was yet again thinking on far too small a scale.

We already knew that radical-right Christians hated gays (though the more disingenuous among them professed to "love the sinner and hate the sin," which I'm sure was great comfort to gays as they watched their rights being stripped away), but I wasn't aware of the deep reserves of enmity they held for the Jews (considering most of them seem to be staunchly pro-Israel). Unless Sussex County, Delaware is an enormous statistical anomaly, these people are even scarier than I thought.

A Jewish family there recently had an unpleasant experience at their daughter's high school graduation:

Among numerous specific examples in the complaint was what happened at plaintiff Samantha Dobrich's graduation in 2004 from the district's high school. She was the only Jewish student in her graduating class. The complaint relates that local pastor, Jerry Fike, in his invocation, followed requests for "our heavenly Father's" guidance for the graduates with:

"I also pray for one specific student, that You be with her and guide her in the path that You have for her. And we ask all these things in Jesus' name."

In addition to the ruined graduation experience, the Dobrich-Doe lawsuit alleges that:

  • The district's "custom and practice of school-sponsored prayer" frequently imposed ... on impressionable non-Christian students," violating their constitutional rights.
  • The district ignored the Supreme Court's 1992 Lee decision limiting prayer at graduation ceremonies -- even after a district employee complained about the prayer at her child's 2003 graduation..
  • District teachers and staff led Bible clubs at several schools. Club members got to go to the head of the lunch line.
  • While Bible clubs were widely available, student book clubs were rare and often canceled by the district.
  • When Jane Doe complained that her non-Christian son "Jordan Doe" was left alone when his classmates went to Bible club meetings, district staff insisted that Jordan should attend the club regardless of his religion.
  • The district schools attended by Jordan and his sister "Jamie Doe" distributed Bibles to students in 2003, giving them time off from class to pick up the books.
  • Prayer -- often sectarian -- is a routine part of district sports programs and social events.
  • One of the district's middle schools gave students the choice of attending a special Bible Club if they did not want to attend the lesson on evolution.
  • A middle school teacher told students there was only "one true religion" and gave them pamphlets for his surfing ministry.
  • Samantha Dobrich's honors English teacher frequently discussed Christianity, but no other religion.
  • Students frequently made mandatory appearances at district board meetings -- where they were a captive audience for board members' prayers to Jesus.

The Dobriches said the prayers to Jesus' ruined the graduation experience for Samantha. Mona Dobrich, Samantha's mother, repeatedly called district officials to complain. A board member told her she would have to get the matter put on a meeting agenda -- then refused to put it on the agenda. The school superintendent slipped the topic onto the agenda and then told Mona Dobrich she would need to raise it during the public comment period.

After the sort of bureaucratic runaround that would cause most people to give up, the persistent Dobrich finally got her complaints in front of the school board.

The district board announced the formation of a committee to develop a religion policy. And the local talk radio station inflamed the issue.

On the evening in August 2004 when the board was to announce its new policy, hundreds of people turned out for the meeting. The Dobrich family and Jane Doe felt intimidated and asked a state trooper to escort them.

The complaint recounts a raucous crowd that applauded the board's opening prayer and then, when sixth-grader Alexander Dobrich stood up to read a statement, yelled at him "take your yarmulke off!" His statement, read by Samantha, confided "I feel bad when kids in my class call me Jew boy."

A state representative spoke in support of prayer and warned board members that "the people" would replace them if they faltered on the issue. Other representatives spoke against separating "god and state."

A former board member suggested that Mona Dobrich might "disappear" like Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the atheist whose Supreme Court case resulted in ending organized school prayer. She disappeared in 1995 and her dismembered body was found six years later.

The crowd booed an ACLU speaker and told her to "go back up north."

In the days after the meeting the community poured venom on the Dobriches. Callers to the local radio station said the family they should convert or leave the area. Someone called them and said the Ku Klux Klan was nearby.

Classmates accused Alex Dobrich of "killing Christ" and he became fearful about wearing his yarmulke, the complaint recounts. He took it off whenever he saw a police officer, fearing that the officer might see it and pull over his mother's car. When the family went grocery shopping, the complaint says, "Alexander would remove the pin holding his yarmulke on his head for fear that someone would grab it and rip out some of his hair."

The Dobriches refinanced their home so that Mona and Alexander could move to Wilmington, away from a situation that had become untenable, while Marco stayed behind because of his job, according to the complaint.

Ultimately, it continues, the expense of two households forced the Dobriches to sell their home. And Samantha was forced to withdraw from the joint program she attended at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She is being treated for depression.

The lawsuit states that the Doe family wants to remain anonymous in order to avoid the retaliation experienced by the Dobrich family. Jordan and Jane Doe are also suffering from depression related to their opposition with the Indian River School District's religion policy.

If just being Jewish causes these good citizens to bring out the pitchforks, one shudders to think what they'd do faced with a Muslim, Buddhist or (gasp) an atheist.

Much of the harassment of the Dobriches was enabled by the publishing of their home address and phone number by a right-wing anti-ACLU group that advertises widely on right-wing blogs:

I realize it's difficult to fathom how the right threatens reporters and photographers for the New York Times with execution for treason for talking about the publicly-known vacation homes of the most well-protected men on the planet (with the permission of those men and their protectors), but eagerly points unhinged religious crusaders (who advocate dismemberment for non-believers) at defenseless ordinary citizens. (I suspect they would just like to see those who don't agree with them die in one way or another.)

These people have nothing to do with the ideals of Christ and even less to do with the ideals of America. They are repugnant and their hate is not worthy of a national platform, let alone worthy of being eagerly courted by Karl Rove and the GOP.

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