Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Webster craps all over the First Amendment

The town of Webster isn't particularly near Fitchburg. That's probably a good thing, because it sounds like the town government has zero respect for the separation of church and state.

For instance, check out this article in the Worcester Telegram. Let's quote:
With the three wise men, Joseph and the baby Jesus gone, only the Virgin Mary remains of the Nativity scene that was displayed in front of Town Hall.

Police Chief Timothy J. Bent said police went to Town Hall last Wednesday night, shortly before midnight, after getting a report that some people were knocking over Christmas ornaments. Police discovered that only the Virgin Mary statue was left from the Nativity scene, which has been displayed for at least 20 years in front of Town Hall.
Okay, simple story so far. Some vandals absconded with everyone but Mary from a nativity scene in front of town hall.

Obviously that's not a good thing to do. But this isn't a post about how vandals are jerks. This is more about how the nativity was put up than how it was taken down.
Parks Department workers put up the Nativity scene the day after Thanksgiving, according to interim Town Administrator Joan R. Czechowski. The approximately half-life-size, heavy-gauge plastic figures were donated to the town many years ago, and Chief Bent said they are not very heavy.
Okay, that's not good. The Parks Department is definitely not supposed to put up nativity scenes in front of Town hall! That's about as blatant a violation of the separation of church and state as you can get.

In fact, it's a violation they've been warned about before!
The Nativity scene was the subject of some controversy last year when Americans United for Separation of Church and State urged the town to remove it from the Town Hall lawn. Then-Town Administrator Raymond W. Houle Jr. replied in a letter that any group could put any kind of religious display on the Town Hall lawn.
Houle's a moron.

First off, a big part of the problem isn't that the scene was put up, it's that the scene is put up and owned by the town. The town of Webster pays people to put Christian symbols on town property. If you live in Webster, your tax dollars fund Christian propaganda. Lucky you!

Second, they put up only Christian symbols. No other viewpoints are represented unless someone comes along and puts them up themselves. So the town is blatantly promoting one particular religion.

Third, while it's true that nativities and the like are allowable when displayed alongside other displays, it's not just limited to religious displays. Atheists can put up displays too. (Note: Any commenters who care to remark that "atheism is a religion" will be swiftly eviscerated.)

Fourth, if all this seems like a big mess, you're right. That's why towns should just avoid the whole issue entirely and keep religion and government totally separate. If people want to put up nativities, they can do it at their own houses.

So Webster is totally disregarding both the spirit and the letter of the First Amendment. While simultaneously whining that someone had the gall to swipe parts of their totally unconstitutional display.
“It is upsetting,” said Mrs. Czechowski, who wondered what would make somebody take something that means so much to so manypeople.

Chief Bent said he also was upset.


Judy Williams, a hairstylist at the Rob Roy Hair Salon on Main Street, was upset about the missing figures.

“I think it’s disgusting,” she said yesterday afternoon. “I hope that’s on their conscience, I really do. There is no reason for doing it.”
Oh, I can think of a reason. Maybe someone out there cared more about the Constitution than your hurt feelings. Or maybe they were sick of the town government promoting religion. Or maybe they were just bored and drunk (this is the most likely reason).

Stealing the crappy statues was still the wrong way to go about things, but I can certainly understand the impulse to do so.

So, have the town's leaders come to their senses and realized that maybe they shouldn't be in the business of promoting Christianity? Hell no!
Last year a selectman, Mark G. Dowgiewicz, offered to donate $1,500 to pay for a manger after seeing a picture in the Telegram & Gazette of the figurines covered in snow. The manger was not on display this year. The manger was never replaced last year, but Mr. Dowgiewicz said yesterday the offer is still on the table.

He said he has contacted officials at Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School in Charlton to see whether students could build another manger, and had offered to pay for the work after it is done. Superintendent David P. Papagni said he would talk to the school’s vocational director about the project.

He said the school would be glad to do the work: “We thrive on things like that.”
Oh, what a great idea! Let's put public school students to work on building religious icons! Maybe we can slip it in between mid-afternoon prayers to Mecca and evening Vespers!

Look, Webster people. If you want a nativity scene, great. Put it up in front of a church, or on your lawn, or basically anywhere except for town property. Also, don't make matters even worse by having schoolkids build your religious crap. I'm sure that if they really try they can find someone willing to accept $1,500 to build a crummy manger.

Also, hey vandals, return the fucking statues. Yeah, they shouldn't be there in the first place. There are other ways to deal with it than swiping them, which will just make the poor oppressed majority-group more dedicated to putting up a nativity. Instead, how about promoting one of the world's less-popular religions alongside it? I suggest this one.

Finally, it occurs to me that I haven't had reason to drive down Main Street in Fitchburg for a few weeks. What sort of displays (if any) are up in Fitchburg?