REPLY #43c TO
are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.
My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text
and are prefaced by my initials (MB)
This is the third of a four-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.
I suspect that this belief ["Yeah, and a bogeyman lives in the bushes
behind my house"] is nothing more than "personal preference" as well...
(R) No, if I actually believed it, it would be a fantasy...
(MB) Not according to your own previous definitions of "personal preference".
(R) ...just like your fears of religious-based curriculum taking over the public
(MB) If there were no active efforts that had achieved any level of success in
the public school system, there would be no reasons for concern. Religious
education must stay within the boundaries of the private religious schools.
The "so what" is that the decision was not unanimous despite the overwhelming
evidence against the Creationists and the self-contradicting and discredited
testimony of their own witnesses.
(R) Agreed, there was overwhelming evidence in this case indicating a literal
interpretation of the creation stories in the Bible is in error. However, this
was on the periphery of the main issue in the case. The support of the many
eminent scientists and Noble prize winners was somewhat irrelevant, impressive
though it was.
(MB) If you can say this, you have very little idea of what was really going on
in this case. Further, it seems to me that you are trying to soften or brush
aside the impact that the decision had on the Creationist cause -- the same
tactic that Creationists now use when discussing the case. It didn't take a
Supreme Court decision to understand that the Bible is not literal truth.
(R) The contradictory testimony of the witnesses who were called was at the
heart of the real issue. Was the act designed to allow *any* theory of creation
to be taught? Or did it aim to specifically promote the theories of a single
religion? Seven of the nine Court members felt the latter was true, while two
held this was not clearly demonstrated.
(MB) Incorrect. There was no doubt that Creationist ideas promoted the views of
one specific religion -- and one subset of that religion, at that. The question
was whether or not that view of creation could be considered to be "science" or
whether it must be viewed as "religion". The decision was 7-2 in favor of
defining it as "religion" and, therefore, unconstitutional for being legislated
into public school curricula.
There is no problem with presenting alternative *scientific* views of the
creation of the universe. The problem arose because the Creationists wanted to
chime in with their religion's own views -- which are clearly not scientific by
any stretch of the imagination.
(R) My personal opinion lies with the majority, but as with all complex issues,
there was no simple, open-and-shut answer. It certainly wasn't the "no-brainer"
you try to present it as.
(MB) It *is* a no-brainer -- or should have been, anyway. Creationists could
not admit that their ideas are religious or they would have lost immediately and
unanimously. Therefore, they had to try to position them as being "scientific".
The court challenge and defeat has quashed that strategy. Now, they rely on
things like the "Alabama Insert" disclaimer sticker to weasel their way into the
Do you think that these same people would allow similar disclaimer stickers
to be posted on the front covers of their Bibles? Would churches allow their
congregations to read notices that the content of their Holy Book contained
ideas that had not been proven and that alternative ideas exist?
And you accuse *me* of unsubstantiated innuendo? In the 1996-97 term, there
were 80 signed opinions issued and 38 of them were unanimous verdicts.
(R) Actually, what I said wasn't innuendo, it was just wrong. I'm sort of
surprised you let me off the hook so easy -- it was so thoroughly wrong, there
was plenty of room for jeers. I appreciate it. This should teach me not to
make such statements w/o checking them out first.
(MB) There was no need for jeering. The data proves the case and no more needed
to be said. Onward and upward....
(R) Anyway, my knowledge of Supreme Court decisions is based primarily on the
study of American history, and as such, I'm mainly familiar with the most
important and controversial cases. Such landmark cases are almost never decided
unanimously, which is why I don't view the 7-2 decision in Edwards v Aguillard
(MB) Questions of the finer points of the law are rarely open-and-shut, which is
why the decisions are rarely unanimous when such cases are heard. The Edwards v
Aguillard case wasn't about a finer point of law. The law was clear here. The
point under debate was essentially "Is Creationism religion or science?". The
answer to that question would produce an automatic judgment under the law.
(R) After looking at a number of other post-WW II cases (I had no idea the court
ruled on so many cases each year -- in some terms, a couple of hundred) I was
struck by how mundane and obscure many of the issues on appeal are. It's mostly
these relatively unimportant cases which receive unanimous verdicts.
(MB) Many times, what seems unimportant to lay observers may be a case which
gives the Court an opportunity to clearly define a point of law as a precedent
for future cases. They may also be private matters that outsiders have little
or no interest in and the decision will have no effect upon anybody else. The
Court also turns down the opportunity to hear a lot of cases. Given their
potential case load, I doubt they would hear a case that they would consider
The Creationists attempted to succeed by painting their brand of
religion as "science" and they got the law passed on that basis. The law stayed
on the books for five years before the glacial legal process even got it argued
before the Supreme Court. This means that five years' worth of students in
Louisiana high schools were affected by the provisions of that law before it was
(R) No, absolutely correct. Without a constitutional amendment modifying the
relationship between church and state in this country, no law such as the
Louisiana Creationism Act has the slightest chance of holding up in court. And
it would be virtually impossible to get such an amendment ratified.
(MB) Why do you persist in avoiding the point here? I'm fully aware that no
such law could ever become permanent or survive a court challenge. However, the
point is that a law that is only on the books temporarily can have a profound
impact while it is in force and whether or not it is eventually and inevitably
Have you no concern for the five years' worth of Louisiana high school
students whose educations were adversely affected by the Louisiana Creationism
Act while it was in force? The eventual Supreme Court decision can't repair the
damage that was done.
(R) It is true the legal system in this country is somewhat slow, but perhaps
that is preferable to the alternative. After all, as Winston Churchill said,
democracy is a terrible form of government, with its only saving grace being
that it is better than any other.
(MB) I agree completely. However, this does not mean that we shouldn't be
vigilant and should not attempt to prevent abuses of the system before they can
It's anything but innuendo and/or conspiracy. Read the Creationist
literature for absolute proof of what I say. In fact, pay attention to *any*
argument based in religion that seeks to prevent certain things from being
taught in schools. These folks echo much the same thing you did earlier in that
they are all "worried" about the "consequences" of doing other than what they
(R) All right, I'll grant you, you have now defined "them." It appears to be
over-zealous religious people, particularly those who believe in a literal
translation of the creation stories in the Bible. If you were to use the words
"strict fundamentalist" to preface your views on the religious beliefs you don't
care for, I think you would find I wouldn't disagree with what you say -- at
least not all the time. But if you don't define your targets, such statements
remain innuendo -- or worse.
(MB) When we are in the middle of a discussion about Creationism and the actions
of Fundamentalist Christians and other religious activists, is it necessary to
redefine the use of the words "they" or "them" each time such words are used so
that there's no confusion about who is being discussed?
Besides that, the point is the actions being undertaken. If the "majority of
religious individuals" truly opposes them, why don't they tell the activists to
shut up and make it clear that they do not represent the views of the majority?
If that was made clear, do you really think that anybody would take the squeaky
wheels seriously, no matter how indignant their righteousness?
(R) To respond to your latest comment, let me say a few things. First of all,
most of these people are probably more concerned with what is taught to their
own children than the children of others.
(MB) If that is so, why don't they just take their children to a private
religious school (or homeschool them) instead of trying to overturn the public
education system and interfere with everybody else's children?
(R) Additionally, with the current state of affairs in public education, perhaps
what is being taught there is a likely candidate for concern, is it
(MB) Nope. The basics are still there and there's no need to change them.
Additionally, the addition of vocational education and special courses for
gifted students improves things. The problem today is that students are no
longer instilled with discipline or any ability or desire to learn or understand
anything that they are taught. Adding religious fairy tales to the curricula
will not make anything better in this regard.
(R) Either way, these sentiments are not grounds for automatic censure. But
even more interestingly, let me note that you have also expressed, if not
concern, at least disquiet over the "teaching of superstition" to children. Why
is it all right for you to pronounce on what is fit to teach children, but not
for others to do so? Seems to me there's a word for your
do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do attitude in this area. Hypocrisy, isn't it?
(MB) Oh, brother, are you out in left field on this one! There are numerous
reasons why any thinking person should be against the teaching of superstitious
nonsense to children in schools -- not the least of which is the obvious fact
that no such drivel will do anything to better prepare those children for real
As to who gets to pronounce on what is fit to teach to children, everybody
is entitled to their say and opinions, of course, will vary. As always, if
there are two (or more) sides to an issue, they are not all equal just because
they can be expressed. Each side must be justified and defended in order to
gain validity and adherence. The case for teaching Creationism (or any other
religious doctrine) in public schools is extremely weak.
They don't have much success? Have you noticed the ratings system that has been
forced into use on TV now? When's the last time you watched a movie on non-cable
TV where certain words and scenes haven't been "bleeped" out or censored? These
groups pressure advertisers into pulling support from controversial programs and
succeed. It's even illegal to show somebody drinking beer on a TV show.
Unconstitutional or not, they have a great deal of success in forcing their
beliefs and morality upon the rest of us.
(R) Cable-TV has had ratings on movies for years -- as, of course, have movies
(MB) Cable TV does not rate the movies it broadcasts. Rather, they echo the
ratings that the Motion Picture Association of America issues. These ratings
have not been applied throughout the history of motion pictures.
(R) Why do you think such things are done?
(MB) Because pressure groups have forced the industry to do so. The MPAA has
historically resisted these ratings and did not implement them without a fight.
The same applies to the TV industry when these same groups began to focus their
efforts on that media.
(R) If a parent is unfamiliar with a program, whether on television or in a
theater, there are only a few choices they have in attempting to keep their
children from viewing inappropriate material. They can watch it themselves
first (only if it is a re-occurring program) or watch it with their children
(which could still easily result in viewing inappropriate material) or make an
concerted effort to read reviews or other material (if available) about the
program before allowing their children to watch. All of these options are time
consuming at best, and completely unworkable at worst. A rating system makes
things much simpler.
(MB) So, these parents would rather have somebody else "rate" movies and apply
some unknown and arbitrary standards for "objectionable content" instead of
making the effort themselves? Also, how does one ensure that the ratings
accurately reflect one's own views on what is or is not "objectionable"? Since
the movie industry didn't decide this stuff, just who do you think did? And
(R) Does such a system provide an opportunity for "the government" to practice
censorship? Well, I suppose so, but it doesn't seem to have had that effect in
the movie industry during the 30+ years since ratings were introduced. As a
matter of fact, many producers deliberately seek R-ratings to boost ticket
sales. I see no reason why the situation will be any different in the
(MB) Rating a movie or TV show is not something I'd consider censorship.
Censorship is when words are "bleeped" out or scenes are cut out because
somebody has decided unilaterally that I (or my children) shouldn't hear or see
them. I have not been given the opportunity to make a free decision for
I agree about the effect of certain ratings on ticket sales for movies.
Actually, this has been a rather clever exploitation of the ratings system by
the industry. NC-17 ratings are a good case in point. There are several movies
that few people would otherwise have gone to see if not for them being given
that rating ("Henry and June" comes immediately to mind).
One other point... Movie ratings don't mean the same thing now that they
did in years past. Movies like "M*A*S*H" and "Midnight Cowboy" were originally
given "X" ratings when they were first released, but are now openly shown on
network television. A rating of "X" now means hardcore sex. M*A*S*H got its
"X" rating for the famous "Sally Kellerman and the shower tent" scene -- which
is now considered to be very tame.
(R) "Forced into use?" I was under the impression the leaders of the television
industry itself initiated the system to prevent Congress from coming up with
more repressive legislation. I applaud their efforts. I guess, though, if you
think following the law of the land, the expressed will of the majority of
citizens, is coercion, then "forced into use" is the right term.
(MB) You make it sound like it was the industry's idea in the first place when
that was anything *but* the case. You hit on the key yourself when you
mentioned the threat of more repressive legislation. The industry was, indeed,
forced into adopting a ratings system. They have learned how to deal with it
(and, indeed, to exploit it) since then, but that still doesn't justify the
methodology used to make it happen in the first place.
(R) I think you greatly exaggerate the market power of
(MB) Oh, really? A market driven by public opinion is going to be driven by
what people say and not by those who don't say anything. Since the majority of
people in the country have some religious affiliation, if a fundamentalist group
can successfully position themselves as the spokesmen for that majority, the
industry is going to listen. They can't afford *not* to listen!
(R) "Ellen" didn't go off the air because the religious right didn't like it, it
went off because nobody else did either. If the show was still popular it would
still be on.
(MB) The massive hype effort for the "coming out of the closet" episode was
certainly meant to increase viewership for the show, don't you think?
Unfortunately for the show's producers, the effort backfired due in large part
to the objections of the religious groups. Even if lots of people tuned in,
it's not viewers that make money for the show -- it's the advertising that is
sold. If advertisers are convinced that they face major boycotts as a reprisal
for purchasing advertising on a controversial show, they simply won't buy any.
Less demand means that the price of advertising goes down -- if any can be sold
at all. Unprofitable shows get cancelled. So long, Ellen. I doubt you'll see
any similar attempts at highly-promoted "coming out of the closet" shows in the
(R) The current Southern Baptist offensive against Disney is laughable. I'm
dying to take an "exit poll" of customers at Disneyland to see what percentage
of customers are Baptists compared to the general population. I bet the
difference would be something like .00213 percent -- to which Disney would no
doubt respond by raising their prices .00213 percent.
(MB) I agree that the Baptists are way off base. Boycotts and protests would
affect Disney World more than Disneyland since there are more Baptists in the
Southeast than in California. Of course, if you are trying to say that only 213
out of every 10 million Disney customers are Baptists, I doubt they'll have many
concerns at all -- especially considering how much of their business comes from
tourists who live well away from any Baptist influence.
(R) Please explain to me why a rating system represents "forcing their beliefs
and morality upon the rest of us."
(MB) When words are bleeped and scenes are cut (or movies are not even
broadcast) because of somebody else's unilateral decision about what is or is
not fit for us to see, those decision-makers are forcing their morality upon the
rest of us.
(R) You're still perfectly free to watch whatever you want, aren't
(MB) Nope. Not if somebody else is forcing the networks to cut out what might
euphemistically be called "the good stuff" or if they prevent the networks from
showing a movie or show that I might wish to watch. Many communities forbid the
retailing of certain types of movies so I couldn't even buy them on video for my
own personal viewing. If I have to pay extra money or make unusual efforts to
view my choice of movies, I'm certainly being affected by somebody else's
(R) As a matter of fact, if someone normally watches only R-rated shows, a
rating system makes searching for them easier.
(MB) Indeed, it does. But, if I want to see one uncut by the censors, I have to
pay extra money for premium cable channels, pay-per-view, or movie
rentals/purchases. The extra restrictions on X-rated material only make the
(R) Finally, since I've become weary of explaining simple and obvious
(MB) Which all miss or ignore the central point...
(R) ...why do you think obscenities are censured in non-cable transmissions
which go out over the public airways?
(MB) Because of the complaints of those who consider such language "unfit" for
people to hear. If nobody (or nobody of any consequence) objected to it, that
language wouldn't be censored. Isn't that a rather simple and obvious concept?
(R) What are the constitutional issues in this area?
(MB) None at all. The Constitution does not define what words are "bad" -- or
even that there's even any such thing as "bad words". It's purely an issue of
morality. This should be obvious since the list of "bad words" has varied over
(R) Could it be free speech vs. public welfare?
(MB) That's more likely, but, once again, we must define who is deciding what is
or is not in the best interests of "public welfare". And, once again, we must
return to those who are doing the censoring.
(R) Ever hear of the FCC? They've been around since, what, the
(MB) Of course, but preventing somebody from destroying the moral fiber of the
nation by saying "shit" on television is only one very small portion of what the
FCC does. It's major function is the totally uncontroversial job of assigning
the frequencies that broadcasting stations and devices can use -- without regard
to the content being broadcast.