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Friday, March 02, 2007

Falwell-linked group pushes prayer controversy

Friday night. Time to kick back, settle in to watch some local news--eh? What's this?

Why, it's a student prayer controversy. How nice.

From KGW-TV in Portland comes the shocking tale of evangelical students, most of them apparently Russian immigrants, who want to pray in the commons/lunch room rather than say, a regular room.
The group of about a dozen students were told they could meet -- and were even given their own meeting room and a faculty supervisor.

But that wasn’t good enough, the students said. They wanted to be more visible.

“There wouldn’t be any group that would be allowed to meet there,” because of the location, Carol Fenstermacher of the Evergreen School District said.

According to Liberty Counsel, a non-profit legal organization advancing religious freedom, the students were suspended for 10 days.

The group said a vice principal denied the students a room to meet, and a complaint from a Satanist student prompted the investigation.
A Satanist student! Outrage! And titillating! And sourced only to Liberty Counsel!

What is Liberty Counsel? Oh yeah, that Liberty Counsel, the one founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Apparently it's too long to wait for War on Christmas season and the Easter bunny is on a Disney cruise.

Funny thing: the main Liberty Counsel leader, Mat Staver, was just in the area. He was scheduled to be in Tualatin, OR., for a "Restore America" conference along with other religious right luminaries. That's so weird, he was just here! What are the odds?

See if you recognize any names.
February 23-24 2007 Rolling Hills Community Church Tualatin, OR (click for a map)
2007 Restore America Conference


Speakers include: Dr. Gary Cass, Executive Director of Reclaiming America, Rick Scarborough, President of Vision America, Janet Folger President of Faith2Action, Mat Staver, Dean of Liberty University School of Law, Herb Titus, Founding Dean of Regent University Law School, Marshall Foster, President of the Mayflower Institute, Ken Hutcherson, Pastor of Antioch Bible Church, Stephen Williams, Founder of Prepare the Way Ministries, Judge Charles Pickering, Nominee to 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and David Brog, Executive Director of Christians United for Israel.
Ken Hutcherson, for those who don't know, is an ex-linebacker and pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond. Now a veteran of more Mayday for Marriage events than NFL games, it seems Hutcherson is afraid that the gays will somehow threaten our hetero marriages. Frankly I can never quite figure out how they can do that. (Well, unless someone has some feelings they aren't talking about, anyhow.)

Hutcherson was in the news in late January for his new attempts to forge an alliance with Slavic churches to advance his anti-gay rights agenda. From The Seattle Times on Jan. 27, 2007:
Hutcherson now hopes the alliance will result in signatures for an initiative he filed last week seeking to repeal a state law, passed a year ago, that adds sexual orientation to a state law banning discrimination based on race, gender, religion and other categories.

"We've got a lot of churches to reach," said Hutcherson, who must gather at least 224,800 valid signatures by July 6 to put the initiative on the fall ballot.

"We want to get the Slavic churches, the Russian-speaking churches, the Korean churches, Philippine, Chinese, white, cross-cultural. ... If we're going to win this fight on protecting traditional marriage, we're going to need all churches to work together."
We already know that Hutcherson has fans in Clark County, specifically the GOP, who had him as their keynote speaker just last year.

So interesting, how these high school students suddenly decided that they must pray in the lunch room and that a regular room isn't good enough.

UPDATE 8:35 PM-- The Oregonian fleshes the story out somewhat this evening.
The students had been meeting for about two weeks in Heritage's commons before 7 a.m., when classes start at the 2,400-student school, said Principal Ann Sosky. As the group grew, other students questioned the group's failure to comply with rules for all students and clubs, Sosky said, and tensions began to mount at the Orchards-area school, which is in Evergreen Public Schools.

The group was given brochures about the rights and responsibilities regarding prayer in school, Sosky said, and was told numerous times it could meet for prayer but had to form a club with a staff adviser to do so. The participants also were assigned to meet in a room to not offend other students or interfere with their getting to class, and a teacher volunteered to be adviser, but the group continued to ignore the rules, she said.

One day, a man identifying himself as a youth pastor joined the group, but he would not disclose his church affiliation, Sosky said. He provided a name, but officials haven't determined whether it was legitimate.

Strangers on school grounds create a safety and security issue, Sosky said. Visitors who refuse to sign in at the office and state the purpose of their visit can pose a threat, she said.
Obviously this is being pushed by some adults with an agenda, at least one of whom doesn't seem to want to be identified.

MORE--8:45 PM-- Here's a quote from that February "Restore America" conference by Mat Staver, the Liberty Counsel fellow, from a web site called Journal Chretien:
"One of the things that is part of this conference," Staver notes, "is not only to give [Christians] the lay of the land and the landscape, [to] give them challenges and encourage them, but to mobilize them into political and social action."

The idea is to inform, equip, and empower Christians "so they can go back to their communities, they can register to vote, they can organize individuals in their churches," the Liberty Counsel spokesman explains. "They can also share information" with others, he points out, and "they can engage in the communities."

Staver says Christians have not only a right but also a duty to be involved in cultural issues. "We have gone too far past just mere talk — talk alone doesn’t do enough," he asserts. "Talk alone is just a waste of time."
So here we are two weeks later and they are definitely doing more than talking. This isn't about freedom of religion, this is about thrusting their politics in the face of the community and daring anyone to do anything about it. In other words, extremism of the worst sort.

UPDATE 9:37 PM-- I'm not the only one who thinks something suspect is going on here. An assistant superintendent in Evergreen says as much to The Columbian:
Bentley called the entire flap a “non-story.”

“I’m positive there was also some outside influence on this. There were some folks pushing to make this an issue that aren’t part of our Evergreen community,” he said.

Bentley said leaders of the prayer group had been given a district brochure that lists “Students’ Rights of Religious Expression and Practice.” The guide cites the right of “student-initiated religious clubs” to gain access to “facilities and media” on the same basis as other student clubs.

Evergreen policy also allows students to individually pray “unobtrusively” at any time, so long as it does not interfere with normal school instruction.
All the stories are making one thing clear: the students were offered every possible accommodation. Any claim of religious discrimination seems pretty flimsy at this point.

And on the "Satanist" front, which was a term that Liberty Counsel used, the comments of one student tend to suggest that maybe some exaggeration is involved. Again from The Columbian:
“We’re not bothering anybody. If we’re not preaching and passing out fliers, why can’t we do it?” Gaultier said. “Basically, there are just the pagans who are against it.” She identified herself as Baptist, while several Russian Orthodox students, a Methodist and a Catholic formed the roughly week-old group, she said.
So maybe by "pagans" they mean people who don't want religion shoved down their throat, in which case "Satanist" is not exactly accurate.

And wow, the group is an entire week old, which combined with the mystery-adult-cum-youth pastor, adds up to a political agenda. What a crock.

POOF 10:15 PM--At 6 pm, this story led the KGW newscast, as it was the most important thing in the world at that moment. By the 10 PM newcast on "The CW," or whatever the heck cable channel 3 is called, the story had dropped to 7 minutes in, right behind the state funeral of Anna Nicole. No word yet on how area churches will feel about me eating lunch in their sanctuaries.

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