Sunday, February 24, 2008

Public vs public: a distinction that needs to be made

I've entered into an interesting (and inadvertent) discussion about religion in public over at Eye Hacker Blog. The topic came up in an exchange when a commenter named Rich who responded to my comments to a post about the impact of religion on medical practice. I noted there, as I had on an inappropriately placed comment at Pam's House Blend, that it is a Health Care Provider's responsibility to navigate the terrain of their professional responsibilities to avoid conflicts between their responsibility to their faith and their responsibility to their patients. Rich took unction at my "secularist" view and went on to indicate [emphasis added]
"Secularists often demand that people of faith abandon their beliefs outside of church and home. That is what hate crimes often try to do (with particular emphasis on homosexuality.)

I think that you are rather naive to think that “What secularists want is for all people to be able to live and act in accordance with their own faith (or lack thereof) without having the faith of others imposed on them.” The mere mention of religious values/belief in public is considered an “imposition of religion” by secularists. I find secularists among the least tolerant in our society."
In reviewing these comments, it comes to mind that there is a big difference between what is "Public" as in maintained at the public expense and under public control, compared to "public" meaning open to the general community. While all things Public are, by and large, public, not all things public are Public. This is critical to understanding any discourse about religion in the public sphere, especially since the two meanings of the word is something the religious right and the conservative pundits willfully and maliciously conflate. Many seemingly thoughtful and intelligent people actually buy into Bill O's favorite type of herring, the sssssssssssecularist war on Christmas, solely because that shameful tactic works not only on the religious right, but it works on those less political who are lead to fear a world without Santa Claus.

The vast majority of people on the left couldn’t care less about Christmas sales, store displays or saying Merry Christmas vs Happy Holidays. While some stores, malls or places of employment may have company policies regarding holiday decorations, etc., those rules are neither legislated by the government nor mandated by some left-wing conspiracy. For better or worse, when those policies are put in place, the decisions are based on how business is (or is perceived to be) affected. Truth be told, it's those who fanned stories of alleged wars on Christmas and Easter that undermine the religious practice of Christianity and serves to draw attention away from the purpose and meaning of its most holy days. Be honest, which do you think is less respectful of Christmas: a store clerk wishing you happy holidays instead saying Merry Christmas, or the AFA action alert to boycott PetSmart for not selling Christmas toys and rawhide?

The secularist movement is not a fight over whether you can say grace before a meal in a restaurant, sing [religious] Christmas Carols while shopping at the mall or read a bible at a park. It's a fight over whether everyone has to overtly support your religious expression by allowing Public displays of religion at tax payer subsidized locations, be subjected to your religious expression when that entails any form of religious witnessing to a captive audience in Public, and/or a requirement we endure an unwelcome encroachment into our personal lives or space.


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