Friday, March 10, 2017

Thoughts about the Victory lawsuit, school prayer, and Globe, KZRG Facebook comments

At the risk of offending my readers who believe it to be a clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, I have no problem whatsoever with public school students taking a field trip to a place like Victory Ministries and Sports Complex.

And what might come as a surprise to those who received all of their information from the Joplin Globe, neither does Doug Harpool.

Who is Doug Harpool, Globe readers might ask.

He is the one many of you have been criticizing as one of those liberal, Godless judges who dared say the district violated the U. S. Constitution with its May 2015 North Middle School MAP celebration field trip to Victory Ministries.

Part of Harpool's ruling was overlooked both in the Globe's report and in that of the Springfield News-Leader.

Those who read the Turner Report saw the full scope of Harpool's decision- it wasn't the venue of the field trip that caused the problem:

While the Constitution doesn't prohibit occasional use of religious facilities for a social function, Harpool wrote, "Here, the frequencies, consistency, and extent of the relationship between the Joplin District and Victory goes well beyond occasional or incidental use and impermissibly entangles the Joplin District with religion." This would be true even without the problems with the permission slips, he added.

That reasoning held no sway with people who saw Harpool's decision as indicative of everything that is wrong with today's society. It was evident in many of the comments on the Joplin Globe and KZRG Facebook sites.

Those who have read the Turner Report over the past few years were better equipped to understand how this lawsuit fit in with a wider range of activities that took place during C. J. Huff's time as superintendent.

The field trip lawsuit might never have happened if not for Huff's arrogance. The second the lawyer for the American Humanist Association showed him the permission slip that was sent home to North students, that should have been the end of the story and a different venue chosen for the field trip.

Not only did the permission slip give Victory personnel the right to promote their beliefs with the children (which did not happen), but it gave Victory the right to use student names and photos to promote the business (which did happen).

Trips to Victory might have resumed the following year with a permission slip from the school that did not clearly violate the First Amendment.

From the way his opinion was worded, Harpool's decision might not have been as clearcut if that approach had been taken.

Instead, Huff laughed it off, with an e-mail that said the permission slip could have been worded better and something would be done about it in the future.

The people at Victory, trying to work with Huff to take care of the situation, had the paragraph which permitted employees to proselytize the students removed, but Huff never bothered to send the reworked permission slips home with the students.
If Huff did any research at all on the American Humanist Association, he should have been fully aware that it is litigious. The only way to avoid a lawsuit was to arrange for the North students to take their trip elsewhere.

The cavalier approach was not a new one for Huff. During his seven years at the helm, the Joplin R-8 School District was sued more times than the rest of the school districts in Jasper, Newton, Barton, and McDonald counties combined.

And more lawsuits stemming from his actions appear likely.

After all, it was not Huff's money the district was spending- it was ours.

It was Huff's decision to OK the field trip that opened the door for Thursday's decision. Had Huff been a more prudent steward of taxpayer money, the lawsuit would not have been filed, discovery would not have uncovered all of the district's other activities with Victory Ministries, and once the extent of the district's association with Victory became obvious, Harpool had no choice but to rule as he did.

That being said, it would be almost impossible to convince the commenters on the Globe and KZRG Facebook sites of that.

You have the ones who think they are impressing people when they repeat the right wing radio talking point that the words "church and state" can't be found in the Constitution or in the Bill of Rights.

There are others who attack the family that sued- no one was forcing them to go on the trip. They were simply in it for the money. It's the kind of talk that must have been popular in the early 1960s when people asked why those young black people were wanting to sit at those lunch counters when they knew they weren't wanted.

The ones that irritate me the most are those who wail about God being taken out of the schools. Everything would be all right if only we had daily prayers over the intercom and God and the Bible were welcome on our campuses.

God has never left the schools. If you have to have someone coming over the intercom and telling you to bow your head in order for your beliefs to function then your faith must not be that strong.

The Supreme Court ruling that prevented mandated prayers led by teachers or administrators did not create godless schools. It also did not eliminate prayer.

Every student, teacher, or employee has the right to pray. What teachers do not have the right to do is to lead prayer or to try to push their religion on students. 

At the same time, I worked with many teachers and staff who brought their religion with them every day and wore it proudly- not with prayer or with symbols, but with the way they conduct themselves, offering strong moral examples for young people and using their faith to guide their decisions.

Reading the comments on the other media outlets' Facebook pages made me appreciate my readers and Facebook friends and followers even more than I already did. While we do not always agree, the discussion is nearly always on a higher plane. 


Cheryl Brown said...

Well said, Mr. Turner. We all know the Globe doesn't report unbiased news. They definitely but their own slant on all the news. Reading the Globe is like reading a fb post, you have to see that it is just their opinion on the story not necessarily the true story.

The comments that the students could have chosen to not attend - it was a reward trip. A neutral venue should have been chosen that would not offend any student. Bad decisions that are costing the taxpayers, not the people making the decisions.

Anonymous said...

I think that this sort of arrogance by members of the Left like you is what "gets you more Trump", except those who will follow Trump, and who will deal with judge made law like this, won't be hardly so gentle as Trump.

Anonymous said...

You've got to be kidding me. The discussion is nearly always on a higher plane? It borders on insane...on a good day.
Coming from someone not particularly religious, I have to say the controversy surrounding this is ridiculous. To compare this to the 1960s is such a stretch; you should be embarrassed you made the comparison. Society is sue-happy. Everyone knows's like saying the sky is blue, water us wet. I highly doubt this lawsuit was brought about on some moral high ground knowing who it was. Society in general is looking for a way to make a quick buck with the least amount of will be interesting to see what amount is submitted to the court for "damages".
Seriously, to all of these atheists that feel they have to let the world who they are....don't go at this half asked. Let's go 100%. Don't shop anywhere in which an owner of the business is a christian, don't go in chik fil a, do your research on each CEO of every food chain and purchase your food elsewhere. Don't go to Walmart mart...Sam Walton and family are Christians. Don't purchase gasoline for your cars....oil comes from Muslim countries. Don't celebrate Christmas or easter...these are Christian holidays. It's disingenuous to hijack them and put your own spin on why you celebrate them. Work on Christmas break,petition the government to not give any holiday breakseason to its workers, turn your televisions off the moment God is mentioned...or sue TV stations for broadcasting this offensive material you didn't pay for. File a lawsuit against each President everytime the say"and God bless the United states of America". The hypocrisy is astounding in this country. I listen to people say things everyday that don't align to my personal set of beliefs. I politely allow them to speak and believe what they want to believe. I don't criticize or file lawsuits. C'mon people, walk the walk.

Kathy G. said...

Just a small point. The judge's name is Harpool not Harwell.

Randy said...

Thanks for catching that. Your comment caught me off guard, since I have written abut Doug Harpool since the days when he was in the Missouri House of Representatives. However, I also knew a Douglas Harwell who was a teacher while I was working at the Lamar Democrat and Carthage Press and for some reason that was the name I typed every time except once as I was writing the post. The mistakes have been corrected.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for providing Judge Harpool's decision:
"'Here, the frequencies, consistency, and extent of the relationship between the Joplin District and Victory goes well beyond occasional or incidental use and impermissibly entangles the Joplin District with religion.' This would be true even without the problems with the permission slips, he added." - R Turner Blog 3/10/17
Without the fuller explanation, it appeared a heavy-handed response to a reward trip. However, the involvement in the sex ed curriculum and repeated use provides an explanation, and context, for the Judge's ruling.
The permission slips could have been a non-issue since Victory agreed to remove the objectionable parts; and the objection was known in advance of the trip. Other destinations were available. Therefore, Superintendent Huff's response and approval resulted in an expensive celebration trip.
Do you know what Victory was paid by the District for its service?

Anonymous said...

Kudos to the parent who filed the lawsuit (that takes a lot of courage)!!! The parent who filed the lawsuit is asking for minimal damages (so he/she is not doing this for the money).

When are the "bible thumpers" EVER going to realize that a PUBLIC school should never favor one religious belief over another? Just keep ALL religious activities out of all school functions and you will NEVER have a lawsuit filed.

It is when the "bible thumpers" try to push their religious beliefs in a school setting that they cross the line. And when the "bible thumpers" are told they are crossing the line - somehow they whine - "my religious freedoms are being violated" (what a bunch of nonsense). You are free to practice your religion all you want - outside of the school setting.

Anonymous said...

Mr Turner, I have some real concerns with the R-8 as we move forward. Do you have knowledge of the true future financial condition of the r-8? First we have the debt from the overspending and the ending of the FEMA funding (last I knew, we were denied further funds), now potential costs for various law suits, and thirdly the possible siphoning of money to the r-8 should the Devoss crowd get their way with vouchers. Am I wrong in thinking that we are all going to be getting huge increases in property taxes very soon?

Kevin Beck

Anonymous said...

Maybe there should be one week a year set aside as sociology studies. During that week many religions could be discussed, students could learn tolerance towards others beliefs from a little understanding of the tenets of all philosophies involved. I don't believe a field trip to each is necessary, just because of the liability issues. Bring the religious leader as opposed to all children being bussed there. Give them information to the humanist approach, as much information as possible, and discuss the wars and societies that religion have built and destroyed. As a final effort, have the students write a paper on what they learned and how it impacts them. The Golden Rule is pretty good "religion", Do unto others as you would have done to you. It's the same as Jesus preached, Love thy neighbor as thyself. That being said, don't be a jerk like CJ and cost your neighbors to pay for your arrogance.

Steve Holmes said...

Wonder how the critics of the judge would react to a school field trip to a Mosque.

Anonymous said...

I had this thought as well. If this had been a reward trip to a mosque that permitted employees to proselytize to the students and take pictures to use for promotional purposes... And oh, by the way you can choose to stay home because it is not mandatory. By the way, I am Christian and if you cannot see the slippery slope, you are very tunnel-visioned. While I would not have had a problem with the event being at a mosque, the rest would have been unwelcome as that is not a role the school needs to be in. If you have a class that teaches about religions and is voluntary, that is one thing, but having a captive audience is another...

Anonymous said...

Why can't everyone just keep their damned religious views to themselves except for the one day per week when they congregate with like minded individuals and brain wash their children?

Anonymous said...

Can someone please explain in detail how this was a clear violation of the first amendment?

Anonymous said...

4:43PM - A big AMEN!!!!