Prayer in School: See you at the pole?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Prayer in School
See You at the Pole at a Middle School

A See You at the Pole event at a middle school. While these events are “student initiated and student led,” they often involve adults as well—as in this case. Photo provided for public use via Wikimedia Commons by “TCWikieditor.”

“See you at the pole” is a student-initiated gathering of Christian students who meet at the schoolyard flagpole before the school day to pray and worship. Starting in 1990, it is now an annual event here and abroad.

Is this use of school property constitutional?

“See you at the pole” (SYATP) started as a small gathering in Texas. It grew into a global event. An estimated 1 million students in the U.S. participate, with see-you-at-the-pole events in many other countries. The SYATP website emphasizes that the event is “student-initiated, student-organized, and student-led”—a key to the constitutionality of the gathering.

Traditionally, a day in September is designated for the event. This year, it was September 24. A somewhat recent shift has been from a single day to a week of prayerful activities. The “Global Week of Student Prayer” this year took place from Sunday, September 21 through Saturday, September 27, 2014.

These events are permissible, and in their official capacities, school officials cannot discourage or encourage participation. The U.S. Department of Education explicitly addresses SYATP, stating that students may organize such events before school “to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities groups.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also weighed in, and you can read their opinion here.)

Do “See You at the Pole” events take place in your local schools?

Do you know someone who participated?

Do you support such activities?

LGBT Trends: Is same-sex marriage a Constitutional right?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series LGBT Trends
Click the graphic to visit the Washington Post website for the entire polling story.

Click the graphic to visit the Washington Post website for the entire polling story.

Majority support for legalizing same-sex marriage has reached a record high, according to a brand new Washington Post-ABC News survey. Almost six of ten Americans (59%) now say they support giving gays and lesbians the right to legal marriage.

How many also say that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right? What would the framers of the Constitution have to say?

Support for legalizing same-sex marriage has reached a new high, but this support is not equally shared across demographic, religious, and political lines. For example, women (63%) are more likely than men (54%) to support legalized gay marriage. Eight of ten religiously unaffiliated Americans support it, while just three of ten white evangelical Protestants agree. Eighty-two percent of liberals support legalized same-sex marriage; only 39% of conservatives feel the same way.

Obviously, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t say anything explicitly about same-sex marriage. Judicial interpretations of the U.S. Constitution strive to divine the founders’ original intent, or view the document as a “living constitution” that changes according to the times in which it is interpreted.

Whether the Constitution is a living document or it should be strictly construed, most Americans have an opinion about whether or not it supports legalized same-sex marriage. Here’s the exact wording of the poll question. What’s your answer?

“Regardless of your own preference on the issue, do you think that the part of the U.S. Constitution providing Americans with equal protection under the law does or does not give gays and lesbians the legal right to marry?”

Half of Americans (50%) say that equal protection under the law does give the right for same-sex couples to marry, while 41% say it does not. (The rest didn’t have an opinion.) Here, we see the same pattern we saw before—a lack of agreement about this issue across demographic, religious, and political boundaries.

Do you support or oppose same-sex marriage?

Do you think the Constitution does or does not give the right for same-sex marriage>

What would the framers of the Constitution have to say?

Libertarians: Have you heard of their enemies—’communalists’?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Libertarians
LIBERTARIANS & "COMMUNALISTS" as charted by the new Public Religion Research Institute report. (Click the chart to visit the website where you can download the entire report.)

LIBERTARIANS & “COMMUNALISTS” as charted by the new Public Religion Research Institute report. (Click the chart to visit the website where you can download the entire report.)

Libertarians prize personal liberty, unfettered choice, and minimum government. We discussed some of their specific attitudes and beliefs earlier this week.

What’s the opposite of a libertarian?

The Public Religion Research Institute’s new survey focused on identifying libertarians and their views, but at the same time also identified their opposite. These are called the “communalists” because of their opposite views about the role of government and personal liberty. Perhaps “enemy” is an overstatement, but communalists take positions that are opposed in every way to what libertarians believe, according to the new report.

Unlike libertarians, communalists argue that the government should make laws that keep people from harming themselves. Unlike libertarians, they support gun control, making the use of marijuana illegal, and making it harder to access pornography on the Internet.

The best way to stimulate the economy, say libertarians, is to cut taxes and cut government spending. Not so, say the communalists. The best way is to spend more on education and infrastructure. Taxes should be raised for the rich and for businesses.

Overall, then, communalists are willing to sacrifice personal liberty in pursuit of other social and economic objectives. Libertarians oppose just about the anything that would reduce personal liberty. In a way, libertarians and communalists are arch enemies when it comes to the value of liberty.

Are you a communalist? Do you know one?

Which set of views is closer to your own—libertarian or communalist?

Is there a way to reconcile these seemingly irreconcilable views?

PLEASE, invite friends to read along with you and discuss this week’s series. Use the blue-”f” Facebook icons or the envelope-shaped email icons.

Capitalism: What values should guide government policy?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Capitalism
An area of the National Mall closed during the government shutdown. Photo by Reivax, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

An area of the National Mall closed during the government shutdown. Photo by Reivax, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Government economic policy is now hostage to the ideological battle in Washington, D.C. If we can set that dispute aside for a moment, this is a timely moment to ask:

What values should guide government policy? Here are several values the government should promote. Which of these do you think are the most important?

  • Encouraging people to live more responsible lives.
  • Promoting freedom and liberty.
  • Promoting equality and fairness.
  • Providing a public safety net for people who are facing hardships.
  • Supporting private charity for the poor.

The economic values that government should promote is an area of broad agreement among the American people, according to the recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). A majority of Americans says that each of the above values is important for government to promote.

But some values are more important than others. I listed them above in the order of support. An overwhelming majority say that the value of encouraging people to live more responsible lives should guide government economic policy. Support declines slowly for the other values as we work down the list, but—still—a majority endorse even the last value, supporting private charity for the poor.

What values do you think should guide government policy?

Is the value of encouraging people to live more responsible lives at the top of your list?

If not, what is?

Please, take a moment to add a Comment, below. And invite friends to read along. Use the blue-”f” Facebook icon or the small envelope-shaped email icon.

Gay Marriage: Do you have confidence in the high court?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Supreme Court on Gay Marriage
View of the U.S. Supreme Court from its West Terrace. Official government photo by the office of the Architect of the Capitol, released for public use.

View of the U.S. Supreme Court from its West Terrace. Official government photo by the office of the Architect of the Capitol, released for public use.

NOW, it’s all up to the nine justices! The U.S. Supreme Court this week heard arguments about two related “culture war” issues: same-sex marriage bans and the legal definition of marriage. The high court’s rulings expected in early summer will shape the rights, fortunes, and misfortunes of many.

So far this week, we’ve discussed how public opinion is shifting in favor of legalizing gay marriage, the “nightingale” or bandwagon effect, whether the court will throw up its hands and leave decisions to the states, and the extent to which the justices might be subconsciously swayed by their religious affiliations.

Today, we consider an overarching question: Do we have still have confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court?

Favorability ratings of the high court are close to the all-time low, according to a Pew poll earlier this month. Three of ten Americans (31%) say their overall opinion of the institution is very or mostly unfavorable. Only 52% have a favorable overall opinion. Back in July 1994, 80% of Americans had a favorable opinion of the high court. Starting in 2010, favorability ratings fell below 60% and have remained there since.

After the Affordable Care Act decision, ratings shifted dramatically by political party affiliation. Two-thirds of Democrats had a favorable rating, compared to just over a third of Republicans. Now, however, the two parties are closer. Fifty-six percent of Democrats have a favorable opinion of the Supreme Court, while 47% of Republicans feel the same.

What’s your opinion about the current U.S. Supreme Court?

Are you confident the court will make the right decision?

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2013 Forecast: Meaningful gun control?

https://readthespirit.com/ourvalues/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/2013/03/wpid-0114_Sandy_Hook_school_shootings.jpgThis sample of Google-indexed news photos related to the Sandy Hook shootings shows the repetition of iconic images that spread across news-media nationwide.COLUMBINE DIDN’T RESULT in meaningful gun control. Neither did the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others two years ago this month. Will the killings of elementary school children at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut, be the tipping point that yields meaningful gun control?

I predict that gun control—and gun rights—will stay in the public’s eye as a key values issue in 2013. The fear that real gun control legislation will pass has led many Americans to go on a gun-buying spree. And membership is up in the National Rifle Association. The NRA has not changed its firm Second Amendment arguments in the wake of the Newtown massacre.

Today, Joe Biden’s commission is expected to announce its recommendations, covering assault rifles, background checks, the capacity of magazine clips, and more.

In the realm of public opinion, Americans are not hopelessly divided when it comes to several gun control policies, according to results just released by Pew from a survey taken a few days ago. More than eight of ten Americans (85%) support background checks for guns sold privately or at gun shows. This would close the so-called “gun show loophole” that allows purchases without a background check. And eight of ten Americans also support preventing people with mental illness from buying guns. Support for these two measures is bipartisan.

Two thirds support the creation of a federal database to track gun sales, but Democrats (84%) are much more in favor of this measure than Republicans (49%). Majorities of both parties think it’s a good idea to put police or armed security guards in our schools, but there’s a gaping partisan divided when it comes to the idea of arming teachers or school officials. Over half of Republicans (56%) support this measure, but only 23% of Democrats do as well.

Majorities of Americans support bans on semi-automatic weapons (58%), assault-style weapons (55%), high-capacity ammunition clips (54%), and online sales of ammunition (53%). But Democrats are much more in favor of these bans, compared to Republicans.

Is meaningful gun control on your list of top values issues for 2013?

What else would you add to our 2013 list forecasting values issues?

Join us all week as we continue our annual OurValues.org tradition of predicting the top values issues of the New Year. Click here to see the 2012 Forecast.

Please, leave a Comment below.

Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.

Gun Control: Amend the Second Amendment?

https://readthespirit.com/ourvalues/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/2013/03/wpid-1221_Bill_of_Rights.jpgThe Bill of Rights was celebrated in U.S. Postage both in 1966 and 1989.The heinous killing of 20 schoolchildren and 7 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, has the nation in mourning. And it has riveted attention on the controversial issue of gun control.

Finally, this week, let’s ask the big question: Is it time to amend the Second Amendment?

Following the Sandy Hook tragedy, this week we’ve discussed the call for stricter gun control, as well as erroneous claims made by gun advocates, Harvard’s finding that more guns = more homicides, and public opinion about various approaches to reduce mass killings like Sandy Hook. We’ve also tracked the counter on the user-initiated online petition at SignOn.org in support of gun control. Yesterday evening, it had grown to over 410,000 signatures.

Today, we consider the meaning of the Second Amendment. Apparently, there were two versions, one passed by Congress, and the other ratified by the States. (Here’s a summary of the history.) The Congressional version read: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” And the state-ratified version: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

I’m not a constitutional scholar, but it seems to me that both texts are ambiguous. They’re certainly not well written. Did the framers of the Constitution intend that bearing arms was necessary only for a militia (remember that the British tried to disarm the colonists) or does it also include the right for individuals to bear arms who have nothing to do with a militia?

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court in close decisions concluded that “the right of the people” means that individuals can buy and own guns. The minority, however, argued that the text restricts the bearing of arms to the militia. It is not an individual right. So, if gun control advocates want to restrict the individual right to keep and bear arms, it might take a Constitutional amendment.

Is the Second Amendment out of date?

Would you support an amendment to restrict the bearing of arms to a militia?

Do we need to protect the individual right to bear arms?

Please, leave a Comment below.

Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.