Chris Buttars: Tilting with Windmills

Amazing how the little things in life can suck all the time away you expect to have for something like blogging. Alas, when life does crop up, blogging must take a backseat. Until someone is willing to pay me for my thoughts, that’s how its gonna have to be.

The Utah legislature is again in session, so there is a lot to talk about currently. One of the first topics which come to mind is the latest brilliant idea by the legendary Chris Buttars, bastion of conservative lunacy. Renowned for his advocacy for such ideas as mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, banning gay-straight alliances in those schools, and the misnomered theory of “Intelligent Design,” the esteemed Mr. Buttars is now sponsoring SB 111, the “Free Exercise of Religion Without Government Interference” act. Buttars claims that the bill will allow students to wear shirts with messages like “CTR” at school, or to pray at graduation.

The topic has already been thoughtfully addressed by Jennifer of Green Jen’s Journal and Oldenberg of The Third Avenue, two local blogs of which I’m fond.

Jen’s scripture reference is the one which immediately sprung to mind when I heard of Buttars’ bill.

5. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, cpray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly (Matthew 6:5-6).

We don’t need—nor does the Lord seem to want—ostentatious public displays of worship. He wants us to worship in our hearts. If we worship him humbly in our heart, and live our life in a manner consistent with his principles, we will be rewarded. I admire Jen for her perceptiveness in recognizing this, and find it rather sad that the avowedly pious Chris Buttars struggles to grasp this concept which the non-Christian so readily comprehends.

Likewise, Oldenberg asks a valid question when he wonders whether Buttars would be so eager to protect the right of a student to wear a satanic shirt. I’ll even make the scenario less outrageous: Would Buttars be eager to see his bill used by Muslim students to recite the Shahada? Would he like to see atheists wearing shirts proclaiming the non-existence of God? If not, he has no business promoting this bill. I suspect his interest is merely in perpetuating the favored status of our faith.

Mr. Buttars and his efforts to protect Christianity from diabolical secularists and their ilk reminds me of the instance in 2000 in which the Christian Family Research Council, a conservative Christian think-tank historically associated with James Dobson, objected when a Hindu priest gave the invocation of a session of the House of Representatives.

Our founders expected that Christianity – and no other religion – would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples’ consciences and their right to worship…They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference…As for our Hindu priest friend, the United States is a nation that has historically honored the One True God. Woe be to us on that day when we relegate Him to being merely one among countless other deities in the pantheon of theologies.

Astounding.

All too often, conservative Christian apologists (including LDS apologists) fail to understand that religious tolerance demands the assumption that all religions are equal. We who follow a particular faith may believe ours is innately superior, but we have no right to demand such superiority in the sight of the law. The idea that Christianity should be accorded a privileged status by the government in our nation is as ludicrous the “separate but equal” status of the races prior to the civil rights movement. Perhaps Mr. Buttars should spend less time hunting for anti-Mormon/religious snipes, and more time studying the nature of both our faith and our nation.

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12 Responses to “Chris Buttars: Tilting with Windmills”

  1. Thom Says:

    So the thing I found amusing is that the majority of the bill is devoted to absolving the government liability in a number of land and water use cases. I suppose this is par for the course, but it seems stupid: “I have this bill that will protect your right to wear a t-shirt with the Takbir, but first let’s protect the government from getting sued because it didn’t give you any water.”

    Here’s my proposal; take Buttars at his word. Move lines 48-139 to another bill. Amend (current) lines 154-155 to read: “(3) ‘Person’ means a natural person or individual only. This Section shall not be construed to apply to a corporation, organization, or any other non-natural legal entity.” Then pass it. Then organize state-wide readings of the Articles of Faith, the Nicean Creed, the Shahadah and the quote from Murray v. Curlett found at http://www.atheists.org/Atheism/ (at least). Might as well educate the kids while making a point.

  2. Bradley Ross Says:

    The title of your post alludes to Don Quixote. I appreciate your implication that Senator Buttars is acting with good intentions, even if you feel he is misguided. That is always a good place to engage in political debate.

    Two questions for you. First, when you wrote, “We don’t need—nor does the Lord seem to want—ostentatious public displays of worship,” did you mean to imply that ALL public displays are ostentatious and thus inappropriate?

    You wrote:
    Would he like to see atheists wearing shirts proclaiming the non-existence of God? If not, he has no business promoting this bill.

    My second question, more rhetorical than the first, is whether you think advocating free speech implies the endorsement of all speech? Does Buttars have to LIKE that someone disagrees with him, even while protecting their right to do so?

  3. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Thom, I suppose I’ve become jaded. Politicians of all stripes have been flagrantly cobbling together legislation from mismatching parts for so long that it doesn’t even seem worth mentioning. But you are right, the other part of the bill is rather sleazy itself, and the mixing of the two is particularly egregious.

    Lets add to your list of proposed recitations readings from the Vedas (Hindu), the Tao The Ching (Taoism), Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path… Why not throw some readings from the works of Occultist Aleister Crowley while we’re at it? If Buttars can’t handle that, he he’s no business sponsoring this bill.

  4. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Thanks for your comments, Bradley. I’m afraid you give me too much credit. While I wouldn’t describe Mr. Buttars’ motives as sinister, I wouldn’t categorize him as honestly well-intentioned either. If you read Don Quixote, you will see that Cervantes did not stress his character’s intentions. His concern was exploring the fact that Quixote was a delusional man basing his life on flawed principles, living in an imaginary world which was simply inconsistent with reality, fighting imaginary enemies, and whose actions were foolish at best, and harmful at worst. It was that aspect of Don Quixote, the theme of Cervantes’ work, to which I was alluding.

    Are ALL public displays of religion ostentatious? I’m not interested in quibbling about whether any given religious devotion performed in public is ostentatious. But I am interested in understanding the spirit of the Gospel. The scripture given, and a great many others, make pretty clear that there are far more important matters to be concerned about than organizing public displays of religion, and that such displays certainly run the risk of ostentation and superficiality.

    Noam Chomsky astutely has pointed out that sincere respect for freedom of speech necessitates above all else the protection of speech you don’t like or which you disagree. If Mr. Buttars’ past history seemed to indicate he was interested in protecting speech on principle, I would have little problem with his intent. But, as I pointed out in my post, his history and the track record of religious conservatives like himself lead me to suspect that he is merely interested in propagating the favored status of our faith in the community–Particularly when the freedom of speech isn’t threatened in the first place. Nobody is preventing any group from gathering just prior to graduation for a spiritual devotional or prayer meeting, and I haven’t heard of any schools with policies against religious clothing. I’m not sure that the unsubstantiated anecdote about the CTR shirt isn’t just Buttars seeing a giant where there is only a windmill.

  5. Frank Staheli Says:

    Derek,

    I will make the assumption that Mr. Buttars has a good motive, but I agree with you that I would be surprised if the CTR story really never happened. You bring up the excellent point that we need to consider how such legislation will affect all religions and not just our own. I would support the recitation or display of the Shahada, and a Hindu prayer before a public function, but I admit I have to stop and think for a minute about whether I would support a t-shirt display of something satanic (I conjure up something akin to Wicca) or atheistic.

    After further thought, feeling that mutual understanding of each others’ religion would breed mutual respect for such, I would support those sorts of religious displays.

  6. DaveB Says:

    Thanks for the plug Derek. You are right that Buttars means well in general…but he has hatred in his heart. That is not Christian and such animus should not be the basis of legislation.

  7. Bradley Ross Says:

    It is weird that I feel I need to defend a piece of legislation I’ve neither read nor support. I wouldn’t vote for this bill based on the D-News article Derek linked to. (I think such legislation would be redundant.) But the intent of the bill seems to be about protecting harmless expression. I am not seeing the “animus” or “hatred” in such a measure. Indeed, sometimes majorities need their rights protected just as much as minorities do.

  8. my perspective Says:

    It SHOULD be made clear what one can and cannot do. We teachers should not have to wonder if we can sing traditionsl Christmas songs mentioning diety or not, for example. We should NOT be in the business of leading prayers or sharing our personal religious beliefs though.

    I just get leery every time I see another Buttars’ bill regarding morals. He loves to see his name in the papers and there seems to be some underlying agenda. I have agreed with some of the principle of things he’s espoused in the past, but there’s always a little more to the eye than it seems. He DOES have a long history of animosity towards teachers.

    I’m still infuriated with him after he was supposed to give a patriotic presentation at a Memorial Day ceremony and used it to launch in a political tirade against teachers.

  9. Left Out Front » Blog Archive » Utah Hostile to Religion Says:

    […] through the Utah state Legislature. Surely the intention behind this is more than just blogger fodder. If you figure out what he is up to, tell me. « 500,000 March Against the […]

  10. Cliff Says:

    I’m not from Utah so I need to ask. Is wearing a shirt with “CTR” or something like that on it prohibited in Utah public schools? If not, then this bill appears to be even more self serving. It’s the war on Christmas all over again.

  11. logicgrl61 Says:

    If we use the Book of Mormon as a guide for politically correct principles as well as spiritual learning, we may realize that, “…there are more nations thatn one…” on the earth and that, “…the Lord…God, have created all men…”. 2Ne29:7.
    And in Alma chapter 1 in verses 17 and 21, we get how to order secular politics as “…the law could have no power on any man for his belief…” and “…there was a strict law among the people of the church that there should not any man, belonging to the church, arise and persecute those that did not belong to the church…..” and on and on…

  12. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Wow, quite a flurry of comments. Nice to get some feedback! Thanks for all your thoughts.

    Cliff, there is no prohibition from wearing CTR shirts in public schools. Upon further investigation, it does appear that there indeed was an instance where a student was sent home for wearing the shirt. But there was no law or even school policy dictating such an action. The child was sent home because there was a misunderstanding about the school policy. Perhaps the school boards need to do a better job training teachers and administrators about the policies as “My Perspective” suggests, but one isolated incident does not indicate that there is a need for a law banning “government interference in religion.” This is certainly not evidence of the need to protect the rights of the majority–heaven knows we in the majority have enough of that! No, this is nothing more than Chicken Little running around after getting hit by a single acorn–and getting some media attention to boot.

    I feel for you, My Perspective. I know that most teachers are very conscientious and go above and beyond to serve the students of the state. And what do they get for their efforts (besides substandard pay)? A bunch of conservative leaders and politicians accusing them of being a bunch of lazy, atheist, secularists trying to convince their kids that there is no God, religion is for losers, and to have sex before marriage. Any wonder the state faces a teacher shortage?

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