Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals are power and control freaks. They want power. They need control. They cannot live without power and control. In their minds, it is not enough to control only themselves, which they do poorly. They insist that they must be given the right and the means to control the lives and behaviors of all other people outside of fundie circles. They often try to fulfill their lust for power and control by either taking over a government agency (federal, state, or local) or by obtaining a high-level position within an agency so they can use their position of authority to develop and implement policy that will achieve their desired level of control over your life and the lives of your children.
Several years ago, a very religious member of the local school board in the county where I grew up proposed the development and implementation of a rating system for the books that would go on the required reading lists of K-12 students. This did not sit well with me at all, and upon reading about it in their local newspaper, I fired off an irate written message to the Superintendent of Schools, the school board member who proposed the rating system, and each one of his fellow school board members.
This kind of message is the way you stop dead in its tracks a fundie bid for power and control over you and your children through a local school board: (1) you send the school board an “I am mad as hell, and I am not going to take it anymore” message; (2) within the text of that message, you always mention that you are a Christian because it startles them and denies them the ability to dispense with your message out-of-hand by easily and quickly labeling you as an obvious unbeliever, agnostic, or atheist; and (3) you intimidate the school board by informing them that you are going to refer their proposal to monitoring by a state or national organization that specializes in filing and winning federal First Amendment lawsuits against local school boards in U.S. District Court. On this third point, if possible and true, you should always mention the name of a person within that famous lawsuit-filing organization who you already know personally in some way—and who personally already knows you in some way. This is especially frightening to local school boards because it lets them know right away that you already have a “classic” personal inside track to making their worst First Amendment nightmare come true in a real federal courtroom in a real federal courthouse.
The example message below has been edited for use herein by changing some proper names and making a few minor revisions. With those things in mind, here is the message I sent to my old local school board just a few years ago:
I am opposed to your proposal to implement a literature rating system in the Thomas County Schools. In my view, this is a blatant attempt to do two things:
1) Establish a “sneak in the back door” system for effectively banning books by officially labeling some as “bad” and others as “good,” the implication being that parents and students would have a ratings system to be used for avoiding the so-called “bad” books. Censorship, book banning, and book burning are all essentially the same thing. The purpose is to define a book as objectionable and deny a potential reader access to it through a program of destruction, discouragement, or intimidation. The famous words of 19th century German author Heinrich Heine apply to all three:
That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.
Heine was a Jew who converted to Christianity. Lest you think he was some sort of liberal darling, a biographical sketch on Heine in Wikipedia states:
A Heine Appreciation Society is active in Israel, led by prominent political figures from both the left and right camps. His quote about burning books is prominently displayed in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. (It is also displayed in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).
2) In a recent article in the The Thomas County Examiner newspaper, you were quoted as being concerned that some books promote “anti-Christian values.” In addition, your daughter was quoted as saying, “she needed to stand up for her Christian values by saying, “I am not reading this.” Toward the end of the same article, you are quoted as saying, “I am not trying to legislate morality, but you can call it out, call it out for what it is.”
These statements make it quite clear to me that you are an elected official who is trying to legislate your particular religious view of morality into the public school system of Thomas County. You are indeed entitled to hold your own particular religious beliefs and speak them. However, because the Thomas County Schools are an official arm of the government, you are not legally entitled to introduce your personal religious beliefs into the official policy of the school system and use its governmental authority to enforce those beliefs by defining some books as “good” and some as “evil,” and by doing so, effectively and officially discourage people from reading the books you consider to be “evil” ones.
By the statements you have made, I would guess that you are a Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical. If either is true, I would kindly remind you that there are 300 million people in the United States and about 160,000 in Thomas County. While you may feel strongly about your personal religious beliefs and your interpretation of the Bible as it relates to this matter, that does not mean that you are absolutely right or that everyone agrees with you—even within the Christian community. The Thomas County Board of Education has no right to in any way impose your religious beliefs about the morality of reading materials on members of other Christian denominations (such as mine) that might disagree with you, on members of other religions, or on people with no religious beliefs at all. The population of Thomas County would no doubt contain many members of all three groups.
I am forwarding this e-mail message to my friend Rob Boston at Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C. and to our local American Civil Liberties Union office. As an alumnus of the Thomas County schools, a U.S. citizen, a taxpayer, and a Christian, I will kindly ask both organizations to closely monitor the deliberations of the Thomas County Board of Education with regard to whatever action it takes on your proposal in order to ensure that no violations of the First Amendment occur as a result of the board’s actions on your proposal.