Tuesday, August 02, 2005


In the previous essay, I mentioned the school-prayer dispute down in Louisiana. The Tangipahoa Parish school board, as well as some other people like a principal and a teacher, may face contempt-of-court charges if the local ACLU has its way. A federal district court issued a consent decree forbidding various types of prayers in the Tangipahoa public schools, and the ACLU has claimed that there have been numerous violations of this order. The alleged prayer outlaws include a teacher (Pamela Sullivan) who not only prayed in class but ran illicit Bible studies outside of class; and a principal (George Covington) who permitted a student to give a prayer at a school event. The ACLU wanted the judge to bring contempt proceedings against the prayer outlaws, including possible "criminal contempt" proceedings. Another teacher, Arda Johnson, was accused of sponsoring a prayer and then covering up her role in the prayer....

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, the Louisiana prayer case has some new developments. Responding to the ACLU's claims of contempt, the school board told the court of the results of an investigation it conducted into alleged instances of contempt of court, including the alleged prayer and Bible-study incidents. Mrs. Johnson, said the Board, had not intended to violate the consent decree. Mrs. Sullivan was violating school policy but was not violating the consent decree, which arose out of a dispute over prayers at sporting events, not prayers and Bible study in the classroom. Mr. Covington has allegedly been reminded of his duties under the consent decree. Principal Covington hadn't sponsored the prayer at the school event (an awards banquet). A student with the appropriate nickname of "Rebel" had told Covington that he ("Rebel") would say a prayer, and Covington let him do it. That didn't make Covington responsible for the prayer, which was the act of an individual student.

In its response, dated June 28, the Louisiana ACLU ripped into the Board for allegedly whitewashing the wrongdoers. Mrs. Johnson, it said, had violated the consent decree "in a clandestine manner" with the cooperation of some school board members. Mrs. Sullivan had violated the consent decree, which was broad enough to apply to her Bible study group, not just to sporting events.

As to Principal Covington, the ACLU seems to acknowledge, at least for argument purposes, that the student nicknamed "Rebel," acting true to his name, who took the initiative in giving his prayer. "Rebel" just decided to say an invocation, told Covington he was going to give one, and then gave it. Responding to this, the ACLU takes on the unaccustomed role of an old codger criticizing school authorities for not taking a harder line on those punk schoolkids: "According to the Board, `Robert E. Bel, III ["Rebel"], ... informed Principal Covington that he would give the invocation.' If that is how it occurred, one is compelled to ask: who is running the school - Mr. Covington, the principal, or Rebel, the student?" Principal Covington should have laid down the law and ordered Rebel not to pray.

To properly deal with the alleged contemnors, the ACLU wants the court to impose "a serious civil fine, sufficient to get both the contemnors' and Board's attention."

By calling a fine "civil," the ACLU and the courts think they can pretend they're not engaged in a criminal prosecution, and therefore the right to a jury trial doesn't apply. But the same consideration applies here as in the case of imprisonment. If a fine is suspended on condition that the defendant behave in a certain way, how is that difficult from a judge in a criminal proceeding imposing a suspended sentence?

Turning to Principal Covington's case, we have here a great illustration of the value that a jury trial would have for people charged with contempt. If Covington had a jury to whom he could argue his case, he could innocently declare, "what would you have wanted my client to do - *censor* a student? Violate a student's freedom of speech? Impose a prior restraint? Why, such a thing would be contrary to the principles of students' rights, a subject on which the ACLU itself has published an entire book! Such an argument might have a great appeal to unsophisticated jurors, who may have the simplistic idea that "student free speech" isn't a monopoly of long-haired stoners who want to use swear words, as the ACLU seems to believe, but is also the prerogative of young men and women who wish to engage in public prayer.



So far, anyway. The article below is from two months ago but the recent London bombings tend to vindicate it

When David Selbourne flew into America recently, he had good reason to feel he had arrived in the land of the free. His new book, The Losing Battle with Islam, was featured at New York's Book Expo, the US publishing industry's trade fair last week, after it failed to find a British publisher. One glance at the title and it is easy to see why. The Losing Battle With Islam is a blistering critique of the West's response to Muslim militancy. Publishers in London were far too "pusillanimous" and "PC" to take it on, says Selbourne indignantly. But in America, a nation with greater "intellectual vigour", Prometheus Books stepped into the breach and it will be published in September.

The manuscript has already been circulating in intellectual circles in "samizdat" form and it may yet find a British publisher now the Americans are leading the way. But the big brush-off is a prime example of Selbourne's thesis that westerners are displaying a misplaced and muddle-headed sensitivity to Muslim feelings that is not always reciprocated.

I caught up with him in Washington, where he was meeting think-tankers, policy makers and opinion-formers. "It's a relief to talk to people who are engaged in this matter," he sighed. "This is the front line of what matters in the world." He feels the non-Muslim world is ignoring at its peril the challenge posed by a resurgent Islam.

Controversy comes naturally to Selbourne, a veteran of ideological and cultural wars. He used to teach at Ruskin College, Oxford, the trade union college, and was assumed to be a man of the left until he began writing about the breakdown of civil society and morality in essays and books such as The Principle of Duty.

He is wary of libertarianism and the cult of the individual and considers Milton Friedman, apostle of the free market, to be the "evil genius of our age". With such views, he was always going to be at odds with the Thatcherite right. Yet his arguments against loosening the bonds of family and community led him to be labelled a reactionary sell-out by the post-Sixties left.

Selbourne's holiday home in Italy became his refuge and, eventually, his permanent base: "I needed a cordon sanitaire between me and the seething world of competitive English intellectuals." From there he remains engaged in the war of ideas in the English-speaking world, eagerly scanning British and American newspapers and magazines on the internet and fighting every ideological battle as if the barbarians were at his gate. "I consider myself to be highly progressive," he says with a touch of indignation and weariness. "I consider it highly progressive to be against fascism and there are elements of Islamic society which are fascist. People are cowed, and it has to be resisted."

In Italy last week, in an attack on free speech, the veteran polemicist Oriana Fallaci, author of the bestselling The Rage and the Pride, a diatribe against the West's alleged cultural surrender to Islamists, was ordered by a judge to face trial on charges of defaming Islam, a sign of the ferocity of the ideological warfare now under way.

With his white beard and gentle voice, Selbourne has the mild manner of a don. He considers himself to be a dispassionate, highly sensible voice of reason but he also has the intellectual force of a flame-thrower. In his new book he scorns some Muslims for "taking liberties" with Britain - supporting attacks on the West by Islamists while expecting that their own "civic and other entitlements will be met in full".

But much of his criticism is reserved for the West, which is only too eager to flagellate itself for its alleged shortcomings while rushing to understand its opponents' point of view (the Newsweek imbroglio over the alleged desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay detention base, a story it later withdrew, is just the latest example). Even in America, "the political class has lost confidence in itself", he complains.

The American imperium, Selbourne argues, "is in a state of confusion". Its time will pass, just as Rome, Byzantium and the British Empire fell away. The West is losing the battle against Islam for the "same reason the British lost the American colonies. They had insufficient forces, their counsels were divided, and they underestimated their opponents".

Selbourne dates the reawakening of the Islamic world to the Suez crisis and the outbreak of Arab nationalism in the 1950s. He has been studying the phenomenon and building up an archive of material stretching back for decades. In the 1980s he travelled to Afghanistan - then the training ground for Islamic militancy-- and a decade later visited Kosovo, where he saw that the viciousness of Serbian racism had met its match in the spiritual confidence of Muslims.

When some British Muslim leaders backed Ayatollah Khomeini's chilling fatwa against Salman Rushdie and an Islamic conference in Bradford endorsed Iraq's call for a "holy war against western forces" in 1990, Selbourne sensed that these were not one-off aberrations but signs of a profound cultural shift.

More -- much more -- here

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