Saturday, May 18, 2013

What was the Stroberg family's message to the children of CVESD's Salt Creek Elementary regarding "our God"?

Whatever the Stroberg family intended "our God is mercy" and "the kingdom of our God is near" to mean, it is certainly important that Salt Creek Elementary offer some different views of religion to all students in the near future. Perhaps the school might consider playing the Wolf Blitzer video clip discussed in the second article below.

I know that many teachers and principals in Chula Vista Elementary School District misunderstand the law regarding religion, but I agree with CVESD that there was no need for a lawyer to be involved in the Stroberg incident. Of course, CVESD itself has a habit of calling in lawyers unnecessarily. I guess the district doesn't like it when parents borrow a page from CVESD's playbook.

Since religion is a hugely important part of human culture, any school that wants to provide a basic education needs to teach about the various religions of the world. Schools simply may not limit discussion to a single religion.

Here are the lyrics of the song that caused all the commotion at CVESD:

"Our God Is Mercy" by Brenton Brown

Our God is mercy
Our God is mercy
If your heart is heavy
If your soul is thirsty
There is a refuge
A home for the lonely
Our God is near
Our God is near
Our God is near
Our God is near

The kingdom of our God is near
Lift your eyes, lift your eyes
The hope of heaven's drawing near
Lift your eyes, lift your eyes
You're blessed if you've been torn apart
You're blessed if you've a broken heart
'Cause hope is waiting at the door
Salvation's near

Lift up your eyes, lift up your eyes
Lift up your eyes and sing
Lift up your eyes, lift up your eyes
Lift up your eyes and sing

The song is obviously Christian, but at the same time it seems quite universal; it could appeal to Jews, Muslims and anyone else who believes in a higher power that offers comfort to human beings. Buddhists might simply substitute "nirvana" for "kingdom of our God". Hindus and others who believe in multiple gods, and atheists who believe in hope for humanity, could also relate to the sentiments expressed.

Is this what Brenton Brown meant when he used the term "our God"? Was he talking about all human beings when he said "our"?

Perhaps not. It's possible he wanted to differentiate "our God" from "their God". It's possible he wanted his co-religionists to feel that they are more blessed than people who don't share their beliefs. Perhaps he believes that when "the kingdom of our God" arrives, an event that he describes as occurring in the near future, his kind will be whisked off to heaven while those who don't share his beliefs will be left to the horrors of the end times.

Now that's not a nice thought for school children who don't share Mr. Brown's beliefs.

Whatever Mr. Brown or the Stroberg family intended this song to mean, it is certainly important that Salt Creek Elementary offer some different views of religion to all students in the near future.

Chula Vista mom hires attorney so 6-year-old son could sing song about God at talent show
10 News

CHULA VISTA, Calif. - The family of a local kindergartner says their son was devastated after he was told he couldn't perform at his school's upcoming talent show because he wanted to sing a song about God.

Six-year-old Austin Stroberg has been practicing hard and planning to perform the song, “Our God Is Mercy,” written by Brenton Brown at his school's talent show.

Following his audition at Salt Creek Elementary School in Chula Vista, Austin's mom, Amanda Stroberg, said she was told he would not be allowed to be in the talent show if he was "going to sing that song."

Then she received an e-mail stating, "The judges really liked him and are agreeing to have him in the show so long as it’s a non-religious song. Star-Spangled Banner or any other song that is non-religious."

Needless to say, that did not sit well.

“We wanted to know what are his rights as a student,” said Stroberg.

Stroberg decided to contact the Pacific Justice Institute.

Shortly after an attorney sent a letter to the principal on Austin's behalf , the minds of the administration at Salt Creek Elementary School quickly changed and Austin was added to the list of this year's talent show performers.

“Really excited,” Austin told 10News.

“We were extremely pleased, we're glad the district was so quick to respond,” said Stroberg.

The four-page letter to Austin's principal stated in part, "The fact that the school allows students to sing Jewish songs and Kwanza songs during holiday celebrations, but refuses to allow this Christian song during the talent show may be a violation of equal protection under the law."

10News Reporter Preston Phillips spoke to Stroberg about the situation and how the family decided to reach out to an attorney to try and resolve the issue.

“Unfortunately, but it seems like a sign of the times,” said Stroberg.

The Chula Vista Elementary School District contacted 10News Thursday night saying Austin's parents went too far and could have simply gone to the district with their complaint instead of contacting an attorney.

“They simply could have contacted the district office with their concern. Really doesn't take an attorney to resolve things amicably,” said Anthony Millican, spokesman for Chula Vista Elementary School District.

The school district says they do not endorse or support Austin's song choice.

Austin's parents and the district say they are pleased the issue has been resolved.

Tornado survivor to Wolf Blitzer: Sorry, I’m an atheist. I don’t have to thank the Lord
Wolf Blitzer pushes a tornado survivor to praise the Lord. She tells him she's an atheist, with dignity and respect
By Mary Elizabeth Williams
May 22, 2013

You’d think by now CNN would have learned to stop treating its assumptions as truths. But when Wolf Blitzer made a casual comment Tuesday, it turned out to be a teachable moment both for the newsman and television viewers.

Speaking live to a survivor of the deadly tornado in Moore, Okla., Blitzer declared the woman “blessed,” her husband “blessed,” and her son “blessed.” He then asked, “You’ve gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?”

But as she held her 18-month-old son, Rebecca Vitsmun politely replied, “I’m actually an atheist.” A flummoxed Blitzer quickly lobbed back, “You are. All right. But you made the right call,” and Vitsmun graciously offered him a lifeline. “We are here,” she said, “and I don’t blame anyone for thanking the Lord.” Nicely done, Rebecca Vitsmun.

One in five American adults – and a third of Americans under age 30 — now declare no religious affiliation. We are less religious now than at any other point in our history, and our secularism is rising at a rapid pace. Get used to it, Lord thankers.

As Vitsmun pointed out, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with a statement of gratitude or even an acknowledgment of spirituality. I recently had someone tell me that she felt very “blessed” – right before adding that she was agnostic. Where Blitzer was insensitive — and just plain unthinking — was in his no-doubt well-intentioned demand that his interviewee cough up a Praise the Lord moment for the edification of CNN viewers.

And Blitzer was not the only person this week who got his expectations rocked. When Tempe, Ariz., state Rep. Juan Mendez was asked Tuesday to deliver the opening prayer for the afternoon’s session of the House of Representatives, he delivered something different.

“Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads,” the Democratic official said. “I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state.”

He went on to say, “This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. But this is also a room where, as my secular humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences.”

It was a call to love and empathy that stands right up there next to any prayer in the book, and one that offered bonus inclusion and humanity. Afterward, he said, “I hope today marks the beginning of a new era in which Arizona’s non-believers can feel as welcome and valued here as believers.” And if the conservative state of Arizona can make it happen, there’s hope yet for the other 49, people.

In a nation in which the divide between believers and non-believers can be great and truly ugly – one of “militant atheism” on one side and unbearably ignorant religious conservatism on the other — with just a few words, Rebecca Vitsmun and Juan Mendez showed that the ideals of being respectful and compassionate belong to all of us. Whatever our personal views, we can give others space to have theirs and to express them with dignity. We can challenge assumptions, but we can conduct ourselves with kindness. Because what matters most in life isn’t what we believe in our hearts, it’s how we practice those beliefs with each other.

1 comment:

Pacific Justice Institute said...

It's important to note that Mrs. Stroberg did not go out and pay for an attorney to take on this case. She simply turned to us at the Pacific Justice Institute for help—pro bono help.

Sometimes well meaning administrators do not understand what constitutionally protected rights are and are not—they side on taking away rights as opposed to allowing more than they should allow. We are here not just to help the parents, but to help the schools understand what is legal. We're happy that this was resolved quickly.

Here is a short video that highlights the case:

Thanks for writing about this!