Is The 'Stomp On Jesus' Case Really A Good Example Of 'Extreme Political Bias' On College Campuses?

from the ben-carson-should-look-elsewhere dept

Presidential candidate Ben Carson said last month that he wants to keep the United States Department of Education in business, rather than dismantling it as many conservatives would like, because he wants to use it to receive and then investigate reports of “extreme political bias” on college campuses. The example he has given of the need to which this proposal responds, most notably in an interview for Meet the Press, but also in a radio interview, is that a college student was supposedly threatened with discipline for refusing to comply with a professor’s instruction to “stomp on Jesus.” The notion of a federal inquisition into speech on college campuses trying to stomp out “political bias” is bad enough, but looking back at the facts of that incident, it appears to me as if Carson’s excuse for the inquisition is based on an apocryphal account.

The Student’s Claims and the Ensuing Media Storm

The incident arose after Ryan Rotela, a student at Florida Atlantic University, claimed that an adjunct professor had demanded during a class that the student “stomp on Jesus,” that several students had objected to the lesson, and that when Rotela was the only one to speak up about his objections, he was threatened with discipline. Fox News ran a story that included two brief excerpts of Rotela speaking on camera, and showed three smirking commentators putting their spin on the story. These accusations fit well with a standard narrative that universities show hostility to “traditional values,” with the added benefit that the adjunct professor was active in the local Democratic party; thus the contention supported a general attack on Democrats as well. The story exploded across the conservative blogosphere. Florida’s governor Rick Scott and its junior Senator, Marco Rubio, each promptly weighed in as well, siding with the student. The governor’s letter to the chancellor of the state university system said that he was “disappointed in the recent actions of . . . FAU faculty that raises significant questions over students’ rights and the lessons being taught in our classrooms,” and castigated the “professor’s poor judgement” in teaching a lesson that “was offensive, and even intolerant, to Christians.” The governor demanded a “report of the incident” and the adoption of university policies “to ensure that this type of ‘lesson’ will not occur again.” Considering that the university system is run by a board of governors that is largely appointed by the governor, FAU moved promptly to defuse the controversy, apologizing to the student, issuing a groveling public apology through a series of videos, and suspending the professor from his position and having his courses taught by a different professor.

A more sober voice weighed in as well — Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE, who published a column at that expressed strong disagreement with the “idea of students at a public institution being required to stomp on the word Jesus,” as well as with “charging the student with an offense for complaining about the assignment.” Lukianoff said that the incident “highlights disturbing trends” involving a “double standard” in which putting Christian students on the defensive is par for the course while criticizing Muslims is condemned. And although many of my friends express misgivings about FIRE, charging it with attacks on academic freedom, my own experience with the group, including its treatment of some campus situations with which I am closely familiar, has been that its staff offer balanced and sober-minded approaches to the problems of free speech on campus. So the fact that Lukianoff supported the student’s complaint weighed strongly in my initial analysis.

The Other Side of the Story Emerges

But as I looked more closely at the Fox News report, and at the media stories that came after the Lukianoff column, I noticed some red flags. Poole said that he never told students to “stomp on Jesus.” Rather, he was following an exercise, recommended by the standard textbook used in his course, that had students write the word “J-E-S-U-S” on a piece of paper, put it on the floor and think about it for a moment, then step on the piece of paper. After many students hesitated to do so, students were invited to think about why they had hesitated, and Poole then led a discussion about the power of symbols. He stoutly denied having compelled any student to put his foot on the paper bearing the handwritten word “Jesus”; to the contrary, he said that he had specifically told the students that they were free not to do so. He also denied having punished the student for having refused to put his foot on the paper; to the contrary, he said that the student had threatened to hit him and that his only response was to file a report about that; the university issued a notice of intended discipline based on the student’s physical threat. And, he added, he himself was a devout Christian and had neither intended to disrespect strong Christian views nor punish any student for standing up for such views.

And looking at the one clip that I could find in which Rotela himself was speaking ? as opposed to his lawyer and his various advocates ? he never exactly said that the professor had, in so many words, told him to “stomp on Jesus.” The Fox News discussants all claimed Rotela himself has made that accusation, but Rotela himself only said this, in two tiny snippets edited together to make the network’s point: “if you were to stomp on the word Jesus it says that the word has no value . . . I’m not going to be sitting in a class having my religious rights desecrated.” The difference between telling students to “step” on a piece of paper, and telling them to “stomp on Jesus,” carries very different emotional connotations, and I began to wonder whether the story had been overly sensationalized and whether Lukianoff himself had been caught up in an unfair portrayal of the situation.

When I contacted Lukianoff to raise this possibility, he stood by his account of the situation, and indeed stressed his view that the lesson violated the principles of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, where the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment rights of public school students who belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been violated when the state required them, on pain of expulsion, to recite the pledge of allegiance. But Lukianoff also pointed me to a series of statements on FIRE’s web site that took a much more dispassionate view of the facts. Indeed, I was struck by the difference between the one-sided account that Lukianoff had given in his Forbes column and the evenhanded approach that FIRE had taken.

In particular, FIRE’s most complete statement about the case is headlined “Florida Atlantic ‘Jesus Stomp’ Case: A Screwup from Start to Finish.” It suggests on the one hand that the lesson in question raises serious questions under Barnette but at the same time that statements by FAU’s administration purporting to dictate that the lesson never be used again improperly trenched on academic freedom (but why? if the lesson violates the First Amendment, can the university not forbid its faculty from doing that?). As for the conflicting stories from Poole and Rotela, FIRE’s final statement notes that both sides had self-interested reasons for their own versions, but the organization is ultimately agnostic about what happened:

We’re unlikely to ever know for sure what actually happened in the encounter between Rotela and Poole. But there is one party that we can be virtually certain did the wrong thing, and that party is FAU.

If Rotela’s story is accurate, FAU charged him with a campus crime merely for vehemently complaining about a classroom assignment. For FAU to do so would be indefensible.

If Poole’s story is accurate, but FAU did not believe that Rotela’s conduct constituted a true threat, FAU should not have charged Rotela with threatening anyone. To do so would be indefensible.

If Poole’s story is accurate, and if FAU really believed that Rotela was making a true threat to hit Poole, FAU should not have dropped the threat charge against Rotela simply for public relations reasons. To do so would be indefensible.

FAU’s mishandling of the threat charge against Rotela can’t be defended. The only real dispute is over which indefensible action FAU took.

What Really Happened in the “Stomp on Jesus” Incident?

But if this incident is to be Ben Carson’s stump-speech example of the need for federal administrators to go on a hunt for cases of “extreme political bias,” it is worth going back to figure out what really happened back in the spring of 2013. I am especially grateful to DeAndre Poole; Hiram Sasser, the Liberty Institute lawyer who represented Rotela; Scott Jaschik, who reported on the incident for Inside Higher Education; and at least initially FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, for the time they took to answer my questions. I spoke to others whose names I am not free to mention.

In sum, although I can agree with FIRE that we cannot know “for sure” what happened, my investigation led me to conclude that this was not a case of bias against traditional Christian values, and not a case in which a student was punished for standing up for his religion. Rather, it is a case in which a professor was unfairly railroaded by media outlets, bloggers and elected officials who rushed to speak when they heard only one side of the story, and who was then thrown under the bus by the university. The case should not be any excuse for a conservative politician to start sending federal administrators out on a witch-hunt for “political bias” on campus.

First, for several reasons, I think it is quite unlikely that Poole punished Rotela for refusing to participate in the lesson. The most important reason for this conclusion is that punishing the student for objecting to stepping on the paper would have made no sense in the context of the purpose of the lesson. The written lesson plan stated:

This exercise is a bit sensitive, but really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings. Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence, instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.

This lesson cannot succeed if all the students docilely step on the paper, if none of them object to the instruction. So what reason would Poole have had to punish non-participants? Moreover, Poole has characterized himself as a committed Christian (indeed the lesson’s author, Jim Neuliep, has a B.A. from a Methodist-affiliated university and teaches at a Catholic college). Would a religious Christian punish a student for refusing to step on Jesus?

For somewhat similar reasons, I am inclined to credit Poole’s assertion that he did not use the word “stomp” in speaking with the students. It is the word “step,” not “stomp,” that is recommended by the lesson plan, and Poole was plainly following this lesson plan. His own religious feeling could well have led him to use the less forceful word; Poole denied using the word “stomp”; and I have not found anyplace where Rotela himself said that the professor used that word; from what I have seen, Rotela only used that word in characterizing what he had been asked to do. Indeed, one of the original media reports from 2013 characterized Rotela himself as saying that Poole had told him to “step on” the piece of paper, but also quoted him as having proceeded to talk about what it means to “stomp on something.” (Unfortunately, there is no working link from this article to Rotela’s actual interview.) Similarly, both the letter from Governor Scott and the letter from Senator Rubio use the word “step” rather than “stomp” to describe the lesson to which Rotela objected. I asked Rotela’s former attorney whether Rotela said that Poole used the word “stomp” rather than “step,” and he did not remember specifically.

I also conclude from my investigation that Poole expressly told students that it was up to them whether they stepped on the paper or not — they were not coerced into doing so. Poole said he had issued this disclaimer, and I could not find any contemporary statement by Rotela disputing that claim. Moreover, during my investigation I was able to identify a student who was in the class that day (at his request, I am withholding his name) and he remembered Dr. Poole specifically making clear the voluntary nature of the “stepping on” act. (This student did not recall whether Poole said “step” or “stomp.”) Rotela’s former counsel Hiram Sasser told me that my conversation with him was the first time he had heard about Poole’s claim that he gave this sort of express disclaimer, but at the same time Sasser made clear that, after the University complied with Rotela’s demand to have his record cleared, he felt that battle had been won, and he stopped playing close attention to the ensuing controversy.

It is harder to form a clear judgment about one other fact — whether Rotela in fact made threatening statements and gestures. According to an interview with an education blog, Poole’s account was as follows:

[Rotela] said repeatedly, “How dare you disrespect someone’s religion?””

After class, the student came up to [Poole], and made that statement again, this time hitting his balled fist into his other hand and saying that “he wanted to hit me.” While the student did not do so, Poole said he was alarmed and notified campus security and filed a report on the student.

Similar statements appear in the summary of Poole’s interview with the faculty Academic Freedom Committee. I have not found any contemporaneous accounts of Rotela personally disputing Poole’s reports about his actions, but it appears that one of the students in the class was taken aback by whatever Rotela may have said to Poole after class, in that he sent Poole a note that took pains to distance himself from whatever it was that Rotela said and/or did: “I am at loss for words regarding what happened tonight. I just want to make clear I do not share the same views as my colleague . . ..”

Moreover, although the Liberty Institute claimed, on Rotela’s behalf, that the threat assertion was just an after-the-fact excuse and that Rotela never “threatened” anyone, Rotela’s counsel was unable to comment specifically on either the gestures or the specific statements that Poole attributed to Rotela; he did remember that Rotela was angry. And the Liberty Institute’s account of the case was misstated in other respects. Liberty Institute’s website states, for example, “While several other students in the class were also upset by the ‘lesson,’ only one was brave enough to say ‘no.'” The student whom I located told me that many of the students were unwilling to step on the paper; thus Rotela was not the “only one brave enough to say ‘no,'” But Rotela does appear to be the only one who thought Dr. Poole had done anything wrong by conducting that lesson: when a representative of the faculty’s Academic Freedom Committee visited the class (by then being taught by a different professor), during Dr. Poole’s suspension to ascertain how students felt about the controversy, she reported that every student who spoke about the subject expressed support for Dr. Poole, that a petition supporting him was circulated and so far as she could tell, “all students in attendance signed the petition.” The petition, in turn, stated that nobody else in the class was “offended” by the lesson. The report includes a detailed account of what Poole told the committee in an interview; Poole told me that this account basically reflects his recollections of the incident. I am told by a source close to the committee that the University barred the committee from meeting with Rotela as part of its investigation. That is too bad, from my perspective, because it means we lack any detailed report of his contemporary recollections.

Although I have not yet obtained a copy of the actual report that Poole submitted after the confrontation with Rotela, Poole told me that he submitted it the very night of the class. Because Rotela did not complain to anybody at FAU about Poole until a couple of days after that, Poole?s complaint could not possibly have been a post-hoc invention, made up out of whole cloth to defend himself against Rotela’s already-made complaint. And I have also been told that the FAU authorities investigated what Poole had charged against Rotela, including by meeting with Rotela and explaining the complaint. Thus, although the disciplinary letter issued to Rotela did cite a provision in the code of student conduct which, as Lukianoff points out in his Forbes column, was facially overbroad, Rotela could have been under no illusions about whether the gist of the complaint against him was that he had threatened Poole physically.

But why, assuming that Rotela had actually threatened an instructor, would FAU’s top administrators back down on possible discipline of a student? One of the things Rotela’s counsel Hiram Sasser told me is a possible explanation. His most vivid memory of the case was how quickly the administration had caved into his demands on behalf of Rotela; he kept coming back to the point that it had been only 48 hours after they entered the case (which was after Rotela had initially gone to the press) that he met with university officials and received an oral apology. He mentioned as well that FAU might have been especially susceptible to public pressure because it was going through some other public relations disasters at the time. Certainly it is the strong impression of a senior faculty leader to whom I spoke that Poole had been “railroaded.” So it is quite possible that the university administration, having been hammered in the press and pressured by high elected officials, simply followed the path of least resistance by excusing the student and ignoring the interests of its adjunct professor. From a callous university administrator’s perspective, that’s the beauty of using adjuncts: they are so easily expendable!

In sum, however, it seems to me that there is no support for Ben Carson’s current claim, or for the contention back in 2013 by Fox News and Greg Lukianoff, that a student was threatened with suspension for “refusing to stomp on Jesus.”

Does the Mere Offering of the Lesson Pose Serious Concerns Under West Virginia v. Barnette?

When I first approached Lukianoff about his column, he stood solidly behind his reference to Barnette, but when I followed up with some detailed questions about his legal analysis, I found his responses oddly lacking. I pointed out that Barnette involved a command to schoolchildren, and I asked whether he could point to any situation where Barnette’s approach to the pledge of allegiance had ever been applied to college students. Teaching this lesson at the elementary school level might raise more serious concerns, but at the college level we expect students to be able to handle classroom activities that might challenge their faith as an initial gambit in a lesson. Indeed, the bewildered response of the textbook’s author to the media storm about the lesson is worth noting: Jim Neuliep said that in his thirty years of doing this lesson in his classes, the usual outcome is that the exercise leads students to reaffirm their faith, while at the same time learning about the power of symbols.

In any event, Lukianoff’s response to my question was that the “principles of Barnette,” such as granting First Amendment protection against compelled speech, had been applied beyond young students. At that level of generality Lukianoff’s response is surely accurate; but it does not speak to whether a request to participate in a ritual that poses challenges to religious belief can lawfully be given to college students.

And more to the point, I asked him to consider whether it was unlawful to give an instruction and depend on a student to assert his right not to participate. Barnette itself involved a statute that provided for the expulsion of any student who did not participate in the pledge, and criminal punishment for parents whose children did not attend school. But there are a variety of public events in which the audience is called upon to participate in the ritual of the pledge — or the singing of the national anthem — and it strikes me as highly unlikely that a member of the public could sue on compelled speech grounds. Indeed, there are cases involving the pledge of allegiance — the Newdow case comes to mind — where the free speech Barnette was distinguished on the ground that in those cases, the law does not require expulsion or other punishment of the student who objects to the ritual. As the Supreme Court held in Newdow’s case, “Consistent with our case law, the School District permits students who object on religious grounds to abstain from the recitation.” (I should be clear that when the pledge of allegiance includes the words “under God” it implicates Establishment Clause issues that are different from the compelled speech issues in Barnette.)

Certainly, when I was growing up on Long Island in the 1960’s, students who did not want to participate in the pledge of allegiance ritual had to speak up for themselves, even in high school; nobody suggested that we could sue the school district just because the homeroom teacher said, every morning, that it was time to stand for the pledge of allegiance.

Moreover here the instructor apparently expressly told the students that they were free not to participate. It is hard to see any non-frivolous argument for compelled speech in those circumstances. Lukianoff did not answer my questions about this problem with his Barnette argument; instead, he started to complain that my asking questions was imposing on his busy schedule.

But perhaps the best indication that the reference to Barnette in Lukianoff’s column was a bit of a makeweight is the fact that despite his passionate defense of the point, FIRE has not brought a single test case on this issue. The lesson is offered by a textbook that is widely assigned in courses across the country — when I did a Google search for “Neuliep syllabus” I found many courses, most of them at public universities, where the book is central to the class. I imagine that if FIRE really thought that merely offering this lesson posed a serious threat to free speech values, it would have no trouble lining up a test case. But FIRE told me this week that, to its knowledge, “we have not seen a comparable situation before or since.”

Investigating Extreme Political Bias on Campus

Even if Carson had found a good example of “extreme political bias” on a college campus, civil liberties advocates might shudder about the prospect of a president assigning federal officials to solicit complaints from students about political expression, then sending out apparatchiks to investigate the speakers and holding out the threat of pulling financial aid, research grants, and other forms of funding from the errant universities. A recent editorial on Reason’s website drew an analogy between efforts at the Education Department’s Civil Rights Division “putting unconstitutional limits on students’ free speech rights in the name of stopping sexual harassment” (a concern that I share) and Ben Carson’s call for inquisitions into offenses against his own sort of political correctness. It seems to me that promising witch hunts seeking to suppress political speech that is at odds with the viewpoint of a presidential candidate would be even more worrisome than regulations aimed at hate speech and the overbroad speech codes against which FIRE has been campaigning.

I should like to think that FIRE will also share this concern. I urge it to speak out on the subject.

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Comments on “Is The 'Stomp On Jesus' Case Really A Good Example Of 'Extreme Political Bias' On College Campuses?”

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

So apparently his suggestion to confront the symbol resulted in him being threatened and later reported.

And then due to pressure from reactionary parties, getting the poor professor was dismissed from his position.


Once we can get past the shit storm, I think this presents a teachable moment regarding the power of symbols.

Considering that power, is it any wonder that those symbols can be used to dehumanize others so that we can torture and kill them without a thought for their own sanctity.

Symbols are dangerous, and maybe some of us indulge them too much.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So apparently his suggestion to confront the symbol resulted in him being threatened and later reported.

It’s been a common refrain in my family’s political discussions about how dangerous the term “real Americans” that the right uses a lot. The rhetoric used is incredibly othering. “Real Americans”, “Red-blooded Americans”, “take back our country” and others all stand to create this invisible (and up to the interpretation of the listener) barrier between us and “them”. Whereas the “us” team are for the US, “they” aren’t “real Americans”, and thus xyz injustices are justified.

So yeah, color me not surprised that symbolism is a hill that right-leaning pundits would die on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: So apparently his suggestion to confront the symbol resulted in him being threatened and later reported.

“symbolism is a hill that right-leaning pundits would die on”

You think the left-leaning are above leaning on symbolism?
What do you call political correctness? Black Lives Matter?

There are so many symbols that the left lean against it’s surprising they can stand without aid?

This isn’t a one sided phenomenon. There’s plenty of room at the table for most all of us. Myself included.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: So apparently his suggestion to confront the symbol resulted in him being threatened and later reported.

When political correctness and BLM (which is a movement, not a symbol, but I know what you mean) are used as an excuse to other people, and then torture and kill folks that are passingly similar to them as the OP to this thread mentioned, I’ll concede your point.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: So apparently his suggestion to confront the symbol resulted in him being threatened and later reported.

Political correctness is a symbol? I thought political correctness is about being mindful of your neighbors and their sensitivities. You know, what you do to the least of mine you do to me, and all that.

Last I checked Black Lives Matter is a response to a norm in (some parts of) this nation in which the behavior of the police and officials has demonstrated that black lives don’t matter. Certainly not as much as white lives.

It’s not that Black lives don’t matter hypothetically. The US Constitution allegedly protects black lives. But Black lives matter a whole lot less in practice, and they should matter.

(Someday we’ll wend our way down to crazy lives and Muslim and transgender lives mattering as well, but for now we’re liberating social minorities one at a time.)

If you want to argue that some liberals think that gun-enthusiasts should be treated differently than other sorts of enthusiasts, I’d be inclined to agree with you.

As a raging liberal, though, I want you to have the right to own and enjoy your guns, but I also want you to have respect for guns and care of your guns that is appropriate to any dangerous device. We have a lot of crazy, preventable gun accidents in our land, and that’s a bad thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 So apparently his suggestion to confront the symbol resulted in him being threatened and later reported.

Political correctness is a symbol? I thought political correctness is about being mindful of your neighbors and their sensitivities. You know, what you do to the least of mine you do to me, and all that.

Yes, Political correctness is a symbol (a symbol that changes with the squeaky wheels – both left and right). Political correctness is never about being mindful of your neighbours, it is about being a hammer to beat those who oppose you into submission.

Your quote about the least of mine is out of context, but does have some relevance.

In many ways it matters not what you political stance is, what matters is how you treat your neighbour. That lesson however, has not been taken to heart by most including many who call themselves Christian. Your neighbour is every man, every woman and every child, irrespective of their specific circumstances. We are told to heap coals of fire upon the heads of our enemies. Prov 25:21-22, Rom 12:20. But we are more likely to spit on him or her, or kill them or starve them. The act of heaping coals of fire on someone’s head was to to give them of your own resources that they may have power for light, heat, and cooking, you know, the essentials of life.

Too often today, by the time we hear about an event, it has already been passed through the chinese whispers. We have little chance of determining the truth of the matter at hand. It takes courageous people to lay out all sides to what has happened so that the truth of the matter will be seen in the light of day.

I have seen many who are from the political right and from the political left who are in every essential way are identical – they want control and want everyone else to submit to them in total obedience.

Unfortunately, political correctness has reached into every area of endeavour today.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So apparently his suggestion to confront the symbol resulted in him being threatened and later reported.

It’s extremely ironic to note that if Christians followed their faith as it is written, there are clear statements about the use of symbols and idols.

True faith is an internal, personal thing and has no place in the physical world in any form other than your actions towards your fellow man.

A piece of paper, or a spoken word has no value to, or influence on, a person secure in themselves and their faith.

Those who espouse political correctness, in any form, are as insecure and wrongheaded as those who espouse dogmatic laws or expressed religious indignations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: So apparently his suggestion to confront the symbol resulted in him being threatened and later reported.

If your definitions of idols and true faith were widely accepted, there would be (depending on the strength of the definition) no churches, no monuments, no battles over the placement of crosses and copies of the ten commandments. You may argue that’s what faith, or Christian faith, should be, but that’s not what it is according to Christians.

Idolatry covers two things in Christianity – worshiping other gods, and worshiping symbols. To some Christians, this only speaks to worshiping the representation and forgetting that which is represented, to others it inclusively bans even making such symbols in the first place. In either case, the force of Christian philosophy on idolatry is not to say that symbols are beneath notice, but instead that they are important, powerful, and to be handled with care.

Consider: If someone believes even making an image of God disrespectful and sinful, how much more disrespectful is it to make such an image and then do further disrespectful actions to it?

Independent of the truth of the story, and any real, imagined, perceived, etc. pressure on the student, denying the existence of reasons why someone might be offended by the situation isn’t particularly helpful.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Photos of your wife

The question, then, is do I want to? Those sound like really good photos.

Of course projecting the same idea onto this notion, the exercise could vary with the quality or potence of the symbol.

Scribbling JESUS onto a piece of paper and stepping on it is one thing. Considering defacing Michelangelo’s L’Ultima Cena is at a whole ‘nother order of magnitude.

It makes me think of the flag-burning bills we’ve considered here in the US.

Harald K (profile) says:

Re: Re: So apparently his suggestion to confront the symbol resulted in him being threatened and later reported.

Anonymous coward, some theology for you: Paul was quite clear that it didn’t really matter whether the meat you eat had been “sacrificed” to idols. He didn’t care, he considered that the gods the idols represented probably did not exist, or anyway didn’t matter if they did.

But he still would never eat meat, and told people to not eat meat if they knew it had been an idol sacrifice. Not for God’s sake, but for the sake of the people for whom it WOULD matter. Both Pagans getting the wrong idea, and Christians having a hard time turning old habits.

So stepping on a note with “Jesus” on it would not matter in itself. But if you as a Christian do it deliberately as a ritual act, or in obedience to some silly college teacher, then it would matter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: So apparently his suggestion to confront the symbol resulted in him being threatened and later reported.

“The left would join Muslims in calling for his head”

Stereotypes, generalizations and all encompassing statements have something in common, they are all false simply due to their lack of exceptions. All one needs to prove the statement false is to find one instance where it does not apply.

Fact is, the lesson plan is flawed regardless of whose head you are stepping upon.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: So apparently his suggestion to confront the symbol resulted in him being threatened and later reported.

How is it flawed?

1) Create an ad hoc symbol of something ‘sacred’.

2) Ask students to step on it, or to refuse.

3) Ask them to think about why they did or didn’t ‘desecrate’ something that’s nothing more than ink & paper, neither of which are ‘sacred’.

How does that fail as a lesson in symbolism?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 So apparently his suggestion to confront the symbol resulted in him being threatened and later reported.

In order to illustrate a point, it is not necessary to literally act it out in order to get the point across.
Imagine a murder trial where they actually murder someone when illustrating how it went down.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 So apparently his suggestion to confront the symbol resulted in him being threatened and later reported.

Granted. But. A visceral experience tends to make a greater impact on fully absorbing a lesson, especially among those with limited imaginations or who lack empathy… and it really doesn’t sound like this particular student was a savant when it came to picking up on abstractions.

It all depends on whether or not education should be geared to the LCD.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is what happens when you teach children in Christian families that, despite being in the majority and a position of privilege (i.e. nobody argues that Islam or Hinduism is written into the Constitution like they do with Christianity), they are going to be persecuted. They come to expect it and they see persecution in lightest of pushback that they receive when someone suggests something contrary to their privileged experience of public religion. Combine this with rabble-rousing faux news “reporting” like that of Fox News and you get fake issues being trumped up to a full scale “war on Christianity.”

I have Christian friends and relatives who actively state that it’s clear we’re in the end times because retail employees at certain businesses say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas!” They argue that organized, public-employee-led prayer at football games is really important and to ban it would be persecution instead of just being neutral.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

These are the “End-Times”, that is easy enough to see, the signs of it are every where. When things will end is not know and will come at a time unexpected. However, the western world knows nothing of persecution or what it really means. Try living in Asia or the Middle East or other parts of the world and you’ll find out quick enough.

Be an ex-Muslim who has converted to being a disciple of Jesus Christ in a Muslim country and your life expectancy will be short. That is only one example of the kinds of persecution that are not common in the USA or other western nations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Look back through history. It’s filled with people claiming that they were living in the end times.

Here, I’ll do your research for you:

Saying that it’s the end times but it’s unknown when it will end is a contradiction. If it’s the end times, you’re saying it will end soon, but you’re claiming you don’t know that. Unless you consider the end times to be any amount of time prior to the end, and then it just becomes semantically meaningless.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Socrates was predicting end times as well.

Change is inevitable. Cultural and technological disruption happens regularly.

We have a dozen or so low-probability potential extinction level events. A rogue black hole only pass near the solar system to throw the earth’s orbit into an eccentric spin so that we alternate being frozen and cooked. (Stars are worse, but we can see stars, and none are approaching)

Climate change is likely to help create a food crisis or a water crisis or a virulent supergerm and reduce our population to a billion. The kick back to the iron age is the part that’s going to be harsh.

That one’s almost inevitable, but it won’t humanity, just a whole lot of us.

If you’re thinking of end times portents as per symbols in the bible combined with what some doomsayers say to match some recent events…that stuff happens all the time, and is as meaningless as it was when Socrates was seeing the end was at hand.

We just like pretending we’re in the last chapter. I assure you that most likely history will, often painfully, march on.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Also Carson has already expressed himself as an anti-intellectualist.

If I recall he used the phrase Highfalutin scientists (referring to evolutionary biologists) which is about as much of a penalty on the Crackpot Index as Hidebound Reactionaries.

I’m pretty sure that logic as basic as transitive relationships (if a=b and b=c then a=c) are beyond him, and he expects them to be beyond everyone else as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Also Carson has already expressed himself as an anti-intellectualist.

It doesn’t take a great deal of intelligence to see that there are various groups of people who promulgate various “scientific theories” that are logically inconsistent. Evolutionary biologists are just one such group. Note, I have been trained in the scientific method as well as engineering and I have come to the conclusion that many of these “scientists”, though highly intelligent and talented, have completely missed how the results of their experiments have undermined their particular viewpoint.

I, at one stage, accepted their theories, but after reading their research results over many years came to the opposite conclusion.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Investigating Extreme Political Bias on Campus

What does that even mean? Maybe things have changed since I was in college, but I’ve always assumed that every college professor taught their classes from the point of view of their own personal perspective.

When I was in college during the Cold War years I had a Political Theory professor who was a card-carrying Communist. He even showed us his official “Red File” that he FOIA’d from the FBI. The contrast between my middle class upbringing and his radical views made it one of the most interesting classes I’ve ever attended.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Investigating Extreme Political Bias on Campus” is a new McCarthyist/HUAC concept. Extreme political bias is of course judged from the perspective of a conservative bias. Democratic Socialism is considered an extreme political bias to them or really anything left on the middle and even somethings in the middle of the spectrum.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

What about the hysterical irrationality of the microaggressions and check-your-privilege crowd that pulled a fire alarm at a campus event just because a person they disagreed with was coming to give a speech?

I’ll take a couple of pouty Christians writing WaPo op-eds about the Bechdel test, over the radical feminists who ruin innocent people’s lives with phony rape allegations and place dissidents in Kafkaesque star chambers, threatening them with expulsion (or firing) and permanent social shunning unless they confess and atone for their “sins.”

Don’t believe me? Look up the article on Inside Higher Ed about the witch trial that a professor faced from other faculty members because she didn’t give in to the insane microaggressions dogma and a gaggle of students complained about feeling “triggered” by material in her course. Look up the defamation lawsuit being filed by a student at Amherst College against a woman who filed a false rape allegation against him to cover up the fact that she had basically initiated herself to the entire fraternity.

Look up the frenzy that ensued when an elective free-speech discussion was being held on a campus that showed the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and even included them in the posters that advertised the event. Look up the fits that students pitched when American Sniper was being shown on an elective student movie night (not as part of a class). Look up the madness that occurred when Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bill Maher and Condoleezza Rice were scheduled to give commencement speeches. How about this for bias: Three words, Rolling Stone Jackie. Or the other three little words “affirmative consent laws,” “Listen and Believe” — nowhere is “due process under the law” listed in the students’ rights handbook. Guilty until proven innocent, never innocent if you’re part of the “systemic structure of privilege” conspiracy theory these lunatics are always whining about.

If you don’t believe me that this madness extends outside the “safe space” (padded room) of America’s finest mental institutions of higher learning, look no further than the witch hunts in tech against “privileged dynamics” — Brandon Eich’s firing from Mozilla for the thoughtcrime of supporting Prop 8; Github’s “institutional justice” code of conduct that “prioritizes marginalized groups ahead of privileged comfort” (instead of just good coders); the canning from Mozilla of a top-notch programmer who posted anonymously on Reddit about how he couldn’t stand his feminist co-workers, and thought they were terrible programmers who were only there to promote a diversity agenda… oh, and need I say more — how about this BS rape charge against Linus Torvalds which has Assange hit written all over it?

You better believe there’s extreme political bias going on, not just in colleges but creeping into other sectors as well. It’s not just about conservative vs. liberal. It’s about rational vs. hysterical and totalitarian vs. libertarian. Free speech should not be stomped on as an “oppressive social construct”.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Sounds like you also got some critical thinking training in

…or worked it out yourself.

Here in the US, critical thinking is not politically savvy, even as far as something state GOP platforms want to proscribe.

They want simple-minded, obedient citizens.

An anecdote from the local community college speaks of a socio-political class inviting a White Supremacy speaker for a day, to the chagrin of the administration. The students pulled apart his positions like warm bread.

Maybe since we’re trying to raise generations to not think, we need to be cautious when exposing them to notions that are inconsistent with their programming.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Sounds like you also got some critical thinking training in

They want simple-minded, obedient citizens.

Same can be said of the Democrats and it would actually be true. They prefer their followers be emotional and easily whipped into a frenzy. They like that they don’t understand economics. They really like that they can pay them to sit in poverty, shut-up and vote socialist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Well researched

There are two different meanings for the term reactionary. One is a person who reactions. Politically, there’s a meaning that covers political conservatives who either wish for things to return to the “good ol’ days” and/or to an imaginary time that never actually existed.

It’s important to distinguish which you’re referring to if we’re going to argue over the use of the term (or if someone is using it in a third meaning).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Well researched

It’s not just conservatives. It’s reactionary feminists who have instituted policies that indicate just looking at a girl the wrong way is tantamount to rape, because “the male gaze.” It’s the idiot SJW gamers who want Lara Croft to be obese and covered in a burka, and whine to the UN that they’re being “harassed” just because people are calling them out on their bullshit. It’s EU politicians who cover up actual rape epidemics because they don’t want to hurt Muslims’ feelings. It’s perverts at internet outlets like who publish impassioned defenses of pedophiles as persecuted people with mental illness, and delete comments from users who say that they’ve gone too far.

The fact that you claim reactionaries are only conservatives demonstrates your own bias against the delusional and dangerous long march of “deconstructionist” progressives hell-bent on destroying everything positive about Western civilization and being given carte blanche to do so.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Well researched

If one searches on the term ” “deconstructionist progressives”, most of the links are to conservative dogma.

Perhaps you have a different point of view with respect to this supposed destruction of everything positive about western civilization perpetrated by progressive individuals.

Extra points for real life examples.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Well researched

“The fact that you claim reactionaries are only conservatives demonstrates your own bias”

Um, no. That’s the academic definition. Look at the Wikipedia entry. Reactionaries, in the political sense, have traditionally been considered conservative. What good old days are supposedly “reactionary feminists” wanting to go back to? Their perspective is progressive in nature. Think of political reactionaries as you might the Counter-Reformation. It’s reacting to change/progress, hence, conservative in nature.

If you want to say you disagree with the academic definition, that’s fine. Say that. But don’t accuse people of having a particular bias when they use a common definition for a term.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence, instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate.”

Most will hesitate? This is the most incredible part of the whole farrago of nonsense. Really?? I would think in the average high school they’d all jump up and down with a vengeance, let alone a college. Clearly, Things Have Changed since my day.

“How dare you disrespect someone’s religion?”

Pathetic. Religions exist to be disrespected. If any follower of any religion just claims that everyone else has to automatically respect it because the religion requires it, then it’s not worth respecting.

drawoC soumynonA says:

Perhaps a different question

Isn’t any role of the Department of Education in the investigation of “extreme political bias” in this way an Orwellian fulfilment?

“Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence, instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper.”

If this was a faith-friendly environment and the question had been along the lines of “Write the name of someone you admire greatly and then stand on the paper to show your solidarity”, would there have been a different reaction?

Glenn says:

What?! You’re saying “news reporters” (and I use the term loosely) tamper with the truth in order to get people watching and talking about their reports?! I never heard of such a thing!!!

And people with some level of “authority” overreact to things that never happened in the first place (at least, not as “reported”) because it makes it look like they’re doing their job (they wish)?! Wow!!!


FM Hilton (profile) says:


If this article is correct as to facts, perhaps we should require colleges teach “Critical/Analytic Thought” as a course, because it appears that students are not learning some of that subject.

Imagination or creative thinking is highly discouraged in today’s society. They’re being taught the same.

To be the workers of tomorrow.

So one person triggered this whole course of events because he was offended.

All that was required to start the ball rolling, a lie which cascaded into a media show.

Harald K (profile) says:

I find the “lesson” manipulative either way. Compelled ritual acts always are – no matter whether the force behind them is subtle or crass.

And if it’s always the word “Jesus”, then of course there are going to be a lot of people in any class who have no objections to participate in a pointless ritual denigration of a religion, because it isn’t their religion. That’s one way it steps close to violating church/state separation (assuming the uni is state-sponsored – but even if it isn’t, large civic organisations aiming to serve the whole community should adopt a policy of neutrality on their own).

But let’s say it “works” as the instructor apparently also intended, and strengthens people in their Christian faith. Well, in that case it didn’t strengthen them in their muslim faith or their atheist conviction. So it violates neutrality in another way.

This is different from the pledge of allegiance – rightly or not (I think no, and think the pledge should go away entirely), the pledge in the US is in a privileged position compared to other pledges, that Christianity isn’t compared to other religions.

Rituals, reenactments, “role-playing” in educational contexts are manipulative. Just say no.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You seem to have misunderstood the point of the lesson. It had nothing to do with the ‘denigration’ or ‘strengthening’ of religion, it was about teaching people about symbols, and the power they hold. Ask a student to place a blank piece of paper on the floor and step on it, and all of them will probably do it without hesitation.

Write a simple name or word on it though, one important to the student, and suddenly things change, even though the only thing different is the name/word now on the paper. Where before there was no hesitation, now you can have people hesitating or flat out refusing to step on the paper.

As a method of showing the power of symbols the lesson is both simple and effective.

Harald K (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It is because stepping on a piece of paper with a name on it looks like a performative act, a ritual act of rejecting the person whose name is on it, that the “symbols have power”. You – and maybe the teacher, it looks like – doesn’t have a good grasp of performative statements.

It’s got nothing to do with symbols, really. Why don’t you just shout out now, “I wish that my mom dies of brain cancer!”? Is it because your mom is a symbol, and you are irrationally afraid that the sound waves emitting from your mouth have some sort of power to make it come true? No, of course not. It’s because that would be a performative act. It would make you look like you assert something, something you don’t wish to assert, and it will make you look like you are something you are probably not (namely a person who hates their mom).

Saluting flags or burning them, reciting pledges, writing notes with your ex’s name on and throwing them in the fireplace, denying the holy spirit on youtube, you name it: these are loyalty displays. Teachers should not demand them, even as an “educational” tool, any more than they should steal from their students to teach them about stealing.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The act itself means nothing without the symbol, so yes, it very much is about the symbol. Stepping on a piece of paper is meaningless, the act only acquires meaning when the symbol is added to it, and a previously meaningless actions suddenly has meaning in the mind of the person doing it, because of the symbol, which is what the lesson is about, to force people to realize this and to think about it.

Saluting or burning a random piece of cloth, reciting random words, throwing blank pieces of paper into a fire… none of those things would have any meaning to the vast majority of people, they only acquire meaning because people give them meaning, most often through symbols.

Harald K (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“The act itself means nothing without the symbol” When I just gave you the example of wishing death on your mom, it was to explain why this is not true.

Your mom isn’t a “symbol” in the commonly used sense, the sense that Jesus’ name, or the cross, or the flag is. Still it’s exactly the same underlying reason you won’t do it: It makes you look like you are something you aren’t – both to others, and maybe to yourself if you do it without good reason.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

When I just gave you the example of wishing death on your mom, it was to explain why this is not true.

Would you hesitate to step on a blank piece of paper? Would doing so mean anything to you? Would the action carry any significance to you?

If not, would you hesitate to step on a piece of paper with ‘Jesus’ written on it? If it’s really the action that matters, not the symbol, then if you showed no hesitation with the blank piece of paper, you should show no hesitation with the paper with ‘Jesus’ written on it.

As for your example, if I remove the word ‘mom’ from the death wish, either replacing it with a random word, or just taking it out, what are you left with? Does the sentence mean anything without the identifying word/name other than that you like to shout random things?

The sentence itself would have no real significance without the word ‘mom’, because of what it means, stands for, and what is associated with it, similar to other symbols, even if not exactly like them.

“I wish that dies of brain cancer!” would be meaningless, similar to how stepping on a blank piece of paper is. It’s only when you add in the symbol that it acquires meaning, whether that symbol is ‘mom’ or ‘jesus’ or whatever.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I’d give up at this point. The devoutly religious live in a world built of symbols, so much so that symbols have become physical reality to them. Everything is a symbol, and nothing is a symbol: we’re trying to argue across realities. It’s a world in which ‘figuratively’ is literally a synonym for ‘literally’, and wine & crackers belong in the ‘meat’ category of the Food Pyramid.

tiffany bell (user link) says:

Nazi salute came from Pledge of Allegiance

No one should stand for nor chant the Pledge of Allegiance because it was the origin of the Nazi salute and Nazi behavior (that is one of the many amazing discoveries of the historian Dr. Rex Curry, as described in the many books on Amazon and elsewhere about Dr. Curry’s work). The early pledge began with a military salute that was then extended outward to point at the flag (thus the stiff-arm gesture came from the pledge and from the military salute). The pledge was written in 1892 for kindergartners to be forced to recite under the flag at government schools (socialist schools). The pledge was written by an American socialist who influenced other socialists worldwide, including German socialists, who used the gesture under their flag’s notorious symbol (their symbol was used to represent crossed “S” letters for their “socialist” dogma -another of Dr. Curry’s discoveries). The pledge continues to be the origin of similar bullying attitudes even though the gesture was changed to hide the pledge’s putrid past. The pledge is central to the US’s police state and its continued growth.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Nazi salute came from Pledge of Allegiance

I’ve seen this spam posted in other discussion boards. It’s complete nutty nonsense. It conflates socialism with fascism. The pledge of allegiance was written by a Christian socialist. What the Nazis may or may not have decided to do with it after the fact is irrelevant to the original meaning. I’m not a fan of the pledge, but just making up bullshit and spamming your website on completely unrelated discussion boards is just slimy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Is anyone shocked at fox these days at all?
Outrage brought to you by the same evil old mummy [with boney girl arms] (Rupert Murdock) that bought out National Geographic just so he could shut it down for disagreeing with him on Climate Change…..

Rupert Murdock is likely to be dead within 1-2 years at most and he’s taking out his vicious evil paedophile-protecting, voicemail hacking joys on innocent people. Sooner the monster drops dead of a heart attack the better.

What Up Chuck says:

Prosecutorial Bias

Is there any wonder why people and in particular students might view the political system of things with bias. They are living in a fucked up world that they didn’t cause. They see a world that hates us and who doesn’t even know us. All the world sees is the polital and military actions spewing and blazing from out of our country.

And back home we meet out government and find how much they love us as it protects the large corporations and slams the doors closed behind us. The dollar continues to get smaller and the lawyers and prosecutors across the US get meaner and richer because of their prosecutorial bias towards the great people of our nation. They treat us as if we the people are their enemies and are fair game to their political and monetary pursuits. I wonder how many cops actually know who their real bosses are.

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