When I took my kids to the Wayne County Fair in Palmyra, New York a couple of weeks ago, I was at one of the booths when I saw someone behind it wearing a shirt with the following text in all upper-case letters:
YOU WILL NOT SILENCE MY MESSAGE
YOU WILL NOT MOCK MY GOD
YOU WILL STOP KILLING MY GENERATION
That shirt stuck in my mind, and I’ve been thinking of writing something cheeky about it since. My first reaction to it was a kind of defiant, “I’ll mock your God if I bloody well feel like it!” On second thought, the shirt is kind of sad in the pushiness of its second line, because it betrays a pretty big lack of faith on the part of the wearer. If you really think your God is the omnipotent ruler of the Universe, the God of Job who will put boils on the skin of humans if He decides to, the God who sends frogs to bother Pharaohs, then you don’t need to go around telling people to stop mocking your God, because if your God feels like it, He’ll just give the infidels Ebola or something. Only people who don’t really believe their God exists feel the need to get whiny and pushy and demand that people give their church totem the special protection of unmockability. That shirt advertises in upper case letters, “ALL MY FRIENDS GO TO CHURCH BUT I SECRETLY THINK IT’S A CROCK.” Pretty pathetic.
But there’s an interesting twist to the case of this shirt. It turns out that a kid wearing this very same sad-sack shirt to a public high school in Virginia was told by some assistant principal that he had to take off the shirt or turn it inside out. Only after a lawyer wrote a letter threatening to sue the school did it relent and allow the shirt to be worn. I’m glad the lawyer wrote that latter, but what a shame that it had to ever be written. The only thing more pathetic than an inadvertent advertisement of religious insecurity is an educator who hasn’t read the First Amendment to the Constitution.