While some people seem to be upset about stepping on the name of Jesus, others are profiting from it.
Righteous indignation often takes on such dramatic flair with some people. Zealots of any belief system, be it secular or sacred, are the easiest to offend and the quickest to seek retribution. If there is even the slightest indication of offense, hair-on-fire accusations spew forth and the lighting of torches and burning of tar are not far behind.
Such is the case with the recent incident that occurred at Florida Atlantic University, a state university of some 30,000 students located in Boca Raton, Florida. It appears that a professor at the university that was teaching an intercultural communications class had the students engage in an exercise that required them to write the name of “Jesus” on a piece of paper and reflect on it for a moment. Then they were asked to step on the paper and talk about how that made them feel.
The object lesson of the exercise was ”to encourage students to view issues from many perspectives, in direct relation with the course objectives,” said Noemi Marin, the university’s director of the school of communication and multimedia studies. One student however felt his “religious rights [were being] desecrated” and claimed he was “being punished” for refusing to participate in the class exercise.
That student is Ryan Rotela who is reported to be “a devout Mormon” and a junior at FAU’s Davie campus. Yet there is nothing to indicate that Ryan was in fact punished. Clearly Ryan is the source of this story that leaked to the media and before it was he acquired a lawyer, Hiram Sasser, to inform everyone that he received a notice asking him to “attend a Student Conduct Conference.”
The notice simply says that Ryan is “not [to] attend class (SPC 3710) or contact any of the students involved in this matter – verbally or electronically – or by any other means.” It appears this was just a procedural move on the part of the university to investigate the matter before the public got wind of it and the rumors started flying. Whether Ryan deliberately disregarded this procedure for personal reasons or simply lost control of how it made its way outside the university is not clear.
What does seem apparent though is that he has solicited the services of a lawyer who is the director of Litigation for Liberty Institute, an advocacy organization whose website claims it is “dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America.”
It isn’t clear why Mr. Rotela sought out Mr. Sasser,or any attorney for that matter, since the University is asserting that they had no intention of punishing the student. But Mr. Sasser claims that “school officials told Rotelas he would be suspended”. It appears we have a he said, she said controversy.
There is nothing on Ryan Rotela’s Facebook page that would indicate he is anything other than a young university student who, ironically appears to “like” atheist Christopher Hitchens and Che Guevara. His “Proud to be an American” header seems to indicate he holds strong personal feelings about personal liberty. Time will tell if Ryan was sincere in his reaction to the exercise or is party to a cause célèbre for the religious right, spearheaded by the Liberty Institute.
Where this whole hair-on-fire storm took off to a fanatical level appears to be from the public display his right-wing lawyer has engaged in. Once the right-wing Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, got wind of this, the incident became something short of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ himself. Scott has demanded a detailed report from state university system Chancellor Frank Brogan regarding the incident.
“Whether the student was reprimanded or whether an apology was given is in many ways (inconsequential) to the larger issue of a professor’s poor judgment,” Scott stated in a letter to Brogan. “The professor’s lesson was offensive, and even intolerant, to Christians and those of all faiths who deserve to be respected as Americans entitled to religious freedom.” SOURCE
This seems at odds with Governor Scott’s non-existent response when the Florida christian preacher, Terry Jones, publicly burned the Quran about two years ago. Jones had threatened to burn Korans earlier, back in September of 2010. During that election year many people on both sides of the political spectrum condemned Jones’ threat but Rick Scott was silent. His running mate, state Rep. Jennifer Carroll, condemned the action but Scott himself never made mention of the incident, even after he was elected and Jones actually did burn the Quran in March, 2011.
Also upset over the Florida Atlantic University incident is the incendiary pastor of the Church of All Nations in Boca Raton, Mark Boykin, who has informed the press he will be staging a protest march at FAU.
“To write the name of Jesus on a piece of paper, and then to stop and contemplate what they were doing. And then to stomp on it,” says Rev. Boykin. “We find this to be unconscionable, unprofessional and completely unacceptable.” This event must have brought back a bad childhood experience for Boykin.
“Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”
Boykin however didn’t appear to find it all that unconscionable, unprofessional or even all that unacceptable when his fellow pastor Terry Jones burned those Qurans. Despite “not agree[ing] with Pastor Terry Jones’ actions to burn copies of the Quran”, Boykin was more concerned that Jones’ Constitutional rights to protest were being trampled on.
“I find it reprehensible for the city of Dearborn [Mich.} to ban Pastor Jones from going near America’s largest mosque for three years” Boykin told the press in April of 2011. “The Constitution of the United States affords freedom of speech for everyone, not a selected few.” Boykin made headlines of his own earlier that month by calling for the firing of a Muslim professor at Florida Atlantic University, who Boykin claimed had ties to terrorists. SOURCE
The religious right hasn’t had much to cheer about recently. Most of their candidates lost their bids to win office in 2012 including their poster child in Florida, Rep. Allen West. Outside of some victories restricting abortion rights in some states, their fight against equal rights for homosexuals seems destined to see defeat with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and legalizing gay marriages is slowly gaining acceptance with the public as well as in the legal system.
This incident at FAU has been blown out of proportion by the religious right simply because they are losing their battle to make this country a Christian nation. Not just as a matter of its predominant, traditional faith base, but more along the lines of a theocracy.
Scratch the surface of any fundamentalist christian in this country and you will see beliefs not unlike other theocratic regimes in the world. The good old days of burning heretics at the stake holds a fond remembrance for some. The promise of more academic censorship brings a twinkle to their eye.
If it were true freedom of religion that the likes of Governor Scott and Pastor Boykin were really concerned about, their indifference toward the abuses of Islam in this country would not be so apparent. If it were true of what they tend to profess, that “God is in control”, there would not be this stringent effort to change the laws that imposes their beliefs on others.
Governor Rick Scott and pastor Mark Boykin
Step on the name of Jesus and you step into their world