CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Like me, you may have heard or read the reports out of a neighboring city here in the section of Southeastern Virginia called "Hampton Roads", Norfolk. It has to do with a teacher handing out to school children what are being referred to as "fetus dolls" in the print news and "fetus figures" on the airwaves.
The distribution of these dolls resulted in the principal of the Oakwood Elementary School, Sheila Tillet Holas, being placed on administrative "leave" (suspension). The incident has also caused a "fracas" here in Hampton Roads. However, with most of the residents of this local area, this writer included, it is not because they were handed out but because of the extraordinary reaction they have produced.
I suggest the real question that should be asked - once the dust has settled - is why the reaction happened at all ...and who was behind it?
On Friday May 21, 2010, the television report appeared on WAVY 10 and was actually picked up nationally by CNN news
The television report, entitled "Principal on leave over fetus dolls: School board is investigating", detailed the "concern" of the Norfolk Schools system. It quoted Mike Spencer, a spokesperson for the School Board, "We're very concerned because these weren't authorized obviously by the curriculum . We've taken some pretty aggressive steps". The dolls given to the children included a card with a picture of the doll and these words, "Some people think that my life began at birth, but my life's journey began long before I was born."
The print news report appeared in The Virginian-Pilot. It was written by their religion reporter, Steven G. Vegh and entitled "Anti-abortion fetus dolls handed out to Norfolk students."
Mr. Vegh wrote "Plastic human fetus dolls - soft, in pink and brown, and about 4 inches long - have been handed out at Oakwood Elementary School by an employee who was put on administrative leave Thursday over the situation.. The distribution of the life-like forms among grade school children shocked and repelled some parents and teachers and School Board members who discussed them in a closed meeting this week."
He included one reaction from a teacher, "the 'squooshy' dolls had been given to students in the third, fourth and fifth grades over several months. The teacher, who asked for anonymity to avoid retaliation from the school for speaking out, said several parents and staff were upset. The teacher said that attached to the dolls was a card with a "pro-life" message and information on fetal growth."
He also used a school Board member named Kirk Houston Sr. as a source. He told Vegh he had "examined one of the dolls and found it "Very life like, and it's a pro-life tool.To be quite honest, that is so incredible to me, that a staff member would do something so ... entirely inappropriate and unacceptable." He said board members "were all pretty dumbfounded."
Let's be clear, these dolls are scientifically accurate. They are not at all shocking. In fact, they are amazing! They are manufactured by a company called "Heritage House" and quite popular around the Nation. They are called "Precious Ones" and you can read about them here. The company accurately advertises that the" Precious One' is the most realistic 12 week fetal model ever developed. It's beautiful detail, softness and weight can really move hearts and change minds! Each baby includes a free full-color development card describing the first trimester of life."
The same reporter followed up on Saturday morning, May 22, 2010, with an article entitled "Norfolk principal put on leave over fetus dolls for students" The article alleged to be continuing the story by filling in more details. However, it actually attempted to couple the "fetus doll" incident with an unrelated matter concerning the same principal. That is what made my suspicions rise.
Mr. Vegh wrote "On Thursday, the school staffer thought to be responsible for handing out the dolls was placed on leave." He continued "Oakwood took another hit this week when the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia blasted its principal for inviting students and teachers to participate in prayer and Bible study. The organization said such acts are coercive and violate the Constitution. The group asked Superintendent Stephen Jones in a letter sent Friday to immediately instruct Oakwood.
Principal Sheila Tillett Holas on the constitutional rights of teachers and students, and to stop religious overtures to them, as well as all organized religious activity on school grounds..
"The ACLU's letter to the superintendent was in reaction to a recently released workplace climate study conducted at Oakwood by division leaders. The survey showed that most respondents said they'd been asked to participate in religious activities at Oakwood."We have received numerous e-mails that Bible study is being held and Mrs. Holas' pastor will be the one leading it and we should feel the need to attend," one staffer said in the survey. A few said they knew of incidents in which students were participating in prayer or Bible study, but most respondents indicated they knew of none.
"Regardless of whether these activities are ' voluntary, ' such invitations are inherently coercive because of the power differential between principal and teachers," Rebecca Glenburg, the ACLU's legal director, said in a letter to Jones. Glenburg said the principal's invitations to staff "convey a message that the school endorses religion generally or a particular religion."
What is going in Norfolk Virginia?
Perhaps it is because I am a constitutional lawyer and spent many years of my thirty year legal career defending those who were wrongfully censored in the public square because the content of their speech was deemed to be "religious"- that I am very suspicious. From the second report I can assume that this principal, whom I do not know, is a Christian.
The dolls which caused this fracas are an accurate representation of our youngest neighbors in the first home of the whole human race. They are scientifically accurate, not at all offensive and profoundly educational. They are also not a "religious" statement.They are a human statement. So, why are they causing such an uproar and who is behind it?
I see a pattern on the rise in our Nation, indeed in the West. I have called it the "Two Step" of the New Censors in other articles I have written. It is at work in many of the serious debates over social and cultural issues. It is aimed at excluding the positions taken by those who embrace a Christian world view from being heard in the public square. its gaol is to prevent them from influencing the positive/civil law, or contending for the future of our understanding of freedom.
The effort to enforce the current positive law which provides police protection to those who "choose" to abort a child is the greatest example of how this maneuver works. The position which defends the humanity of the child in the womb and insists that he or she has a fundamental Right to Life is not a "religious" position. It is confirmed by medical science. It is also written on the human heart by the Natural Law which binds us all together.
Let's be honest, we now surgically intervene when a child as young as those little dolls needs our help. We routinely use 4D technology to assist us in our efforts to reach out to our youngest neighbors. The 4D sonogram snapshot has become the new "baby's first picture" on most of our book shelves or in our wallets or purses. Many of the children who received those dolls have probably seen such pictures of their little brothers or sisters.
In a majority of States, we now prosecute an offender who in the course of a crime takes the life of that child in the womb. We all know it is wrong to kill our innocent neighbors. Science, common sense and conscience is turning the Nation toward the recognition of the truth behind the Pro-Life position. The child in the womb is our youngest, smallest and most vulnerable neighbor.
Those little dolls say all of this without words. That is why they are a threat to those who for so long have hidden their perfidy behind the language of 'choice" and "rights".
Here we find also the key to the implication of the second story which attempts to connect two incidents involving this Principal.
The Pro-Life position is a truth claim with profound social consequences. It grates against some in this age called a "dictatorship of Relativism" by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger before he assumed the Chair of Peter. It is here where I raise the concern that a "two step" may be underway. Just dismiss the handing out of these dolls as as "religious" and then apply a faulty view of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
If unchecked, this effort to curtail right as Christians to contend in the Public Square will injure the common good.
Here is how it happens. First, those who oppose our positions on matters such as the Right to Life for every human being from conception to natural death relegate our truth claim to simply being a "religious position." Then they try to require that all such truth claims be confined to expression only within our Church Walls because they are "religious". They then threaten us with the Police power of the State.
Think about it. What is being insinuated in the second report in the Virginian-Pilot trying to connect the story of the same principal being the recipient of the ACLU's anti-faith wrath for public prayer? It is an effort to denigrate her by painting her as a Christian. The next step is to imply that she is forcing her "religion" on our children.
There is a Cultural contest underway for the future of the West. It involves two conflicting visions of the human person, human freedom, human flourishing and marriage and the family founded upon it as the first cell of a truly just society.
The real possibility looms that today's Christian positions on the matters of real importance for all men and women, including those of other faiths or no faith at all, will be censored from the public debate or, worse yet, made the subject of a new form of government prosecution.
We need to remember history. The old adage that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it is most true of Christian history. The early Christians were not persecuted for "religion" but as "enemies of the State" and for "hatred of the human race". They stood for their truth claims and prevailed.
I am concerned that it is this "two step" of the new censors which is really behind this overreaction in Norfolk, Virginia. We will stay on the story.