CATCH-ing Up and Opting Out

ILYBYGTH reported yesterday on a new pilot program in New York City high schools.  The program, Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Health, or CATCH, will expand the district’s condom-distribution program to include birth control pills and “morning-after” pills.

This morning, we read Catholic League President Bill Donohue’s denunciation of this “imperial edict” in an interview in the Christian Post.  “Whenever it comes to sensitive issues such as sexuality, the government must  always play an ancillary role to that of parents,” Donohue told the CP. “The provision  that parents can opt out smacks of governmental arrogance and must be resisted:  the government has no business eclipsing parental rights.”

Bill Donohue as the Wild-Eyed Pope on South Park’s “Fantastic Easter Special”

I am usually no fan of

Bill Donohue.  I find myself siding more often with the South Park send-up of his public-morality campaigns.  But in this case, I find his criticism of CATCH more compelling than the lame defense offered by Chanel Caraway of the NYC Board of Health.  Since only 1-2% of parents had opted out of the program, Caraway told ABC News, “this suggests that parents are OK with the service being available to their children.”

Again, please don’t misunderstand.  I support the CATCH program and its goals.  I would want my daughter to be able to get free condoms and contraceptives at school if she couldn’t get them elsewhere.

However, Caraway’s opt-out argument demonstrates a frightening ignorance of America’s educational history.  In prominent cases such as Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington Township School District v. Schempp (1963), the US Supreme Court specifically concluded that “opt-out” provisions do not adequately respect families’ and children’s rights to be free of religious coercion.

As Justice Clark argued in his majority decision in Schempp, “Nor are these required exercises mitigated by the fact that individual students may absent themselves upon parental request, for that fact furnishes no defense to a claim of unconstitutionality under the Establishment Clause.”

I understand that this is a very different case.  Clark referred to the unconstitutionality of school-sponsored prayer.  It did not matter whether or not parents could opt out if the program defied Constitutional freedoms.  However, issues of sexuality are intimately connected to religious values for many students and families.  Could not a Bill Donohue argue that such state-imposed sexuality–even with an opt-out provision–denied some students their Constitutional right to free exercise of religion?  To assume that an opt-out clause defuses any potential complaint from conservative religious families seems ignorant at best, and, as Donohue put it, “imperial” at worst.

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Keeping the “Fun” in Fundamentalism

How many Fundamentalists does it take to change a lightbulb? [*Answer below.]

Since the beginning of American fundamentalism in the 1920s, fundamentalism has had an image of a group that could not take a joke. H.L. Mencken, one of the first–and still best–critics of fundamentalism, defined fundamentalism, like Puritanism, as the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be having a good time.

The image of dour fundamentalists remains powerful, with popular representations such as the fun-hating father in Footloose.

That’s not funny.

It has long been a temptation for conservatives to take on comedians for irreverence and political buffoonery.  TV shows such as Family Guy have repeatedly come under fire for their offensive sexual and political jokes.  Here, for example, Ben Shapiro and David Menzies accuse Family Guy of un-funny anti-Tea Party animus.  More recently, the aggressive Catholic conservative William Donohue of the Catholic League has worked to get a retraction by Jon Stewart of some contraception jokes.As announced in the Religion News Service, conservative Cardinal Tom Dolan of New York hopes to change that.  He will be appearing alongside Catholic comedian Stephen Colbert in a panel on September 14 at Fordham University in the Bronx.

The goal of the panel, “Humor, Joy, and the Spiritual Life,” is to explore the meanings of humor as a ministry.

Can a fundamentalist be funny?  New York Magazine listed a few of “Cardinal Rimshot’s” zingers since moving to his influential post in New York:

“They asked me when I got here, ‘Are you Cardinals, Mets, Brewers, or Yankees?’ And I said, ‘When it comes to baseball, I think I can be pro-choice.’
—To 60 Minutes

“New York has grown on me.”
—Describing his first year in the city, while patting his midsection, per the Times

“You’re the only people who never leave Mass early.”
—To inmates at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, on why he loves ministering to prisoners, per the Associated Press

“The only cardinal I wanted to be growing up was Stan Musial.”
—To Matt Lauer on the Today show

“I’m at a Steak ’n’ Shake. What do I order?”
—Dolan, calling his diet doctor, as recounted in the Daily News

“Go away, Lord. I’m not your man. My Spanish is lousy and my English not much better.”
—On his reaction to being moved from Milwaukee to New York, at a 2009 St. Patrick’s Cathedral service

“I am going to give these to a hungry person. Namely me at about four o’clock.”
—On being given a box of French pastries, as quoted in the Times

“I might have to rent a space and a half.”
—To 60 Minutes while touring the crypt of the archbishops of New York beneath St. Patrick’s Cathedral

“My first pastoral letter’s gonna be a condemnation of light beer and instant mashed potatoes.”
—On Sirius XM Radio’s Catholic channel

“I’ll answer any questions—except about my taxes.”
—At a Fordham University press conference in the midst of the Mitt Romney tax-return controversy

But what is Dolan’s boss’s attitude toward humor?
“I’m not a man who constantly thinks up jokes.”
—Pope Benedict XVI

Will this collection of self-deprecating fat jokes and white-bread baseball jokes be able to hold its own against Colbert’s famously incisive wit?  We at ILYBYGTH can’t wait to find out.

* So how many Fundamentalists does it take to change a light bulb? Take your pick:

  • None, fundamentalists don’t believe in change.
  • None, God will change the lightbulb if it is part of His plan.
  • Four, unless there is a slave woman present, in which case they can’t eat pig. (Leviticus 11:4-7).

Okay, so maybe those aren’t so good. Anyone got something better?