Stupid Is as Stupid Does….

Ah, the Indiana legislature! An inexhaustible source of blog fodder.

Yesterday, it was Brian Bosma twisting the rules in order to deny GLBT people equal rights. Today….well, remember that old adage to the effect that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt?

There’s a legislative equivalent–an ironic twist on our usual understanding of “do nothing” legislators. Usually, we think of a “do-nothing” Congress or General Assembly as one that quite literally does nothing–doesn’t pass legislation or attend to business. (That’s not always a bad thing, either; these days, when a legislature is active, it’s as likely to be creating problems as solving them. HJR3, anyone?)

But there is another way to do nothing, and State Senator James Smith has produced a perfect example. Here is the entire text of a bill he has introduced:

Celebration of winter holidays in schools. Provides that a school corporation may: (1) instruct students about the history of traditional winter celebrations; (2) allow the use of traditional greetings concerning the celebrations; and (3) display on school property scenes or symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations if certain conditions are met and the scenes or symbols do not include a message that encourages a particular religious belief. Requires the department of education to develop guidelines to assist school corporations in developing appropriate instruction and displays.

In other words, this bill would allow schools to celebrate winter holidays in any fashion consistent with the First Amendment.

Perhaps Senator Smith’s next bill will allow us to kiss our mothers, ride a bike, or write a letter without fear of state interference?

I assume Smith’s intent is to reassure the good folks back in Mayberry or wherever that passage of this (absolutely meaningless) measure will make life harder for the atheists and non-Christians who are waging that War on Christmas that only the wingers can detect. And he’s counting on those constituents to be totally unaware of how the Constitution and legal system actually work.

Not an unreasonable assessment. Just depressing.

Of course, there’s another possibility. Perhaps the Senator actually thinks he’s legislating. In which case, he really ought to take that old adage about remaining silent to heart.


  1. Huh! Why has Smith only addressed winter celebrations/holidays? Would this include Winter Solstice which is celebrated by Atheists? What about autumn and spring celebrations; does he mean for them to be ignored or banned and only winter celebrations be considered and allowed with certain limitations? That would omit Halloween and Thanksgiving, the former a celebration and the latter a holiday? Spring would, of course, include Good Friday and Easter, both of which encourage Christian belief. Are there current laws prohibiting other religious celebrations/holidays in schools and their displays? The only winter celebration I can think of to allow greetings, symbols and scenes is Christmas – obviously Christian – and these displays are currently not allowed in many public areas due to their religious significance and his bill would disallow these displays…which most schools currently participate in. What other winter celebrations are there not religious in basis. I am assuming he is referring to public schools but that is not specified unless “corporations” is defined as and limited to public education. What is he referring to or is he not referring to anything but only attempting to get his name before the public on a bill? Again I say; Huh!

    What did I just say? Smith confused me. Maybe I should have remembered that old adage, which I have often quoted:)

  2. I don’t think he really wants the true history of Christmas taught in schools, that would probably confuse a lot of people.

  3. Sometimes people think that legislators have more insight into what is going on than ordinary folks, but it appears that they (particularly right wing types who may not be that sharp to begin with) intensely watch media that fits with their predisposed views, and believe that the world really is that way. If one seriously watches and believes Fox news and has developed strange beliefs about what is in the Constitution and what is actually happening, I can understand why one would write a bill like this. This bill probably fits in perfectly with what he believes is reality, which should actually be an embarrassment, because it reflects what he thinks is true rather than any sort of objective reality. There should be a chapter in civics texts that discuss the strange predispositions of legislators and why they are inclined to vote the way they do.

  4. Maybe he’s saving autumn and spring celebrations for separate legislation. He’ll need something to work on next term.

  5. Is he proposing this legislation because he does not like the way in which his local school did not handle the events before the winter break and he thought passing legislation would be more effective than actually talking to the people at the school or does he just watch television believing what he sees on the tube is more valid than an actual visit to an actual school building.

  6. Senator Smith’s proposal appears to be a not so thinly veiled attempt to set aside a portion of classroom time for Sunday School type lessons undoubtedly designed around his personal cherished beliefs. I’d much prefer that all IN public schools offered a Comparative Religion course where students might walk away with at least a surface understanding of the global cultural phenomenon of religion and its impact on current and past global issues. Perhaps Senator Smith needs a remedial course in Comparative Religion.

  7. I clearly remember all the things I was taught about the war of 1812. Then I lived a year in Canada! Nuff said! What in the world could Smith know about the world? Upon what bottomless wellspring of knowledge could he appeal? What you see is what you get, and what you’re going to get: Incompetence in high places! If you don’t like Smith, flood his district with young voters and oust him. There is no other way.

  8. Sheila, I think this is a carefully crafted end-run around the First Amendment.

    “(3) display on school property scenes or symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations if certain conditions are met and the scenes or symbols do not include a message that encourages a particular religious belief”

    He wants nativity scenes to become permissible First Amendment expression. How can those not be construed to encourage a particular religious belief? What other winter holiday “scenes” are ever objected to on First Amendment grounds?

  9. At the risk of being chewed up and spit out by some readers, I choose to ignore Senator Smith’s proposal, evidently fueled by his Catholic education background, and trust the proposal will die of natural causes while simultaneously going on record for his political cred and benefit that ‘he tried’. By the way, I do not live in his district nor do I share his Roman Catholic faith and outlook. Earlier today, I posted about a perceived need for a Comparative Religion course in the IN public schools which led me to do some research into the IN DOE’s Social Studies Standards where I discovered one (1) Social Studies Standard that addresses World Religions or Comparative World Religions. This sole standard is addressed in ‘Geography and History of the World’, an elective Social Studies course offered to high school students in partial fulfillment of their Social Studies requirement for receiving an Indiana high school diploma. The particular Standard appears and is written as: SS.GHW.2 2007 – World Religions – Students will examine the physical and human geographic factors associated with the origins, spread and impact of major world religions in different regions of the world. That’s it, folks. That’s all that is offered to our IN high school students, and then it’s offered as an elective course. If we gnash our teeth about the illiteracy of Hoosiers’ understanding of global cultures, about how those cultures are/were formed, and about the intolerance of ‘things’ Hoosiers simply don’t understand, then look no farther than our self-selected stand-offish behavior to a single word, ‘religion’. We’ve dumped the baby with the bath water. We should acknowledge that it’s entirely possible to ‘teach about religion’ in an academic sense without ‘teaching religion’ in a personal sense. Our religious illiteracy, in Indiana and in the US, fuels prejudice and antagonism and places a speed bump in the road to respect for pluralism, peaceful coexistence, and cooperative endeavors in local, national, and global arenas. Religion is not the bogeyman; our illiteracy about religion is the bogeyman.

  10. Jay; your last sentence says it all. And less is known about Atheism which is not anti-religious.

  11. Any religion can indeed be a bogeyman (can scare its adherents into submission) if its teachings acknowledge the existence of other religions but reject them as false because they are different. The circular nature of this illogic prevents tolerance and promotes the survival of the religion. “We are all tattooed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribe; the record may seem superficial, but it is indelible. You cannot educate a man wholly out of the superstitious fears which were implanted in his imagination, no matter how utterly his reason may reject them.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., poet, novelist, essayist, and physician (1809–1894)

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