What’s the big deal about beliefs anyway?
If the contingent of Fayette Free Thought Society members and supporters of newly appointed Fayette Board of Education Chairman Leonard Presberg thought they needed to turn out in strength to protect him from harm — whether mental or physical — from rabid, Jesus-spouting Christians last week, they needn’t have bothered.
The few Christians who showed up at the Peachtree City Library Community Room to question Presberg on his beliefs and worldview were easily outnumbered, mostly silenced and maybe even intimidated by Presberg’s vocal platoon.
The remainder of Fayette County’s Christians and other monotheistic believers, it seems, were otherwise engaged in more pressing matters.
Here was the deal. A Catholic named Steve Thaxton read about Presberg being appointed without any voter vetting. Thaxton was concerned that Presberg’s membership in the local Free Thought Society raised legitimate questions about whether the new, unelected school board member could fairly and without bias represent the mostly conservative, mostly Christian mainstream in Fayette County.
So, come Tuesday night, more than 50 locals crowded into a too-small meeting room. Given the show of support from the group, Presberg’s backers numbered well over a majority of citizens there. He even brought several family members to witness his ordeal.
Presberg had asked a Peachtree City on-duty police officer to watch over the crowd as a precaution against things getting out of hand.
Turns out Presberg himself had to overrule his supporters at several points when some got a bit raucous about the few timid questions that touched on his belief system.
It lasted for about two hours, and Presberg himself noted that he spent a good portion of that time not answering questions about his belief system.
One of his supporters noted that the U.S. Constitution specifically prohibited “any religious test” for public office in the United States, thus implying that questions from voters probing an official’s religious beliefs are similarly prohibited. (The exact wording is this: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”)
But of course such questions from voters are NOT prohibited. What the Constitution says is that you don’t have to be a member of any religious group or hold to any religious belief system in order to offer yourself for or to hold public office.
However, the voters are empowered to inquire of you whatsoever they desire and make voting decisions accordingly.
The nation’s best-paid black actor recently stated that he voted for Barack Obama mainly because Obama is black. Should that actor’s vote be disallowed simply because he made a voting choice based on race?
Change “black” to “Christian” in that statement and the mainstream media would still be erupting in indignation.
Give Presberg some political points for this: He said that he intended to model “certain values,” including “kindness, love and respect” such as one finds in elementary school character education.
Presberg said that all of us are more complicated than simple labels and that the county “tends toward diversity.” There’s a “huge range of what those faiths may be” among Fayette County citizens, Presberg said.
But, Presberg insisted, politely but firmly, “My personal faith is not a topic for discussion.”
“I want to make sure everyone knows I respect their beliefs and I will never try to impose my beliefs on them,” Presberg said.
That’s reassuring, I guess, if only that he said he actually possesses some beliefs. I mean, he seems to be a nice guy.
Some otherwise intelligent commenters have said that Presberg’s beliefs are irrelevant. What matters — they say — is whether he can “do the job,” the job presumably being to influence the teaching of facts, critical thinking skills and a set of core character values to most of the children of this county.
If Presberg’s job were to install the same set of bolts on identical automobiles coming down the assembly line, I would agree that his value system, his core beliefs, his worldview would have little to no influence on whether he could perform that mechanical job.
But of course, that’s not his job. His job is to set policy, to make budget decisions based on his internal guidance system of what our children should be taught.
It is ludicrous and ultimately hypocritical to declare that personal beliefs — ideology, if you will — don’t enter into such deeply important policy decisions.
Beliefs drive policies, not the other way around. Ask Barack Obama. I repeat: Beliefs drive policies. Just a question of whose.
So, I suggest, Presberg will indeed impose his belief system on the school board and the school system, to the extent that his one vote and support from fellow board members Terri Smith and Janet Smola will permit him to influence how the schools are run and what they teach.
After all, isn’t that why we elect the people we elect: To impose their shared belief system on the government? Isn’t that what voters do: Elect a candidate whose belief system is most like theirs? But, of course, Presberg never submitted to voters.
Thus, it would be helpful, even necessary, for taxpayers to know just what belief system drives appointee Presberg’s public policy pronouncements. But Presberg says, politely but firmly, those questions are “not a topic for discussion.”
I disagree. Any public official’s ideology is fair game.
And a word to the folks who attend churches here in Fayette.
There’s a battle of beliefs going on in the public arena right here in Fayette County. Evidence indicates that most of the pastors and most of their flocks haven’t showed up for the fight.
I think most of them don’t even know there’s a battle going on. AWOL is the term that come to mind.
Prove me wrong. Wake up. Suit up. Show up. Engage.
[Cal Beverly is the editor and publisher of The Citizen.]