Thursday, November 12, 2009

Freedom from hearing

Does an alleged right not to hear something in a public place restrict the freedom of others to speak? The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation continues its campaign to shove religion out of the public square.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to UW-Whitewater objecting to the fact that the university invited students to attend a prayer vigil for a student killed in the Fort Hood shootings.

Amy Krueger, of Kiel, was a psychology major who had transferred to UW-Whitewater last year. She was one of two Wisconsin soldiers killed in the attack. ....

"It is appropriate and laudable for a public university to hold a memorial service for one its students tragically killed," wrote Freedom From Religion staff attorney Rebecca Kratz. "However, that service cannot be deemed a ‘prayer vigil.' The Unviersity of Wisconsin-Whitewater cannot sponsor a religious memorial service and impose prayer upon its students who wish to pay their respects to their classmate." [emphasis added]

Students were, of course, invited, not required, to attend. I must be missing something, but how is hearing a prayer any different than hearing any other spoken words? Hearing something doesn't "impose" acquiescence or agreement. Does the freedom to be a non-believer mean the right to shut up speech by believers? I suppose if this doctrine became widely accepted than we each would have the right not to hear anything expressed with which we disagree. Professors, visiting scholars, and guest speakers paid by the university, would be unable to say anything someone out there finds uncomfortable because hearing it "imposes" on the listener. Silence would reign. If, on the other hand, prayer is unique in this respect then the protection the First Amendment provides for religious freedom is far less than for speech generally and the religious would be better off simply making arguments for free expression.

On Campus: UW-Whitewater can't invite students to prayer vigil, foundation says