The celebrations of freedom and democracy which lingered after World War II were rapidly fading in favor of fear, suspicion, and a sense of persecuted minority status among the straight white Protestants who still made up nearly 90% of the nation’s population (and virtually 100% of its leadership). Historically, it seems, nothing threatens entrenched demographic power like a handful of outliers thinking their lives matter as well.
Three Big Things:
1. McCollum v. Board of Education was the first Supreme Court case to test the idea of “released time” during the school day for religious instruction by outside groups or religious leaders.
2. The Court’s four different written opinions demonstrate the complexity of applying absolutist rhetoric (“wall of separation”) to specific circumstances without trampling on the rights of local decision-makers.
3. The issues debated in McCollum reappeared in various iterations long after this particular decision and still come up in only slightly modified forms today.
I’ve started putting together information and drafts for something which may or may not be titled “Have To” History: A Wall of Separation (Public School Edition). Call me wacky, but I find this stuff fascinating.
Several years ago, my wife and I moved to northern Indiana from Oklahoma and I started a job at a new school. Day One, first hour, I was about 30 seconds into introducing our opening activity when I was interrupted by announcements via school intercom. “Please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance…”
Three Big Things:
1. In 1972, five men working for the Nixon Administration were caught breaking into Democratic National Headquarters. Investigations revealed much wider-spread wrongdoing by the White House – and efforts by the President himself to cover it all up.
2. When it was revealed that the President recorded his conversations, the tapes were subpoenaed by Congress; Nixon refused, claiming “executive privilege.”
3. The Supreme Court ruled against the President, who resigned to avoid impeachment. “Watergate” became shorthand for all things corrupt, especially in reference to major political scandals.
The First Amendment contains six specific protections, somewhat related, and presumably so very important that they all tied for first when the Framers were debating what to guarantee the mostiest mostest. These are the biggies that squeezed in ahead of militias and quartering of soldiers, and even beat out due process in order of presentation. The right to protest. The right to associate with whomever you wish, including but certainly not limited to political organizations of any and all stripes. Freedom of the press and of speech – absolute linchpins to any nation hoping to maintain the slightest credibility as a true democracy.
But coming ahead of all of them – earning the first two slots in all of Amendment-dom – are the twin ‘freedom of religion’ clauses.
Three Big Things:
1. The tribes of the Great Plains faced confinement or extermination as the 19th century drew to a close; they were desperate and confused in the face of ongoing U.S. expansion, aggression, and manipulation.
2. The “Ghost Dance” promised to bring back their former way of life, to raise their dead, and to bring peace and prosperity to all who believed.
3. Variations in tribal interpretations of “Ghost Dance” teachings and white fears of Amerindian uprisings led to unnecessary death and violence, most notably at Wounded Knee in 1890 – the effective end of Native resistance on the Great Plains.
Chief John Ross was a “mixed-blood” Cherokee who nevertheless became the best-known and arguably the most effective tribal leader of his generation. His supporters tended to lean traditional – they were conservative, and old-school – wanting little or no contact with whites and uninterested in their version of “progress.”
Because he would not agree to voluntary removal, the U.S. found others in the tribe who would. They plied them with land and money and the argument that this was going to happen one way or the other – so they might as well make it as painless as possible. The signers of the Treaty of New Echota (1835) violated the most sacred of Cherokee laws while lacking the status to even speak for the tribe to begin with.
People wonder why to this day Oklahoma is one giant inferiority complex, with a side of paranoid delusion. Texas proudly waves its ‘six flags’ representing various stages of its history. Oklahoma had three prior to statehood, playing ‘hot potato’ with us like the homely friend of the popular girls they were really looking to – um… "homestead."
But finally, a nation that needed us! That could appreciate us! Say what you like about the early U.S., they were some exploring and expanding fools! President Jefferson sent out Lewis and Clark and Co., who began mapping the entire area of –
Hey! Where are you going? Meriwether! Bill! Down here, big fellas! It’s me, Okla –
My son would fill his tray with everything he could fit in, including that cafeteria classic – brightly colored, cubed Jello. My daughter was much pickier, but inevitably she chose the wiggly cubes as well. The boy would snarf down his selections in minutes; the girl would take hours if we let her.
It is worth noting that she didn’t usually eat the Jello.
She liked to look at it. The table would inevitably get jostled a bit, or otherwise nudged, and the Jello would wiggle. It’s what Jello does. She loved that. And, to be fair, that’s just as valid a use for Jello as any other. (Just because something is edible doesn’t mean it serves no other function – otherwise, neither houseplants nor family pets would be around long.)
But that’s not how my son saw it.