Counterfactual Thinking In The New York Times

From the NYT letters to the editor:

Re “Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer” (news article, Jan. 27), about a successful lawsuit brought by Jessica Ahlquist, a 16-year-old atheist in Cranston, R.I.:

There are only six words in the text posted on the wall of Cranston High School West that are the cause of the problem. They are “School Prayer,” “Our Heavenly Father” and “Amen.” Take them out. The text can then read, with slight modification:

“May we each day desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, to be honest with ourselves as well as with others. May we be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win. May we value true friendship and always conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.”

Who could possibly object to that?

(name withheld, out of pity–you can see if you like)

Were it not for the phrases that make it a prayer
It wasn’t a prayer at all!
So how could a reasonable person object
To a banner that’s hung on a wall?
Were it not for the fact that it’s labeled a “Prayer”,
Says “Our Heavenly Father”… “Amen”
Why, the banner the judge said was going too far
Would be nothing at all—and what then?
If it hadn’t been phrased as a prayer (which it was)
Who could ask—or demand—its removal?
There are only six words—only six!—and that’s all—
That prohibit the banner’s approval!
It’s outrageous the judge’s decision I read
Says the horrible things that it does!
Cos the only thing making the banner a crime…
Is the curious fact that… it was.

Yeah,yeah, after the jump…

I am just plain sick of seeing, in pretty much every commentary thread to every story about Cranston’s Folly… the suggestion that “if they only took out 6 words, they could leave it on the wall!”.

Followed, usually, by a condemnation of Jessica’s pigheadedness in refusing such an option. Which, of course, she did (offer, that is; Cranston refused it). And which the board rejected, and which the vocal participants in town meetings also rejected, seeing as the banner was in fact a PRAYER. Jessica (and the ACLU) had the honesty to treat it as what it actually was, what it actually said it was, what it actually acted as if it were… why is it that helpful commentators feel the need to lie about the prayer and remind us that it’s not really a prayer… hell, it’s just six words away from being perfectly acceptable!


  1. kantalope says

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    Congress shall make laws respecting the establishment of religion, prohibiting the free exercise thereof; abridging the freedom of speech, of the press; the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Gosh – changing 6 words won’t change the meaning at all…

  2. Cuttlefish says

    Kantalope, you beautiful vertebrate you… Wonderful commentary! Well, wonderful, give or take 6 words… (brilliant!)

  3. Cuttlefish says

    Oh, Randomfactor… you have done yeoman’s work in the ProJo comment threads. Maybe they should pay you as well…

  4. Randomfactor says

    Yeah, but apparently I’m a godless nudist or something, so it doesn’t count.

    I’m just glad the ProJo hired Jessica for that subscription ad in the upper left corner.

  5. Cuttlefish says

    Damn, Randomfactor–that’s her eyebrows! Good catch! Makes up for being the greyhound rabbit for all the sockpuppets. (I did see that–If he/they are watching, I respect you all the same!)

    Hey, you don’t count. Fortunately, they got nothin’, so if they happened to obliterate the Randomfactor factor… (which they have not)… they still have a grand total of … nothin’. Less than shit.

  6. Randomfactor says

    It’s like when people “accuse” me of being gay. Why would they think THAT would offend me?

    /not that there’s anything wrong with that/

  7. Cuttlefish says

    I’m tempted to “accuse” you of being a free-thinking patriot…

    I just hope these Cranstonians can eventually thank you!

  8. F says

    Why print a letter to the editor from someone who obviously has not been paying attention?

    Or, am I reading this from the wrong angle, and the letter is suggesting that it shouldn’t be objectionable to the pro-banner crowd to remove the offending religiousness? I assume this is not the case, because we know that the pro-banner crowd is really the pro-prayer crowd.

    So, the letter is awkward if not ignorant or just plain stupid.

    Then again, it may also have been edited by the editors, making it appear in a manner not intended by the author.


  9. Makoto says

    At first, I was going to promise to make a donation to the scholarship fund set up for her (not by her, despite what some claim) every time a negative article was aired, but I realized I would quickly run out of money. Instead, I donate to the fund when I can, and hope others do the same. She fought *for* the law.. isn’t that moral and just at the same time?

    I think we should all play that 6 words game, like Kantalope:
    Thou shall not kill.. except when you don’t like them.
    All men are created equal.. except when you disagree with them.


  10. The Ridger says

    I read that letter as saying the school should paint over the offending words and then it’ll be fine.

  11. Cuttlefish says

    Very likely that was the intent. Of course, that option was offered, and the board refused it–as did the mob. One of the videos of a board meeting has someone making that suggestion and getting shouted down.

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