Kevin Price: Imagery can help create false reality
Here is an edited version of a column Kevin Price wrote for FFRF after learning he was named a Freethinker of the Year Award recipient. Price was unable to be at the convention to accept the award in person because he was in Rojava, Syria, as part of the YPG (Kurdish for People’s Protection Units) in the fight against ISIS.
He (along with Jesse Castillo) were the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Brewster County Sheriff’s Department for placing Christian crosses on police vehicles.
By Kevin Price
When I first got in contact with FFRF about the Brewster County Sheriff’s Office Latin crosses, it did cross my mind that there could be some blowback. But to me, having an irrational government that clearly enjoys and wants more inequality is worse than possibly getting shunned slightly, as had ended up happening over the months following the first press mentions of Jesse’s and my name.
I figured early on in the process of the lawsuit being written that if we had hidden our names from the public, that could give the sheriff’s office and its wannabe theocratic supporters fuel for making bad arguments, by making it seem like we were ashamed of what we were doing, or more idiotically, arguing that we “knew” we were doing something wrong.
We discussed the issue and decided it was best to not hide our names. Being open about our identities sent the sheriff’s office the message that we were not afraid and that we were proud of what we were doing to hold them accountable. I think government employees should be open and public when criticizing the government when it steps out of line. But lots of people don’t have that option, due to having to protect themselves and their families from threats and harassment. Since the sheriff’s office gave a metaphorical middle finger to equality and secular government, I was happy to let it know exactly who was giving it a metaphorical middle finger right back.
Since I was a federal law enforcement agent at the time, it was particularly frustrating that the sheriff’s office and county attorney acted like there was no problem with putting Latin crosses on public vehicles designed to be used in law enforcement activities. The powers-that-be in the Texas state Capitol acted like they needed to deliberate for weeks or months on the issue before saying anything about it.
This is dishonest political fakery; it doesn’t take someone more than a few minutes to figure out they were violating the Constitution. If they are so incompetent that basic research takes months, there should be some basic competency requirements passed for politicians to meet before they are allowed to take office. Basic competency requirements apply to people applying for law enforcement jobs, so why should our politicians, representatives, governors and presidents not have to? But I’m sure they were just stalling in the hope that people would just forget about the crosses. They were just being dishonest.
But the sheriff’s office should be fully capable of being knowledgeable on constitutional issues, individual laws and case law. Somehow it thought what it was doing was legal, despite no evidence whatsoever. What was it using to determine the legality of its actions? Mob popularity? Personal preference? Faith? It seems it was, and yet none of those things are law enforcement tools in a society that seeks any kind of justice, human well-being and progress.
Do state agencies want people to get used to the idea of police being particularly religious? Maybe then nonreligious people won’t even apply for law enforcement jobs and people who are more religious (Christian, of course) would have a better hegemonic grip on the nation? Are they saying that government work in general requires belief in their favorite deity? I would answer “likely yes” to those questions.
This is a no-brainer, yet the sheriff’s office totally failed to execute a task that its jobs require them to do. It is totally unprofessional and irresponsible for law enforcement to just jump to a random conclusion because it prefers it. These are people whose actions can severely affect other people’s lives, and yet the concept of investigating something before acting unequivocally (by placing the crosses on the vehicles) was beyond them.
Similar crosses with “Support BCSO” (Brewster County Sheriff’s Office) printed on them are pretty common now in Alpine, as if supporting its attempt to do away with equality and marginalize other religions and those with no religion is “supporting” the sheriff’s office. Law enforcement should be anti-dogmatic. But by closing the doors to criticism, the state of Texas was making it clear it wanted to hold onto this dogma of one-religion government imagery and attempt to close the doors on criticism of the sheriff’s office by falsely making it appear that the idiots in the state Capitol were working on a decision on the matter for a laughably long period of time.
Thinking about why going after church-state separation violators is so important, I would say that, historically, religions have been used by authoritarian, irrational and fascist states to easily acquire a base of supporters who will agree with anything the state does and provide itself with ideologically motivated state enforcers of some sort, such as police and military members who are ideologically aligned as much as possible with leadership. This wouldn’t be hard to accomplish, considering that military and police personnel consist of a miniscule percent of the population.
A path to domination by an authoritarian state tends to involve the denial, cover-up or destruction of other religions, the nonreligious, any cultural or ethnic groups and other things that are deemed not acceptable to the superiority and domination-obsessed group.
In the case of the sheriff’s office crosses, those superiority-obsessed groups would be the state of Texas and Brewster County. This can to a degree be accomplished with imagery. Creating state-sponsored imagery implies a religious state or implies one dominant religion is an attempt to erase other different beliefs or views. It is also an attempt to get people to accept an irrational reality where one religion is seen as practically synonymous with the state or nation. This damages freedom, as there can be none without equality. It also insinuates that the patriarchal structures that go along with Christian scriptures are synonymous with the state or nation.
So, at least two structures of inequality are being pushed by church-state separation violators: patriarchy as advertised by Christianity, and the illusion of a Christian hegemonic state. These are a clear indication of an ideology of domination being exercised by the political Christian right wing.
People will say that we shouldn’t worry, that this is really a far cry from what theocratic fascist states like Turkey or Daesh do. But, given the framework of the Constitution, laws and weak democratic and legal processes available in the U.S., the trend of attempts of religionization of the U.S. government and monopoly of corporate and elitist influence over the country could easily continue and snowball.
This trend paints a picture of an elite group that is trying to slowly push the United States into being an authoritarian state. Some will say it is already here. I say that organizations like FFRF are highly important now because we cannot put too much trust into our elitist corporate-bought representatives and senators to correct problems. When democracy fails, as it can in any situation, not just church-state separation cases, the legal system can and has been successfully used to correct things.
By just sticking to imagery in public spaces, though, an out-of-control state can eventually create the image of a false reality where all or most people are Christian, or, that all people accept the government being Christian.
What has been occurring (state sponsorship and promotion of Christianity) in the United States is what I believe to be a modernized and nonviolent (yet still seriously damaging, such as the ineptly titled “religious freedom” bills) version of what any authoritarian state has done in the past to diminish the power of any potential opposition groups or to create a common fear of ideas and beliefs deemed unacceptable to the state that could threaten its power.
Thanks again and keep up the good work!