From the International Herald Tribune:
May 15, 2001 5:52 AM   Subscribe

From the International Herald Tribune: How's this whole separation of church and state working out? AG John Ashcroft: "It is against my religion to impose my religion on people..."

However, the department [DoJ] also issued new style guidelines for correspondence that carries Mr. Ashcroft's signature. They forbid, among other things, the use of "pride," which the Bible calls a sin, and the phrase "no higher calling than public service."
posted by dukejohnson (64 comments total)

So what? He's imposing his beliefs on nobody but HIMSELF here. He has every right to tell his assistants how he prefers his correspondence formatted, as has every Cabinet Secretary before him.
posted by aaron at 6:06 AM on May 15, 2001

How about holding prayer meetings at work? Would this be considered appropriate in your workplace?
And regardless of what he says, if you worked for Ashcroft, would you not feel pressure to attend these if invited?

To me this is religious harrassment, no different in effect (though of course different in degree) from sexual harrassment.
posted by luser at 6:14 AM on May 15, 2001

Not to mention how that must make employees of other religions feel.
posted by bkdelong at 6:20 AM on May 15, 2001

would you not feel pressure to attend these if invited?

Unless he said something to you to instill such pressure, it would be nothing more than a creation of your own paranoid mind. And that would be your fault, not his.
posted by aaron at 6:34 AM on May 15, 2001

I've met John Ashcroft, and my first but very strong opinion was the he was a very genuinely friendly and caring man. Also, those who work for him say there is not an ounce of pressure.
posted by jjsocswim at 6:37 AM on May 15, 2001

TNR published a piece by one of Ashcroft's Orthodox Jewish staffers which makes for interesting reading. Says JA was completely tolerant, even "philo-Semitic", and that he suffered no adverse consequences for avoiding the prayer meetings. Slightly different from being a non-believer, or even only a moderate believer, but speaks well of him nonetheless, I think (being agnostic, just to be clear).
posted by claxton6 at 6:44 AM on May 15, 2001

also, keep in mind that these people have signed on long before they received appointments.
posted by roboto at 6:57 AM on May 15, 2001

> it would be nothing more than a creation of your
> own paranoid mind

That's not the way some attorneys at the Justice Department see it.

IHT: "The purpose of the Department of Justice is to do the business of the
government, not to establish a religion," said an attorney for the department, who,
like other critics, was unwilling to be identified by name. "It strikes me and a lot
of others as offensive, disrespectful and unconstitutional."

Do you think he's paranoid or do you think he legitimately wonders whether people who join Ashcroft's little club could gain favor around the office?
posted by pracowity at 7:16 AM on May 15, 2001

That's the same thing I was thinking, pracowity. I don't understand why he needs to have his prayers at work. That's great that he is devoted to his religion, but couldn't his prayer time be at home? Before he goes to work? With his family?
posted by gramcracker at 7:31 AM on May 15, 2001

Some things are meant to be carried out in public, some in private, some things at the office, some things at church. I think we could use some input from Miss Manners or the e t i q u e t t e g r r l s ; maybe Emily Post had something to say on the subject.

Ashcroft could be making sacrifices to the God of God-knows-what for all I care but my advice to him would be along the lines of: Don't point. Don't pick your teeth at the table. Don't have a Bible study at the office.
posted by Dick Paris at 7:41 AM on May 15, 2001

John Ashcroft: Hey Mike! How's it going?

Mike: Pretty good sir, having coffee, you?

John Ashcroft: Pretty good, thank you, power of Jesus' helping me.

Mike: Ok, have to get back to work...

Sandy the Buddhist enters.

John Ashcroft: Hey Sandy, I've been meaning to talk to you, I've read some things about your cults, it appears you killed Jesus, anyway... you're fired!

Sandy: But sir! That's wrong.. Cults? You can't do tha....


John Ashcroft: Don't give me none of your commie talk! I know all about your gay-loving, turpin-wearing bastards! Give us back Jerusalem!

Sandy flies out of the room, in tears.

John eats a donut.

Bill Clinton enters.

Bill Clinton: Hey John, Buddy! Whoops, left my pants there... and ahh.. you didn't happen to find a l.. ahh, never mind. See ya!

I had a longer, funnier version, but my browser crashed as I hit preview, so I had to rewrite.
posted by tiaka at 7:57 AM on May 15, 2001

No wait,
that was supposed to have read:

Sandy: But sir! That's wrong.. Cults? You can't do tha....


John Ashcroft: Don't give me none of your commie talk! I know all about your gay-loving, turpin-wearing bastards! Give us back Jerusalem! It is against my religion to impose my religion on people, that's why you're being left go... I hope you learn a lesson from all of this.

Sandy flies out of the room, in tears.
posted by tiaka at 7:59 AM on May 15, 2001

Muslims believe that by offering prayers five times a day they are strengthened and enlivened in their beliefs in Allah, and that they are inspired to a higher morality. As far as Islam is concerned, faith without action and practice is a dead end. The act of prayer is one of the fundamental five practices, or Pillars of Islam, and is required of all devout Muslims. Thus the call to prayer plays an important role in the day and the life of every pious Muslim.
posted by netbros at 8:01 AM on May 15, 2001

OK. Given John Ashcroft's high profile, and his staunch fundamentalist beliefs, anyone who is going to be working for him is most likely going to know beforehand what s/he is getting him/herself into. They will most likely know that working in the AG office, there will be a lot of talk of Jesus, that the atmosphere will be pious, that there will be many opportunities to Praise The Lord, etc. I don't think anyone who works for Ashcroft has been forced to work there, and I think the argument could be made that if a person does not feel comfortable with all the Christian stuff, s/he can always find other, more secular places of employment.

Not to mention, I think Ashcroft is smart enough, knows people well enough that he is not going to do anything that in any way could be interpreted as violating someone else's right to believe what they want. That's why he has made the choice not to force his religion on anyone else, at least in any sort of overt way.

He is, it would seem, quite clean.

So I'm wondering what the vast majority of us, who do not participate in right wing fundamentalist Christianity, are left to criticize Ashcroft on. I mean, there is something, IMO, that stinks here, with what the AG office (and by extension the Federal Government) is developing into under his leadership. But it seems to be happening on a level that is much larger, much more complex than simply making individual members uncomfortable for not praying with him.
posted by gaudaemus at 8:07 AM on May 15, 2001

"no higher calling than public service."

Nothing to do with religion, but I am glad to see that one stricken.
posted by thirteen at 8:21 AM on May 15, 2001

The US is supposed to be equally safe and welcoming for all religions precisely because religion is not mixed with government and work there. There is no inconsequential way for the Attorney General to introduce organized religious meetings into the Department of Justice. That's why what Ashcroft does is wrong.

If he can't get through the next staff meeting without supernatural assistance, he should request divine intervention privately in his office or with others off the premises. I'm sure it will be just as effective.
posted by pracowity at 8:29 AM on May 15, 2001

he's being paid to do a job. he should spend his time at the office working. if, during his break or lunch period he chooses to pray or hold a prayer meeting, then that's fine, as long as each of the participants is doing so during their break or lunch period.
posted by tolkhan at 8:31 AM on May 15, 2001

"They will most likely know that working in the AG office, there will be a lot of talk of Jesus, that the atmosphere will be pious, that there will be many opportunities to Praise The Lord, etc."

This is the problem. I wouldn't be able to work in an office like this. Most of the people I know wouldn't be able to work in an office like this.

They are creating an atmosphere that would make many people uncomfortable. Which leads to an AG office that has a mindset I find troubling. It's not the end of the world by any stretch, but I don't trust these people at all.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:36 AM on May 15, 2001

> its good to see someone bringing morals and
> God back into government.
posted by pracowity at 8:44 AM on May 15, 2001

Ashcroft has always held open Bible study in his office for whoever wanted to join him, from his days in state office in Missouri to his time as a Us senator. Didn't want to go? Fine. Wanted to just come once to see what it was about? Fine. Thought that it was a stupid idea? Fine. It's before working hours, and the location is merely a matter of practicality. This is clearly a continuation of that practice. As the article notes, none of the most senior staff at DoJ attends these meetings. I'm fairly well assured that their jobs are hardly jeopardised by that decision.

Though my time working for Ashcroft was many years ago, I can speak from my experience that there is no cloying Christian atmosphere pervading his offices, there is not any more of a mention of Jesus Christ than anywhere else (less, in fact, if you count that people who work around him don't use the word as profanity) and work is work.

He is a pious (in the positive sense) man, yes, but that's not the be-all and end-all of what he is. He is also very serious and very committed to discharging the duties of his office (whatever that office may be) and fulfilling public expectations. He and his staff know full well that the only reason why they are there is to get the job done, and anything else is gravy; they save the personal acts (like Bible study) for their own time.

Though he's banned the phrase "no higher calling than public service" he certainly recognises the immense responsibility inherent in being a public servant. Two years ago, he gave the commencement address at a college in Missouri (my brother happened to be a graduate) and spoke at length about the importance of being trustworthy. He feels that there is little as disgusting and dishonourable as when anyone who has attained their position by attaining people's confidence betrays the trust that they have been given.

From the comments that MeFi'ers have made about Ashcroft over the months, I would think that it's the rare exception here who has ever worked with someone who is deeply committed to Ashcroft's brand of Christianity - he's Assembly of God, which is not a fundamentalist denomination. It's not nearly the treacly, overbearing presence that many of you are so quick to paint it as, nor is Ashcroft the kind of person who ever does anything with the purpose of offending anyone or making them uncomfortable.

There will always be people who find any expressions of faith unacceptable. There will always be people like the staffer quoted above who find anything different from what they are to be a threat to them. Perhaps it would be better for Ashcroft to invite staffers to his home every morning for the Bible study, instead of holding it in his office which is more convenient for all involved - and legally protected so long as other staffers are free to hold their own non-working hour discussion groups as they so choose, which they are by DoJ standards. Somehow, though, given the rancor that Ashcroft has endured for merely being open about his deep-seated faith, I'm sure that there are people who would find fault in it no matter where or how it was conducted.
posted by Dreama at 8:47 AM on May 15, 2001

Funny how prayer meetings before work suddenly becomes:

If he can't get through the next staff meeting without supernatural assistance

There's nothing in any of the articles posted here to suggest that Ashcroft is constantly bringing his religion into work (for the purposes of proselytizing) the way this implies.

I'm generally swayed by the idea irreligion is as much a "religion" as anything commonly recognized as such. So, to ban Ashcroft, or anyone else, from having pre-work prayers is to have a state-imposed secularism, which ought to be as much a bane to the First Ammendment as any other state-imposed religion.
posted by claxton6 at 8:53 AM on May 15, 2001

Submitted without comment.
(Matthew 6:5-6) And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
posted by chino at 8:56 AM on May 15, 2001

"Because supervisors have the power to hire, fire or promote, employees may reasonably perceive their supervisors' religious expression as coercive, even if it was not intended as such," the [Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace] says. "Therefore, supervisors should be careful to ensure that their statements and actions are such that employees do not perceive any coercion." It goes on to say that supervisors "should, where necessary, take appropriate steps to dispel such misperceptions."

I have no problems with Ashcroft holding prayer meetings on his own time, but the potential of creating an appearance of favoritism is real, and it would hardly take a "paranoid mind" to perceive it.

And unlike getting promoted after playing golf with the boss, job discrimination based on religious belief is expressly forbidden by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. From what I've read of Ashcroft, I'm willing to accept that he means it when he says he doesn't discriminate based on religious belief (although sexual orientation may be another thing), but he needs to be very careful to make sure everyone understands that it's a voluntary thing with absolutely no effect on promotions, hiring, what-have-you.
posted by snarkout at 9:08 AM on May 15, 2001

claxton6, this "irreligion" you speak of is more officially known as "separation of church and state." It's not state-imposed secularism so much as the explicit absence of any state-imposed faith. Critics of Ashcroft's workplace bible study aren't forbidding him to practice his religion under any circumstances, just in the context that doing so in the Department of Justice compromises his role as a religion-independent officer of the people.
posted by padjet1 at 9:16 AM on May 15, 2001

So someone said to the American public, "I'm a little crazy, or maybe just irrational. I believe in magic, and myth. I believe a dead man watches me from somewhere else, all the time. I believe dancing is against the basic order of the universe, and immoral.." And, because we're all sort of insane, he is put into public office. And then we're surprised when he starts acting a little wacky.
I know I've said this before, but it seems to hold up. If it seems that I'm intolerant of religion, well, I am. I believe insane things, too. However, I don't necessarily tell anyone about them, or believe that they're absolutely correct.
posted by Doug at 9:18 AM on May 15, 2001

Dreama -- that's a beautiful point. So much of American intellectualism is wrapped up in anti-Christianity at the moment (which, to be fair, is not entirely unjustified, based on the Christians who are envangelical and therefore the most visible.) But personally, I love religion in general, and I have the utmost respect for anyone who practices their religion sincerely. If Ashcroft's spirituality interferes with his job, that's a problem, but I don't think that's what's happening here. I disagree with his political beliefs (his stance on abortion in particular), but there's a difference between advancing opinions influenced by one's religion and imposing that religion on others.
posted by tweebiscuit at 9:21 AM on May 15, 2001

If he is at work on gov't time getting paid with taxpayer dollars then he should work. I am not paying my taxes for him to hold bible study groups. If he does it on his lunch hour then fine. If he wants to say a prayer while he is standing at the urinal that is fine too. Working time is for work. When you are scoring a paycheck from the taxpayers than you should concentrate on your civic duties and leave the praying to your personal time.
posted by a3matrix at 9:24 AM on May 15, 2001

And unlike getting promoted after playing golf with the boss, job discrimination based on religious belief is expressly forbidden by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Also: Faking being a good golfer is way harder than faking being a good Christian.
posted by frenetic at 9:24 AM on May 15, 2001

if a person does not feel comfortable with all the Christian stuff, s/he can always find other, more secular places of employment.

For Christ's sake, it's a federal government office! I can't think of a more secular place of employment, thanks to the founding fathers who feared the establishment of a state religion.

Given John Ashcroft's high profile, and his staunch fundamentalist beliefs, anyone who is going to be working for him is most likely going to know beforehand what s/he is getting him/herself into.

Every department of the federal government is staffed by hundreds (if not thousands) of people who are not appointed with each new administration. These folks are stuck with Ashcroft and his unwelcome intrusion of personal religious practice into the federal workplace.

While there seem to be no legal obstacles to what Ashcroft is doing, I find it extremely offensive for him to use his job as a place of worship, especially when you consider that conservatives would never tolerate the same behavior involving religions they do not favor.

When President Bush was governor of Texas, he publicly called on the Army to stop allowing Wiccan religious services at Fort Hood in Texas. "I don’t think witchcraft is a religion. I would hope the military officials would take a second look at the decision they made," he said. (source).

This, more than anything, is why Americans should not tolerate efforts to shove religious conservatism into the federal government with programs like the office of faith-based services. It's a trojan horse to offer state sanction to Christians while excluding any faith they oppose.
posted by rcade at 9:27 AM on May 15, 2001

a3: cool. So at this point you have no problem with it?

padjet: Turn it around. Say if Ashcroft were as intolerant as people said, and made it a rule that you had to attend his prayer meetings every morning at the start of work, but that he wouldn't monitor what you did before or after work. Would that be state imposed religion? It seems so to me; same with this. I do agree that Ashcroft is walking a thin line; however, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I more swayed by what snarkout says about the impression cast. However, I think at this point, it's mostly people letting their own biases get ahead of them. I don't know this, obviously, perhaps Ashcroft is casting a really good shadow, behind which he's a fundamental terror; I kind of doubt it, tho.
posted by claxton6 at 9:31 AM on May 15, 2001

I don't think anyone who works for Ashcroft has been forced to work there

The thousands of Justice Department civil service (not appointee) workers who were there long before Ashcroft became their boss (and will be there long after he's no longer their boss.) While they're not being forced to continue to work at Justice, they also didn't choose to work under Ashcroft (of course, most of the people who work with the AG on a daily basis are political appointees (I assume, I don't actually know how deep the appointees reach.))
posted by andrewraff at 9:35 AM on May 15, 2001

it's interesting to see how "prayer meetings held before work" has been extrapolated in this thread to "creating a hostile work environment".

it's a simple matter of law. is this illegal? there may be a precedent in the public school/prayer issue. if it's been shown to be unlawful to have prayer meetings before school, ashcroft would be wise to hold his prayer meetings elsewhere. his duty is to uphold the law.

but he has every right to dictate the wording of any correspondence that goes out under his name.

what a lot of hoo-haw about nothing.

posted by rebeccablood at 9:41 AM on May 15, 2001

It's not illegal to hold prayer meetings after and before school. (Even Wiccan ones.) There's considerable leeway in what is permissible if any before- or after-school meeting is allowed; in fact, one tactic of conservative school boards has been to disallow any school clubs to prevent meetings of Gay-Straight Alliances and the like. (Welcome back from your trip, Rebecca.)
posted by snarkout at 9:52 AM on May 15, 2001

I think it's been made clear that these bible studies or prayer times are being held before work hours. I think we should get that straight. Also, in response to the Matthew 6:5-6 quote, this study isn't being held out in the open to demonstrate, it's in a closed office before work hours! It seems they have gone out of their way to not be in everybody's face with Christianity, but that's just my opinion.
posted by prototype_octavius at 9:53 AM on May 15, 2001

As far as legality is concerned, how bad can it be for him to hold optional prayer meetings before work? It sounds less that he's adding a religious aspect to the workplace than creating a group for like-minded Christians to worship. If non-participants are discriminated against, that's another matter, but we're hardly able to determine that based on this information we have. I'd wait until there are some actual testimonials from employees before jumping to any reactionary conclusions.

Come on, people -- give the guy a break! I'm a lot more happy to have a capable lawman like Ashcroft in the DoJ than the dullard in the White House. If you disagree with his beliefs, fine, but Ashcroft's done nothing so far to discredit how he conducts himself professionally.
posted by tweebiscuit at 9:56 AM on May 15, 2001

tweebiscuit, right on!
posted by prototype_octavius at 9:57 AM on May 15, 2001

" he's Assembly of God, which is not a fundamentalist denomination"

Dreama, I'm not sure what your definition of fundamentalist involves, but any cult that believes dancing is sinful fits my definition of a fundy.

Perhaps Ashcroft and his cult should read the Old Testament story of David dancing naked in the streets. Seems that was all right with God but not with the fundamentalists of his day.

My mother was also a member of that particular "denomination" and my experience is that a cult would a more fitting definition than a fundy for them so you may be right.

Talking in tongues.
Women may not cut their hair.
Slain in the Spirit.
Sound familiar?
posted by nofundy at 10:11 AM on May 15, 2001

This notion of "not on government time" is ridiculous. Senior Justice Department officials and their aids work hours vastly in excess of 9 to 5, receive no overtime, and, in any event, receive compensation which is 50-90% less than they would receive in the private sector. High-level government service is a privilege; but it is also a significant sacrifice. Personal, social, and political concerns must necessarily intrude somewhat in the physical premises of the office given that one needs to be at work from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. at night. Or would you prefer the nation's law enforcement to keep banker's hours?

Every person who has reported on Ashcroft's prayer meetings has commented upon their open and ecumenical nature, with all comers welcome, and no non-attendees punished in any way. Simply not a violation of church and state separation in any way cognizable under the Constitution.
posted by MattD at 10:27 AM on May 15, 2001

nofundy (interesting nickname) -- there's a difference between how an individual's religious beliefs compel them to conduct themselves and their moral judgements of other people. As a Buddhist, I try my hardest to cultivate non-attachment -- however, I don't believe that everyone should be held to that standard. If Ashcroft believes that refraining from dance allows him to be more pious, he's given no indication that he disapproves of dancing in general. Difficulties only arise when people attempt moral judgement of others based on that religion, and that's what everyone seems to assume that Ashcroft will do. Anyone want to show me where Ashcroft says, "I'm holding the rest of the country to the morals dictated by my religious beliefs."?
posted by tweebiscuit at 10:45 AM on May 15, 2001

I'm not ready to judge Ashcroft until I know him, or see more of his actions and decisions in the DoJ. And until I see a decision that affects someone else that is made because of Ashcroft's religious convictions, I'm going to trust him. If I don't, I'm stereotyping, and in my book, that's a bad thing in any sense. Isn't it just as bad to call "all blacks lazy" as it is to call all unfamiliar Christian sects "oppressive," or whatever we're calling them? Sure, there's examples of all sterotyped cases--that's where they come from--but that does not make them the norm or the majority.

I think it's great that he has a belief and a faith. And if that faith helps him be a more just person (he won't lie, or won't take advantage of government perks), then good for faith. If the faith interferes with justice, then I feel we've got a problem. As of yet, however, I haven't seen any evidence of the latter.
posted by gramcracker at 11:01 AM on May 15, 2001

Dreama, I'm not sure what your definition of fundamentalist involves, but any cult that believes dancing is sinful fits my definition of a fundy.

First of all, the Assemblies of God are not a cult under any standard definition of the word. Period. Second, the most typical definition of fundamentalist does not include the Assemblies of God because they are a non-literalist, evangelical and Pentecostal denomination.

Third of all, the A/G stance on social dancing is not a point of doctrine, but of teaching. It is part of an overall denominational guideline about making lifestyle choices which are compatible with exemplifying one's faith. A/G members are not forbidden to dance, drink, smoke, swear, watch R-rated movies, frequent bars and nightclubs, look at sexually explicit material, listen to any type of music or anything else.

They are, however, exhorted to weigh the value of engaging in these activities in relationship to their faith and the example that they show to others. With a goal toward helping A/G members to cement themselves in a "Christ-like" way of life, and to endeavor to live in a manner that is pleasing to God and uplifting to man, the church, like almost all others, provides points of thinking, not regulations to which members must conform, especially not on such basically meaningless issues upon which scripture remains silent.

That said, if Ashcroft's personal convictions tell him to avoid social dancing, what's that to anyone? Unless you were planning on asking him to come to your next rave, or he plans to shut it down because it offends him religiously, who cares what he thinks about any of these things?

Oh, btw, yes, as a Pentecostal denomination, A/G people do believe in speaking in tongues and various workings of the Holy Spirit. I'm not sure what that's illustrative of, if anything other than another point in their belief system.

There is absolutely no teaching, doctrine or standard with regard to women's dress (though modesty is taught as favourable for all) the wearing of makeup or the length of their hair. That's just downright fabrication.

ObDisclosure: I (like Ashcroft) had an A/G minister (and missionary) father and grandfather. (And a minister/missionary mother, as well.) Unlike Ashcroft, my father's name is not on the gymnasium of an A/G college.
posted by Dreama at 11:17 AM on May 15, 2001

rcade, did you stop to ponder what you just wrote?

Basically, you said "Ashcroft should be allowed to hold relgious services in a federal office", followed by "Bush is evil for not allowing Wiccans to hold religious services on federal land." Why should Christians be treated on way, and Wiccans another? There is inherent hypocrisy in that point of view.

Lest I be accused of being just another right-wing God lover, let me state that I've got a good liberal streak in me, and I'm most certainly not a Christian. I call myself "pagan" (but not Wiccan), and have good friends of many different religions [yes, Christians, too].

It just sincerely bothers me to see so much pseudo-intellectual, neo-touchy-feely anti-Christian outrage, especially when people expect to have special treatment for their own "pet" religious sects.

As long as Ashcroft is doing it outside working hours, and attendance is optional, God bless him.

I still think the man is inappropriate for the office he holds, but that's a different matter.
posted by jammer at 12:44 PM on May 15, 2001

jammer: neo-touchy-feely? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Must remember to use that one outside of metafilter sometime.
posted by raysmj at 1:05 PM on May 15, 2001

Hi, y6y6y6.

In reference to my thing, you mentioned:

For Christ's sake, it's a federal government office! I can't think of a more secular place of employment, thanks to the founding fathers who feared the establishment of a state religion.

I'm curious what evidence you have for this? Because I was always taught that our "founding fathers" wanted to keep government and religion separate because they saw a value in organized religion, in it's unique ability to bring people together, to allow give them a forum in which they could develop a sense of spirituality and moral rightness that promoted human rights and genuinely helped people. Further, if the government got involved, began officially sanctioning one form of faith over another, it would actually be co-opting that power.

And also w/r/t this:

Every department of the federal government is staffed by hundreds (if not thousands) of people who are not appointed with each new administration. These folks are stuck with Ashcroft and his unwelcome intrusion of personal religious practice into the federal workplace.

I'm not sure where you see this happening. There was no evidence of this in the article, and I haven't heard of anyone coming forward saying anything about feeling the "unwelcome intrusion of personal religious practice." (which, I have to say, sounds more than bit contradictory).
posted by gaudaemus at 1:06 PM on May 15, 2001

That's not an accurate assessment of what I wrote, Jammer -- I acknowledged that Ashcroft's activities are legal. I just think it's offensive.

If the Justice Department was Ashcroft's residence, as Fort Hood is for those Wiccans, I would fully support prayer services there.
posted by rcade at 1:18 PM on May 15, 2001

I'm sure the reason you're banned, Pat, is all about your politics, and not about your trolling, abuse, namecalling, and general unpleasantness. Yes, I buy that.

Right... I'm confused by the rcade/jammer exchange. I think maybe rcade's point was precisely that religions *should* be treated just the same. If they're holding Christian services for those stationed at Fort Hood, and you can be sure they are, Wicca should be allowed too. Freedom of religion does not mean freedom of Christianity.

I don't know much about the military life other than what I hear from relatives who have done their time, but I think that living on base is a little different from having a "day job" such as Mr Ashcroft's---people stationed at Fort Hood live there, work there, play there, it would be really pointless to want them to go find a church somewhere in the nearest civilian community in order to worship when if they wished, they could get just about everything else they could want or need without ever leaving base. I mean, what next, a Catholic can't hang a crucifix on a wall at his or her home on the base because it's technically a government building? An army base blurs the hell out of the work life/personal life line; a conference room at the AG's offices is quite another thing. Although: wasn't there some brouhaha a few years back re: the banning of adult magazines at military-base stores? That's messed up too... but I digress. The point is, I don't think rcade contradicted himself at all. I'm sure he'll correct me if I am wrong.

Anyway. I always find it fun to take whatever separation-of-church-and-state issue is inflaming the masses and pretend it's Wicca instead of Christianity involved. How would the people at the AG's office react if someone were leading daily Wicca gatherings onsite every day? How would the public react? How would Mr. Ashcroft react if someone else did that very thing?

We'll never know, I suspect, but I have my own ideas on how all that would go down.
posted by Sapphireblue at 1:19 PM on May 15, 2001

*ahem* yeah. what he said, except with seven times as many words.
posted by Sapphireblue at 1:21 PM on May 15, 2001

"Hey guys, tomorrow after work, a couple guys from the office are going to go piss on the bible, and mock Jesus Christ. Wanna come?"
I somehow doubt I could get away with that without a whole lot of outrage. Basically I'm repeating Sapphire, but being vulgar about it.
posted by Doug at 1:30 PM on May 15, 2001

I would like to hold prayer meetings in a public officials office as well! I think it would be nicer than the basement of my community center. Is there a schedule somewhere I can use to sign up for time slots in public facilities?

I would like the white house or maybe the pentagon.
posted by srboisvert at 1:34 PM on May 15, 2001

The pentagon is all booked up with that goat sacrifice, maybe the vice-presiden's residence?
posted by owillis at 1:48 PM on May 15, 2001

Ashcroft is an unpleasant creeping jesus type whose religion follows him from room to room like an unpleasant odor. There are a lot of people like this in the United States (as well as in places like Afghanistan), and they have been with us since at least the Salem Witch Trials. They form the shock troops of the Republican Party these days and played a crucial role in winning the White House.

We shouldn't be surprised that his secretary can't write a letter that says "we're glad to see you take pride in your work" without this dangerous fanatic bringing out his red pencil.

Primary election campaigns for congressional candidates begin in about half a year. The time to start slowing these people down is now, not later.
posted by steve_high at 3:16 PM on May 15, 2001

As a staunch & lifelong atheist, I initially recoiled upon hearing about this, but upon further thought, it didn't seem too bad. Impolite, yes, even inappropriate, but illegal? Doubt it. As someone earlier in this thread stated, if he bases a legal decision or policy on explicit & solely Christian beliefs, then we likely have Constitutional issues to discuss. And for any Justice employees who are atheists, I'd wager that they are secure enough in their beliefs to not give in to any amount of "peer pressure" to attend any of these gatherings. If a non-Christian employee (or even a Christian one!) does experience any discrimination that can be directly tied to snubbing (or ignoring) one of these prayer-sessions, again, there's going to be trouble. But from all accounts, that has not happened, and I'd wager JA is savvy enough to not let it. He's not my particular pick for AG, but he's what we got, and until & unless he blunders on this issue, I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

And the argument about "working hours" and "personal hours" - sorry, but at that level of government, a salaried employee is going to be spending LOTS more previously-"free" time doing government work than before; he is, essentially, on-the-clock 24 hours a day, like me (a military member). If he can snatch a few minutes in his office before the "traditional" workday begins to renew his faith (however wrong it may be in my view), I don't have a problem with that, because he is surely working long hours at the office that prevent him from having a "traditional" 9-5 workday.
posted by davidmsc at 4:07 PM on May 15, 2001

What if this were morning sessions of D&D, or Quake deathmatches? All of this would be off the clock, and (aside from the fact that it gives you more of a chance to interface with the boss) would probably be perfectly legal and OK. I mention this only to maybe draw a distinction between coercion/pressure and religion-related coercion/pressure, since this is a church/state thread.

And there is nothing wrong with him deciding how he wants his correspondence written. IF he wants to use "murder" instead of "homicide", "bovine meat products" instead of "beef," or not use iffy words like "niggardly", would we care? Ashcroft has not said anywhere that his correspondences must begin and end with "In the name of Jesus Christ and George W. Bush, may this God-given order be carried out."

On the other hand, Snarkouts`s comment about perception of coercion is quite persuasive.
posted by chiheisen at 7:45 PM on May 15, 2001

Thought of something much later -- that is, late after reading this article and thread. Someone said John Ashcroft is not a fundamentalist? I'm sorry. My late father was a serious Southern Baptist, a deacon, the works. He never held prayer meetings in his law office, nor do I think he would have advised against using the word "pride" in the generic manner. If John Ashcroft gets that weirded out about one word, which was used in the Bible because there is no direct translation of the Hebrew there (I believe the deadly sin in question was something more akin to hubris, not, "We care about our work, because it reflects upon the agency."), he's a fundamentalist.

I also don't see how he got through life thinking that this nation was "founded on religious principles." But maybe he didn't think that. That sounds like God is a Republican politics, practically defined.

That said, people in plenty of other agencies and religions and ideological stripes have acted weird about specific word meanings in recent times. The '90s were a semantic free-for-all. Other people have pointed out that the AG is not alone here. Certain of those others, however, went a tad overboard in Ashcroft's defense.
posted by raysmj at 9:42 PM on May 15, 2001

raysmj: I think that "fundamentalism" is a shifty word. It's got specific meanings at specific points in history. These days, it also has the vague and general meaning of "fanatic" or "extreme", often (it seems to me) in a derogatory sense. So, it's the more specific meaning of the word that Dreama was using.
posted by claxton6 at 5:07 AM on May 16, 2001

Ashcroft: "It is against my religion to impose my religion on people..."

Dreama: "he's Assembly of God"

Assemblies of God: "...we will fulfill the mandate to take the gospel to the lost..."

I don't see a difference between "imposing my religion on other people" and "taking the gospel to the lost". It's this kind of thing that makes me think that Ashcroft is just another slimy pol, willing to say anything to cover his butt. And none too bright either, exposing himself and his employer to legal action the first time he fires someone who hasn't showed up for these prayers.
posted by anewc2 at 6:30 AM on May 16, 2001

Taking the gospel to the lost has nothing to do with imposing one's religion on people, but anyone on the other side of the fence would obviously not know any better.
posted by prototype_octavius at 7:03 AM on May 16, 2001

claxton 6: I was using a very specific definition of the word fundamentalist, which by the way does not equal "jerk." Wanting to have the word "pride" scratched from your documents, when even a cursory study of Biblical history would tell you're being silly, is pretty darned extreme and takes the Bible literally in an extreme and most peculiar way. He's an educated man in higher office and is goofy enough to believe that "pride" needs scratched from memos because it's a deadly sin, he's at least a low-temperature fanatic. Sheesh. Sure, the Almighty oversaw the King James translation. Whatever. He has Bible studies in his office too, which sounds peculiar to me and I grew up in the very heart of the Bible Belt. He's not a minister, for cryin' out loud.
posted by raysmj at 9:29 AM on May 16, 2001

But you recognize that people may be using fundamentalist in a sense different than you when they say he's not one. That was my only point. I've seen too many arguments go nowhere useful because people meant different things by the same word.
posted by claxton6 at 9:47 AM on May 16, 2001

Actually, Ashcroft has fulfilled the necessary requirements for minsterial licensing from the A/G, though I don't believe he actually holds that license today. As for the word "pride" what is the big deal? I don't allow any correspondence with my name to use the phrase "I/we feel" or "I/we believe." I have my reasons, Ashcroft has his. No matter the motivation, he has every right in the world to control the language of documents which bear his signature.

By the way, there are 63 instances of the word "pride" in the Bible -- not the KJV but the NIV -- none of which would speak positively toward someone being 'proud' of earthly work. I've not seen Ashcroft denounce "pride" as a "deadly sin." I've seen him say that he doesn't want the word in his correspondence because he isn't proud, and avoids being proud. If anyone can find some justification for badmouthing a man for eschewing something with so many negative connotations, I'd like to see it.
posted by Dreama at 9:57 AM on May 16, 2001

Dreama: I believe (sorry) that if you look at my message above, I didn't say he that it against the law for him to have whatever he wanted to have typed in his memos. But he's being extreme, yes. He's also not a minister in his current occupation. There are plenty of people around with divinity or theological school degrees around who don't have prayer meetings in their offices. Maybe they do in Washington, but not where I live, and it's still the Bible Belt, though not as serious Bible Belt. Finally, the article states specifically that he didn't want "pride" used because the Bible says it's a sin. That's pretty weird, when you consider how the word's being used and, yes, the meaning of the word in the texts from which Biblical translations came.

In any case, he again has the perfect right to do whatever he wants, though, and I didn't say otherwise. You're never going to live in a world where no one says he's a fundamentalist or his views are a tad extreme, which I believe they are. He should know that people will feel that way. Americans should also watch him closely, as they should any government official. He does not get a pass for being pious, nor should he be attacked in regard to his work for his beliefs, unless his work is affected directly by them.
posted by raysmj at 10:37 AM on May 16, 2001

posted by kindall at 11:00 AM on May 16, 2001

Dang. That was supposed to come out as an infinity symbol for number of bytes, and it looked fine in preview too. Looks like the entire entity got stripped out and replaced by a "?" when I posted it. That basically ruins the joke..
posted by kindall at 11:51 AM on May 16, 2001

Just for the record, the Hebrew word translated as "pride" in biblical texts is "zadon," or "zadown," which means more pride -- if you still want to call it that -- in the sense of arrogance, haughtiness, hubris, vainglory, what have you. "Pride (in the Name of Love)," the U2 song, for example, is not talking about that sort of pride. Nor is, "We take pride in our work."
posted by raysmj at 12:21 PM on May 16, 2001

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