911 whatís your emergency?
ďMy house is on fire.Ē
OK, weíll send units from the Cedar Rapids Fire Department right away.
ďYeah, about that. Please make sure they donít send that truck I read about in the paper with the biblical Psalm 23-inspired art on its aerial ladder. I find it offensive.Ē
Uh, well, I donít have any control over which trucks they send, sir. That one has been in service for 16 years, and we havenít had any complaints. After all, it was the manufacturer, not the city, that put the art work on the bucket. In any event, Iíll dispatch some firefighters to your address right away.
ďWell, is it possible to send me a crew thatís religiously balanced? Iíd hate for my house fire to be unfairly biased in favor of faith traditions that donít match my own. I mean, itís one thing to save my house, but we also need to avoid damaging my sensitivities with any unwelcome or inadvertent proselytization. I could suffer from religious inhalation.
ďAnd I know firefighters sometimes have Dalmatians. But a Unitarian bichon frise would be nice.Ē
With all due respect, sir, you might simply count your blessings that there are skilled, motivated people who feel such a strong sense of duty to their community that they would put their personal safety at risk to save your belongings and perhaps even your life. And if they donít mind a short biblical passage on their truck, or if they draw a momentís comfort or inspiration from it, why make it an issue?
ďThatís all well and good, but what about my sacred right to be offended? Maybe you havenít been spending much time on social media, but if you had, youíd know itís become just about the most important right we have as Americans. It shall not be abridged. I shared it on Facebook.
ďWe have the freedom to be outraged, and then those who outrage us have the freedom to swiftly apologize. Then we move on to the next outrage. Itís a very healthy cycle of freedom.Ē
Is it really? Because it seems like there are much bigger, more substantive issues surrounding the separation of church and state, like whether equal protection under the law should take a back seat to rigid religious dogma, whether real science or theology should drive public policies or whether governments are truly using their considerable powers to favor a religion-driven agenda that actually harms citizens who arenít on the same page of the hymnal.
Instead, weíre debating 16-year-old fire trucks, fir trees, merry Christmas and Festivus poles. Itís no wonder righteous culture warriors who desperately want us to believe that all of these chuch-state issues are really about Christian persecution are smiling so very broadly. Instead of tempering our cultural warfare hysterics with a respect for both the rule of civil law and for the fact that religion is a permanent part of our public life, we fight eye and tooth to be the most aggrieved victims.
And you should be hearing sirens by now, sir. Help is on the way.
ďNice speech. But Iím still accepting help under extreme protest. And who is your supervisor? I want to report your refusal to honor my personal opinion zone. Unless maybe youíre ready to apologize.ĒOh, I am sorry, sir. Very sorry. Lord, have mercy.