Identity, Justice, Politics, Religion

Indian River School District lawsuit settled, new religious guidelines established

Jews On First has the details. You may remember Indian River as the area of Delaware from which the Dobriches, a Jewish family, fled to escape the non-stop harassment, antisemitic abuse, and Christian bigotry which began when they complained about the district-sanctioned proselytizing by teachers and school officials.
The story has been proceeding through varying levels of ugliness for a few years. Just a few months ago there was that elementary school teacher who told her class that Barack Obama was a Muslim, and therefore “different” and “scary”. Or the mob of 800 that turned out to jeer & silence advocates of pluralism at an IRSD board meeting in 2006.
Hopefully, this lawsuit settlement – which includes not only monetary damages paid to the victims of the harassment but new, constitutional, policies on what religious expression is and is not allowed in a public school – will eventually protect the religious minorities of southeastern Delaware from more violations of their and their childrens’ constitutional rights. (see Jews On First for the text of the new policies, it’s a fascinating read) But before the happy dances can begin in Indian River, there needs to be a sea change in the local culture. And there needs to be eagle-eyed vigilance to make sure these new policies are followed.
I was astonished when this story first broke a few years ago, that these kind of First Amendment and civil rights violations could happen in the beach towns of what I considered the diverse and enlightened Mid-Atlantic, but a friend from Wilmington, DE insisted that she wasn’t surprised. The reaches below the C & D Canal (containing most of Delaware’s area and a tiny fraction of its population) are known to the Wilmingtonians to their north as “The Slower Lower”, a region less defined by its historical stature as the First State or by its consumer-pleasing lack of sales tax, and more by its residents’ apparent difficulty with remembering which side of the Civil War they were on. (That would be the winning side).
So is it possible to introduce a culture of respect for diversity by fiat? What is needed to make it stick?

8 thoughts on “Indian River School District lawsuit settled, new religious guidelines established

  1. I can simultaneously offer a tipped hat and a wagged finger for this one. Good to see the changes, and thanks for making us aware. But not every state south of the Mason-Dixon line is composed of mouth-breathing antisemitic yokels who would sooner burn a cross in my front lawn than wish me a happy Pesach. Some of the fastest growing cities in the nation are located in the south, and many of them can boast pretty diverse populations. Nashville, in fact, has the largest Kurdish population outside Kurdistan. I live in a thoroughly redneck area of town, and you can still walk around the area and spot a hallal butcher right next to a Latino barber just across from a Korean grocery. If violent religious intolerance were the order of the day for states that were on the “wrong side” in the Civil War, I doubt we’d have Bahai Centers, Witness Kingdom Halls, and Islamic Centers in the same areas of town where churches put up giant pictures of a dying Jesus on bus stop benches every spring. Not without a violent confrontation, anyway.
    The Christians in my town definitely have a lot to learn about making assumptions; but by and large, they just assume everyone is like them. As they encounter more people who aren’t, they get a learning experience, and they think twice about wearing religion on their sleeves.
    I’ll close by mentioning that with all the prejudice, and at times, hate speech and violence, that the white Christian majority in the south has directed at other groups over the years, a lot of tensions over ethnic and religious differences have been massaged out of the macroculture. That doesn’t mean backwoods pockets of resistance don’t exist. But as my Dad, a native New Yorker found, and as I found living in Cleveland, you can’t assume that people are cosmopolitan just because they live in a northern cosmopolitan city. There are plenty of prejudices that we all harbor, especially if we never confront them. And Aryan hate groups exist in NYC too.

  2. I was sorta wondering if I’d get called to task for my characterization of Slower Lower Delaware (a moniker the resident wear with pride, actually). Though I’m as provincial as the next New Yorker, I do know that stereotypes of Southern people aren’t any more accurate than stereotypes of Northerners.
    The reason I think the Civil War comment was warranted is because I was describing a cultural phenomenon that you can find in certain (usually) rural areas of “union border states” like Del, Md, Penn, and WV. One of the elements of this phenomenon is that Confederate battle flags are strangely common. And since these are locations where the (flimsy, IMO) excuse of “Southern heritage” is inapplicable, I can only interpret it as hostility to minorities.
    About the topic of minority faiths in the Bible Belt, my bf (a tennesseean) pointed out that the prevalent religiosity of the South ins’t only a charcteristic of the evangelical Christians. Non-Christians also tend to be more active and expressive about their religions, whether because it’s just a more religious place in general, or because they’re put on the defensive constantly by the Evangelical majority.

  3. I believe Maryland only stayed on the winning side of the Civil War because it was placed under martial law before it could secede. But DE doesn’t even have that excuse.

  4. I think you youngsters are being a little naive. Sadly, the Indian River Jews’ experience is a reflection of the fact that this is xtian country. For many folks, perhaps a majority of Americans, we will never be one of them. This is what makes the great assimilation of my generation and yours so sad — to many, many of our fellow citizens, we are and always will be suspect foreigners. I fear that much like the pre-Nazi german jews, we will come to believe we free from such hostility and it will come back to bite us on the butts.

  5. Steve, I share your concerns, in a way, but it’s basically a three-pronged problem for me:
    A) We assimilate more and more, and then nobody knows we’re Jews. Nobody knows we exist until we get pissed off about the fact that a major supermarket doesn’t even carry Manischewitz matzos, and then we’re “those whiny Jews” because we actually dared to say something. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything 🙂
    B) We choose not to assimilate, and so we make an effort to stand out. As the US becomes increasingly post-nationalist, either as secularized Christians or vociferous Evangelicals (I honestly can’t tell which way the pendulum is swinging right now), then we get treated like reactionary wackos for clinging to our heritage.
    C) We choose a politically expedient path, maintaining our religious identity and relying on an alliance with millenialist Christians to preserve our social inroads for us. Then, when they get tired of waiting for us to retake the Temple Mount so they can have Jesus come back and kill all the nonbelievers (including us, of course), somebody starts WW3. In the aftermath, they pawn it off on us — since, y’know, this Temple business was all a Jewish thing in the first place, right?
    Assimilation or no, none of these possiblities really bode well for our future as a people. Either of the last two, in fact, could easily lay the groundwork for another set of Nuremberg Laws. The first just means we vanish, or the only impression we make on the world is Barbara Streisand and Jackie Mason. I should probably just hope for Mashiach. I find that a difficult hope to cling to in the world as it is. Lately I opt for tikkun olam directed both within the Jewish world and outside it, and when people ask why a just cause matters to me, I can tell them it’s because I’m a Jew.

  6. chillul Who?’s comments about the border states is accurate from my experience.
    I grew up in Washington D.C., and the moment one got into the Maryland or Virginia suburbs one started seeing the stars and bars all over the place– and if you ever found yourself a guest in the home of an old Anglo Marylander or Virginian family somebody would start with a diatribe about how the Civil War (assuming they aren’t calling it “The War Between the States”) was never about slavery.
    The scary thing is that there’s so much “Southern Heritage” of which to be proud of which has nothing to do with nostalgia for the Confederacy and the plantation system– but that’s what they cling to and so it does say something about their ideology when they could just as easily be clinging to Mark Twain, bluegrass or blues.
    Rebecca is also correct about Maryland being placed under martial law– except that there is a detail left out of the high school history books: the reason why Maryland was placed under martial law was that a conspiracy of Maryland and Baltimore officials had attempted to assassinate Lincoln on his way to his inauguration as President and stage a coup d’etat since his train to Washington by necessity had to pass through Baltimore.
    That said, I’ve encountered my share of antisemitism on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.

  7. Goyisher —
    You realize you just made a very compelling case for aliyah, right? That’s usually my next thought after the three you listed. And I’m at the right time to do it, while my daughters are in high school and pre-military service. But spouse and I can’t leave elderly parents without a fall-back. Too complicated, some days.
    Besides, the last thing Israel needs is another U.S. lawyer.

  8. I’m from slower lower DE and just like to say its not merely that this is Christian Country its that the majority who happen to be religious are most likely baptist or evangelical. I’m catholic and catholics are a minority in Delaware. I grew up with kids asking me if I was really Christian and if so why did I pray to Mary and why wasn’t I saved. Stats as follows one catholic church, no mosques, no synagogues that I knew of. And just for historical purposes DE is the only state neither north or south of the mason dixon line but east of it. Also technically the civil war started over the secession of the southern states not slavery although that was a factor in those states seceding. The Emancipation Proclomation did not free the slaves Union soldiers did that. The proclomation “emancipated” the slaves in the rebel states (being that they no longer consider themselves part of the Union they did not heed this) but any slave states that remained in the Union kept their slaves. So in total 5 states in the Union had slaves throughout the Civil War two of which where MD and DE.

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