The Hypocritical Use of the 1st Amendment

most-fabulous-story-artwork-gThis past weekend, the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School in Northampton, Massachusetts, presented the play “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told.”  The school, also known as PVPA, describes itself as “a regional public charter school” whose purpose is to “connect the creative process with critical thinking to inspire a love of learning.”

OK.  Along with the usual academics of math and English and such, students have opportunity to spend much time doing something they love – the performing arts.  It’s not unusual for such schools to have presentations that allow students this kind of opportunity.

What is unusual, though, is the story of the play itself.  The plot of “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,” is summarized on the PVPA website thusly:

What if Adam’s partner in the Garden of Eden wasn’t Eve, but … Steve? In The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, two First Couples—not only Adam and Steve but also Jane and Mabel—experience life’s joys and perils from the biblical world to the modern day. This satirical comedy by Paul Rudnick (author of I Hate Hamlet and Jeffrey) is cheeky, raucously funny, surprisingly tender and ultimately wise as it dissects history, relationships, gay politics and the mystery of faith. A cast of ten will perform the two couples and other roles, including the Pharaoh, a paraplegic lesbian rabbi and a Stage Manager who is, after all, God.

As you may imagine, some people aren’t happy with this, specifically Christians.  Many people have called and emailed the school, saying that the story loosely based on the creation account in Genesis is “blasphemous and hateful.”  David Edwards writes here about the statement released by the Head of School prior to the show regarding the protest:

While we have no control whether organizations from other states decide to protest the show, it is clear to me that many of the most recent emails are attempts to coerce PVPA into canceling the play.  Allowing this to happen would very much go against the grain of our unique, artistic and intellectually rigorous PVPA community and the larger Pioneer Valley Community.

Free Speech

Honestly, the school has every right under the 1st Amendment to present such a play.  While I find the premise of the play offensive both as a person and as a Christian, I understand the right to free speech.  It’s the same right I have to assemble with other Christians on Sunday morning and sing and preach the gospel.

Is the play blasphemous?  While I’ve not seen the play, the synopsis indicates that it is.

Is it hateful?  Depends on how you define it.  I don’t think it is.  Making fun of something doesn’t necessarily mean you “hate” it – it’s simply a way of showing disagreement, albeit a poor way.  However, if by the definition of “hateful” – like the one used to determine hate crimes – we do something  “motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” They go on to state that “hate itself is not a crime”—and that they are “mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”

Freedom from “Bad Form”

Perhaps the answer is an amendment to the 1st Amendment (I’m being a bit “cheeky” here.)  In the 1991 Spielberg film “Hook”, the common response to someone who broke the rules, or played outside the lines, was to shout “Bad form!”  I think the PVPA is guilty of “bad form” here (as well as the one who wrote the play).  Why even subject high school students to the controversy?  I’m sure there are many plays that could be performed that would avoid all of the issues surrounding this particular play.

I’ll have to call “bad form” on the Head of School, too, who stated he “has no control” and that canceling the play would go “against the grain” of their community.  He does – or at least should – have control over what is taught in his school.  Creating a situation where students are subjected to the possibilities of offending based on bias is not what should drive their educational philosophies.  There are other ways of teaching the principle than by throwing the students in the deep end of the pool.

Hypocrisy at its Best

I’m sure that Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, the maker of the film “Innocence of Muslims”, would appreciate the same rights that the PVPA has.  Nakoula was arrested because his film offended Muslims on the other side of the world, and it was initially reported that the film caused riots that resulted in the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya.  Regardless, Nakoula should enjoy the same rights as all of us and have the freedom to express his views.

Though, I would definitely have to call “bad form!”



Filed under Commentary

5 responses to “The Hypocritical Use of the 1st Amendment

  1. Interesting take, Mark. As a former public high school teacher, I always appreciated the freedom given to me by my administrators to teach what and how I thought was best (of course my content did have to be aligned with state standards). I can only imagine that this particular principal is allowing his teachers that same freedom. Will that lead to some controversy? Most definitely. But controversy is where the best teachable moments are discovered, particularly with teenagers. I think throwing them in the deep end is most often the best way teach; keeping kids in the baby pool has led to the current decline in American education.

    • Jason:

      Thanks for the response. I thought you’d weigh in on this!

      The main point I was trying to make (and I didn’t do a good job at all) was that there is a double-standard being applied regarding the 1st Amendment. It’s seemingly ok to offend Christians, yet we can’t cross that line when it comes to other religions, specifically Islam. That’s the point…and one I hope they’re addressing in the midst of controversy.

      I will stand long and hard for our 1st Amendment rights, even if it is morally offensive to me. I may absolutely despise what’s being done (burning the US flag is an example) but yet I comprehend civil rights and freedom of expression. In the case of the PVPA, they have every right to present the show. It’s their 1st Amendment right to do so. But, here’s where I see it as “bad form” and wish the Head of School had extended some wise counsel: in the heat of the same-sex marriage debate that is ongoing right now in our society, why make the students “puppets” to make a cultural and political point? There are other ways to teach 1st Amendment rights and produce commentary on political land mines than fronting the statement with children who are following the lead of their teacher.

      We can present it as a teachable moment, but how far do we take that philosophy? Do we bring a nude model into a 9th grade art class for the sake of teaching art? Do we assign this month’s issue of Penthouse to be read as an example of modern literature? Do we ask our teenagers to include pornography in their photography portfolio? You can claim the 1st Amendment right to do all of the above, and present it as a progressive teaching tool, but it’s still “bad form” and shouldn’t be done.

      So, my two points are 1) that we are seeing a double standard regarding the use of 1st Amendment rights to ridicule Christianity (but not Islam) and 2) it’s not a good choice to subject teenagers to something so controversial simply to make a political statement.

      Hopefully, next time, I’ll be a bit clearer in my arguments! But, hey, it’s a 1st Amendment right to be vague (sometimes!).

      • Good form, Mark! I follow you now.

        I agree that using the students to promote a political agenda is “bad form,” and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if that is truly what is going at that school. I will reserve judgement though until/unless I actually see the show.

        As far as an unfair double standard being a bad thing, I disagree. I personally accept the fact that as a Christian I will be mocked, persecuted, etc. I wouldn’t want it any other way, because as a Christian, my reaction (or lack thereof) is a testimony to my faith.

        Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 TIM 3:12)

        In the case of Nakoula, I (and the justice system) equate his speech as equal to shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre; the proverbial sensible limit to the right of free speech. Nakoula’s expression put Americans in danger and therefore had to be limited. (note: while the attack in Benghazi may not have been a consequence of the movie, prior volatile protests in Egypt indisputably were.) Derogatory expression/speech against Christians typically–and thankfully–doesn’t incite the same kind of violence, so there is a need for a double standard. But instead of lamenting this fact, shouldn’t we as Christians embrace it, even celebrate it? That double standard reveals the righteousness of people who chose to respond to hatred with love rather than more hatred.

        Congratulations, Mark. You have successfully gotten me to make a messy mix of my faith and politics. Keep it up!

      • J.

        My dad always said never talk politics and religion…it’ll start a fight every time!

        I see your point regarding Nakoula. I’d never thought of it in that way, but that’s exactly what it is.

        I agree, too, with your statement regarding persecution. I may be “splitting hairs” here, but I’m seeing this a bit differently than you. My post is an attempt to defend Christianity as a legitimate faith so that it can retain its position and influence in our society. Christianity is often lampooned (see Bill Maher) and, in a sense, that is persecution of the Church. In America, my worry is that we are quickly advancing toward secularism so much so that I fear America will become like Europe.

        I, too, know that if I make a stand, I will be mocked by some for my beliefs. And, yes, my hope is that when confronted, I will stand in my faith even in the face of persecution. I see that as a shade different. Again, it’s a subtle difference regarding your point.

        If you will, shoot me an email at I’ve experienced something recently that I want your input on. It’s another case study in 1st Amendment rights (in public school), but, in an effort to protect individuals, I don’t want it to be a public debate.

        Again, thanks for your input. Iron sharpens iron!

  2. pjm

    I totally agree with you Mark. There comes a time when you have to take a stand for the truth and I believe that time has come. Don’t ever waver from God’s word. The people who make fun and mock God’s people will someday realize their mistake. Keep up the good articles.

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