Pyle: Living in a flurry of ideas
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"People who are easily offended should be offended more often." — Mae West

In Kountze (that's in Texas, y'all), a judge says a local high school's cheerleaders were within their rights to decorate the football field with banners containing biblical admonitions urging strength, faith and devotion.

In Ephraim, where lies Utah's Snow College, a Christian club wants a federal judge to force the school to give the organization the kind of recognition that so many other clubs have, the kind that allows them free use of school property and a slice of student fee funding. (The public college's president quickly said that the lawsuit was unnecessary because he had already decided to give the Solid Rock Christian Club the status it sought. If nothing else, that would deprive Solid Rock of the greatest goal of some religious folk — martyrdom.)

In Salt Lake City, a clever young man has begun a process that will likely end up allowing Utah motorists to choose, for a small fee, to have their license plates say "In God We Trust." Neither the ACLU nor the Atheists of Utah could work up a reaction that went far beyond a Homer Simpsonesque "Meh."

And from the whole of cyberspace comes word that The Salt Lake Tribune was wrong to lend its editorial endorsement last week to the re-election of President Obama. Often, the argument was not that we had picked the wrong candidate, which would always be a fair point. It was that we had somehow violated a basic principle of journalism by using our opinion columns to express an opinion on the only issue most of our readers actually have a say on — who gets elected.

One email blustered, "What happened to the paper reporting the news? Giving their loyal readers the facts and letting them come to their own conclusions? You should be ashamed of yourself as a journalist."

Sadly, editors of some newspapers are starting to share that view. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for example, isn't endorsing in either the presidential race or in Wisconsin's tight contest for a U.S. Senate seat.

The reason given, that endorsements don't fit a newspaper's mission of offering a "marketplace of ideas, " would shock the authors of the First Amendment. Say "objective press" to any of the founders, and you'd get the same quizzical look you'd receive if you were explaining 21st century physics to a 18th century man. In Urdu.

And it was Thomas Jefferson, as you often hear, who issued the dictum that may be America's greatest contribution to world thought: "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

It's different when the government takes sides, as it does when judges adorn their courthouses with whomping mock-ups of The Ten Commandments. But the government is not the whole of the public square.

The Texas cheerleaders made their own banners with supplies they bought. The Solid Rockers were rightly angry when a school official reportedly demanded that they remove some pro-Jesus signs — placed on private property with the consent of the owners — that were the club's contribution to homecoming festivities. And no Utah vehicle will be compelled to declare its faith in the Abrahamic deity.

The intelligent response of the nonbeliever to public expressions of individual faith should be no more negative than it would be to the sight of folks decorating their schools or their license plates with images of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

All kinds of opinions, sentiments and beliefs, flying every which way in just about every corner of a free society, so that even the youngest among us knows they are free to select the ones they will accept and act on. That's the way it should work.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, is happy to receive a variety of thoughts at gpyle@sltrib.com, or via Twitter @debatestate.