By Jeff Swenson
I receive American Family Association (AFA) junk mail from Tim Wildmon and company. The most recent was a fundraising letter for sending money in to support the Student Religious Liberties Act, or rather to give money to Wildmon to protect our religious liberties. The poster boy being used was Ryan Rotela: “His name is Ryan Rotela and when one of his professors told him and his classmates to write the name ‘Jesus’ on a sheet of paper, put it on the floor and stomp on it… RYAN SAID, ‘NO!'” That’s directly from the fundraising letter.
I thought it a rather odd story as it goes on to say that Ryan was threatened with expulsion from Florida Atlantic University. If true, both the exercise in paper stomping futility and the school would be rather dumb in my opinion. It appears we have a partial truth. If you read the Miami Herald’s article on the event, Ryan has a history of prior drug abuse and arrests (the reason he found god I guess?) and he didn’t just say “no” but apparently threatened the teacher with his fists and said he wanted to beat him.
What I found more interesting was this: Rotela describes himself as a “very religious” Mormon — partly because jail scared him straight.
Stay with me here. So Rotela is a devout Mormon, per this article. Who is using him to fundraise? AFA. And here’s how their letter continues: “What happened to Ryan Rotela is an all too common occurrence in today’s classrooms. And because it is, AFA is helping lead the fight to protect students from the kind of anti-Christian bigotry Ryan Rotela was forced to endure. ”
Later on in the letter: “Like I said, Ryan Rotela’s case at Florida Atlantic University is not an isolated instance. All across America, teachers, coaches, and students are being punished for simply being who they are–Christians.”
Here’s the question I have? Mormons believe themselves to be Christians. Fundamentalist Christians like the AFA do not. Either the AFA is attempting to switch positions and recognize Mormons as Christians or they are not being quite honest with their readers. The letter continues to emphasize anti-Christian bigotry and not general religious bigotry until we get to the enclosed Mississippi’s Student Liberties Act, defined by the state and not the AFA. Being that I was a former fundie, I know that the AFA and the like-minded religious right are bigoted against Mormons. They have been increasingly hiding it since Mitt Romney ran for president because they realize the powerful allies available within the Mormon church (especially useful against the gay community).
But if Ryan is Mormon then shouldn’t the AFA mention it? Shouldn’t they be fighting against all religious bigotry in the classroom and not just anti-Christian bigotry. The selective nature of their writing tells me the AFA knows how to spin a good story.
SIDENOTE: Per The Raw Story, Poole, the teacher, is dealing with quite a backlash. The class lesson was not intended to force students to step on Jesus but to see the reaction if they could or couldn’t and then why and the impact of Jesus on culture. Regardless if you think the lesson on multiculturalism was silly, it shouldn’t incite violence. Are we really to assume there were no other offended Christians in the room or at least people who liked Jesus? They didn’t resort to threats. The article describes the usual nonsense that happens after these little media events: “Since then, he said [Poole, the teacher], he has been the target of harassment and death threats, to the point that he was placed on leave from the university on March 29 for his own safety.”
Rotela has challenged his teacher to a public debate. Obviously, due to the attention, he is sensing potential for more notoriety on what is really a nonstory considering no one’s freedom of speech or religion was infringed upon. The teacher has a right to present a controversial lesson, even an offensive one towards Christians and their god, and the students have a right to speak their minds–which was the point of the classroom discussion. The report of Rotela’s threat was the real story and if he had not threatened the teacher, the teacher would not have notified school security and staff. As we know with all school campuses, any threats–even minor–have to be reported due to previous incidents of shootings and other student violence.
My last question on this? Would it have been worse if the teacher had written “Allah” on the paper and dropped it to the floor?