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John Fischer’s Hate Speech

| February 10, 2013

Flagler County School Board member John Fischer fights 'hate' with hate. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County School Board member John Fischer fights ‘hate’ with hate. (© FlaglerLive)

Last year the Florida Legislature passed a bill that allowed returning outright prayer to public schools. Not a moment of silence, not the gathering around the flagpole on the National Day of Prayer, but the bona fide right of students to lead other students in prayer at any assembly, even mandatory ones. School officials are prohibited from interfering, or even judging whether the prayer in question is appropriate. Theoretically, a prayer could invoke the Holy Trinity in every line, making it explicitly Christian. It could also invoke Wiccan paganism, though given Florida’s more Christian-theocratic mania these days, we know well what sort of hosannas would prevail.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive One caveat: the law does require local school boards to pass resolutions enacting the allowance first. It’s a constitutionally problematic law in many regards. Beside the outright violation of the First Amendment—public schools, as government entities, would be endorsing religion whether a prayer is student-led or not, since students are acting under authority of their school—prayer of any sort at student assemblies would be a coercive end-run around at least some students’ right to be left alone. It’s a bigger problem if school boards must enact a resolution to enable student prayer, because it certifies that prayer is made possible at the will of the board. Government boards should never be that lordly, especially not to arbitrate First Amendment protections.

Not surprisingly, not a single one of Florida’s 67 school boards enacted such a resolution. They’ve followed the state School Board Association’s advice: leave well enough alone. It’s not worth the legal muck that could be triggered by one extremist invocation too many.

That enlightened streak may be about to end.

Click On:

For the last two meetings of the Flagler County School Board, member John Fischer has implored his colleagues to seize on the state law and return prayer to schools. He’s done so through two fuming, bizarre, somewhat incoherent speeches dripping with resentment even as he was calling for everyone to “get along.” The first time he spoke only as “his opinion.” The second, it got serious: he was asking for a policy change.

Both times he laced his overheated proposal in a double-bladed call to unity while attacking “political correctness” and “special interests” for keeping prayer out of schools. “You know, there’s just hate,” Fischer said, uttering the word no less than five times in his first speech, without providing a single example of the “hate” he spoke of, even though he said he’d seen it in the school board’s own meeting chambers. Then he made that leap to an assumed link between the “hate” and the absence of prayer in school.

I’ve covered most local government meetings for the past three years, including the school board’s. I’ve seen a few tense meetings, a few displays of people power through forceful opposition to certain issues, but nothing beyond the sort of earnest, democratic engagement we should be glad for, and proud of. Hate? Not once, especially not under the chairmanships of Sue Dickinson and Andy Dance (or, for that matter, that of Jane Mealy in Flagler Beach, Barbara Revels, Alan Peterson and Nate McLaughlin at the county, or the mayorships of Jon Netts in Palm Coast and Catherine Robinson in Bunnell). Unions asking for fair treatment, residents angered over taxes or fees, parents torn up about uniforms or the closure of a charter schools—that’s not hate. It’s citizens making their voices heard to their representative government.

Fischer’s allegation smells of baseless claims people in power sometimes make because they know they’ll be heard, and because they know they often won’t be held to account. It’s a casual, common form of abuse of authority. To use Fischer’s own descriptive characterization of that alleged “hate” he sees in the school board chambers, “it’s disgusting.” But it shouldn’t be the springboard to policy.

It’s difficult to make sense of Fischer’s speeches, which ramble and mangle in the literal sense of the term. Here’s a sample from the first speech: “You know there’s just hate. Why can’t we get along? Don’t be afraid of the political correctness. Don’t be afraid of all the activist groups. Don’t be afraid of all these people’s hate, and spread hate. Where’s our rights? Why don’t we start—cause I talked to a lot of people, and listen to a lot of people, and they feel the same way, but I think maybe people are afraid to say something because they’re afraid of the political correctness. Well, is it—I’m very proud of being Catholic, and an American, and my country, my flag, and I’m very proud to say that whatever it takes, I’m not going to be on a soapbox, but I think we should give that consideration, to maybe having prayer in schools, at our meetings…”

In his second speech, he began by reading from a quite moving piece by the Observer’s Brian McMillan, about the Pledge of Allegiance (and missing its point entirely), though he managed to mangle even McMillan’s words several times, before launching again on a tirade about how “our country has too many of these uh, self-satisfying political groups and special interest groups, and political correctness,” and therefore—his inexplicable logic—the need to bring prayer back in school. (You can read the two full speeches below.)

Fischer’s call for prayer wasn’t originating from a place of charity or good will, but of bitterness. Even as he called for comity, he was doing so by projecting an imaginary us-versus-them divide he did not define beyond those who pray to a Christian god, and those who don’t. That made Fischer—not the vague “self-satisfying groups” he was attacking—sound hateful. I was reminded of Jerry Falwell’s revolting statement after the attack of 9/11, when the late evangelical bigot said: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’” At least Falwell apologized.

Fischer doubled down. His criticism of “special interests” and “political correctness” is ironic (to not say insulting), considering what that correctness has enabled in public schools: racial integration, equality for girls in school athletics, equality for students with special needs, anti-bullying campaigns, respect for students of all creeds and lifestyles, whether atheist, Catholic, gay, Wiccan or undefined. “Where’s our rights,” John? Those are our rights.

Would you care, John, to be more specific in your attacks on “special interests,” so we can really know whether there is an issue worth addressing? What “special interest” groups are you complaining about? Unions? Civil liberties groups? The NAACP? Our own Merrill Shapiro’s Americans United for the Separation of Church and State? The National Organization for Women? Or is this just your own resentments couched in the language of imaginary persecutions and victimhood?

One of the great and enduring successes of the American public school, all academic hand-wringing aside, is its admirable reflection of principles of equal opportunity, fairness and respect for all. Few other institutions, including private and charter schools, can make that claim. Schools’ balancing of public and private religious rights is among those successes. Why jeopardize it?

And if it’s the absence of prayer from schools Fischer is bemoaning, He is flatly wrong on that count, too. Even before last year’s resurrection of school prayer, Florida wasn’t quite the atheist-godless-communist redoubt its mullahs would make you believe it was. Public schools could and still may provide up to two minutes of silence at the beginning of every day for prayer or meditation. (Schools are loath to do that only because their hours have been slashed as it is, to save money, so further reducing instructional time wouldn’t be wise.) Students can pray at any time of their choosing, anywhere they please, even in groups, as long as it doesn’t interfere with school activities. Florida law also requires the Department of Education to distribute explicit guidelines on “Religious Expression in Public Schools” to every school board member, superintendent, principal and teacher in every school, making students’ rights to pray very clear.

Then came last year’s curveball of a prayer law. School boards have sensibly held their bats. Let us pray the Flagler County School Board continues to resist the call to prayer, John Fischer’s veiled, angry nostalgia for a more unequal past notwithstanding.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here. This column is also syndicated through Florida Voices.

John Fischer’s first speech to the school board, Jan. 22:

“Reflecting again as I said in the last meeting as far as, you know, these tragedies that’s been happening at Columbine, 9/11, and at the, you know, Aurora, and Connecticut, and, Sandy the storm, all these tragedies are happening and as we talked earlier about the gun violence and the ammunition and the videos and the Hollywood and, but, a lot of these things—also the SROs—but just listening to, you know, yesterday even, the inauguration and Martin Luther King, is the swearing in and the benediction, and you know, invocations, and ‘we are one.’ You know, I think that our society has lost—and I really don’t think they’ve lost it, I don’t think that maybe they’re afraid to project it or be proud of it, but it’s prayer, and our flag, and our country, and I think with this political correctness in this world we have now, there’s just so much hate, and I think that—and this is my opinion, it’s not the board, this is for me—most people believe in god, country and flag. Whatever faith that you are. We’re all god’s children, and when people want something, many pray for help, whether it be family, sickness, surgery, job, financial, losing home, affording college, after something happens, everyone comes together. You know, there’s not a divide. Why can’t we all be all one at time. Why can’t we listen and communicate with those, we can all do the best and right thing for all of us. Just as Mr. Dance has mentioned before I believe it was as far as, look at the problems we’re having in our Congress. You know there’s just hate. Why can’t we get along? Don’t be afraid of the political correctness. Don’t be afraid of all the activist groups. Don’t be afraid of all these people’s hate, and spread hate. Where’s our rights? Why don’t we start—cause I talked to a lot of people, and listen to a lot of people, and they feel the same way, but I think maybe people are afraid to say something because they’re afraid of the political correctness. Well, is it—I’m very proud of being Catholic, and an American, and my country, my flag, and I’m very proud to say that whatever it takes, I’m not going to be on a soapbox, but I think we should give that consideration, to maybe having prayer in schools, at our meetings, and like you saw yesterday, the swearing in, the inauguration, the invocations. You have it at NASCAR. You know, why can’t we bring back family values, bring the character that we’re known for instead of all this hate. And there’s just so, even in this chamber I see people with hate, and It’s just, it’s disgusting. But I think that we have love in us, if we can project that from our hearts, and—thank you.”

John Fischer’s second speech to the school board, Feb. 5:

“Ms. Conklin [Flagler County School Board Colleen Conklin] I want to thank you for the power of one, I have some recommendations for upcoming situations. And if we look at the power of one, actually what does that mean? Can we put that as far as, will we as a nation be the power of one? Can we be united in god and country? I just spoke to Mr. Alter earlier in the evening here, and, uh, if you have a chance, maybe for future consideration, if you look at the state bill 98, about prayer in schools and different situations, um, so if you can read that over and maybe in a few we could do a workshop on that, speaking to Mr. Alter what he thinks about it, you know our country has too many of these uh, self-satisfying political groups and special interest groups, and political correctness. When are we in fact going to stand up? There’s an awful lot of people that really feel in strength that we believe in our country and god, and if in fact we don’t stand up. We’re going to lose what we have. So I would think and I would consider, you know, prayer in the schools, and also, is that maybe we could talk about it in the future here coming up as far as even prayer before our meetings as they do like in Congress and at different local—there’s no other county in Florida that has even talked about or, you know, did anything about prayer in schools, but maybe we can revitalize and be a pro-active versus reactive. Thank you.”

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86 Responses for “John Fischer’s Hate Speech”

  1. Ryan McDermott says:

    Separation of Church and State. There is a reason for it.

    I hope prayer is not forced into the system.


  2. You go John says:

    I am a Christian and am all for prayer-any time-any place! This world used to be a lot better off before God was removed in so many places. In God WE Trust!!!!!!!!


    • Linda says:

      When prayer was in the schools, our country was a country of segregation, gender discrimination, McCarthyism, lynchings, low pay and lack of opportunities for women. . .I could go on and on. The idea that the lack of prayer or God in the schools is the reason for whatever one perceives our current ailments and flaws are simply defies all logic and ignores our history.
      For all the so-called Constitutionalists screaming to protect the 2nd amendment rights, please think about putting that same energy into protecting our 1st amendment rights.


    • NortonSmitty says:

      If your God can be removed from all these places by bureaucrats and Government regulations, tell me again why he is so omnipotent?


    • Samuel Smith says:

      Matthew 6:5-8:“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

      Interesting how hippies, vietnam, and general godlessness has peaked since they added “in God we trust” to our currency in the mid-50′s. The war to add prayer back into school has ushered a huge number of school shootings, and maybe this is punishment from God because of the ill-conceived belief that public prayer is supported by scripture.


    • elaygee says:

      The world may have been a better place for you but your coreligionists made life a living hell for everyone else, torturing, killing and “converting” anyone who dared to believe anything different.


  3. christina b says:

    Thank you! These “feel good” measures do nothing other than pit us against each other. Mr. Fischer, stop using your power to divide us. Just stop it. No one is forcing you to abandon YOUR God–and you have no absolute right to force it on others.


  4. A.S.F says:

    You’d think this guy has enough to concern himself with in his own home and on his own plate without trying to direct other peoples’ beliefs and moral conduct!


  5. michelle says:

    I am proud of being a Catholic, of being an American, of my country and of my flag (my father, mother and brothers were in the service and I’m proud of all off them), and I’m not going to get on a soapbox—— but as a teacher I have to respect my students and their beliefs.
    I pray before school, during the joys and unhappiness of my students, and when I am home afterwards. I pray with my own children and with my husband. If a student asks about my beliefs, I tell him or her. BUT praying is personal – it’s between me and my God. I don’t need a school board ruling. And neither does a child. Trust me, a lot of them pray before a test, before going into a crowded lunchroom with the kid who bullies them, before the ‘big’ game, etc…
    John, get a grip and take care of your own house before you play in ours.


  6. Anonymous says:

    No one can “remove” God from anywhere. Silly to think so. God Is, therefore prayer is in the heart and mind and soul of the individual, between the person and their God. The Bible never said people are supposed to pray aloud as a group, but implies prayer is communion one on one with God. Otherwise we may look like the Pharasees in sackcloth and ashes, praying aloud in the streets,lol.


  7. Kip Durocher says:

    The election of this man was a huge mistake in the first place. He really is not qualified at all to be on any board of local governance due to his lack of intellect and ability to clearly and articulately express his thoughts. Then there is the problem with these thoughts which are divisive, narrow minded, and stem from his biases with absolutely no respect or regard for the rights and beliefs of others. I would agree with Pierre ~ this man is closer to hate speech than anything I have heard from any board member of any governing body in Flagler County in the 25 years I have lived here and followed local events. Unchecked petty demagogues like this man always end up causing more disharmony and ill-feelings than any sense of community.
    My hope is that he will be nothing more than a one term blunder. This is something the whole county needs to work to achieve.


  8. Ron says:

    Seems like Fischer’s kinda’ going off the deep end.

    Time to step down maybe??


  9. Nancy N. says:

    Mr Fischer’s rambling incoherence makes me wonder if he needs to step aside to take care of his personal issues. Having dealt with an remarkably similar family situation myself, I can attest to the unbearable pressure and stress – and I’m barely half the age of the Fischers and not a public figure in the way Mr Fischer is, which both add to the pressure and make it harder to carry.

    I suspect from personal experience that his rants about “hate” in the world are not really about the schools and are really about his wife’s legal situation.

    And one thing that I can assure the school board about: should they opt to actually act on Mr Fischer’s hateful ramblings, I will be first in line to volunteer to request the ACLU to sue the school board on my daughter’s behalf. I won’t think twice before making that phone call, and you know based on previous action on this issue on their part that they will be happy to take the case. So FCSB, save yourself the trouble – and the legal fees. Mr Fischer has a history of shoving his pet projects and personal views down the throats of parents in this district. I couldn’t do anything about the school uniforms but I will not roll over and play dead and let him shred the Constitution.


  10. Ben Dover says:

    Well in Johns defense ,the media has shown him a lot of hate , yes his wife was involved in a very sad accident, but the newspapers attacked him , every time they mentioned what happened with his wife , they had to make sure they said wife of School board member John Fischer, like he was responsible for her actions, it was a deliberate slam against him every time the News journal wrote a story which was just about every other day for over a year, just because they listened to their attorney and told the Journal no comment they attacked John day in and day out , if I were him I`d be suing the News Journal, so yeah Johns experienced a lot of hate the last year and a half, he`s been punished for something he had no control over and played no part in and the News journal ought to be ashamed of themselves


  11. K says:

    Funny that a guy who’s wife allegedly ran over an innocent woman and went home while leaving her to die on the side of the road is trying to be a moral beacon.


  12. confidential says:

    Totally agree with Michelle. For a school Board Member setting examples there are too many “you know’s” in Mr. Fisher rhetoric, as well as too many unanswered questions regarding his phone calls to the former Sheriff. Time for change.


  13. Palm Coast Resident says:

    Sure would be nice to have some prayer in school. I had it when I went to school…and I don’t think it hurt at all. It taught me to “believe”. Now the kids don’t know who to “Believe” in, no matter what religion they follow. Some kids don’t even know what a Bible is, or that there are several “Books” or beliefs of religion. But, it is not just in school they should pray, parents should teach prayer in the home. Now there’s a subject that never gets discussed……Prayer at home….

    Mr. Fischer should be congradulated for bringing prayer up for discussion with the School Board. It’s long overdue. No matter what religion! Thank You Sir.

    I’m also Catholic and I believe in prayer.


  14. Gia says:

    Kids are going to schools to learn not to be brainwashed by ignorance propaganda & stupidity. Why do you think we have so many dumb & idiots on the streets ? One think they excel is text messaging.


  15. John Boy says:

    John, pray for your wife. You should have prayed before your wife got behind the wheel of her car and killed an innocent person. Trying to cover it up with prayers didn’t work either. Just love his holier than thou attitude, what a hypocrite. One term John, the public has seen through your BS.


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