Public Spaces


Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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29 Responses

  1. Avatar Damon says:

    I grew up hunting..on private land. The rancher sold hunting permits to his property at a very cheap price. On 50K acres, we provided cheap “anti rustling” insurance. Everyone’s car was know and strangers were checked out. I’d expect few rustlers would want to stay around when a few guys with rifles showed up asking questions. When I moved to the east, I couldn’t adapt to the higher density, and frankly, the number of idiots. That and I just don’t really understand tree stand hunting. Seems unsportsmanlike.

    I’ve never really had an issue with folks using the public square. You want to put up a display during xmas, fine. As long as it’s tastefull. You want to protest that? Fine. Be polite and don’t block the streets during rush hour and we’ll all get along nicely…..Report

  2. Avatar James Hanley says:


    Overall, I agree with your post, but I quibble this part.
    We hear about….someone erecting a religious display that seems to violate our Constitutional rules and we demand they honor some silent pact to only use those spaces respectfully. But one man’s respect is another man’s oppression.

    I don’t think that example works well. We have pretty clearly defined rules on that. A public space can be used for religious displays, but then it must be a limited public forum, where other religious displays, from other religions, can also be set up. If the relevant governing body doesn’t want it to be a limited public forum, then there can be no religious display. To say, “You have to respect my desire to put up a religious display on public space, but desiring to put up your own is oppressive to me” does not work. The emphasis on respect goes both ways.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

      Another of Megan Kelly’s complaints in her “white Santa” rant was that someone had put up a Festivus pole next to a nativity scene. Why should her kids have to see such a thing?Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        What’s juciest is her complaint about “why should I have to see that Festivus pole when I’m taking my kids to see a nativity scene,” in conjunction with her claim that people who are merely inconvenienced by things they don’t like should shut up. Would that she could take her own advice, or even have an inkling of the hypocrisy of her argument.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        That pole is naked!Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

      My issue with that passage is that it is not a “silent pact” to which we point but, ya know, the Constitution. Which laid out pretty explicitly the relationship between public spaces and expressions of faith.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kazzy says:

        “Which laid out pretty explicitly the relationship between public spaces and expressions of faith.”

        The Constitution is (sometimes maddeningly) concise, but it’s not explicit. Congress can’t establish a religion, nor prohibit people from freely exercising their own. (and due to (correct) court interpretation, this has been extended to governments at all levels)

        Private citizens putting creches and fsm noodles in the plaza is exactly at the space in the middle. In most ways, it’s no different than wanting to put food trucks around the plaza. Where it does get dicey is when the city or state governments are actively involved, and/or there are several competing and mutually exclusive claims on the public space.

        I mean, it’s pretty clear to me that hauling around one of those trailer billboard signs that said ‘God is Totes McGotes’ is an expression of faith public spaces totes legit under several aspects of the first amendment.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:


        I don’t think it is that clear which is why these kinds of cases end up in front of the Supreme Court with semi-regularity. The analogy I wanted to make here was that there are a lot of unspoken pacts between the people who use public spaces. For example, most of the people I run into while hunting public land play by the same rules I do. A few misguided individuals have a different idea of how they should behave. Their actions do not violate any kind of written rule, but they violate several unwritten ones. Still, I believe we have to let those actions pass because that is the true spirit of public spaces.

        In places like town squares, a satanist display next to a nativity may be perfectly legal, but it makes many of uncomfortable. In much the same way though, discomfort or not, I believe we have to let those things stand so long as they are still legal.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        My confusion, @mike-dwyer . Ya know, as I started to read this piece, I actually wondered, “How the hell do hunters avoid shooting each other?” I know some where orange or other easily identified clothing, but I also know some go full camo, up to and including “gully suits”. It seems like a recipe for disaster. And maybe they do shoot each other and we just don’t hear about it. But it would seem that some established norms for behavior and the like would be important.

        The question really is: How are these communicated? Do those guys who walked right across your perch — are they adhering to a different norm? Or are they just clueless? If they are clueless, how do you/we clue them in?

        This is why I tend to frown upon “unspoken agreements” or “silent pacts”. Perhaps my work with young children has biased me, but unless things are explicitly laid out, it is hard to expect or demand compliance. We do this in some ways but not in others. Presumably, the space where the religious displays are set up are understood to be off-limits to hunter (I sure hope they are, regardless of my feelings on religious displays on public property). Similarly, the spaces where hunters hunt are understood to be off-limits for religious displays (if only to avoid the baby Jesus ending up in the crossfire).

        But we don’t always do this. So we end up with all the tricky cases we see today. Should a town council meeting start with a prayer? Well, given the purpose of a town council, it seems inappropriate. But can a public park — where people are invited to convene and connect in a peaceful and respectful manner — be a place where like-minded individuals opt to pray together? Sure.

        So, I would advocate that we first seek to better define the purposes of these various spaces. This space is for hunting and that space is for group gatherings and over there is where the laws get made. Then the hunters can follow the rules for hunting and the group gatherers can follow the rules for group gatherings and the law makers can follow the ru… oh, fuck it… they’re just going to do whatever the hell they want anyway.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:


        In KY (and in most states) you are required to take a hunter safety class before you can start hunting. In those classes they cover things like making sure you are actually shooting at an animal and in a safe direction. This helps a lot but of course every year that are many stories about hunters shooting one another.

        The kinds of ‘violations’ I see are more to do with no giving someone adequate space. My local WMA is divided into numbered tracts and my rule is that if I see a car parked at one I go to another one. Other hunters will just march right in. My worst story was one time where I parked in an empty parking area, hunted for a few hours without seeing anyone, and then left. When I returned to my car there were 12 other cars parked there. That was an eery feeling.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        The hunting class sounds like a good idea. And, come to think of it, the only close friend I have who does hunt (in MD) has mentioned something similar. If I remember correctly, he also spoke about not only a limit on permits available, but also permits only being offered for select days. There is a distribution system of sorts (Lottery? First come, first served? I’m not sure…) and you put in for your preferred dates. This, I assume, is to limit what you describe. It would seem to be a method of standardizing against unspoken agreements which not everyone agrees to follow. Of course, it wouldn’t shock me to learn that Maryland is more regulated than Kentucky, given what I know about the states more generally.

        I imagine that the knowledge that there are more people than one can see in their area when hunting could be a rather disheartening feeling, perhaps to the point of robbing you of the enjoyment. I also imagine that learning after the fact that your presumably human-free area was in fact crawling with people could be all the more unsettling.

        Nothing will guarantee that a hunter never gets shot by a fellow outdoorsman. But surely there are reasonable steps that can be taken to make it less likely that don’t detract from the quality of the hunting.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:

        A lot of states use a lottery system or ‘first come, first use’ system for hunting areas but KY has resisted this. There is a public dove field near me that I tried to use one time. It is 40 acres and I was told that the limit is 2 hunters per acre. So that’s right, potentially 80 hunters ringing around one field blasting away. Needless to say I chose to go back home.Report

  3. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    James, perhaps my wording was awkward here. What I was refering to is people not wanting religious displays in public spaces at all.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      I’m with you then. At least most of the way. I’d prefer no religious displays at all, so it doesn’t appear the government is endorsing religion (there is a certain nervousness for non-religious folks about second class status). But I don’t get too worked up about it as long as it’s not exclusive, especially since atheist and “freethinker” (I really hate that term; it’s so supercilious) are getting into the game, so that non and anti-religious displays can go up, too. A baby Jesus next to a sign that says “Embrace the Enlightenment” is more likely to make me smile than to upset me.

      But I don’t think those who want an absolute ban on religious displays in public are a very numerous group.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

        Just so long as the anti-religious ones aren’t too abrasive, I’m glad to see ’em too.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

        @james-hanley and @mike-dwyer

        What happens when the Church of the Aryan Brotherhood wants to erect a swastika on the town green to commemorate the Holy Fuhrer’s birthday?Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to James Hanley says:


        We have to let them. Just like Oklahoma’s going to have to let Satanists put up a Satanist monument next to their Ten Commandments.* (In fact, although they are not planning an upside down cross, that’s the example I use to Christians when I explain what their crosses and ten commandments on public property means as a matter of law–once I disabuse them of the notion that Satanism is not a real church, they’re invariably disquieted (which does not, however, necessarily mean they’re persuaded).)

        That is another reason why I think it’s probably better to just avoid the whole religious display on public property business altogether. And for pete’s sake, Christians, it’s not as though religious displays on private property are hard to find. Many of them are very publicly visible, so what’s the big deal about insisting it actually be on public property anyway? Given all the churches around, and all the Christians living in various neighborhoods, more people are going to drive by church or domestic nativity scenes driving home from work each day than are likely to drive past city hall. So I struggle to believe that it’s merely “publicness” that those particular Christians are looking for; I think it’s the “governmentness” that they really want.
        * Unless the Constitution allows the state of Oklahoma to ban groups from outside the state from placing any monuments at the state capitol.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

        OTOH, a live mercury fountain (or a sacrificial altar with animal sacrifices) can be banned for health reasons.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to James Hanley says:

        or a sacrificial altar with animal sacrifices)

        You might want to review the ruling in Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, Florida.Report

      • Well, if Oklahoman for governmental displays of Christianity have to worry about the possibility of accommodating Satanists, they should have looked at their counterparts in Florida, who now have the reality of an accommodation to atheists.

        But: there is at least one Supreme Court case that provides those who would give the Decalogue a permanent place of honor on government property succor from the spectre of having to similarly accomodate a multiplicity of other religious beliefs: Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum. After all, a public forum isn’t really a forum at all when all of its “forum-ness” has been used up, at least according to Justice Alito.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to James Hanley says:

        a public forum isn’t really a forum at all when all of its “forum-ness” has been used up

        That’s the problem with forums, other people are always using them.

        What we need is a forus.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

        Or a fivem.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

        Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye

        They got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.Report

      • Avatar Rod in reply to James Hanley says:

        @james-hanley , So I struggle to believe that it’s merely “publicness” that those particular Christians are looking for; I think it’s the “governmentness” that they really want.

        Agreed. It reminds me of the partisan issues around funding for public broadcasting. Public money typically only accounts for something like 10 or 15% of their budget, so it doesn’t seem like it should be that hard to make up that difference privately. What they’re really after, it seems to me, is the imprimatur of “official” recognition that what they do is an essential public service.

        Personally, I just wish they would air All Things Considered on one of the three public radio channels on SiriusXM.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to James Hanley says:


        I haven’t thought as much about the Utah case as I should. Is it really the circus tent size cover for government sponsorship of religion that it at least superficially seems to be?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

        Religion isn’t the only issue. What neutral principle says that a display honoring Martin Luther King is OK but one for George Lincoln Rockwell forbidden?Report

  4. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    This is the case which Prof. Aitch cited. It’s right on point for the discussion concerning laws that look neutral on their face but which are in reality aimed at prohibiting a particular church from doing a particular thing. In this case, live animal sacrifice, which is generally not considered a very nice thing by most folks. But maybe in the future it won’t be live animal sacrifice but something you might like better, perhaps a bris, or chanting and live music during ceremonies, or even playing the church’s carillon.Report