A Seventh-Day Adventist was recently asked to leave a bus in Fort Worth Texas after she refused to stop reading her Bible aloud to her children. It’s probably not possible to get a real sense of who’s right and who’s wrong here: it all depends on whether the bus driver really was enforcing a noise ordinance fairly and equally, or whether there was some discriminatory malice. The details matter. As best as I can read the situation, the woman certainly seems like she had more on her mind than simply reading to her children (she mentions that other passengers encouraged her readings, which certainly sounds more like it was a public show than merely a private reading to kids that got too loud), and may well have been capable of instigating a scene. But who knows?
The included video reveals that the Liberty Legal Institute, a conservative First Amendment organization, is now involved with the case. The bus company’s case is presented by a quick press release citing the noise ordinance. This is balanced against the woman and LLI’s much more detailed side of the story, which is of course tinged with their own rhetorical take on things. Chances of getting the full and unbiased picture here seem low.
Still, I’m on the side of the woman here unless some further evidence comes in. Unless loud reading is really demonstratively dangerous to other passengers or the driver, I’m not sure what justification the (government-run?) bus company has to be so jumpy about even speech that is deliberately annoying and invasive to other passengers. And for all we know, the driver did in fact specifically ask her to stop reading the Bible aloud period, rather than requesting that she do it more quietly.
It’s not an easy issue, because there certainly are safety issues on buses that might require operators to be especially mindful of preventing fights amongst passengers and so forth. Still, the burden is really on the bus company here, and it’s only because they probably cannot give their full account of their side of the story (for legal reasons, since they have less of an ideological axe to grind and so are primarily trying to be careful and avoid costly litigation by saying too much publicly) that I’ll hold off on faulting them for now.
I do have a confession though: one of the main reasons I wanted to blog about this story was just to mention the bizarre stock graphic of a Bible on the cbs webpage. If you click it, you are granted a slightly larger image of the same random Bible picture. You know, just in case you wanted to examine the fine grain of the leather cover more closely!
These sorts of things amuse me mostly because, as a sometime webpage scribe myself, I always empathize the person who was tasked with not only digging around for this pointless, space filling graphic, but also for implementing the “lightbox” technology to make it slightly larger on demand.