Harvey H. Jackson: Beware of unintended consequences
Jan 29, 2014 | 3056 views |  0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Let me begin with this observation.

With our elected representatives gathered in Montgomery to do the people’s business, the time seems right for me to issue my annual warning to them.

Think before you act — or the law of unanticipated consequences will get you.

You know that law, the one that holds that an intervention into a complex system tends to create unanticipated and often-undesirable consequences if that intervention is not carefully considered by those intervening.

Legislators have a bad habit of ill-considered intervening.

Well, maybe not all legislators, but in light of past performances, careful consideration before acting does not appear high on the list to-do list of many.

But rather than berate the Alabama legislators who take time from their busy schedules to govern us, I will point you instead to what is, for me, one of the best examples of legislative lunacy and unanticipated consequences to come across my screen in recent years,


In 2009, the Oklahoma Legislature told a bunch of Christians (and maybe a few Jews) that they could put up a Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds. Sound familiar?

Well, a group of Satanists heard the news and announced that they wanted to put a monument there.

Not having anticipated this, Okie legislators responded as legislatures everywhere respond — by digging themselves into the pile they put there in the first place.

They told the Satanists they could not put up a monument because Satanism is not a religion.

Now, the idea of a legislature saying what is and is not a religion scares me almost as much as Satan does, maybe more. And, sure enough, the politicians had barely finished congratulating themselves for a job well done when a Nevada-based Hindu organization announced that they wanted to erect a statue of Lord Hanuman, one of the popular deities in that faith, on the Capitol grounds.

How are they going to say that one of the oldest religions in the world, a religion that has more than a billion followers, isn’t a religion?

And what are Oklahoma legislators going to say to their creationist-minded constituents when they discover that Lord Hanuman, also known as the “Monkey God,” is depicted as having the face of an ape?

The mind reels.

Then we discover that unanticipated consequences are not limited to legislative acts. Down in Stark, Fla., the town best known for the prison that is the last stop for Sunshine State death-row inmates, local leaders did the same thing Okie legislators did. They let a Christian group put up a Ten Commandments monument in what has been described as a “free speech zone” in front of the courthouse.

And wouldn’t you know (and they should have) that the New Jersey-based American Atheists organization would sue.

In the court-ordered mediation that followed, it was agreed that the Christian monument could stay and the atheists could put up their own monument, which they did. Their “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” effort consists of a functional bench and a marker with quotations from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the group’s founder.

At the atheists’ monument dedication, what was described as a “small group of protestors” gathered to play Christian country music and hold up signs that read “Honk for Jesus” and “Yankee go home.”

“Yankee go home?”

Yessir, representatives from the Florida League of the South came in to join the protest against what one of them described as “a stick in the eye to the Christian people of Florida to have these outsiders come down here with their money and their leadership and promote their outside values here.”

Which leads one to conclude that “outside” is the key word, for I can’t recall the Florida League protesting when a home-grown “militant atheist” got permission to put up a Festivus pole made of beer cans at the state Capitol.

As for the Community Men’s Fellowship that sponsored the Ten Commandment monument, according to its Facebook page, it considers it a free-speech issue and is content with the compromise that let both sides have a marker.

The atheists, for their part, made it clear that they were opposed to Christians having privileges that other groups don’t have — like putting up monuments in public spaces. So when Christians put up the Ten Commandments in the “free speech zone,” the atheists put up their own and invited other non-Christian groups to do the same.

Not what local leaders in Stark intended.

Now they are waiting to hear from the Hindus.

Legislators, consider yourselves warned.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: hjackson@jsu.edu.
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