Saturday, April 30, 2005

IFC Homeless Shelter Mural

Pictures of the mural.

Where is the line?

Where is the appropriate line between government sponsored religious expression and freedom of religion? Perhaps I am just more atune to this question of late, but it seems there have been more than the usual number of instances of late that came down to this question. About two years ago, one of my children spent a week in a public school on a project entitled "Christmas Around the World", complete with a nativity scene from Mexico. She heard how Christians celebrated this holiday in Japan, India, and other countries. This year, there have been religious performances by Gospel Choirs in two of my children's public schools, including at least one performance at which attendance was mandatory.

Eric over at IsThatLegal recently had several posts about the inclusion of a series of books in a reading program in one of the local elementary schools. The publisher of the books in question and the books' content are clearly Christian evalgenical in nature.

Most recently, Sally Greene posted a short update about the County of Los Angles' seal, which included a cross until redesigned in the last year or two. The seal now has a mission building instead of a cross. Various local LA political players continue to machinate over the inclusion of the cross in the seal.

The post about the cross made me view a picture I saw recently in the Chapel Hill News in a new light. The Town of Chapel Hill commissioned a mural in the homeless shelter that the town owns and rents to the Interfaith Council. The picture in the paper (nor my photography) does not do the mural justice. If you have not seen it, it's worth a visit to the shelter. The mural is in three panels separated by two windows along the outside wall of the dining room. In the lower left hand corner of the center panel is a building easily identifiable as a church with a steeple topped with a cross. Is the inclusion of a religious symbol in a government sponsored work of art permissible?

Here is what I said over at Sally's site.

"I also suffer from not having seen the mural up close. And not being an attorney. That said, I think the mural is clearly government sponsored speech regardless of its location as it was paid for by the town. If the description of the mural from the paper is accurate and complete, then I think the presence of the church presents at least as significant an entanglement as the cross in LA county's seal. A church is a Christian symbol and does not represent the spectrum of faith and might also be viewed as endorsing religion. From a strictly legal perspective, the mural may well fall on the wrong side of the blurry separation line.

I would not want to lose sight of the good things that happen at the shelter. I might even allow that the shelter is more effective at its secular purpose because of its basis in faith. But I am not sure a town-sponsored mural is necessary to that purpose."

I will try to post pictures of the mural when I can.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


I have become an advocate for evidence-based evaluation of intervention in education (e.g., One of the criticism I have often read and heard repeatedly from those both within the educational field is that test scores do not reflect all that education aims to impart to children. While this is true, I have been amazed at the rigor with which social scientists have been able to measure nearly every facet of life.

Take happiness, for instance. At some point in our lives, or more likely, at many points in our lives, we ask "what is happiness?" "Am I happy?" "Would I be more happy if I did ____?" We consider our current state and our desires for the future. Social scientists quantitate happiness with questionnaires. For example, Helliwell and Putnam (Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B (2004) 359, 1435–1446; The social context of well-being) review several of the larger studies on happiness.

From the abstract:
"Large samples of data from the World Values Survey, the US Benchmark Survey and a comparable Canadian survey are used to estimate equations designed to explore the social context of subjective evaluations of well-being, of happiness, and of health. Social capital, as measured by the strength of family, neighbourhood, religious and community ties, is found to support both physical health and subjective well-being. Our new evidence confirms that social capital is strongly linked to subjective well-being through many independent channels and in several different forms. Marriage and family, ties to friends and neighbours, workplace ties, civic engagement (both individually and collectively), trustworthiness and trust: all appear independently and robustly related to happiness and life satisfaction, both directly and through their impact on health.

The factors described in the abstract as affecting happiness (i.e., subjective well-being) are not surprising. Within the paper is also an analysis of the effect of age on happiness. The nadir of happiness, on average, occurs in middle age (35-44 or 45-54 yrs of age). Given the phenomenon of the mid-life crisis, this is not surprising. This mid-life low in happiness has been reprodicibly found for the last 30 years. Health and marital status are included in the model but even without considering these, the low point is still in mid life except with very poor health.

Reading this paper did not make me any happier. It does not offer explanations or solutions. But perhaps there is a bit of hope for the future for those of us struggling through mid-life. Oh, and i remain extremely skeptical that education research could not measure any desirable endpoint in assessing the effectiveness of an educational strategy.