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Valentine's day and religious conflict

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To many people, Valentine's Day is one of those nice warm fuzzy times of the year -- a totally innocuous celebration which honors love and romance. However, the day does celebrate love, and love can be related to erotic and sexual behavior. Some faith groups are quite concerned that sexual activity be strictly limited to within heterosexual marriages. They worry that the sex drive may get out of control, particularly among youth, who they wish to remain celibate until marriage -- a hope that fails 90 to 95% of the time in North America.

Some groups around the world have observed this day in non-traditional, sometimes violent or argumentative ways. Some recent (and one not so recent) conflicts over Valentine's Day are listed below. All but one seem to contain a component of religious conflict:

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1929-FEB-14: St. Valentine's Day Massacre: Perhaps the least traditional celebration of Valentine's Day happened in Chicago. Five men, dressed in police uniforms, lined up seven gang members in a garage and killed them in a hail of bullets. Al Capone was blamed for the Massacre, even though he was in Florida at the time. The crime has never been solved. However, the execution format of this crime shocked the American public. Some blamed Prohibition as the cause of the violence, and began to favor its repeal.

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1995-JUN-10: Religion in the public schools: Attorney Craig Parshall delivered testimony before the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary of the U.S. House of Representatives. 1 He main area of expertise is civil liberties litigation, and particularly religious liberty cases. He works for the Rutherford Institute, a Fundamentalist Christian legal group. He discussed the case of Jennifer Bachhus, a 3rd grade student in a public school in Wisconsin. "A few days before Valentine's Day she hand-made her valentine in art class along with other students. The assignment was to express what love meant to each of them. Jennifer was a Christian, and she put this message on her card: 'Jesus is what love is all about.' She was told by her teacher that the religious message would have to be taken off, and that this kind of message was illegal in the public schools." This incident clearly violated Jennifer's civil rights under the "free exercise" clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution. That clause involves religion; it states: "Congress shall make no law... prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."  The matter was cleared up quickly after Parshall sent a legal opinion letter to the school principal and the school board. "Jennifer [was] allowed to display her valentine with those of her class- mates." 1 This type of conflict over religious free speech occurs each year in the U.S. -- often at Valentine's Day, Easter and Christmas. Many school officials still believe that public schools should be religion-free zones because of the principle of separation of church and state. They don't seem to be aware that the free exercise clause applies to persons of all ages. Students don't lose their civil rights when they enter a public school campus. Fortunately, these conflicts are easy to resolve. A letter of phone call from a lawyer will usually fix the problem.

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1998-FEB-12: Same-sex marriage: Gays, lesbians and their supporters celebrated the first "National Freedom to Marry Day." The organizers called for an end to discrimination in civil marriage. The day was "held in support of the struggle to allow same-sex couples access to civil marriage. Gatherings in large and small communities, with symbolic weddings, city hall ceremonies, and other events" were held. 2

Evan Wolfson, marriage project director for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said: "Valentine's Day and Lincoln's Birthday provide the perfect themes for this day -- love and equality. The choice of whom to marry belongs to couples in love, not to politicians or pressure groups." 2

The observance has been repeated annually just before St. Valentine's day, since 1998. There is a religious conflict over "National Freedom to Marry Day."  Organized opposition to equal rights for lesbians and gays in North America -- including same-sex marriage -- comes mainly from conservative Christians.

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1998-FEB-4: Valentine's day banned in Hillsborough NJ schools: The public schools in Hillsborough banned the distribution of valentines. They reasoned that Valentine's Day is named after St. Valentine and is therefore too religious. Ted Forstmann of the Becket Fund said: "if you are a nine-year-old boy in Hillsborough, you can still have a crush on a nine-year-old girl. You just can't give her a valentine. Instead, you have to give her something called a 'special person card,' because in Hillsborough, February 14 is now 'Special Person Day'." Things may have since returned to normal. The school board seems to be softening a bit on their anti-Valentine stance. Their Auten Road school includes Valentine's Day in its calendar, and the Sunnymead Elementary School actually holds Valentine's Day parties. Perhaps there is hope. 3

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2000-FEB-14: Coalition asks that emergency contraception be sold over the counter: On Valentine's Day, a coalition of 76 organizations petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to permit morning-after pills to be sold over the counter in pharmacies and other stores. Emergency contraception, inaccurately called morning-after pills, act as a contraceptive by either preventing ovulation, or inhibiting conception. Researchers once believed that it could inhibit implantation of the fertilized ovum, but this has been shown to be very remote or impossible function. The pills prevent pregnancy, if taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse. If pregnancy has all ready begun, they have no effect.

Also on Valentine's Day, the OB-GYN professional society issued its own statement supporting such access. Bonnie Scott Jones, spokesperson for the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, said: "Because emergency contraception poses no known health risks, has minor side effects, and can be taken in two simple, identical doses without medical supervision, it meets all the criteria necessary for over-the-counter status." 4 The religious connection in this case is due to the opposition of conservative religious groups to abortion and sometimes to contraception. Many define pregnancy as starting at conception. Thus they believe that emergency contraception can be an abortifacient. They generally oppose making morning-after pills more accessible to women.


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2001-FEB-12: Right-wing Indian political group ordered to disrupt Valentine's Day: Bal Thackeray, who heads the hard line Shiv Sena political party, ordered activists in his party to disrupt Valentine Day celebrations in Bombay. He considers the celebration to be a conspiracy by foreign companies to sell their products in India. Writing in his party paper, Samna, he stated: "This shameless festival has been celebrated by our young people for the last 10 years, but it is totally contrary to Indian culture. We should focus on good work, good thoughts, love and harmony in our society, and not let such Western culture spoil us." 5

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2001-FEB-14: Riots in India: Some Fundamentalist Hindus rioted on Valentine's Day. "Hard-line Hindus, bent on stopping love-struck couples from celebrating Valentine's Day, went on a rampage...in many parts of the country, invading gift shops, burning cards and disrupting festivities." They denounced the holiday as a desecration of the country's traditional culture. 6 "Members of the Shiv Sena party raged through restaurants and stores, smashing plants, tossing chairs, and threatening couples. 'Down with Valentine's Day!' shouted activists. 'We will not allow our culture to be polluted. Long live Hindu culture!' " 7

bullet2001-FEB-16: Police raids in Malaysia: Religious police from the Mawar Merah (a faith-based police enforcement group controlled by the government's Islamic Affairs Department) carried out raids throughout the country on Valentine's Day. 208 couples were arrested. Most of the charges were laid under Malaysia's 1995 Crime Enactment Code. It prohibits "khalwat" -- a situation in which persons other than spouses or blood relations in "any secluded place which may give rise to the suspicion that they are engaged in an immoral act." Sixty couples who were found kissing or cuddling were ordered to go for counseling. Their offenses were not judged to be as severe as those of the remaining couples. 8

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References:

  1. "Committee on the Judiciary: Testimony of Attorney Craig L. Parshall. Subcommittee on the Constitution. U.S. House of Representatives, 1995-JUN-10." at: http://www.house.gov/judiciary/266.htm
  2. "Non-Gay and Gay Groups Across Country Observe First National Freedom to Marry Day: 'From Anchorage to Atlanta,' lesbians, gay men, & allies celebrate growing support for equal civil marriage rights on February 12," Lambda Defense and Education Fund, at: http://www.lambdalegal.org/cgi-bin/iowa/documents/record?record=183
  3. "Becket Fund Events," at: http://www.becketfund.org/other/events.html
  4. Dave Gilden, "The Fight to Make Morning-After Pills Available Over the Counter; No Rx Required," The Village Voice, at: http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0114/gilden.php
  5. "Militant Hindu Valentine threat," BBC News, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/
  6. Article in the Toronto Star, a newspaper in Toronto ON Canada, 2001-FEB-15.
  7. "Weblog: Militant Hindus Rampage Against Valentine's Day," Christianity Today, at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/
  8. "Stupid Religious Rules," T. Rex's Guide to Life, at:  http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/

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Copyright © 2000 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JAN-25
Latest update: 2010-JUN-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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