Monday, May 5, 2014

My right to privacy, and yours

An college class exercise involving SCOTUS Justice Scalia was an interesting assignment for the students who did it.   An interesting by-product is recognizing that Scalia apparently thinks   *ponders exactly how to say this*   there's no violation of your privacy if you have nothing to hide.  Small-town gossips have always believed that!

But in whose judgment is ANY fact about you something to hide?  Consider something that happened to my family when I was in fifth grade.  My dad's family was very curious about my father's religious beliefs: did he go to mass every week?  Ever?  What was he teaching me about Catholicism?  About religion?  What went on at that Unitarian church he attended?  The subject of my dad's religious beliefs and behavior was his own business--he thought--and his mother and sisters knew not to discuss it with him.  He had fought for his privacy, even choosing to move to my mother's home town, which had no Catholic church.

So one day my fifth grade teacher, Mr. M--new to the district, and youngish--called me up in front of the class and asked me pointed questions about exactly these things. It was not lost on me that he didn't ask anyone else questions that even a nine-year-old found intrusive.  I told my parents about it that evening, and my mom teased my dad, "Well, Vincent, I guess they just can't leave you alone."

They obviously discussed it more after I went to bed, because they accompanied me to school the next morning.  I was called to the principal's office shortly after arriving, and the principal asked me about what had happened in class the day before.  A while after I returned to class, Mr. M was sent out and replaced for several hours.  I heard more of the story when I went home that night.

It seems that Mr. M was a good friend of one of my dad's sisters.  All these good Catholics believed that an individual's salvation is everyone's business.  My aunt--Mr. M's friend--decided just what the McLaughlin family "needed" to know.  Ultimately, Mr.M got a lesson he hadn't expected, that is--life in the secular world is nothing like life in an Irish Catholic community: people expect their opinions to be private.  The right of a nine-year-old not to be asked personal questions--during class time or any other time--was unknown. 

This incident opened a crack in my parents' relationship that never mended.  They had agreed on their shared right to privacy and my mother's family would never have dreamed of intruding like this.  It was decades before there was any mending at all between my mother and her in-laws.

My dad's conclusion that privacy was to the greater family good, did not protect him from the intrusion of his family and their pal, Mr.M.   Nor would parents be free from the kind of intrusion that Justice Scalia would enforce.  Scalia has no shame about his religious beliefs--indeed, as the photo to the right shows, he receives great social and professional rewards for being an outspoken Catholic.  So it makes sense that his view of privacy is that he, personally, has no need for it.   He makes a jump from: I don't need privacy, to: you shouldn't want privacy.  That's where we disagree, and that's why I find Antonin Scalia's lack of boundaries a danger to Americans.

There was, in fact, a sequel to this.   Mr.M apologized, and in fact met with my parents a couple times to discuss what had happened.  Apparently, he had had no idea people would find such questions intrusive; if he intended to continue working in the public schools he understood he could not be an enforcement arm of the Catholic church.  Fast forward a decade or so.  Mr.M was working in a different district, and applied to be a principal in our district.   My mother had been elected to our local school board and was on the committee that had to decide about his application.   During his interview with the committee, Mr. M brought up the incident and confessed his ignorance upon entering the job market about the secular concept of privacy--and how he'd learned.  He elaborated a bit on how it influenced his attitude toward managing a public school.   My mom thought he would have been an admirable addition to the district's faculty and voted for him, but alas, he got a better-paying job closer to his home.  I'm not sure when she forgave her in-laws, if ever.

1 comment:

Sue McLaughlin said...

I'm the Suzanne McLaughlin from the Nation of Change comments. My husband and I are also UUs in Rochester,NY.

His hometown is Port Jervis, NY, and he was born in Jersey City.

Enjoyed your comment!
Sue, aka Suzy