I got to know Joyce back in 1997. Here's how: on the morning of the August 1997 SOCCCD board meeting, I read the meeting’s agenda. It revealed then-Trustee Steven Frogue’s intention of holding a “forum on the JFK Assassination.” He planned to invite four speakers to Saddleback College. I recognized one of the speakers' names: "Michael Collins Piper."
So I called the local ADL. Joyce answered the phone.
Joyce attended the board meeting. (See The Excrement Hits the Fan). In her public remarks, she noted that at least two of Frogue’s guest speakers were associated with the Spotlight, the foremost anti-Semitic newspaper in the U.S. Mr. Piper was the Spotlight’s chief reporter. The other speakers were way-out-there conspiracy mongers. Joyce urged the board not to approve Mr. Frogue's request for his speakers' travel expenses.
The board just blew her off. (John Williams supported his pal Frogue. As always, he looked very staunch.)
The rest, as they say, is districtular history.
As a trustee, Mr. Frogue was heavily into prayer and being openly Christian. He held "prayer breakfasts" at the colleges, where his devotion and appetite were fully on display. Among Frogue's defenders—he was dogged by charges of anti-Semitism going back to 1994—was the local Christian Coalition. (See Ambushing a young critic.) They prayed for 'im. It didn't take.
In the interview in today’s Register, Joyce is asked what conditions were like in OC back in 1981, when the regional office opened. The topic of "prayer" comes up:
In 1981 there was just a hint, a beginning of diversity in Orange County. But it was not a very diverse community, and looking at church-state issues, there wasn't a lot of tolerance for understanding that everybody was not looking at religion the same way. There were a great many issues having to do with local government, having to do with schools, having to do with any public area in which people were speaking as government representatives—teachers, principals, elected officials—and felt that they were speaking to people just like them….Well, people are careful—except at the South Orange County Community College District, where, routinely, Christian or Christianesque prayers are offered by the very theatrical Mr. Tom Fuentes. If you've ever heard one of his invocations, you know what I mean.
For instance, if you look at a number of city council meetings of those days, there would always be a prayer before a council meeting. Those meetings would begin with a very Christian prayer. It's a discomfort that people feel if you aren't Christian and a meeting is beginning with the invocation of a Christian prayer, it kind of leaves you out of the picture.
Now, people are very careful. If they do a prayer, it's nonsectarian—not just nonsectarian Christian but nonsectarian.
Whenever Mr. Fuentes speaks, and especially when he prays, it is as though his mouth were slowly extruding a string of divine sausage. He's a man who always knows that his words are heavenly words.
That Fuentes is so promiscuous an issuer of prayer should not surprise us, considering what he says he's proud of. When he stepped down as Chair of the local GOP in 2004, he offered these "farewell remarks”:
Now, some have asked me what is it that gives me most joy in twenty years as Chairman of this County Party. It is a little thing. It is the fact that anywhere in this county, whenever Republicans gather, we begin our time together with prayer. You may pray in your way, and I may pray in mine, but, my friends, Republicans in this county always acknowledge a power higher than ourselves as did our Founding Fathers. And, the values, principles, and ideals that flow from the acknowledgement of the divinity, guides our conservative social agenda. It gives us pause to reflect on what is really important in life and society. It motivates us to defend causes that are so critical in the cultural war that today engulfs our nation and its society. (My emphasis.)Despite his guff about praying “in your way,” Fuentes’ prayers—not just before his Republican pals, but before those assembled for SOCCCD board meetings and events—are plainly Christian, or at least Judeo-Christian: “Let us pray…You, the Creator…please enlighten our minds...we...acknowledge You…Amen.”
Of course, other Trustees pray, too. For instance, we’ve heard plenty of Our heavenly Fathers coming out of Williams’ big mouth. But Mr. Fuentes lays it on pretty thick, Amen-wise. The language and ritual—and especially the eye-rolling—of his prayers are Christian—not Jewish, not Muslim, not Buddist. (Any Roman Catholics out there? Are F's prayers distinctly Catholic? Inquiring minds wanna know.)
FOR YEARS NOW, Saddleback Math instructor Karla Westphal has asked the board to cease engaging in prayer (including nonsectarian prayer—agnostics and atheists can suffer alienation too!) during district and college events. Below is a brief clip of Karla’s most recent request, at May's board meeting:
As I recall, the board didn't respond. They blew her off.
AS YOU MAY KNOW, recently, the Saddleback College Academic Senate passed a resolution urging the board to stop the praying, at least qua "invocations." IVC's Academic Senate joined them. The resolution was then moved up to the State Academic Senate. (There, it was well-received, but the State Senate is notoriously slow-moving, so don't hold your breath.) Expect some noise about this at some point.
As far as I know, trustees break no law when they pray as they do. I believe that, according to the courts, officials may not pray before youngsters at public schools, since the latter are impressionable. But college students are more mature, and so prayers by officials at events in public colleges are allowed.
If so, then the issue here is: what is the best practice? Undeniably, our community, especially at Irvine Valley College, is religiously diverse. At IVC, non-Christian traditions are represented by very large minorities:
Go to the district's Student demographics. (Also this)This means that, at public events that include prayer—especially Mr. Fuentes’ prayer—there is, or there could be, a lot of that “discomfort” and being left “out of the picture” that Greenspan talks about. (Entire district: over 14% of students identified themselves as Asian.)
● Evidently, in the Fall of ’05 (the most recent data), IVC enrolled about 12,500 students.
● About 3,300—over 26%—were “Asian." (Presumably, most Asian students are non-Judeo-Christian, although I don't really know.)
We’ll try to keep you posted on this issue. (See also Fuentes' good pal Howard Ahmanson: condemning the separation of church and state.)
● According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of Orange Countians who are Asian is 15.5%. (2004)
● According to the City of Irvine, Asian & Pacific Islanders made up 29% of the city’s population. (Based on 2000 census.)