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Man Burns Himself to Protest Christmas

John on December 23, 2006 at 3:08 pm

Update 2: WordNetDaily has two tidbits of information I haven’t seen reported anywhere else. First, a clue to the as yet unnamed man’s motive:

He also made a statement while in the ambulance about the destructive effects of religion, said Milam.

You have to appreciate the irony of a man who just lit himself on fire mumbling about the destructive effects of religion.I wasn’t sure before, but based on this I think it’s pretty clear this is not a unitarian, a Buddhist or a member of some religious sect protesting the use of Christmas and Easter. This is someone with a serious beef with religion in general and Christianity in particular. First of all, you have to appreciate the irony of a man who just lit himself on fire mumbling about the destructive effects of religion. (I put this line in just for you Joe Rago!)

But based on the sign he was carrying and the comment he made in the ambulance, I’m guessing he’s someone who is very concerned about the coming theocracy in America, you know the one Frank Rich has been warning people about. In fact, I’d like to know what this guy has been reading. This level of extreme anti-religious animus doesn’t come from nowhere. Was he influenced by Kevin Phillips? Michelle Goldberg? Was he a big fan of DawkinsGod Delusion? Maybe he read Sam HarrisLetter to a Christian Nation. I’d like to know what motivated him. Once they release a name, we’ll get a bit more background.

Finally, Chad Vegas, the school board trustee who instituted the name change from Winter break to Christmas had this to say:

“I’m sad that any man would light themselves [sic] on fire because they [sic] disagree with a decision by a representative board elected by the voters,” said trustee Vegas. “My reaction as pastor is that it demonstrates the deep depravity of man and his need for the grace of God through Jesus Christ.”

Update: Photos added from the KGET news story. All of these were taken with a cell phone camera:

burning1.jpg
burning2.jpg
burning3.jpg
In the first picture, just the tree is burning. You can see the man holding the gas can. In shot two, the man and tree are burning. In three, sheriff’s deputies have put out the fire using an extinguisher and a blanket. Here’s what he looked like afterwards, still walking amazingly:

burning4.jpg

Once again, I’m glad he survived and will have a chance to get help.

[End update]

Unbelievable story out of Bakersfield, CA. A man, who has not yet been identified, set a Christmas tree on fire outside a county courthouse. When deputies approached he poured gasoline over himself as well:

Seeing the deputy, the man poured the liquid over his head. He quickly burst into flames when the fumes from the gas met the flames from the tree.

The deputy ordered the man to drop to the ground as he and a parole agent sprayed him with fire extinguishers.

“The man stood there like this,” the deputy said with his arms across his chest and his head bent down, “Saying no, no, no.”

The man suffered first degree burns on his shoulders and arms, Milam said.

Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy John Leyendecker said the man had a sign that read: “(expletive) the religious establishment and KHSD.”

The local NBC affiliate has a slightly different take on what the protest sign said:

The man carried a sign that read “Expletive religious freedom and the silent KHSD.”

The last reference, possibly to the Kern High School District’s decision Thursday to change the name of winter and spring break to Christmas and Easter break.

Witnesses said the man wrapped himself in an American flag and set himself on fire.

Hard to believe this guy could be sane. I hope he survives to receive the mental health treatment he obviously needs. I’ll wait to comment on the anti-religious tone set by certain individuals and groups in the US until we know more about who this guy is and what motivated him.

Here’s a report of the name change by the Kern Trustees:

A San Joaquin Valley school district decided to change the names of winter and spring breaks to Christmas and Easter vacation Thursday, the latest wrinkle in a backlash against replacing religious names.

“We’re just trying to uphold American cultural and religious history,” said Chad Vegas, a minister and member of the Kern High School Board of Trustees who proposed the name changes Dec. 6.

The board representing a district of more than 30,000 students voted 5-1 to revert the names to their pre-1980s titles.

Chad Vegas, who proposed the change, is a youth pastor who was elected to the board in 2004. You can see a picture of him here. After the change was proposed, a group of religious leaders wrote a letter of protest:

Dear Trustees,

We are writing with regard to the proposal to change the terms “winter break” and “spring break” to “Christmas Break” and “Easter Break.”

What is truly “American” and “traditional” is the fact that our citizens – and students – come from everywhere, and celebrate many different things. Any study of the Kern High School District would reveal that the religious affiliations of the student body are increasingly diverse, encompassing Sikhs, Hindus., Jews, and Muslims, as well as Christians.

In short, not everyone observes Christmas and Easter. Whether or not one believes that “everyone should” is a matter of personal religious opinion, not governmental regulation. Religious doctrine has no place in our public schools, and government must not appear to impose any singular faith. The Protestant pilgrims who first colonized this nation objected to British imposition of the faith of the Church of England, and came here to escape just such tyranny.

Gentlemen, you have much more pressing business at hand. The concept of expanding vocational education, together with the academic and economic needs of all our students, should be foremost on your agenda, not the changing of labels and symbols which would exclude some of our own children. Please leave spiritual matters to us in our homes and houses of worship, where they properly belong.

Thank you for your consideration.

Here’s more on the controversy that led to the burning:

“I was in seventh grade, I think they changed it from Christmas Break to Winter Break. I thought that was kind of weird because teachers kept saying Christmas Break and they weren’t supposed to,” said sophomore student Solange Igoa.

Kern High School Board Member Chad Vegas is on a crusade to change the official name, saying, “just calling things what they are.”

Next Thursday, Vegas will ask the board to approve the titles “Christmas and Easter Recess,” replacing Winter and Spring, which is used now.

“More than anything, I want the students to have a sense that what we’re teaching them is American cultural and historical tradition part of that is Christmas and Easter. I realize that establishment is religious, but the fact is those have played into our nation identity,” said Vegas.

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