Support for Stan McNeil shouldn’t be blindly given
There has been a very generous amount of attention paid to Stan NcNeil. I say generous because it certainly reflects the student body wanting to give more of something than is strictly necessary or expected to this otherwise quotidian end of an employee’s career. The Daily Targum’s opinion poll — which, I must confess, is the most pathetic of newspaper tools — currently reads with 55 percent of students supporting the position that “he didn’t do anything to interfere with the responsibilities of his job.” I write this polemic mainly to combat the egregious lack of opposition to this and in the wake of student protests and petitions for his reinstatement.
A large group of McNeil’s defenders claim that this is an open-and-shut case of wrongful termination over his religion. This disgustingly reactionary accusation falls hard under any level of scrutiny or open analysis. It makes the mistake of setting up the secular straw man, opposing an innocent man’s First Amendment rights out of prejudice. What it does not do is address the reasonable concerns brought to light by Stan’s self-admitted exploits. Besides his uplifting words and encouragement, he personally claimed to heal through the power of miracles via prayer. There is no special exception for someone as far-gone as this, Christian or not. To shrug it off as “just talk” is to humor the idea of supernatural suspension of natural laws. It is as base as indifference over claims to voodoo magic, clairvoyants, or any brand of evangelical faith healing. It may be harmless for those who can live with the excuses for such nonsense, but it remains incredibly offensive to the rational and secular. To accept this is to also exclude those of other religions — would Stan have been as loved if he rallied the bus in Muslim prayer? In light of such a proud confession of one’s own power, how can we hold First Transit — not Rutgers, as many commonly mistake — at fault? Most businesses motivated by self-preservation would, and rightfully should, distance themselves from any similarly minded crackpot. Believe in it if you wish, but ask yourself: If a man on a bus told you he had the power to heal through prayer, would you reply with an inquisitive “do tell?” or would you perhaps instead edge slightly farther away in your seat?
A second faction holds a bit more tenable ground. While they don’t state that religious reasons are the direct cause, they still point out that First Transit sought a long-shot piece of insubordination (the safety straps) as an excuse to end his career. I have spoken to two bus drivers about this, both agreeing that the protocol for safety straps is often not followed to the letter. Many of them also think the direct punishment was harsh and that second chances be given. While I have no doubt First Transit cited this violation more as a public relations tactic than a legitimate concern, I see no reason why this argument is assumed to hold water. Stan admits to being repeatedly warned about his increasingly radical forms of motivational speaking. This also neglects the fact that this camp still has the entire above paragraph to contend with. Having now seen the predictable-yet-undue reaction from certain believers that claim an attack on their freedom, it’s almost expected that an institution would pick the least inflammatory option possible for letting a worker go. As a side note, does this tendency to avoid offending come across as a slightly fearful reaction, possibly as intimidation? The safety violation, although weak and suspicious, is still legitimate. I’d advise First Transit to standardize their enforcement of such a lenient regulation in the future, for both the passengers’ and drivers’ sakes.
He is a nice man who lost his job, nothing more and nothing less. I remember enjoying bus rides with Stan last year. I wish him no harm and nothing but luck. He did honestly believe in God and in the ability to help students. However, we must all realize that despite the reality of bad things happening to good people, this does not make those bad things “anti-good.” Stan was not wronged in the ways the student body seems to think. We can sympathize with an honest man out of a job, but these sympathies should not dull the otherwise functioning faculties of common sense. Excuses should not be made and petitions for his reinstatement, especially those misaddressed to Rutgers, are futile.
Like Mother Teresa, Stan occupies the place in society’s heart that longs for the celebrity. Similarly, he got away with more than he should. Mother Teresa supported the Duvalier family that sold the organs of its Haitian citizens, but rarely if ever do we hear about this behind her works of charity. We should not, in the emotional wake that inevitably follows the loss of an icon, make the same mistakes with Stan. He does not deserve rallies or documentaries, and First Transit does not deserve unilateral disdain for happening to hire a professed healer. I am sad another man now adds to the millions of unemployed. I am equally saddened with the student body losing a loved motivator who brightened the days of many a commuter. This does not change the evidence before us or soften my resilience against those who falsely claim to wield God’s power. Stan will be missed.
Chris Farina is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in physics and mathematics and minoring in history.