The “school zone” — and the safety the phrase promises — has been on my mind for a few years now; my 9-year-old daughter is often in one such zone.

We live in Down East Maine, and the school zone that begins at the end of our road seems tiny and frequently invisible. The speed limit may be 15 mph when the amber lights are flashing, but the “End School Zone” sign might, at other times, be mistaken for a cue to accelerate.

Safety shouldn’t feel this tenuous, not during school hours nor at any time. Alas, no bubble of protection was included in the budget for the brand-new, $45 million fortress-like school. We’ve grown used to creeping up to the dotted white line, hearts palpitating wildly before catapulting our vehicles into Speedway 95-like traffic.

It’s reasonable to ask what larger umbrella of safety — from shootings, for example — can we offer our children if, along this very small stretch of road, the simplest of traffic rules are so carelessly trampled on?

On the far side of our school zone is the Charleston Church Downeast, an offshoot of the main Pentecostal church in Charleston, whose website assures the prospective churchgoer that their children will have a “blast” and that safety is a priority.

You may learn also from the website that Pastor Joel Carr and his wife, a principal at an elementary school in Corinth, travel every Sunday, through our school zone, to deliver a sermon to our Down East neighbors.


A pastor and a principal might reasonably be considered peaceful, safe allies. But scroll down through the church’s recent Facebook posts to a notice about a men’s breakfast hosted by Pastor Carr at which the door prize is an assault rifle, and it’s no longer clear what kind of safety the church is promising.

Unless you’ve lived decades as a hermit in the Maine woods, you’re familiar with the assault rifle’s prominence in more school shootings than we can count, if thankfully not in our state. And yet a local pastor apparently sees no harm or irony in making a gift of one as casually as doling out a Charleston Chew at a Trunk-or-Treat.

Along our road, as in the larger community, we are occasionally tasked with finding a balance between public safety and personal freedom. We make numerous small compacts with each other — in essence, creating our own safety zones — governed by a live-and-let-live philosophy but also by recognizing reasonable limits to our behaviors.

In this spirit, we tolerate students from adjacent roads commuting to school on their ATVs, even as their belching exhausts short-circuit the peace of our elders’ morning walks. In the warmer months, we pull aside, where the road is no wider than a wagon track, to allow an armada of excavators and cement trucks making their way to a nearby pond waterfront, knowing they represent employment and added tax revenue — if not necessarily progress.

We don’t have hard-and-fast rules to reference when the limit switch of personal freedom feels tripped. But an assault rifle giveaway, in a place of religion, surely represents some egregious breach, some moral safety violation. There is something distinctly unneighborly in the act, some deliberate snubbing of the social compact.

I could call our local District 12 state representative and State House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham and point out the gross disconnect. I could ask: What kind of bizarre worship celebrates the presence of weapons of war in a church setting? But what would be the use? Faulkingham attends Charleston Church, after all, where a vast new asphalt parking lot seems to hint at its growing influence (and affluence).


I still think it’s worth asking — while our school boards continue to be menaced by militant efforts to control what is taught in class — where does the real threat dwell in our communities?

Is it in rainbow crosswalks, or in the pages of a handful of books written by members of the LGBTQ community, or from history classes which encourage us to look more critically at our American selves?

Or should we be paying more attention to the funny notions of safety emanating from the pews of a local church, where one lucky parishioner will walk out into the world with the deadliest prize imaginable?

By diligently plugging small, manageable breaches while others mindlessly leave open the floodgates and allow in greater dangers, what safe zone can we possibly offer our children? At some point soon, while indulging freedoms which are increasingly at odds with a civil society, the diligent among us are going to simply run out of plugs.

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