Tag Archives: establishment of religion

The Insidious and Orwellian “Religious Liberties Protection Act” of “Christian” Kansas

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“There is no such thing as part freedom.” Nelson Mandela 

In their desire to protect the rights of conservative Evangelical and Catholic Christians the representatives of the State of Kansas enacted a new law. It really is an amazing law that enshrines discrimination against homosexuals based on religious preference. The law is targeted to allegedly protect people who do not want to serve homosexuals based on their religious beliefs. However, the law is so broadly written that it can be used against anyone for any reason by an individual, business or organization “if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity.”

It is legislation that is reminiscent of Jim Crow laws used against blacks, Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws against the Jews of the 1930s, and the laws of Islamic nations that allow non-Moslems or more open minded Moslems to be prosecuted or even killed for anything that offends Islam.

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Kansas Representative Charles Macheers

The language of the authors of the Bill is Orwellian. It is called The Religious Liberties Protection Act. The sponsor of the legislation State Representative Charles Macheers noted:

“Discrimination is horrible. It’s hurtful … It has no place in civilized society, and that’s precisely why we’re moving this bill. There have been times throughout history where people have been persecuted for their religious beliefs because they were unpopular. This bill provides a shield of protection for that.”

However, Macheers and his supporters seek to prevent discrimination by enshrining it as law. Unlike Bills in some other states, this Bill does not simply apply to private business or individuals, but it also empowers government employees to discriminate against people if it violates “their sincerely held religious beliefs.” It is a law that allows public employees, paid by taxpayers being free to discriminate.  (Read the Bill as enacted here: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2013_14/measures/documents/hb2453_01_0000.pdf)

What this does is to give anyone claiming a “sincerely held religious belief” in a private or public capacity to deny people basic civil rights and liberties. It is license to discriminate and it is something that James Madison warned us about:

Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

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The authors of this legislation and its supporters throughout the country don’t seem to get the fact that once you begin down this path that you set precedent. That precedent to discriminate against a person or group of people based on religious beliefs is dangers. The writers seem unconcerned about the ramifications of what would happen if this bill became law. In their hatred of homosexuality and homosexuals they forget that any law can which legalizes discrimination can be used against anyone, including those that enact it order to supposedly protect their religious liberty.

They also fail to understand the words of Thomas Jefferson who wrote:

“I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” 

I am a defender of religious liberty, but religious liberty needs to be for all, not just for some. Religious liberty is something that our founders understood, and they took great care to ensure that the rights of religious minorities and unbelievers were respected in our Constitution. Just as I do not want the government regulating religion, even religious views that I do not agree, I do not want religion to be used to deny the civil rights of others simply because those people are different from those that choose to use the law to discriminate. I wonder what those that support this law would do if in another state the same kind of law was passed to discriminate against their basic civil and human rights. I don’t think that they would like it very much.

My view is much like Andrew Sullivan. I may not agree with someone’s deeply held religious convictions, they may be intolerant and even hateful must be allowed the space to speak about them and even enter into the public discourse. I do not want to see religious people silenced. I may disagree with what some say and how they say it but they like everyone else need to have the space to speak their convictions. Allowing that space is what “true liberals do.” Sullivan notes that those who advance the agenda of Gay rights and equality “should be wary of being seen to trample on religious freedom and be defined as discriminators of another sort.”

Michael Knaapen, John Becker

I agree with Sullivan on this, the fact is that Gays like so many others have been the target of state sanctioned religious discrimination throughout history. It is natural that the LGBT community, which has been so hated and discriminated against would want to push hard against those that use religion to attack, demean and marginalize them. But it is important remember that reconciliation and acceptance is a two way street. The actions of the late Nelson Mandela after the fall of Apartheid in South Africa should be a model. Mandela said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Unfortunately in Kansas, many religious people, for reasons, some real but many imagined; feel the compelling need to use the power of the law to suppress LGBT people or others that they believe threaten them. In other places religious people attempt to use the police power of the government at the Federal, State and Local level to suppress anything or the activities of anyone they deem to be against God, or rather their interpretation of God.

Though I am not Gay I feel the sting of these laws because although my Church will allow me to marry a Gay couple I cannot in the state that I reside or many others. I know a number of Gay couples that have asked me if I could perform their marriages, but such will have to wait until we can find a time and a place where I can legally perform their nuptials. The sad thing is that in some places like Indiana there are legislators who in defending their religious freedom would criminalize an attempt by me or any other minister performing such an act if they could. Thankfully that amendment to the Indiana Constitution has been pushed back for at least two years.

Their belief compels them to use the law against homosexuals, non-Christian religious minorities, secularists and humanists and attempt to curtail the advances and discoveries of science, archeology and history. I believe that such attempts are short sighted and do violence to the religious beliefs that many espouse. Eric Hoffer wrote in his book The True Believer that “Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.”

The proposed law in Kansas, which looks as if may stall in the State Senate is an evil being enacted to supposedly support the good. Nothing good can come of it, if passed it will poison the hearts and minds of the very people it is supposedly written to protect. It will give them legal right to treat people who are different than them in a way that does not reflect the Gospel, and encourage the worst type of self-righteous behavior, and it will blow back in their face.

The attempt of the Kansas legislature to pass this Bill into law reminds me of something that Spencer Tracy’s character, Henry Drummond said in the film Inherit the Wind:

“I say that you cannot administer a wicked law impartially. You can only destroy, you can only punish. And I warn you, that a wicked law, like cholera, destroys every one it touches. Its upholders as well as its defiers.” 

This is a wicked law, and if it is made law it will do great harm to those that is directed against, those who the precedents in it may be used against in the future and those that think that will protect their. It is Orwellian and at its heart it is evil. If it is enacted into law it should be opposed at every opportunity by every person of good will, no matter what their faith, political ideology or sexual preference, because all people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Double Edged Sword of Denying Religious Rights

Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony Hanging Quakers

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?” James Madison

“We believe that institutionally Christianity should be the official religion of the country, that its laws should be specifically Christian” David Chilton (leader in Christian Reconstructionist and Dominionist Theology)

We love to talk about religious liberty in the United States, especially we who are of the Christian faith.  In fact religious liberty is deeply entwined in the story of the United States of America.  We love to call attention to those brave souls that came to North American search of religious liberty to the point that sometimes we fail to realize that we  have moved from history to myth.  The story of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is heralded by many conservative Christians as a triumph of religious liberty as English Separatist dissenters established that colony in the New World.  The story of the religious liberty of that colony is enshrined in the myth of American history presented by David Barton of Wall Builders and others that embrace the political, theological and historical ideas of R. J. Rushdooney who is the originator of Christian Reconstructionism or Dominionism.

I was introduced to this theology while attending college and attending a church of the Presbyterian Church in Americain denomination in theLos Angeles area.  We had a speaker come to the church who presented a series on “America’s Christian History.” It was a very Dominionist centered presentation and I remember buying a number of the books that the man was selling many of which are found in current Home School resources available on the internet.  It did not take long for me to see that what was being promoted bore little resemblance to historic fact. Now I find it hard to believe that what I was introduced to then is so influential today.

Unfortunately the myth of how the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and others like them does not address the fact that for these people religious liberty that mattered was their religious liberty.  Dissenters in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were persecuted with some being tried as heretics and burned at the stake.  The colony was a theocracy which is by many on the Christian Right being held up as a model of government.  The late Dr. D. James Kennedy an early popular exponent of Dominionist theology stated:

“Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost, as the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors — in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.”

Gary North a leader in the Christian Reconstructionist movement and son-in-law of R. J. Rushdooney noted:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.” Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), p. 87.

An increasing number of conservative Christians seem to like religious freedom so long as it is theirs and some like David Barton will willingly falsify the historical accounts to bolster their position. Barton once quoted William Penn as saying “Whatever is Christian is legal; whatever is not is illegal” claiming that it was in the 1681 Pennsylvania Constitution or “Frame.” However the phrase is not in the document which is one of the most progressive civil documents of its era and goes out of its way to promote religious freedom and tolerance. Penn who was a member of the heavily persecuted Quaker denomination understood how deeply persecution and intolerance was ingrained in the Christian church, Protestant and Catholic.  The 1701 Charter of Privileges noted:

“no Person or Persons, inhabiting in this Province or Territories, who shall confess and acknowledge One almighty God, the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World; and profess him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the Civil Government, shall be in any Case molested or prejudiced, in his or their Person or Estate, because of his or their conscientious Persuasion or Practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious Worship, Place or Ministry, contrary to his or their Mind, or to do or suffer any other Act or Thing, contrary to their religious Persuasion.”

Penn’s Declaration of Rights stated:

“All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishment or modes of worship.”

Yet the modern leaders of the Christian Right seem ready to in their writings and public statements are willing to embrace theocracy over freedom a position much more like the Iranian Mullah’s than our nation’s founders. The clash was highlighted for me today when Herman Cain a Republican Presidential Candidate, Christian minister and former CEO of Godfather Pizza claimed that it was the right of communities to deny Moslems the opportunity to build mosques I their community.  While being interviewed on Fox News Sunday Cain said:

“Our Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state, Islam combines church and state. They’re using the church part of our First Amendment to infuse their morals in that community, and the people of that community do not like it. They disagree with it.” Herman Cain

I don’t deny that in heavily Moslem countries that Islam and government are linked, but the same is true with those that promote Dominionist theology.  Their models of government are much like Islam, rather than Sharia law imposed by radical Islamists the imposed law is “Biblical law” or Biblical justice.  Take Greg Bahnsen:

“The New Testament teaches us that–unless exceptions are revealed elsewhere–every Old Testament commandment is binding, even as the standard of justice for all magistrates (Rom. 13:1-4), including every recompense stipulated for civil offenses in the law of Moses (Heb 2:2). From the New Testament alone we learn that we must take as our operating presumption that any Old Testament penal requirement is binding today on all civil magistrates. The presumption can surely be modified by definite, revealed teaching in the Scripture, but in the absence of such qualifications or changes, any Old Testament penal sanction we have in mind would be morally obligatory for civil rulers.”  Greg Bahnsen, No Other Standard (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), p. 68.

Gary North echo’s Bahnsen when he wrote:

“The principle of interpretation which is supposed to govern Christian orthodoxy is that Christ came to establish, confirm, and declare the Old Testament law (Matt. 5:17-18). Only if we find an explicit abandonment of an Old Testament law in the New Testament, because of the historic fulfillment of the Old Testament shadow, can we legitimately abandon a detail of the Mosaic law.

The proper exegetical principle is this: Mosaic law is still to be enforced, by the church or the State or both, unless there is a specific injunction to the contrary in the New Testament.”  Gary North, The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1986), pp. 242, 255.

Personally I cannot find a difference in those that advocate Sharia and those that advocate for the imposition of their understanding and interpretation of “Biblical law.” The scriptures that they use may be different but the message is the same, religious law stands above civil law.  As far as teachings of Jesus that conflict with the militaristic dominion advocated by North, Rushdooney and others they are reinterpreted in ways never put forth by orthodox Christians of any kind. North wrote concerning Jesus telling his disciples to turn the other cheek:

“Nevertheless, this one fact should be apparent: turning the other cheek is a bribe. It is a valid form of action for only so long as the Christian is impotent politically or militarily. By turning the other cheek, the Christian provides the evil coercer with more peace and less temporal danger than he deserves. By any economic definition, such an act involves a gift: it is an extra bonus to the coercing individual that is given only in respect of his power. Remove his power, and he deserves punishment: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Remove his power, and the battered Christian should either bust him in the chops or haul him before the magistrate, and possibly both.” Gary North, “In Defense of Biblical Bribery,” in R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973), p. 846.

As far as any tolerance for any other religions or those at variance with the intensely hyper-Calvinist theology of the Dominionists there is none, not even for the Jews.  Chilton makes this case in the most severe of terms.

“The god of Judaism is the devil. The Jew will not be recognized by God as one of His chosen people until he abandons his demonic religion and returns to the faith of his fathers–the faith which embraces Jesus Christ and His Gospel.” David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1984), p. 127.

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association claims:

Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.”(Blog post of23 March 2011)

Pat Roberston extends such to fellow Christians:

“You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense, I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.” — Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991

So the cry of Herman Cain that Islam is somehow unique in attempting to infuse religion into government is a fabrication because many Christians, especially he and his allies do the same thing.  This attempt to radically reinterpret American History and the Constitution as assuming that the founders of the country desired to found a theocracy is patently deceitful and being used to stir up otherwise wonderful Christians into embracing something that is neither American or Christian.

When I see Texas Governor Rick Perry organizing a “Prayer Rally” called “The Response” which is exclusively Christian and sponsored by a large number of ministers and ministries that embrace Dominionist theology, some in ways even more radical than I have mentioned here I get worried.  I don’t have any problem with Christians deciding to get together to pray for the country but when I see a likely Presidential candidate sponsoring such an event I have to ask myself if the event is simply a religious gathering or a partisan political rally cloaked with a veneer of Christianity.  Honestly I have to think that it is the latter.

Roger Williams the founder of the Rhode Island Colony was driven from the Massachusetts Bay Colony after being convicted of sedition and heresy. Williams had dared to criticize the treatment of the Indians, refused to sign a loyalty oath and was convicted of spreading “diverse, new, and dangerous opinions.” Williams later said:

“Enforced uniformity confounds civil and religious liberty and denies the principles of Christianity and civility. No man shall be required to worship or maintain a worship against his will.”

In the early days of this country a number of the former colonies retained their respective State religion.  In Virginia Anglicans fought to maintain their status as the state religion and persecuted other groups, especially Baptists.  The Constitution had said nothing about the Christian faith in fact Article VI specifically stated that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guaranteed that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….

The Dunking of Baptist Pastors David Barrow and Edward Mintz in the Nansemond River by Virginia Anglicans 

While some have advanced that this was to keep the State from meddling in the business of religion it was actually brought about by the complaints of Virginia Baptists who were being persecuted by Anglicans. Madison and Jefferson both understood this andMadisonexpressly noted the danger of establishing the Christian faith as a State religion.

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

John Leland a leader of the Virginia Baptists attacked the foundation of what the current advocates of Dominionism in the Christian Right teach.  Leland cannot be accused of not being a Christian; he was an evangelical Christian in his day. He was not a Deist as were many of the founders of the country who Barton claims were evangelical Christians, he certainly was a believer in Christ and he understood the danger of this based on the history of persecution of Baptists in England, the New World and their cousins on the European continent, the Mennonites and Anabaptists by state mandated Churches. Leland wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever…Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another.  The liberty I contend for is more than toleration.  The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

To me it seems that the current push by the Dominionists that now lead the Christian Right is based on the fear that they cannot win the hearts of people by their witness as did the early church. Instead they must rely on the power of the government.  Those that oppose them are the enemy or aligned with the Devil himself.

If Cain wants to allow communities to ban Mosques then he should also allow those more secular communities to deny the same to Christian churches.  But wait…that’s Christian persecution.  Maybe Catholic neighborhoods can ban Protestants and Evangelical communities can ban Catholics or mainline Protestants. Rich Episcopalians then could ban those unsophisticated Pentecostals and Baptists from their neighborhoods.

Yes the sword cuts both ways. When any religious group turns to the government to advance its agenda and force its point of view on others it not only tramples their rights as Americans but also places their rights in danger.  I think that is why Madison  wrote toward the end of his life:

“The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both; that there are causes in the human breast which ensure the perpetuity of religion without the aid of the law; that rival sects, with equal rights, exercise mutual censorships in favor of good morals; that if new sects arise with absurd opinions or over-heated imaginations, the proper remedies lie in time, forbearance, and example; that a legal establishment of religion without a toleration could not be thought of, and with a toleration, is no security for and animosity; and, finally, that these opinions are supported by experience, which has shewn that every relaxation of the alliance between law and religion, from the partial example of Holland to the consummation in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, &c., has been found as safe in practice as it is sound in theory. Prior to the Revolution, the Episcopal Church was established by law in this State. On the Declaration of Independence it was left, with all other sects, to a self-support. And no doubt exists that there is much more of religion among us now than there ever was before the change, and particularly in the sect which enjoyed the legal patronage. This proves rather more than that the law is not necessary to the support of religion” (Letter to Edward Everett, Montpellier, March 18, 1823).

Madison’s words are well worth considering now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts on the National Day of Prayer Controversy

Today like many institutions in the Federal Government our Medical Center observed the National Day of Prayer. Ours was a very low key affair which I led where we simply invited people to pray after reading the Presidential Proclamation for 2010 and a short opening prayer.  People were invited to pray silently and for the benefit of our Nation and its people, especially for those serving in the military and their families.  Likewise tom offer prayer for the victims of war, natural disasters and accidents in this county and around the world.

The National Day of prayer was recently ruled unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb who ruled in favor of a suit brought about by the Freedom from Religion Foundation against The National Day of Prayer Task Force, former President George Bush and others which was expanded to name President Barack Obama when he requested that Judge Crabb to dismiss the case in 2009 when the administration argued that the foundation had no legal standing to sue.  The President and administration appealed the ruling and went ahead with the proclamation and observance of the National Day of Prayer.

The modern National Day of Prayer was enacted by President Truman and Congress in 1952 in the 36 U.S.C. § 119 : US Code – Section 119: National Day of Prayer and various Presidents at different times have called for days of fasting, prayer or thanksgiving.  The heart of President Truman’s proclamation is contained in this section:

Now, Therefore, I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Friday, July 4, 1952, as a National Day of Prayer, on which all of us, in our churches, in our homes, and in our hearts, may beseech God to grant us wisdom to know the course which we should follow, and strength and patience to pursue that course steadfastly. May we also give thanks to Him for His constant watchfulness over us in every hour of national prosperity and national peril.

In 1982 a group of Evangelical Christians led by Shirley Dobson formed The National Prayer Committee. This organization was exclusively Christian and was formed to coordinate and implement a fixed annual day of prayer, the purpose of which was to organize evangelical Christian prayer events with local, state, and federal government entities.  This organization has since grown in popularity and prominence often being the primary organizer of such events.

Ronald Reagan eloquently stated the purpose and significance of the National Day of Prayer in his 1983 proclamation which in part read:

It took the tragedy of the Civil War to restore a National Day of Prayer. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

Revived as an annual observance by Congress in 1952, the National Day of Prayer has become a great unifying force for our citizens who come from all the great religions of the world. Prayer unites people. This common expression of reverence heals and brings us together as a Nation and we pray it may one day bring renewed respect for God to all the peoples of the world.

From General Washington’s struggle at Valley Forge to the present, this Nation has fervently sought and received divine guidance as it pursued the course of history. This occasion provides our Nation with an opportunity to further recognize the source of our blessings, and to seek His help for the challenges we face today and in the future.

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Thursday, May 5, 1983, National Day of Prayer. I call upon every citizen of this great Nation to gather together on that day in homes and places of worship to pray, each after his or her own manner, for unity of the hearts of all mankind.

President Reagan’s 1983 and subsequent proclamations stood firmly in the American tradition of Civil Religion and was decidedly non-sectarian.  It acknowledged that our citizens “come from all the great religions of the world” and called on Americans to gather on the day “in homes and places of worship to pray, each after his or her own manner, for unity of the hearts of all mankind.”  In fact the spirit of the declaration is much like that of the hymn God of Our Fathers which is recognized as our National Hymn.  This hymn is not explicitly Christian and never mentions Christ or the Trinity yet it is widely sung in churches on days such as the Sunday nearest to Independence Day.  The lyrics to that hymn are here:

God of our fathers, Whose almighty hand, Leads forth in beauty all the starry band

Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies, Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

Thy love divine hath led us in the past, In this free land by Thee our lot is cast,

Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay, Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.

From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence, Be Thy strong arm our ever sure defense;

Thy true religion in our hearts increase, Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.

Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way, Lead us from night to never ending day;

Fill all our lives with love and grace divine, And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.

While the American religious tradition is highly Christian and even more so from the Reformed tradition this has always existed in tension with a decidedly secularist philosophy embodied by many of the Founding Fathers who were very careful to recognize the importance of religion but at the same time both sought to protect religious liberty by NOT enacting laws to establish a particular religion nor to entangle the government in the affairs of religion which could in their view be detrimental to true religious liberty.

In fact both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were very careful about proclamations and ensuring that government was not favoring any particular religious body. Jefferson wrote to Reverend Samuel Miller in 1808 that:

Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it. …civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.”

Madison who was the author of the Bill of Rights and included religious liberty in the First Amendment in support of Virginia Baptists who were under pressure from those who were determined to make and keep the Episcopal Church as the state religion of the commonwealth. Madison wrote to Edward Livingston in 1822 that:

“There has been another deviation from the strict principle in the Executive Proclamations of fasts & festivals, so far, at least, as they have spoken the language of injunction, or have lost sight of the equality of all religious sects in the eye of the Constitution. Whilst I was honored with the Executive Trust I found it necessary on more than one occasion to follow the example of predecessors. But I was always careful to make the Proclamations absolutely indiscriminate, and merely recommendatory; or rather mere designations of a day, on which all who thought proper might unite in consecrating it to religious purposes, according to their own faith & forms. In this sense, I presume you reserve to the Govt. a right to appoint particular days for religious worship throughout the State, without any penal sanction enforcing the worship.”

Even Republican Presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush were careful to attempt to keep this in tension only holding one official event each during their presidencies.  It was not until George W. Bush that the President hosted events in every year of his presidency.  Remember the language of the law was that the President shall issue a proclamation for the people of the nation to pray.  Likewise the proclamations are a call for Americans, as Ronald Reagan and Harry Truman wrote to gather together on that day in homes and places of worship to pray, each after his or her own manner, for unity of the hearts of all mankind. The Day of Prayer was not intended to entwine the government in exclusively religious observances by any particular religious tradition as many of the National Day of Prayer observances in many local, state and federal government agencies.

I have in my military career been ordered to attend such events.  I have no problem with praying or even gathering for prayer but there was pressure to attend and often the observances were quite exclusivist and dominated by Evangelicals aligned with the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

While I cannot agree with Judge Crabb who I think applies the law to the manner in how some groups brazenly enmesh their particular faith tradition into these observances.  However I think that she misses that actual intent of the law and proclamations which are both non-sectarian and voluntary focusing on people observing this in their homes and places of worship.  To make the blanket judgement that the law itself is unconstitutional as Judge Crabb did is a brazen overreach.  She may rule that observances which are sectarian but done or sponsored by government agencies where employees feel pressured to attend are unconstitutional is another matter. When any religious group uses their position to organize and promote their particular view in a setting where military members or other government employees are “encouraged” to attend and where the senior leadership of these agencies is present there is the presumption that attendance is mandatory even if it is not explicitly stated.  In such cases military personnel or government employees could feel that promotion or fair treatment could be negatively impacted by not participating in what some could arguably call an establishment of religion.  Such could be the case with any faith and not just the Christian faith. This was something that the Founding Fathers despite the overwhelming Christian make up of the country strove to avoid.  They recognized the importance that religion played in public and private life and many were not afraid to use explicitly Christian in referring God but did not want the Christian faith, any denomination of it or any other religion to be either the master of or the servant of the state as was the case in all of Europe at the time of the founding of this country.

What I think has happened within the time of my military career is that many Evangelical groups have made the National Day of Prayer “their event” and use people withing government agencies or the military to organize events which lean heavily toward Evangelical Christianity.  I have seen it myself especially when I was in the Army. Not only has this occurred but many times the leadership of these religious groups promote the political agenda of a particular political party or philosophy and as such that political philosophy sometimes becomes part of the event.  It happens quite often.  When it does happen a perilous boundary is crossed and the group or groups that do this invite opposition including legal challenges such as happened in Wisconsin because such proceedings give the appearance of the establishment of religion.

To be fair to Evangelicals and others it also appears to me that some strident atheist groups are bent on removing religion from the public square and quite often use the courts and legislatures to push their agenda.  I think that the founders did not intend for this to be the case either.  The secret to the American political and religious tradition is that for the most part we have maintained the tension needed to ensure that religious liberties are protected without establishing a state religion.  This is something that people throughout the world have admired about this country as opposed to Europe where state churches worked hand in hand with their governments to persecute religious minorities even engaging in progroms or religiously based mass murder.  The same is true in much of the rest of the world where leaders of other faiths act as agents of their government and persecute those who are not of their faith.

Our society now is extremely polarized and there is little middle ground or moderation in regard to religion, politics or civil behavior.  Instead rhetoric is heated. Liberals often mock conservative Christians or others who hold their faith deeply and believe their faith to have a public voice. Likewise some political and religious people that would trample the in response to the increased secularism of modern times want to restore some sort of balance even if it means overriding the long standing tradition in American life, that tradition of tolerance and protection of the rights of others, even those that that are different or even unusual.  Such behavior on both sides becomes more heated and less compromising.  The opposing parties mirror each others attitudes, actions and tactics and use the media to stir up people to support their side and use the courts and legislatures to promote their agendas which they all believe are more in keeping with the founders intent than the other side.

This is why there is such a controversy in an event that was intended to be a unifying activity, an event that was to help Americans of all religious traditions to work for the common good of all Americans and not just their party and I use the term in a non-political sense.  My hope is that Americans in all places will have the freedom to gather to observe the National Day of Prayer but in the sense that it was originally intended, a religious observance in a civil context which promotes the public good and recognizes the influence of God and religion in the life of the country.

I know that my views will not make zealots of both sides of many faiths and creeds happy.  It seems that moderation and civility is out and those who actually believe in tolerance, respect and civility are marginalized by extremists of many forms.  Since in the past few months I have been called various names including “Communist, Marxist, Liberal, non-Christian and unbeliever” I expect that once again I will collect some fan mail.  I’m okay with that so long as you don’t call me a Dodger fan.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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