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Tag: Freedom From Religion Foundation

Quote of the Day: The Danger of Constitutional Absolutism by Sam Grover and Andrew L. Seidel

gun control
Cartoon by David Granlund

All of us at the Freedom From Religion Foundation fall somewhere between being fearful and constantly mindful that a disgruntled maniac with an assault weapon could come into our office building and murder us. In our line of work we regularly come up against angry religious extremists who wish death upon us and all others who advocate for the constitutional separation of religion and government. As the recent lone gunman in Las Vegas—who singlehandedly murdered more than 50 people and injured hundreds more—has reminded us, in the United States this type of mass shooting is far more common than it needs to be.

Believe it or not, as a constitutional issue this debate has a lot in common with the attempts to redefine religious freedom.

Data that predates the shootings in Orlando and Las Vegas shows that the United States is home to more mass shooting events than any other country. With only 5 percent of the world’s population, we were home to 31 percent of all mass shootings between 1966 and 2012. And the rate of mass shootings in our country has tripled since 2011, even as the overall rate of gun violence has declined.

There is compelling evidence suggesting that common-sense gun control laws would go a long way toward preventing mass shooting events in the United States. They worked in Australia, which passed a law to remove semi-automatic weapons from civilian possession in 1996, after 35 people died in a mass shooting in Tasmania. In the 18 years before the gun law reforms, there were 13 mass shootings in Australia. In the 11 years after? None. Australia has also enjoyed an accelerated decline in firearm homicides over that same period.

While one could quibble about how best to interpret the complex data coming out of Australia—and gun lobbyists do—the more fundamental question is: “Why not try this in the United States?” Why won’t Congress take steps to ban the sale of assault-style weapons—a step that could dramatically reduce the number of mass shootings? What are the “cons?” Why, instead, do politicians limit themselves to tweeting out their “thoughts and prayers” while taking no action?

The answer to these questions lies in how the “gun rights” lobby has pushed a particular view of the Second Amendment. That transformation is the reason FFRF is talking about this, the reason it’s relevant to state-church separation. “Religious freedom” advocates are currently trying to do to the First Amendment what the gun lobby did to the Second.

In 1977, the National Rifle Association experienced the “Revolt in Cincinnati,” where extreme gun rights advocates took over the NRA and converted it from an organization that primarily advocated for firearm safety education, marksmanship training and recreational shooting into a lobbying powerhouse focused nearly exclusively on Second Amendment advocacy. One excellent summary of this transformation includes this note: “The NRA’s new leadership was dramatic, dogmatic and overtly ideological. For the first time, the organization formally embraced the idea that the sacred Second Amendment was at the heart of its concerns.” Sound familiar?

Since the Revolt in Cincinnati, the gun rights lobby has successfully pushed an absolute right to gun ownership in courts and legislatures, culminating in the 2008 Supreme Court decision District of Columbia v. Heller, which established for the first time a dramatic reimagining of the Second Amendment as creating an individual right to own a gun. This dramatic reimagining is exactly what groups like Liberty Institute are trying to do with the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. They are trying to turn free exercise into an absolute right that must be protected even when it infringes on the rights of others.

To hear those seeking to redefine religious freedom tell it, any action motivated by religion is permissible, no matter what its impact. If they deny an LGBTQ citizen a cake because of sexual orientation, that’s their god-given right. Logically, that means they could deny atheists, Jews or even discriminate on the basis of race, though they would be unlikely to say so out loud.

People can believe whatever they like. They are free to believe the voices they’re hearing are God, that thetans and evil spirits make us sad, or that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. But the right to act on those beliefs is by no means absolute. This is best illustrated with the example that the Supreme Court used more than 130 years ago: human sacrifice.

Hearing a command for human sacrifice is fairly common in the bible and the story of Abraham almost sacrificing his son Isaac is often held up as a measuring stick for how deep one’s faith should be. But people who, like Abraham, hear God ordering them to kill their children do not have a right to do so. Once someone is committing murder, religious freedom is irrelevant.

Somewhere on the spectrum of religiously motivated action, civil law can step in. That line should be drawn where the rights of others begin. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” But if religion mandates picking pockets and breaking legs, it comes under the purview of our secular law. And no belief, no matter how fervent, should change that.

Second Amendment rights are not absolute: You can’t bring your gun on a plane or into a school, felons can’t own them, and some states regulate concealed carry or unlicensed gun sales. (Incidentally, the states that regulate guns more strictly have lower incidents of gun-related homicides.) The reason common-sense, data-driven gun laws cannot make it through Congress is because the idea that Second Amendment rights are absolute has been deliberately foisted on American legislatures and courts.

“Religious freedom” advocates are working to achieve the same sleight of hand with the First Amendment and their claimed right to act on their religious beliefs. It began with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, made a huge gain with the Hobby Lobby case, and is set to be decided by the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop very soon.

The absolutist view of the Second Amendment is killing Americans. To adopt that same absolutist view for the Free Exercise Clause “would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and, in effect, to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could exist only in name under such circumstances,” as the Supreme Court wrote in 1879.

There is no constitutional right to act out one’s religious beliefs in a manner that infringes on others’ rights, including the right to equal protection under the law. Discrimination in the name of religion is still discrimination. We cannot accept an absolutist interpretation of the Constitution. Instead, we must look at how the First and Second Amendments are being used—and abused—to amass power and to achieve results that range from nonsensical to lethal. (And yes, an absolutist view of the Free Exercise of religion will lead to lethal consequences too).

The political nonresponse to mass shootings in this country has become a tragic pattern, ripe for parody. We cannot continue to accept inaction based on a vague appeal to an absolute constitutional right. At the Freedom From Religion Foundation, we fight every day against political overreach by “religious freedom” advocates, who cloak their discrimination in constitutional language. We must reject their attempts to take a page from the NRA playbook by foisting an absolutist reimagining of the Free Exercise Clause onto the legal landscape. The right to act out one’s religious beliefs must end where the rights of others begins.

— Sam Grover and Andrew L. Seidel, Constitutional Attorneys, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Gun Control and Religious Freedom: How Thinking in Constitutional Absolutes is Killing People

Christians Upset Over Satanist Christmas Display

boca raton satanist display

“Tis the season for Christians to be upset over things that they feel profane the “true” meaning of Christmas — the birth of Jesus Christ. A recent scuffle in Boca Raton is case in point. CBS News reports:

A 300-pound metal sculpture of a satanic pentagram, erected as an atheist protest to a public park’s Nativity scene, was severely damaged on Tuesday when it was pulled to the ground by vandals.

Atheist Preston Smith’s 10-foot tall sculpture lay broken in Sanborn Square at noon. Tire tracks led from the twisted metal to the street.

It appeared vandals had attached a chain from a vehicle to the sculpture and yanked it down, dragging it several feet. As local television reporters prepared live broadcasts, two passersby stopped and pushed the sculpture back onto its base before walking away.

The sculpture sits about 20 feet from a traditional Nativity scene of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, and is backed by a banner from an atheist group reading “Keep Saturn in Saturnalias,” a reference to the belief that the early Christian church substituted Christmas for a Roman pagan holiday.

It is the latest Florida protest against manger scenes on public property, mirroring earlier battles inside the state capitol in Tallahassee.

Boca Raton police officer Sandra Boonenberg said the overnight strike was the third attack on Smith’s sculpture and its explanatory banner since he erected the display earlier this month. Someone painted the once-red sculpture black on Monday. Earlier, someone damaged the banner. Detectives are investigating.

Smith, a middle school English teacher, said that as an atheist, he does not believe in God nor Satan, but is using a symbol often associated with devil worship to highlight his belief that religious displays have no place on public property, because they make non-believers “feel like second-class citizens.”

“We are here to call out Christian hypocrisy and theistic bias in taxpayer-funded public arenas while advocating for the separation of church and state,” he told The Associated Press Monday night, before the latest act of vandalism. “Our ultimate goal is to return the government to its viewpoint neutral stance so that when an atheist takes a stroll through the park we aren’t assaulted by Bronze Age mythology.”

He could not be immediately reached Tuesday, but called the earlier acts of vandalism “examples of mob mentality toward minority faiths.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that government agencies can allow religious displays on public property, but if they do, they cannot discriminate. Both the Nativity scene and the Pentagram were installed with city permits.

A group of local religious leaders — 14 ministers, two rabbis and the president of the local mosque — placed a banner next to Smith’s sculpture criticizing its placement.

“The use of satanic symbols is offensive and harmful to our community’s well-being,” the banner reads. “We find it a shameful and hypocritical way to advocate for freedom from religion.”

The city issued a statement saying that while it respects Smith’s free-speech rights, it doesn’t support his message.

“In years past, the seasonal, religious displays in Sanborn Square have contained messages projecting the themes of peace, forgiveness and harmony,” it said. “This display appears to be more about shock value, attention and challenging our commitment to constitutionally protected free speech rather than promoting goodwill, respect and tolerance during the holiday season.”

Passerby Judy Hill, a retired information technology worker, decried the vandalism but didn’t think Smith should have erected his sculpture next to the Nativity scene.

“I know there is freedom of speech, but there is a time and place for everything,” said Hill, a Methodist. “He just wanted to get publicity and he got it.”

Tina Yeager agreed.

“It is a very precious season and for someone to come and almost make fun of that, to just really negate the time of year, it’s inappropriate,” she told CBS Miami.

In 2013 and 2014, atheists erected protest displays in the Florida capitol after a Christian group placed a manger there. Those displays included a Festivus pole made of beer cans, a depiction of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a mock god popular among non-believers, and one showing an angel falling into flames with the message “Happy Holidays from the Satanic Temple.” The latter was damaged by a vandal.

The quotes in this story reveal what I have known for a long time: that most Christians do not understand the freedom of speech and freedom of religion protections afforded to Americans by the U.S. Constitution. Most Christians wrongly think that their beliefs and practices should be protected from attack, ridicule, and mockery. This is why Christians get upset over things such as secular, atheist, or Satanist Christmas displays. Thinking that Christianity deserves protected, preferential treatment, followers of Jesus expect non-believers to defer to and respect their beliefs and practices. When non-Christians refuse to genuflect before the One True Faith, Christians often become what millennials call “butt hurt.”  How dare atheists mock Jesus, Christians sayHow dare Satanists put up a sacrilegious display right next to a crèche. How dare you heathens offend the sweet baby Jesus.

Video Link

How dare we indeed.

In the aforementioned article, a Methodist woman by the name of Judy Hill stated, “I know there is freedom of speech, but there is a time and place for everything.” What Hill really means is that there is a time and place for displays of Christianity — anywhere, any time. Other expressions of faith or godlessness? Only when Christians say it is okay. I wonder if Hill has bothered to consider that perhaps there is a time and place for expressions of Christianity too. Atheists – and indeed, all Americans – live in a culture where Christianity is frequently shoved in their faces everywhere they go. Atheists endure these public displays of Christianity because that’s the price of admission for living in a country that values freedom of religion and speech. If Hill truly wants public discourse regulated by “time and place for everything,” then how about Christians restricting their overt displays of love for Jesus to their homes and houses of worship. If Christians want atheists to stop hurting their feelings, then shouldn’t non-believers received reciprocal treatment? After all, the inerrant words of the sweet baby Jesus say, do unto others as you would have them do unto you!

The faulty premise of Boca Raton Christians is that Christmas is a sacred Christian holiday. It isn’t. Take a drive through any American community and what you’ll primarily find are Christmas light displays celebrating Santa Claus and generic winter holiday scenes. Yes, there will be crèches here and there, but most displays are secular in nature. Based on the evidence at hand, it is clear that Christmas is mostly a secular (capitalistic) holiday. Christians are certainly free, on their own properties and private spaces, to set up displays that scream to all who will listen, JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON! Ironically, most  Santa displays are put up by Christians themselves. It seems that it is really only a small percentage of Christians (mostly Evangelicals and other religious conservatives) who think there is some sort War on Christmas® or concerted attacks on religious freedom.

Secularists want governments to strictly enforce the separation of church and state. This means NO sectarian religious endorsement. If government entities are going to have invocations, benedictions, and public displays, they MUST — according to the U.S. Supreme Court — allow non-Christian groups to participate. This is why Satanists put up Christmas displays and humanists give invocations at government meetings. This is also why Satanists and secular groups are helping students to set up after-school meetings.

The goal is to expose hypocrisy and the preferential treatment given to Christianity. If Christians don’t want secular holiday displays next to their crèches, then all they need to do is take down their displays. Don’t want prayers to Satan or Mother Earth at council meetings? Stop having Christian ministers offer prayers to Jesus. Let’s all agree that government meetings and schools are no place for prayers of any kind, and that government property should be free of ANY displays of religion.

The separation of church and state means just that….a walled separation between government and religion. While government officials may freely live according to their religious beliefs, when it comes time to do the work of the people, religion has no part.  President John F. Kennedy said it best:

These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues — for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.

But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected president, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured — perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again not what kind of church I believe in — for that should be important only to me — but what kind of America I believe in.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew— or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of presidency in which I believe — a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group, nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

I would not look with favor upon a president working to subvert the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for it. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it.

I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none; who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require of him; and whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.

….

But let me stress again that these are my views. For contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.

Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.

But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith, nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.

Christians also need to understand that America is not a Muslim country where freedom of speech is limited, nor do we have religious blasphemy laws as do some European countries. Americans have the right to hold beliefs that others might find silly, stupid, ignorant, profane, or hateful. Some Americans believe that the Moon landing was a hoax, the earth is flat, and the sun revolves around the earth. Other Americans believe that aliens have visited earth, global climate change is a myth, and Caucasians are a superior race.  And still others believe the earth is 6,021 years old, the earth was destroyed by a flood 4,000 years ago, and giant angel-human beings once roamed the earth. Throw in Christian beliefs about the virgin birth of Jesus, his miracles and resurrection from the dead  –  why, if some were so inclined, they could spend their waking hours doing nothing but mocking fantastical, ignorant beliefs.

As long as the U.S. Constitution stands, non-Christians have the freedom to mock, ridicule, and disparage Christian beliefs. They also have the freedom to attack, critique, and discredit such beliefs. While most non-Christians would never violate Christian homes or places of worship (unlike Evangelicals who invade homes to proselytize non-believers), once followers of Jesus engage in public speech (and crèches are public speech) then they should expect their utterances to be challenged. If Christians don’t like people saying things about their beliefs, then they should keep their religion to themselves. As long as Christians continue to demand preferential treatment and attempt to bulldoze the wall of separation of church and state, they should expect pushback from secularists, skeptics, atheists, humanists and those who value freedom of religion and speech.

UPDATED: Village of Archbold Removes Christian References From Their Website and Logo

archbold-ohio-seal
Before and After

After the publishing of my recent letter to the editor, I found out that the correspondence from the Freedom From Religion Foundation about the village of Archbold’s logo and website went to former mayor Jim Wyse, not Jeff Fryman. I apologize for making this factual error.

Bruce

Please see my correspondence with Mayor Fryman at the end of this post.

Letter submitted on November 23, 2016 to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News.

Dear Editor,

I write in response to the recent Crescent-News article about the Village of Archbold removing Christian references from their website and logo. Contrary to what Mayor Fryman has stated publicly, Archbold did not remove the offending references until they were contacted by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF). I am a member of the FFRF and I know for a fact that Mayor Fryman was sent several letters about this issue. He chose to ignore the letters until it became likely that FFRF would initiate legal action against the village if they failed to remove the Christian references from their logo and website. Does anyone really believe that Mayor Fryman would make these changes without being forced to do so? I know I don’t.

Mayor Fryman wisely acted, knowing that a failure to do so would result in legal action that would most certainly be decided in the favor of FFRF.  In losing, the village of Archbold could be required to pay damages and attorney fees. Perhaps the village’s legal advisors told him that the law is clear: government entities are not permitted to endorse or support sectarian religions. By using Christian imagery in its logo and saying Archbold is a Christian community, Archbold officials are specifically endorsing Christianity. Such endorsements are against the law.

It matters not that most of the residents of Archbold are Christians. The idea that because a community has a religious majority, its government should have the right to endorse and support that particular religion is not only unconstitutional, it’s dangerous. Imagine, for a moment, that the majority of Archbold residents are Muslim. Would an Evangelical/Mennonite minority be okay with the mayor and village council endorsing and supporting Islam? Of course not! Imagine the outrage if the village’s website said Archbold is a Muslim community.

Even more absurd is the notion that communities should govern according to majority rule and that controversial decisions should be decided by putting the issues on the ballot. Let the people, decide! zealots say. Majority rule is mob governance. We elect leaders who we hope will act fairly, justly, and in accordance with the law. And the law is clear on government support and endorsement of religion — it is illegal. If Christians don’t like this, they are free to amend the Constitutions and change the law.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

Note:

Here’s one of the responses I allude to in this letter:

Dear Editor,

It was with great distress that I read in the Nov. 17 edition that the Village of Archbold has capitulated to the Freedom from Religion group to remove from the community seal the picture of the church, and Christian community from all signs, letterheads and the village’s seal.

I use the word capitulate because as I read the Bill of Rights and Constitution, nowhere in these documents does it say our nation is to be free from religious expression. Archbold, as a community of American citizens, has the constitutional reaffirmation to call themselves a Christian community, and or place a picture of a house of worship on their seal. And I challenge anyone, up to and including the justices of The Supreme Court of the United States, to show me where in the foundational documents and Constitution they have a right to demand this nation’s citizens, whether singular or a community, give up it’s freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Amendment 1: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceable to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Nowhere in this document does it sate, “separation of church and state.” This discussion came along much later and was taken from a private conversation and was bastardized by those like the Freedom from Religion group! No court anywhere in the United States has the right to alter the meaning of the First Amendment. No court, not even Congress which has the power to make laws.

So why do the officials in Archbold capitulate to a subversive group such as the Freedom from Religion group, even over the objections of the people of Archbold? At the very least this should have been discussed and then voted on by the people of Archbold. Then the officials of Archbold have the audacity to replace the statement, “A Christian Community” with “A Community with Integrity!”

Sorry, I don’t think so.

Rev. Alvia McEwen Martis (pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Ridgeville Corners, Ohio)
Ridgeville Corners

Here’s the press release from the Freedom From Religion Foundation

An Ohio village has removed a religious seal and declaration after objections from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog organization.

The seal of the village of Archbold contained a church at its center, nestled within images of education, farming, forestry and industry. The seal was featured in a number of places, including government buildings, street signs, village forms and documents, such as utility bills, and on the official website. The website also contained on its history page a declaration that Archbold a “Christian community.”

Such a seal and statement were unconstitutional, FFRF informed the village.

“The inclusion of a church on the official village seal and declaration that the village ‘is a Christian community’ violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Archbold Mayor Jim Wyse last year. “Federal courts have ruled that similar seals violate the Establishment Clause.”

FFRF suggested to the village that changing the seal would make sense in other ways, as well. Nearly 30 percent of Americans are non-Christian, including 43 percent of Millennials, practicing a minority religion or no religion at all. To have a religious seal and declaration alienates and ostracizes this huge portion of the population.

It took a lot of time and three follow-up letters, but FFRF has been able to persuade the village of Archbold. The seal has been changed to remove the cross. (The Christian declaration was removed from the website immediately after FFRF’s first letter.)

FFRF is gratified at its ability to change minds.

“We’re happy that we were finally able to persuade the village,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The church symbol and the declaration of Christian heritage were blatant endorsements of a particular religion.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 23,000 nonreligious members across the country, including 600-plus in Ohio.

Here’s a link to the original letter sent to the village of Archbold.

Update

Archold mayor Jeff Fryman contacted me about my letter to the editor. This is what he had to say and my response.

Mr. Gerencser, you don’t know me, but referred to me in a recent letter to the editor. I have been Mayor for only 11 months in Archbold. You made a statement that you know for a “fact” I have received several letters from the FFRF. That statement was totally untrue. I received one that was handed to me by the former mayor and was addressed to him. I never received any correspondence from the FFRF or any member. Furthermore, I was unaware that any other correspondence had ever been received by the Mayor at the time he gave me that letter. It is true that as a group we decided not to respond.

Looking at your background, it’s unfortunate that you would make statements like this regarding my credibility and character when you haven’t done your research. But this is what I have come to know about groups like the FFRF. Little on facts. Big on fear. I think you are better than this.

Respectfully, Jeff Fryman

Jeff,

I based my statement on the reports in the Archbold Buckeye. I was not aware until after I wrote my letter that a different mayor received the FFRF contacts.

The fact remains that you bear the burden of the previous mayor’s actions. I apologize for erring in getting the name of the mayor right. I don’t apologize for challenging your assertion that the logo and website changes were in the works prior to contact with The FFRF. If you can provide evidence to the contrary, I’d love to see it. If these changes were discussed prior to the FFRF contact, surely there are minutes or committee reports that reflect this. If not, I will assume that my statements are correct.

The fact also remains the logo and website violated the law. This matter has been litigated thousands of times over the years. In almost every instance, the courts have sided with those demanding a strict separation between church and state.

As the mayor of Archbold, you represent all its citizens, not just Christians. You are duty bound to maintain the secular nature of government regardless of the religious beliefs of your constituents .

I will attach our discussion here to my blog post on the matter, correcting the mistake I made concerning who received the FFRF correspondence. I will also let the Crescent-News know of the correction.

Instead of taking cheap shots at FFRF, I hope you will consider how breaching the wall of separation of church and state harms our democracy. Having spent my entire life intimately connected to Evangelical Christianity, I know for a fact that if you give theists an inch they will take a mile. FFRF demands may seem petty to you, but better to kill the theocratic baby in the cradle than watch it grow into a monster that demands fealty to the Christian God.

I wish you well. If you feel I have not adequately addressed your objections, please email at brucexxx@gmail.com

Bruce Gerencser

 

Faith Memorial Church and their Illegal Involvement in Fairfield County Public School Bible Clubs

wall of separation of church and state

As a pastor, when we are doing our best at the request of others to be of assistance in the lives of others, it’s frankly repulsive where we are today — that an individual can bring such undue and unfounded criticism.

Jonathan Morgan
Pastor, Faith Memorial Church, Lancaster, Ohio

As many readers of this blog might remember, I spent a number years in central and southeast Ohio, pastoring congregations in Somerset and Buckeye Lake. In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church, a congregation I would pastor for 11 years. During this time, John Maxwell pastored Faith Memorial Church in nearby Lancaster, Ohio. Faith Memorial, affiliated with the Churches of Christ in Christian Union, was, at the time, considered one of the fastest growing churches in America. Maxwell, a charismatic, winsome speaker, attracted large crowds of people wanting to hear him preach. Committed to the church growth principles of the 1970s and 1980s, Maxwell established a large bus ministry that brought hundreds of people to Faith Memorial.

I started Somerset Baptist Church using the same principles Maxwell was successfully using at Faith Memorial. The goal was to use whatever means necessary to attract people to the church. Once there, the gospel would be preached, and attendees given an opportunity to become Christians. The bus ministry was the single most effective method to get large numbers of people under the sound of the gospel. This is why virtually all the megachurches of the 1970s and 1980s had large bus ministries.

first church bus somerset baptist church 1985
Our first church bus, purchased from Faith Memorial Church, Lancaster, Ohio in 1983.

The first bus we purchased at Somerset Baptist Church came from Faith Memorial. We paid $400 for the bus, an astronomical sum for a small, struggling church. This bus would provide many years of service until one day an inattentive driver failed to notice that the engine had zero oil pressure, resulting in engine failure. We junked this bus and bought a replacement, also from Faith Memorial.

John Maxwell would later leave Faith Memorial, becoming pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, California. He is now some sort of positive thinking guru, far afield from his days as a Fundamentalist pastor. After Maxwell left, Faith Memorial’s attendance began to decline. Today, as with virtually every church that bought into the church growth hype, Faith Memorial is a shell of what it once was. Few churches have bus ministries, and most of the churches that do are Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches that refuse to admit that this method of growing a church no longer works. Having heard IFB guru Jack Hyles implore them to NEVER, EVER QUIT, these preachers refuse to let go of their bus ministries. To quit means to admit failure, and if there is one thing IFB preachers are not known for doing, it is admitting failure.

I haven’t had a thought about Faith Memorial in many years; that is, until today. Evidently, Faith Memorial Church finds itself in a bit of a pickle over their involvement in various Fairfield County public schools Bible clubs. According to a February 22, 2016, Columbus Dispatch report:

Student Bible clubs in at least two Fairfield County schools have been temporarily suspended after administrators received a complaint that area religious leaders were heading the groups.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a non-profit group that serves as a watchdog over issues involving separation of church and state, sent letters to four school districts regarding Bible studies held in eight high schools, junior high schools and middle schools before class or on lunch breaks.

Such groups violate protections of separation of church and state if they are led or regularly attended by local pastors, said Ryan Jayne, a legal fellow at the Wisconsin-based foundation.

“Public school districts must ensure that student religious groups are genuinely student-initiated and student-run, and that outside adults do not regularly participate in the clubs,” said a letter from the group to Lancaster City Schools Superintendent Steve Wigton.

Similar letters were sent to the Bloom-Carroll Local School District, Fairfield Union Local Schools and Liberty Union-Thurston Local Schools.

Jayne said a community member, whom he declined to identify, saw the Bible clubs posted on the website of Fairfield Memorial Church in Lancaster. A screenshot of the now-removed web page said the groups are “led by volunteers or community youth pastors.”

The Rev. Jonathan Morgan, Faith Memorial pastor, said the complaint is “much ado about nothing” and that the Web page, along with some local church newsletters, was improperly worded.

Pastors do not lead the groups but have been invited to attend at times by students, he said, and there have been no concerns from administrators, principals, parents or students.

Attorney Sue Yount of Bricker & Eckler in Columbus has responded to the foundation on behalf of all four school districts.

“The districts are meeting with building principals and reviewing the parameters of the federal Equal Access Act,” Yount wrote in an email. “This Act provides for the right of students to hold religious activities on school grounds during non-instructional time, so long as the activities are student-initiated and student-led, with non-school persons not directing, controlling, or regularly attending.”

….

Morgan said the clubs have been “incredibly beneficial and longstanding” programs in the schools and that discrediting them would affect the well-being of students.

“As a pastor, when we are doing our best at the request of others to be of assistance in the lives of others, it’s frankly repulsive where we are today — that an individual can bring such undue and unfounded criticism,” he said.

According to Pastor Morgan, his church’s involvement in the supposedly student-led Bible clubs is little more than one of the students inviting someone from Faith Memorial to club meetings. And the statement on the church’s website that stated their involvement was leading the clubs? A poorly worded statement, say Morgan. According to Morgan, pastors who attend these clubs are there at the “request of others” to “be of assistance in the lives of others.” What I want to know is exactly what assistance did Faith Memorial, Pastor Morgan, and other Fairfield County pastors provide to local public school students?

Here is what I know. Faith Memorial is a Fundamentalist church pastored by man with Evangelical beliefs. I assume the Bible Clubs in question are Evangelical in nature. While I certainly support the right of Evangelical public school students to have their own clubs, when churches like Faith Memorial and pastors such as Jonathan Morgan actively participate in these clubs, they have crossed the line and are in violation of the principle of separation of church and state. Morgan would have us believe that he and his fellow pastors are just passive participants in student-led Bible clubs. Does anyone really believe this to be true? Are Evangelicals ever passive about anything? Of course not.

Evangelical pastors go to these clubs to steer students towards the right beliefs and practices. I am sure there are discussions about how to effectively evangelize non-Christian students. I am sure there are also discussions about the culture war hot buttons: abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and premarital sex. And I am sure that Morgan and his fellow passive pastors would be outraged if students of a Satanist or secularist persuasion started a Godless club and began having local Satanists or secularist leaders materially participate in the clubs. In fact, I suspect these passive pastors would strongly oppose the very existence of these clubs. After all, Evangelicals are not known for tolerance of competing worldviews.

While Fairfield County Evangelicals will likely see the Freedom of Religion Foundation’s (FFRF) actions as much to do about nothing, supporters of FFRF rightly understand that if you give Evangelicals an inch they will take a mile. Let Faith Memorial, Pastor Morgan, and his merry band of passive pastors actively participate in these Bible clubs, and they will only want more access to students. Remember, the goal of men like Morgan is the conversion of every Fairfield County public school student to Evangelical Christianity. Fueled by their belief that the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible text  — a text that commands them to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature — these proselytizing Fundamentalists will not rest until every student is singing What a Friend we Have in Jesus. And it is for this reason, they must be stopped.

Memo to Christians: Atheists Really Don’t Care if You Put God Bless America Signs on Private Property

wall of separation of church and state

Last week, CHARISMA reported:

An atheist organization targeted a small-town post office to demand they remove their “God Bless America” banner, but that’s not the whole story.

“Employees are free to ask God to bless America all they want on their own time. The problem comes when they ask their government employer to endorse their personal religious beliefs by plastering them on the side of the federal building,” Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Madeline Ziegler said of their campaign.

Though the Pittsburg, Kansas, post office complied with the atheist organization’s demands, residents took Ziegler’s words to heart.

According to The Morning Sun, a local fireworks shop printed 1,500 yard signs and banners, which residents plastered across the city.

“Obviously, we’re among the majority that didn’t agree with the decision to take the sign down (at the post office),” Jason Marietta, retail sales director, told The Morning Sun.

Instead of one big sign at the post office, Pittsburg  now has 1,500 across the town, marking the area for God.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation rightly objected to a God Bless America sign adorning the Pittsburg, Kansas post office. Post offices are government buildings staffed by government employees, and as such they are not permitted to promote religion. It is time for Christians to understand that the wall between church and state defined in the Establishment Clause of the Constitution forbids government from endorsing Christianity. This is the law. Don’t like the law? Work to change it. The fact that violations of church and state have gone unnoticed for years doesn’t mean they are in some inexplicable way legal. Just because drivers routinely break the speed limit and not get caught doesn’t mean that speed laws are invalid.

Supposedly, U.S. congressmen know the Constitution, so it is baffling to hear U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) say:

It is outrageous that some would aim to divide a community over a banner that has been proudly displayed since Sept. 11, 2001. I commend the Pittsburg community for rejecting this decision and I stand with them. The Constitution guarantees a right to freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. This banner is not only an expression of faith, but of love for country.

Expressions of patriotism, faith, and community should be welcome in our society and I have contacted USPS officials to express my concerns about their decision and to request their reconsideration. If the local post office branch is unwilling to display the banner, then I would be proud to hang it at my own office in Pittsburg.

and U.S. Representative Lynn Jenkins (R-2nd District Kansas) say:

This banner has been proudly displayed in the Pittsburg community for nearly 15 years. Should all the owners (who bought the banner) agree my office would be a fitting place to move it to, I would be honored to hang it outside of my office on Broadway Street. Since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, this banner has been a patriotic symbol in the Pittsburg community and I would be proud to continue this great tradition.

Since these Kansas government officials and many of the residents of Pittsburg, Kansas seem to lack basic reading skills and have never taken a civics or American government class (maybe they slept through the class), let me illustrate the issue at hand with pictures:

pittsburg kansas post office
This is the Pittsburg, Kansas Post Office, owned and operated by the U.S. Government. It is illegal to hang sectarian religious banners on this building.
handing out god bless america signs pittsburg kansas
This is a private citizen handing out God Bless America signs to be displayed on private property. This is legal.
jakes fireworks god bless america sign
This is a God Bless America sign hanging inside Jake’s Fireworks, a private Pittsburgh, Kansas business. This is legal.
god bless america sign on pittsburg kansas post office
The former is illegal, the latter is legal, thus the sign on the Post Office has to come down.

Atheists do not care in the least what signs people put on private property. Woo! Hoo! Pittsburg Christians put up 1,500 God bless America signs on private property. I don’t know of one atheist who objects to this. In fact, I suspect groups like the Freedom From Religion FoundationAmerican AtheistsAmericans United for Separation of Church and State, American Humanist Association, and the ACLU would oppose any attempts to restrict the free exercise of religion on private property. What these groups and the atheists and Christians who support them object to is the breaching of the wall of separation of church and state. The Pittsburg post office violated the law and this is the ONLY reason the sign had to come to down.

I wonder what offended Pittsburg Christians would do if these signs were hanging over the local post office:

allah bless america

baphomet bless america

I have no doubt Christians in Pittsburg would demand the immediate removal of these signs. Representative Jenkins and Senator Moran would issue press releases calling for the swift removal of these anti-American, anti-Christian signs. There is one word for such behavior, HYPOCRISY. If it is okay for a Christian sign to hang over the post office, then it should be okay the signs of other religions to hang there too. If there is no separation of church and state, then shouldn’t any and every religion have the right to adorn government buildings with their signs?

The real issue is that Christians wrongly think that their religion deserves preference and special treatment. Decades of illegal government endorsements of Christianity are now being called into question. Christians do not like being treated in the same manner as adherents of other religions. Christians think, due to a poor understanding of American history and the U.S. Constitution, that they should be permitted to adorn public buildings and lands with sectarian signs and crèches (along with opening sessions of government with Christian prayers). It is time for Christians to realize that their religion is no longer the tail that wags the dog. The United States is a secular state, and the sooner Christians realize this the better. The separation of church and state protects not only atheists and non-Christians from government encroachment, it also protects Christians. It is this wall of separation that protects all Americans from the theocratic tendencies of many of the world’s religions. History is clear: once the wall between church and state is breached, freedoms are lost and people die. We dare not trust any religious sect, including the fine Christians of Pittsburg, Kansas, with the keys to our republic. Too much is at stake to let even an innocuous act such as hanging a God Bless America banner on a government building to go unchallenged. Our future freedom depends on us beating back every sectarian attempt to scale the wall of separation between church and state.

 

Bruce Gerencser