Freedom of religion and freedom of speech allow people to believe and say what they want in this country. But I know from firsthand experience that religiously driven myths reinforced by leaders can harm children’s lives and thwart their potential.
Like many Christian children, my Amish upbringing instilled in me the belief that Jesus’ return would be preceded by devastating conditions including floods, earthquakes, droughts, tornadoes, crop failures and fires — basically all the things climate change is unleashing. With no adequate education to temper these beliefs, fear of the coming apocalypse traumatized me. Had I stayed in the religion, recent weather patterns would no doubt have had me praying doubly hard. When I escaped my community in Michigan in the middle of the night at age 15, I arrived in mainstream society laden with fears that had been reinforced through a limited Amish education that ended at the eighth grade. I’d acquired little secular knowledge thanks to a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case Wisconsin vs. Yoder, which found that Wisconsin’s compulsory school attendance law was unconstitutional because it violated Amish parents’ rights to exercise their religion. As a result, I had no knowledge of science, sex education, or any subject contrary to Amish religious views. Had I not escaped, the Supreme Court ruling would have sealed my fate: becoming an ignorant Amish housewife.
My hunger for empirical answers to allay my fear of hell drove me to earn a high school equivalency diploma and eventually apply to America’s top schools. Upon entering Columbia University, I was shocked to learn that many of my professors weren’t aware that the highest court in the country had set a precedent in favor of extremist religion over my basic rights. Over and over, I’ve seen how the system regularly protects religious sects as they harm children –– from a failure to educate them to a failure to physically protect them.
For example, in New York City, Mayor de Blasio has failed forcefully to stand up to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas to ensure that these schools provide Hasidic children with a state-mandated secular education. Most recently, 30 members of the New York City Council signed a letter spearheaded by Council Members Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger in opposition to regulations proposed by the New York State Education Department to provide the bare minimum general education to which they are entitled under state law.
And last month, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion by congressional leaders to defend the constitutionality of a ban on female genital mutilation after a doctor from a Muslim community was charged with cutting the clitoral hoods of nine 7-year-old girls who cried and bled as a woman restrained them.
Whether fundamentalist Islam, ultra-Orthodox Jewish, Amish, or any other religion, all insular religious communities use a range of tactics to exert power and control over their members, starting at birth. Many of those tactics are steeped in utter fictions that serve to keep children from fulfilling their potential.
Yes, religious leaders can say what they want. But society must help minimize the harm. While [Robert] Jeffress has the right to make outlandish claims about [global climate change] rainbows, children should have the right to a federally-mandated adequate education that would give them the tools to assess the veracity of those claims.
There’s strength in numbers, and… really, why are we here? You know, several years ago… I realize that some people say, it is like a wave that’s coming. And that’s what made me think of Hawaii, too. There’s this wave that Christianity… has had its day. That the world has changed and Christians are out of touch. That we need to move on to modern times in this world that we live in, and we need to let the past be the past. And we have a lot of pressure to accept worldly values and things that… where people feel that the world has changed. But we know that God never changes.
And I look at our Christian families and the values that we hold dear and there’s, like I said, this great storm and this struggle where we could lose our freedoms, and we could lose our values, and the things that we hold so dearly, as Christians, to worship our God freely.
And we are one nation that was created under God, and the world that we are living in right now is trying to remove those freedoms from us. And I tell you: I know that it is time for us to be ‘ohana. To be united as a family. Because we are weak individually, but we are strong as we are united. We are. We are powerful.
I believe that standing together strong and showing the world that the teachings and the example of Jesus Christ are not only timely more than ever, but are timeless… tonight. I love that we are uniting together in a celebration of song and love and passion for our beloved God and our Savior Jesus Christ to worship through music today. And I pray that the Holy Spirit will be here, that we will, in our efforts to be ‘ohana this evening, that we will all have faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And I say this and that in His beautiful name, amen.
— Marie Osmond, Interfatih Event in Hawaii, October 12, 2018
But there are also some things happening now that previous generations would have regarded as unthinkable.
Socialism is now on the ballot in “the land of the free,” when freedom and socialism are polar opposites. There are multiple candidates running for office across our land that are avowed socialists. Many of them try to dress it up by calling it “democratic socialism,” but that makes as much sense as the term “fragrant skunk.” Government ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods robs a nation and its individuals of their freedom and liberty and eventually destroys that nation.
Abortion is sacrosanct in America by somewhere around half of the population, though every abortion ends the life of a child and minorities are disproportionately affected. African-Americans have 27.1 abortions per thousand of women ages 15-44 to whites having only 10 per thousand, while whites make up 76.6 percent of the population compared to African-Americans making up just 13.5 percent.
Religious liberty is under assault in a great many state houses and courthouses. The great “cake wars” and “flower wars” show this clearly. Progressives gasp at the notion of the “slippery slope” of allowing people the freedom of conscience to refuse to do things that violate their religious sensibilities. But they never seem to ask about the other side of the slippery slope, as in “Well, if we allow people to force other people to make the cake or the flowers, we are going out on a slippery slope, and where does it stop? Can we also force the African-American baker to make a rebel flag cake? Can we force the Muslim deli to provide ham sandwiches and bacon for a church gathering? Can we force the Jewish florist to make a lovely arrangement for a Neo Nazi group to use at an anti-Jewish meeting?
Two years ago, I believe that the prayers that God’s people made to ask God for his provision were heard. They were heard and granted and for two years, we have lived in an unparalleled golden time in the United States. We are living in an unparalleled golden time. We have a president who has made the most pro-life actions of any president ever. We have a president who has been the most pro-Israel president ever in the history of the United States of America. Our president has put the United States on a pathway of blessing … We have the most pro-religious liberty president in the history of the United States, ever! Do you see what a golden day that we have been given? On every possible level, America is killing it. We are doing great in every possible metric, and I believe that’s because God’s people utilized the tool that he gave us.
“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 say. How dare Satanists put up a sacrilegious display right next to a crèche. How dare you heathens offend the sweet baby Jesus.
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.
I spent fifty years in the Christian church. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. I attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Bible College in the 1970s. Most my Christian life was spent either attending or pastoring Baptist churches. As young aspiring pastor, I was taught that there was a strict separation between church and state; that freedom of religion was absolutely crucial to the life of the American Republic and to the status of religion. Church and state were equal planes, each having their sphere of influence. Churches and preachers didn’t meddle in matters of state, and the government was expected to keep its nose out of church business. In the late 1970s, things began to change with the establishment of the Moral Majority by Paul Weyrich, Ed McAteer, and Jerry Falwell. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, scores of parachurch groups were started for the express purpose of reclaiming America for God. These promoters of American nationalism and exceptionalism flexed their muscles during the recent 2016 presidential election, delivering to Americans their next president, Donald Trump.
The last thirty years have brought a radical change in Evangelical thinking concerning the freedom of religion and separation of church and state. The impenetrable barrier between church and state that President John F. Kennedy spoke of in the 1960s is now considered a fabrication of liberals meant to destroy Evangelical, conservative Catholic, and Mormon Christianity. One presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, even went so far as to say that the separation of church and state is a myth; that the founding fathers never meant to exclude Christians and their religion from influencing and controlling government. These deniers of separation of church and state believe, to the man, that the United States has been uniquely chosen by God — a special nation above all others. Believing that the United States is a Christian nation, these theocrats spend their waking hours attempting to take over government at every level. Having trampled over the wall of separation of church and state, these warriors for God intend on returning America to what they consider its Christian roots. Now that Donald Trump has been elected president and God-fearing, flag-waving Republicans control Congress, we can expect to see a full-bore frontal assault on laws and policies meant to keep church and state separate.
While Evangelicals have discarded the notion of the separation between church and state, considering it myth, they continue to say that they support the First Amendment and the idea of freedom of religion. However, their idea of freedom of religion is far different from what has generally been understood in the past. The freedom of religion and separation of church and state go hand-in-hand. Can we have the freedom to worship or not worship as we please if the government gives preference to Christianity? As history clearly shows, any time religion and state are one, freedoms and liberty are lost and people die. Who is it that is clamoring for the national registration of Muslims and the banning of immigrants from non-Christian countries? Who is it that is demanding that prayer and Bible study be permitted in public schools? Who is it that wants creationism taught as science and the 10 Commandments posted on public school classroom walls? Who is it that is tirelessly working to overturn societal progress on same-sex marriage, homosexuality, and abortion? Who is it that is clamoring for the government to adopt a nationwide voucher program that will pay for students to attend private Christian schools? Evangelicals and their conservative compatriots in other sects, that’s who.
So when Evangelicals talk about the freedom of religion, remember what they really mean is freedom for THEIR religion, and their religion alone. While they with their lips say that they support the freedom of all religions, what they really mean is that they support your right to worship your God freely as long as it doesn’t interfere with or influence the American religion — Christianity — and its control of government. Muslims, Buddhists, and other non-Christian religions will be tolerated only so far as they stay out of the way. According to theocratic Evangelicals, their God alone is the one true ruler over all, and the Bible is the standard by which we should not only govern our lives but our nation. And those atheists who have tirelessly worked to make sure the wall of separation of church and state is absolute? They will be expected to stop harassing fine Christian school officials and government leaders who only want to follow the dictates of God and the Bible. People who spent their lives working to change the legal system and its brutal punishment of the poor and people of color will likely see a return to the days of an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth. Again, appeals will be made to the Bible and its code of justice. It should not surprise anyone when Evangelicals call for re-criminalizing homosexuality, adultery, fornication, and marijuana use.
Remember these things the next time your Evangelical friends, family members, or coworkers say they support the freedom of religion. You might want to ask them what they mean by “freedom of religion.” Do they mean freedom equally for all religions? Do they mean freedom to not believe in any gods at all? Do they support the separation of church and state? If not, do they believe America is a Christian nation? Would they be okay with a Muslim president or the building of a mosque next door to their Baptist Church? If Christian prayers and Bible readings are permitted in public schools, would they be okay with Muslim prayers and Buddhist teachings being given the same level of support? As you ask these types of questions, you will likely find out that what your Evangelical acquaintances really mean when they say freedom of religion is “freedom for the Christian religion.” Believing that secularism equals socialism and communism, these worshipers of the Christian God want a culture that is dominated and controlled by Christian beliefs and philosophies.
Now that God’s Only Party (GOP) controls the federal government and most state governments, we can expect to see attempts to derail and destroy the social progress of the last fifty years. I suspect that savvy Evangelical parachurch groups will use state and federal courts to bulldoze the wall of separation of church and state, leaving its rubble as a monument to the days when social progressives thought they could challenge the authority of the Christian God. And it is for this reason that those of us who value religious freedom must not idly stand by while Evangelicals attempt to remake America into a new version of the 1950s. Don’t think for a moment that such monumental societal change cannot happen. It can and it will if we stand by and do nothing. It is time for us to quit whining about Bernie and Hillary losing. Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States and he has a Republican majority behind him who is anxious to re-create America in the image of the capitalistic Christian God. If Trump succeeds in putting several Antonin Scalia-like justices on the Supreme Court, we can expect to see a rapid undoing of decades of social progress. Sensing that they might have a short window in which get their way, Evangelicals will be working overtime to make sure that Trump and Congress put God back on the throne of the United States of Christian America. Those of us who value and understand freedom of religion and the separation of church and state must do everything in our power to make sure that this does not happen.
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Recently, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) demanded the city of Glencoe, Alabama remove the Christian flag flying outside the local police department. Andrew Seidel, staff attorney for the FFRF wrote:
…”It is unconstitutional for a government entity to fly a flag with a patently religious symbol and meaning on its grounds,You must take immediate action and refrain from hoisting this flag up the flagpole at the city hall building.”…
…“The display of this patently religious symbol on city property confers government endorsement of Christianity, a blatant violation of the Establishment Clause. The cross on the flag pole of Glencoe’s city hall building unabashedly creates the perception of government endorsement of Christianity.”…
…“It conveys the message to the twenty-six percent of the U.S. population who are not Christians that they are not ‘favored members of the political community,’”…
Fearing a lawsuit, Glencoe mayor Charles Gilchrist had the flag taken down. His action infuriated local Bible thumpers, leading to a protest last week outside of Glencoe city hall. Christian News Network reports:
Gilchrist said that the threat of a suit is what ultimately resulted in the removal of the flag.
“That would just about ruin us,” Gilchrist stated. “I have to look out for the best interests of the city.”
He said that he believes that the threat of suit is how the group strong-arms cities into compliance with their wishes.
“That’s what they do, they pick on these smaller towns that can’t defend ourselves,” Gilchrist said, noting that he personally did not want to remove the flag.
It was later given to local restaurant owner Jeff Word, who raised the flag outside of Big Chief Restaurant.
The Etowah County Chapter of First Responders for Christ soon decided to organized a rally in support of the flag’s original presence at Glencoe City Hall. Approximately 100 people turned out for the event on Saturday, which featured Rep. Mack Butler and state Sen. Phil Williams, as well as Thom Harrison, pastor of North Glencoe Baptist Church.
“We weren’t called to sit back and watch and not say a word. We’re called to go out and proclaim the gospel among all nations,” Williams declared.
Williams pointed to the Christian heritage of the nation, such as the daily presence of a Congressional chaplain since 1789 and the motto “In God We Trust,” first printed on currency in the 1800’s.
“This country and our laws were founded on Judeo-Christian principles that are literally written in stone at our nation’s Capitol, and that history cannot be overlooked or undone,” organizer Samuel Lowe told the Christian Post. “They can remove the flag from the pole, but the Christian roots of our nation’s origin can never be denied.”
“On the surface, the flag removal appears to be a battle over the fictitious separation of church and state,” he said, “but the underlying reason the flag was removed was due to the separation between God and man because of the sin that’s in man’s heart.”
I am at a loss about why Christians have a hard time understanding the establishment clause and the separation of church and state. Jeff Word, the owner of Big Chief Drive-In and the man who took ownership of the flag, understands, in part, that there is a difference between government endorsement and private freedom. Word stated:
“I think our freedoms are leaving us gradually, as we once knew them. It was one person that took prayer out of school. I felt like I needed to be that ‘one person’ in this case. I feel like I’m a private businessman and it’s my right to fly the flag.”
Correct, as a PRIVATE citizen, any American may fly any flag they wish, including the Christian or Communist flag. The protestors, standing on a public sidewalk, the freest piece of real estate in America, have every right to protest and wave the Christian flag. No one stopped them from exercising their constitutional right to freedom of religion. What Christians in Glencoe find upsetting is that they no longer have a seat at the head of the cultural table. They pine for the 1950’s, failing to realize that most Americans have moved on.
One hundred people showed up for the Rally for the Flag. ONE HUNDRED out of 5,000 Glencoe residents. Thom Harrison, pastor of North Glencoe Baptist Church was there, yet most of his church members didn’t show up. What’s clear is that, even in the middle of Baptist country, Evangelicals no longer draw large numbers of people to their cause; especially when it has to do with a sectarian flag illegally flying in front of a government building. While several Republican state politicians showed up for the rally, I highly doubt either of them will be offering up legislation any time soon “legalizing” the flying of the sectarian Christian flag on government property. Such an attempt would be quickly ruled unconstitutional by the courts. I suspect Representative Mack Butler and Senator Phil Williams attended the rally because of the optics and both are up for election in 2016 and 2018. Both Butler and Williams are Baptist.
The overwhelming majority of Americans self identify as Christian. Here in rural NW Ohio, I suspect there are few non-Christians. The number of public atheists I know number three. That’s right, three. Christianity is on full display everywhere one looks. Churches on every street corner, Christian radio and TV stations, Christian book stores, Christian coffee houses, and business signs with the ichthys (fish) symbol, all testify to the fact that America is a Christian nation and rural NW Ohio is God’s Country.
Christians are free to start new churches and worship anyway they please. No matter how crazy their beliefs and practices are, there is no government or private agency keeping them from practicing their form of crazy. From strict liturgical churches to snake handling Baptists, there is a flavor of Christianity for everyone. Christian sects, churches, religious institutions, and pastors are given special tax benefits, from real estate and sales tax exemption to the clergy housing allowance. Christian churches are considered by many to be dispensers of morality, and when bad things like a school shooting, tornado, flood, or hurricane hits a community, local Christian clergy are called in to calm fears and let everyone know God is still on the throne.
Someone visiting from another country would likely be amazed at the religiosity of Americans. I doubt they would see any signs of religious persecution, especially if they hail from a country where there’s real persecution. Thanks to fear mongering and lying by Evangelical preachers, Catholic prelates and priests, Mormon bishops, Christian parachurch leaders, Christian college presidents and professors, Christian TV and radio programmers, and Fox News hosts, many Christians believe they are being persecuted by liberals, secularists, socialists,communists, abortionists, homosexuals, and atheists. The annual War on Christmas® has now morphed into the War on Christianity®.
There is not one shred of evidence to back up the claim that there is a concerted effort to persecute American Christians and keep them from worshiping their God. From my seat in the pew, I see government at every level bending over backwards to accommodate Christians. As a nation, we value religious freedom so highly that we grant sects, churches, and each Christian special privileges. There is no other nation on earth that has more religious freedom, yet many Christians still think they are being persecuted. Why is this?
Here’s my take. When people live in a country that values personal rights and freedom, especially religious freedom, they tend to see small accommodations or denials as frontal assaults on their rights and freedom. When groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), American Humanist Association (AHA), American Atheists (AA), or the ACLU demand that Christians abide by the Constitution and the separation of church and state, Christians see this as personal attack on their faith.
Let me give a local example of this. Recently, the ACLU of Ohio sent nearby Edon Northwest School District a letter about the school district’s core values statement found in the front of the student handbook:
The American Civil Liberties Union sent a request today to a Williams County school district to stop what it calls its “sectarian policies and practices that violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
The letter to the Edon Northwest Local School district, which is near the Ohio-Indiana border, cites the school system’s student handbook, which references “Christian values,” and what the ACLU says is a practice of inviting ministers to pray at mandatory school assemblies. John Granger, interim superintendent who joined the district in January, said he has not witnessed some of the incidents referenced by the ACLU, but that if the allegations are true, the district should make changes.
”This has already been settled by the United States Supreme Court,“ Mr. Granger said. “I would make a recommendation to the board of education that if we are in violation of the law, we should stop.”
The district’s website includes a copy of the student handbook, and the first page lists the district’s “Core Values.”
As we strive to achieve our Vision and accomplish our Mission, we value…” the handbook states, with “Honesty and Christian values” as the second entry.
The ACLU letter claims ministers attended assemblies before the Thanksgiving and winter holidays, and that students need parent approval to opt out of the events.
“These reports also allege that the ministers pray aloud, ask the students to join in the prayer and recite homilies concerning upcoming holidays,” the letter states.
The ACLU in its letter, signed by ACLU of Ohio’s Legal Director Freda Levenson and staff attorney Drew Dennis, recognizes that Mr. Granger is new to the position and the started before his arrival in the district.
“We now take this opportunity to make you aware of the unconstitutionality of the described practices, and request that you investigate them and bring an end to them immediately,“ the letter states…
I have no doubt that local Christians are outraged over the ACLU’s demand that the Edon Northwest School District abide by the establishment clause and the separation of church and state.I am sure they see this as a sign of religious persecution. It’s not. This kind of stuff has been going on in rural schools since the days I roamed the halls of Farmer Elementary in the 1960’s. The difference now is that groups like FFRF, ACLU, AHA, AA, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) are paying attention to what is going on in the schools and government and are willing to litigate any violation of the Constitution.
Today, Polly took me on a short nineteen mile drive on Route 18 between Defiance and Hicksville. The following pictures succinctly illustrate the religious climate in rural NW Ohio. They tell the story far better than I could.
The Faith4Freedom signs litter the rural NW Ohio landscape. According to their defunct Facebook page, 20,000 of these signs were printed and distributed in Ohio and Michigan. This is primarily a Catholic endeavor. Based on the lack of activity on their Facebook page, Twitter account, and a no longer available website, I assume that local Catholics have lost their religious freedom and are living in nearby catacombs. Once the black anti-Christ, Barack Hussein Obama, is divinely removed from office, they will no longer fear persecution and return to the safety of Facebook, Twitter, and the internet.
As of today, there is NO religious persecution in the United States. Every citizen is free to worship any or no God. Every citizen is free to worship when, where, and how they wish. I know of no law that prohibits the free exercise of religion. The United States, when it comes to religion, is the freest nation on the face of the earth. Yet, despite the evidence, many on the religious right think they are being persecuted, and if Barack Hussein Obama has his way Sharia law will be instituted and Christianity will be outlawed. If the socialist, communist, Kenyan born Obama is not stopped, by the time of the 2016 presidential election, Christians will be persecuted, incarcerated, and possibly killed, just like Hitler did to the Jews in World War II.
Think I am kidding? I am on the American Family Association’s (AFA) mailing list. (know thy enemy) In today’s digest was an article written by Jim Shempert titled America’s Future: Christian Persecution. What graphic did AFA and Jim Shempert choose for the article?
That right, Shempert and AFA think that Christians will soon be treated just like the Jews, gypsies, and mentally handicapped were treated by Hitler and Nazis in World War II.
Here’s what Shempert had to say (link no longer active):
…This blog is intended for the Church. If you are not a Christian, and your only goal is to tear down Christianity, you can stop reading here.
Church, Christianity is under attack all across the globe. The persecutions of the Church are definitely not the same but they all have the same root. Imagine trying to be a Christian in Iraq/Syria/anywhere south of Turkey right now… Standing for your faith will be met with loss of property, threats, beatings, and death. These are common occurrences. If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to go to Google. Type in “Middle East Christian persecution” and hit “search.” In literally half a second, Google will return to you 1.1 million articles/pages on persecution of Christians in the Middle East. To focus on a different area, go back to Google and search for “Christian persecution in Africa.” In .6 seconds, you are greeted with 2.5 million articles/pages that deal with Christian persecution in Africa.
Now, the current resident of the White House believes that the atrocities committed by Muslim terrorist groups are not indicative of all Muslim people. Here’s a potential fire starter: I happen to agree with him there. Personally, I believe the Muslim faith to be incorrect in its focus. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that no man cometh unto the Father but by Him. As those Muslims must surely think that I am wrong in my focus. However, I do not think that all Muslims are terrorists, or that they are all on jihad. I also don’t believe the line that these extremist groups are not focused around Islam. I know that the resident of the White House likes to continue his crusade against Christianity by reminding us that at one time, horrible atrocities were committed by those who claim the name of Christ. His problem, and all those who claim moral equivalency, is that he is unable to call EVIL what it is: EVIL. He is able to quickly tear apart Christianity, and say that America was never a Christian nation, but he is unable to say that Islamic terrorism is evil.
I’ve had a long conversation with a friend on this, and we came to the conclusion that if any group that claims Christianity starts cutting off people’s heads while singing “Just as I am,” the first people to respond will be Christians. We will police our own. The soldiers sent to stop them will probably be Christians, at least in some part. Rest assured, the current White House, will seek great joy in touting that it is CHRISTIANS doing this. “See…they are doing it too!” A 5 year old child has more intellect and intelligence.
The point is… American is no longer a Christian nation. Those are hard words to hear. They were even harder to type. That’s not to say that it never was. America was built around Christian principles, with Christian men and women leading it. Those who claim otherwise are just repeating a Goebbels lie: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” The nation that I grew up in, is no more. Being viewed as an evangelical Christian now, is to be seen as a leper. “Those close minded, bigoted, judging Christians.” “Why don’t you just love? That’s what Jesus did.” (That one usually comes from someone who hasn’t opened a Bible since grade school) “Judge not, that you be not judged.” That’s Matthew 7:1 for any of you that use it. You might want to continue down chapter 7 to verses 15-20. Might do you some eternal good…
…What’s the next step for those who only want their ears tickled? To silence those who don’t! Anyone who preaches the Light, will be resisted by the darkness. Offensive words will be created to describe them and shouted over and over and over until the masses begin to repeat them. They will be chastised in the media, lose their jobs, their businesses, their property, their ability to live their lives the way they choose. The assertion that they are ignorant will be constantly repeated. Their very freedom will be threatened. Oh wait, that’s already happened…
Martin Niemoller was a pastor in Germany during the Nazi regime and also a concentration camp survivor. He is remembered most for this quote:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Ronald Reagan is by far the greatest president of my lifetime. He said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Those words could never be truer than they are today. As Christians, we are at a crossroads in America. We can stand up, and let our voices be heard. We can fight at the ballot box for the rights that we were always guaranteed. Or, we can continue to allow our anti-Christian government to destroy the basic tenants of our faith. The choice is ours…
…What happens to those of us that resist? How long before we become “enemies of the State?” How long before we are sent to “camps” for re-education? Sound crazy? The German people in the ‘30’s would have said the same thing. In a few short years, millions would be imprisoned and executed for their faith…
…I live in relationship with Jesus Christ as my Savior. My life is forfeit. If it is His will that I must be sacrificed for my stand for His Name, then so be it. Even Jesus didn’t turn away from death when presented with it. He was obedient to the end.
American Christian, most of the rest of the world knows this already, from experience. But there is coming a day when to identify as a Christian in America will bring consequences…
I love it when groups like AFA use Martin Niemoller’s quote to suggest that what happened in Hitler’s Germany will soon happen here. Here’s the problem: no one has come for the socialist, trade unionist, or Jew. Yes, many on the political and religious right fight against socialism and trade unions, but no one would suggest that the religious right is persecuting socialists or union members. They most certainly are not persecuting the Jews. The religious right loves Israel, well at least until Jesus comes back and slaughters all the unbelieving Jews.
We live in a free country. While I think personal liberties are under attack by corporate, military-industrial complex, and surveillance-industrial complex interests, I have no fear of being persecuted or jailed if I oppose these interests. Like the Christian, atheists like me are free to write about, attack, critique, and make fun of religion. I don’t fear the government breaking my door down and arresting me for something I have written.
Unfortunately, when one lives in a country where freedom of belief and practice is ensconced in its founding documents and law, the slightest denial of freedom or the slightest inconvenience can be viewed as an attack on freedom and personal rights. The religious right thinks the move towards same-sex marriage and justice and equal protection under the law for gays is an infringement of their religious rights. Same-sex marriage really is THE issue that has the religious right foaming at the mouth. However, allowing same-sex couples to marry in no way infringes on a person’s right to believe and worship as they wish. If same-sex marriage was legal tomorrow in all fifty states, absolutely nothing would change for Christians. They would still be free to pray, read the Bible, evangelize, attend a house of worship, and, get this, forbid gays and same-sex couples from being members in their church.
No clergyperson will ever be required to marry a same-sex couple. Since marriage is a secular function of law, a pastor is free to choose who he will marry. It is the marriage license, not the ceremony that gives a marriage legal force. This is why, in states like Alabama, public officials must issue a license to heterosexual and same-sex couples. They are acting on behalf of the state, a secular institution. If they cannot, according to their conscience, fulfill their duty to issue a marriage license to all who request one, then they should resign. Their resignation is not persecution. All of us have beliefs and moral and ethical values that might, in some circumstances, preclude us from holding a certain job.
We are 20 months away from electing a new president. Our country faces many pressing and trying issues: war, threat of war, poverty, crumbling infrastructure, government debt, etc. Instead of whining and screaming about being persecuted, I wish the religious right and their representatives in Congress would reach across the aisle and meaningfully try to find a solution to the pressing issues of the day.
The American Family Association, and other right-wing religious groups like them, knows that their followers must constantly be poked lest they become apathetic. What better way to wake people up than to scream PERSECUTION! Until Christians realize groups like the AFA are manipulating them for political and material gain, they will continue to be outraged every time they are told they need to be outraged. (the outrage machine One Million Moms is an arm of the AFA) Until they are willing to actually think for themselves and throughly investigate the issues without checking in with Fox News first, there’s little hope of meaningful dialog.
But Bruce, same-sex marriage is wrong! Why? Without the Bible, please defend your position. I have yet to have someone successfully defend the prohibition of same-sex marriage without appealing to their religious beliefs and a sacred text like the Christian bible. Once religion is removed from the equation, there is no reasonable argument to be made for prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying.
That said, I still believe in the American political process. Christians are free to work towards a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. They have the same rights and privileges as I do. Let’s duke it out in the public square. Of course, the religious right doesn’t want to do this, knowing that they would likely never get enough states to approve a constitutional amendment.
The real issue here is that Christianity is losing its preferential place at the table. For most of our country’s existence, the Christian religion has been the centerpiece. This is natural, of course, since most Americans self-identify as Christian. However, more and more Christians are more to the left politically and religiously, especially young adults. More and more Americans no longer have any religion. Atheism, agnosticism,humanism, secularism, religious indifference, and “none of the above” continue to increase. Like it or not, right-wing Christians must recognize that they no longer have the political and social power and clout they once had. If they don’t like this, I suggest they get busy attracting new people to their cause.