Category Archives: Religious Liberty

Faux History For God

I’ve often repeated Pat Moynahan’s famous adage: we are all entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts.

I stand corrected.

In Texas (where else?), “educators” unsatisfied with actual American history have responded by creating their own. Because God.

Did you have any idea that our first President believed that government required God and the Bible in order to function? And are you familiar with the following quote from President Ronald Reagan? “Within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all the problems men face.”  Chances are you haven’t heard of either of these – because they’re both fiction. George Washington is better categorized as a Deist (rather than a traditional Christian), and Reagan never made such a statement about the Bible.

It’s part of a strange indoctrination strategy at a small school district in eastern Texas. On the walls of the school hallways and classrooms are many such alleged “passages” from the Bible and “statements” attributed to prominent figures in American history that all are inaccurate, misquoted, taken out of context, and even made up out of whole cloth.

The school’s practice of inventing “suitably” pious quotations with which to indoctrinate children came to light after a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the quotations.  According to the organization’s attorney Samuel Grover:

“The district cannot even fall back on the argument that these quotes have educational merit, given the many examples of misquotes, misattributions, and entirely fraudulent quotes displayed on its walls…The district sets a poor example for its students if it cannot be bothered to fact check the messages it chooses to endorse.”

With all due respect, I don’t think the problem was “failure to fact check.” I think the problem was the readiness of dishonest people to invent a history that would be more consistent with their religious preferences than that pesky thing called reality….

I guess they missed that place in the Ten Commandments about “bearing false witness.”

Suffer the Little Children

File under: unbelievable and despicable.

As numerous news sources have reported, a second grade student at Forest Park Elementary School in Fort Wayne was asked by a classmate where he went to church. The seven-year-old said he didn’t go to church, and didn’t believe in God–but it was fine with him if the girl posing the question believed in God.

This evidently upset the girl, who began to cry. At that point, the teacher stepped in. And punished the second-grader. She told him she was “very concerned” about what he had done. Then she required him to sit by himself at lunch and forbid him to talk to the other children. For three days.

According to the lawsuit that has been filed on the second-grader’s behalf:

A.B. had been publicly separated from his classmates and informed that he could not speak to them. All the students in his class heard and were aware of this. He was publicly shamed and made to feel that his personal beliefs were terribly wrong.

No efforts were made to correct the damages that had been done.

A.B. came home from school on multiple occasions crying saying that he knows that everyone at school — teachers and students — hate him.

Even now there are some classmates who will not talk to A.B.

Even now A.B. remains anxious and fearful about school, which is completely contrary to how he felt before this incident.

What kind of teacher humiliates a second-grader for sharing beliefs of which she doesn’t approve? Would she treat a Jewish or Muslim or Sikh child this way? Or is her lack of compassion and humanity reserved for children from non-religious families?

And why is she in a classroom?

No, Public Officials Aren’t “Ministers of God”

Oh Alabama…Are you trying to out-Texas Texas?

For years, we’ve watched the antics of crazy Judge Roy Moore–he of the 5-ton Ten Commandments fiasco– who somehow managed to get himself re-elected to the Alabama Supreme Court a couple of years ago. (Moore is a poster child for the proposition that Judges ought not be popularly elected.)

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, Moore has (predictably) gone over the edge. Far, far over. So has the lawyer representing him, who is apparently as delusional about the American legal system and the settled meaning of the First Amendment as his client.

In a letter to Alabama’s Governor urging defiance of the Supreme Court’s decision, the lawyer–Win Johnson–wrote:

Public officials are ministers of God assigned the duty of punishing the wicked and protecting the righteous. If the public officials decide to officially approve of the acts of the wicked, they must logically not protect the righteous from the wicked. In fact, they must become protectors of the wicked. You cannot serve two masters; you must pick — God or Satan.

And you know whose side that crafty Satan is on….

I’m not sure what law school Mr. Johnson attended, but the fact that he actually matriculated should be cause for considerable concern.

This isn’t just a misunderstanding of separation of church and state;  it’s civil law as understood by the Taliban.

 

 

 

The Retreat of the Puritans

Last week, Irish voters overwhelmingly voted to recognize same-sex marriage. Leave aside, for now, the question whether fundamental rights should ever be subject to popular vote, and consider that Ireland has long been considered a very religious country.

Whatever it may mean to be “very religious” today, for growing numbers of people, it’s clear it doesn’t mean obediently following the doctrinal pronouncements of the relevant clerics. Increasingly, the ways in which people connect with their religious traditions have changed.

Earlier this week, my friend Art Farnsley had an excellent op-ed in the Washington Post, addressing this decline of religious authority. It is well worth reading in its entirety. Art notes the recent, widely-discussed Pew poll showing a decline in the number of Americans identifying as Christian, and suggests that numbers don’t adequately tell the story:

.. behind the story of Christian decline and the rise of “nones” is a long-standing debate about what religion theorists call “secularization,” the broad process by which religion gradually loses its social influence….

By the last two decades of the 20th century, secularization theories were in retreat for a number of good reasons. Most people did not stop being religious in the sense that they still had beliefs, intuitions, feelings and practices they defined as sacred. Modernity had not pushed spirituality out of their lives in America, and maybe not even in Britain or the Netherlands.

As Art notes, whether secularization has grown depends upon how you define the term.

Sociologist Mark Chaves redefined secularization as declining religious authority back in 1994. He suggested we stop worrying about whether individuals thought of themselves as religious and focus instead on religion’s social influence.

The evidence for this kind of secularization, the decline of religious authority, is everywhere. It is quaint to think of a time stores did not open and liquor was not sold on the Sabbath. But that is a small, symbolic change compared with the massive growth in individual choice at the expense of tradition, especially religious tradition.

Understood in this way, secularization is an inevitable consequence of modernity. We no longer see diseases like smallpox as indicators of God’s judgment; we call a doctor. We no longer ask the minister or rabbi to mediate our disputes; we call a lawyer.  For most inhabitants of modern, Western countries, religion is an incubator of values, not the source of binding law. So we have cultural Catholics, social Protestants, ethnic Jews…individuals still attached to their respective traditions who nevertheless feel free to pick and choose aspects of the relevant doctrines.

Change in the role of any social institution is never linear, of course, so we still have a number of the folks I called Puritans in God and Country- the “old time religion” fundamentalists who continue to wage war against religious diversity, women’s rights, same-sex marriage and any effort to grant LGBT citizens equal civil rights.

As Art concluded, they aren’t likely to win that war.

“In the struggle for authority with modern individualism, American religion is slowly losing.” That would be my headline for the recent Pew report. “Christians are declining in America” is just the tip of the iceberg.

 

 

 

RFRA, Language, WorldViews

A couple of days ago, a group of Indiana Pastors gathered at the Statehouse to deliver a long letter accusing the Governor and legislators of “betrayal” for amending RFRA to include a modicum of civil rights protections for LGBT Hoosiers.

I encourage readers to click through and read the letter in its entirety, because it is a (rather chilling) window into a world in which words like “liberty” mean something very different from their meaning in the world I inhabit.

This “fixed” RFRA legislation has opened the door to a trampling of our liberties….You received godly counsel from strong and knowledgeable leaders from across our nation who encouraged you to stand strong and to veto this legislation. You failed. In doing so, you betrayed the trust of millions of Hoosiers who elected you to protect the liberties we hold dear….

You state that you are committed to an Indiana where religious rights and individual rights coexist in harmony. While this sounds wonderful, we all know that the demands of the LGBT lobby make this untenable with those who profess faith in Christ and faithfulness to the Scriptures. It was clear from the press conference that the next “discussion” will involve the creation of sexual orientation and gender identity as a special protected class in Indiana. Leadership from the gay community told all who were listening that this will become a reality in Indiana….

God’s Word is very clear about the proper expression of human sexuality, and homosexuality is one of a variety of sexual behaviors God expressly condemns. For Christians, therefore, sexual sins can never be treated as civil rights.

There is much, much more.

Let me be clear: drawing a line between the right of people to the free exercise of their belief systems–no matter how foreign or even repugnant those beliefs may be to other Americans–and the civil rights of their fellow citizens is not simple, nor is the placement of that line uncontested. The Pastors’ letter highlights a consistent and probably unavoidable tension in an America that values both liberty and equality.

That said, the letter vividly demonstrates the worldview of would-be theocrats who believe they speak for God– who believe they have the right to demand laws that privilege their beliefs and impose them on everyone else, and who believe that failure to occupy that privileged legal position victimizes them.

This is the worldview of the Taliban.