When I was growing up in Anderson, Indiana, it was not unusual to be called "dirty Jew" or "kike" by a young classmate who had obviously gotten the terminology at home. After one such incident, when I ran home crying, my mother said something I never forgot….
When I was growing up in Anderson, Indiana, it was not unusual to be called "dirty Jew" or "kike" by a young classmate who had obviously gotten the terminology at home. After one such incident, when I ran home crying, my mother said something I never forgot. "Just remember," she said, "a real Christian, a good Christian, is a Jew’s best friend."
If I ever doubted the wisdom of that observation, my years as Executive Director of the ICLU confirmed its truth. While I certainly encountered manifold bigotries masquerading as "Christian values," I also was privileged to work with wonderful Christian ministers and educators on a daily basis. These were men and women who acted on the belief that their faith obligates them to respect all people, and to treat others as they would wish to be treated. These were the Christians who worked tirelessly for interfaith understanding, and against racism and homophobia. These were the Christians who heeded Jesus’ admonitions to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. These were people of genuine faith who considered the use of religion for political ends embarrassing, even blasphemous.
I thought about several of those good people when I read about the recent comments made by Kathleen Hudson, a Tippecanoe County Commissioner, to a Jewish constituent who complained about a manifestly unconstitutional religious display at the County Courthouse. Hudson told the woman that she was free to move to Israel if she didn’t like living in "this Christian nation." When her emailed remarks were made public, and a firestorm erupted, Hudson employed the "victim" rhetoric currently favored by political religious extremists, complaining that she was "tired of having to defend my faith."
Hudson doesn’t need to defend her faith, but she does need to understand what kinds of behavior it requires. She also clearly needs a few history lessons, and an introduction to the constitutional principles she took an oath to uphold.
When the language of the First Amendment was being debated, the Founders voted down a version that prohibited the establishment of a "national church" in favor of the language forbidding an "establishment of religion." As Thomas Jefferson would later explain in his famous letter to the Danbury Baptists, the intent was to erect "a wall of separation" between government and religion–to protect religion from the state and the state from becoming an instrument of religious zealots.
If the First Amendment means anything, it means that Kathleen Hudson cannot tell Jews in Lafayette, Indiana, that they are visitors in someone else’s country. It means she cannot use her government position to impose her religious beliefs on others, or to favor her co-religionists over those of other faiths. She is entitled to her beliefs, but the state cannot be an instrument of her bigotry.
Following the outcry over Hudson’s remarks, she issued a tepid apology to Lafayette’s Jewish population. But the people who really deserve an apology are the millions of good Christians whose values she has so sorely misrepresented.