Even ardent defenders of the First Amendment?s Religion Clauses will concede that we encounter all kinds of gray areas when we are trying to keep government and religion in their proper, respective places. For example, if church-state separation means anything, it means tax dollars cannot pay the salaries of clergy?but what about in time of war? When government deploys American troops, shouldn?t we make religious personnel available to our soldiers, even if it is at taxpayer expense?
Even ardent defenders of the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses will concede that we encounter all kinds of gray areas when we are trying to keep government and religion in their proper, respective places. For example, if church-state separation means anything, it means tax dollars cannot pay the salaries of clergy—but what about in time of war? When government deploys American troops, shouldn’t we make religious personnel available to our soldiers, even if it is at taxpayer expense? We have historically (and most of us would say appropriately) answered such questions in the affirmative.
Then there are the questions that test the tensions between the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. If public health authorities are visiting schools in order to immunize third graders, does the inclusion of parochial schools in the program amount to an endorsement of religion? On the other hand, would excluding them impermissibly burden the free exercise rights of parents who choose such schools? Common sense tells us the schools are simply a convenient venue for vaccinations, and that such programs don’t “establish” religion.
Law is a process of drawing—and sometimes redrawing—such lines. Most Americans want a government that obeys the Constitution; we want a government that accommodates citizens’ religious beliefs without privileging any or all of them. People of good faith (no pun intended) can disagree over where any particular line should be drawn.
Recently, however, the National Parks Service has decided that there is no line.
It began in earnest last July, when Deputy Director Donald Murphy ordered Grand Canyon National Park to re-install three bronze plaques displaying biblical verses in public viewing areas. The Department of Interior had ordered them removed because they violated the Establishment Clause.
This fall, the Park Service began selling a creationist text in park bookstores and museums. Subsequently, Park officials blocked a proposed publication by park guides describing creationism as a religious belief, rather than a scientific theory. (So much for a marketplace of ideas!)
Now, the Service has “edited” videotapes of gatherings held at the Washington Mall. Since 1995, a short video shown at the Lincoln Memorial has included various demonstrations held at the monument over the years. The Park Service’s “more balanced” version eliminates pictures of the Millennium March for gay rights and several pro-choice and anti-Viet Nam War demonstrations. In their place, the Service is inserting scenes showing Promise Keepers and pro-Gulf War demonstrators—even though neither group has actually held a demonstration there. The changes were made after Christian protesters argued that the historically accurate version “implies that Lincoln would have supported homosexual and abortion rights, as well as feminism.” (Evidently, if people rally at the Lincoln memorial, that means Lincoln agreed with them. By the same logic, if you don’t talk to teenagers about sex, they won’t find out about it.)
I don’t know what Lincoln would have thought about gay rights or feminism, but he knew all about people who willingly ignore the law in order to set American citizens against each other.