Category archives: Religious Liberty

O Say Canada Can You See?

by Robert Morrison

May 6, 2014

My colleague Rob Schwarzwalder’s blog post on the important Supreme Court case of Town of Greece v. Galloway raises the central issue in this dispute. The town fathers went out of their way to welcome prayers by citizens of other religions than Christianity. They recognized their own obligation to cast their nets broadly. No one could reasonably say his religion was being disrespected. But that good faith effort, that exercise in civility, was not enough for Citizen Galloway. Instead, this person determined to take her complaint all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Forget civility. Forget good neighborliness. If I am offended, I have a constitutional right to shut down my fellow citizens’ freedom of speech and free exercise. Or so this claimant thought. And whenever any atheizer is unhappy that his neighbor believes that this is one nation under God, there will be wealthy and powerful pressure groups racing in to court, ready to help extinguish the lamp of religious liberty.

Rob Schwarzwalder asks where is the civility, where is the maturity in that? He’s right. Not every crank has a cause of action.

I’ve always been impressed by the baseball fans at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. Whenever the Orioles play Toronto Blue Jays, the fans all stand for “The Star Spangled Banner.” (And they shout out the “O’s” in “O Say.”) Those fans should be especially proud to belt out our National Anthem this season, since it’s the Bicentennial of Francis Scott Key’s powerful poem that has become our stirring song.

After our National Anthem, everyone stands respectfully for our Northern neighbor’s National Anthem, the beautiful and evocative “O Canada.”

No one petulantly refuses to honor the other country’s anthem. That’s a tribute to true civility. But we should not forget that two hundred years ago, Britain ruled Canada and used it as a base to make war on us. Those “rockets’ red glare” and ” bombs bursting in air” were British rockets and British bombs. And Canada remained loyal to the British in their attempt to destroy our young republic.

As for the Canadians, their anthem contains the verse “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”

On guard against whom? It’s not against the Moose or the Polar Bear. They stand on guard against the Yankees — US!

Both National Anthems are written (in effect) against the other. And yet we are today the best of friends.

Different systems, different perspectives. Very different national goals and ethos, but we are more than civil, and more than good friends. Canada and the U.S. enjoy the longest undefended border in the world.

The key is to honor your neighbor and respect his traditions.

We can certainly learn a lesson in cordiality at Camden Yards. Instead of having to sue one another, maybe we should say “Take me out to the ball game!”

Justice Kennedy’s Reminder: Some Americans Just Need to Grow Up

by Rob Schwarzwalder

May 5, 2014

In the majority opinion he issued today on public prayer, Justice Anthony Kennedy made a number of arguments with serious implications for religious liberty in the United States.

His opinion and the coincident opinions of Justices Alito and Thomas and the dissenting opinions by Justices Breyer and Kagan all deserve close scrutiny.  Religious liberty is the foundation of all other liberties, and any time the Supreme Court speaks about it, all Americans should listen carefully.

With that said, there is a particularly noteworthy thread of argument woven throughout Justice Kennedy’s opinion.  Several times, he alludes to a fact that needs to be expressed more often, both in our courts and everyday life: Mature adults should act that way.

Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith,” he argues. In other words, rather than wear your religious beliefs and cultural mores like touch-sensitive antennae, act enough like an adult that you don’t take offense unnecessarily or easily.

With respect to public prayer, Justice Kennedy writes:

… the reasonable observer is acquainted with this tradition and understand that its purposes are to lend gravity to public proceedings and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens, not to afford government an opportunity to proselytize or force truant constituents into the pews … That many appreciate these acknowledgments of the divine in our public institutions does not suggest that those who disagree are compelled to join the expression or approve of its content.

In other words, respect, decency, civility, and self-control are assumed in a nation that is not only diverse in its religious composition (although the overwhelming majority profess some form of Christian faith) but also composed of self-governing men and women who have the common sense not to take offense too readily.

Kennedy continues:

In their declarations in the trial court, respondents (those who filed suit against the Greece council’s permission of sectarian prayer) stated that the prayers gave them offense and made them feel excluded and disrespected.  Offense, however, does not equate to coercion.  Adults often encounter speech that they find disagreeable; and an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront rom the expression of contrary religious views in a legislative forum, especially where, as here (Greece, New York), any member of the public is welcome in turn to offer an invocation reflecting his or her own convictions.

Hear a religious or political comment you don’t like? Justice Kennedy is saying that unless it is personal, disrespectful, or invasive, deal with it: That’s part of being an adult.

Over-dramatization and sensational hand-wringing derive from our media-driven fascination with the morally lurid, even when that luridness is quite isolated.  Consider the responses to the recent repulsive racial comments of Donald Sterling, owner of the Clippers professional basketball team. They were disgusting, but they do not demand an exaggerated inflation of the presence of racism in America.  Commenting on the pervasiveness of racism in light of the Sterling affair, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, “More whites believe in ghosts than they do in racism”.

Put another way, does racism exist?  Sure.  But is it representative or preponderant or something about which to be panicked?  No.  Abdul-Jabbar is calling on his fellow Americans not to get carried away, not to magnify a relative anomaly into a

looming crisis.

In the same way, hearing “Jesus” or “the cross of Christ” in a prayer shouldn’t set peoples’ teeth on edge any more than watching a liberal Democrat opine on network television should upset a conservative Republican: You might disagree with the content, but you shouldn’t try to stifle the right of someone to express a profoundly-held belief or conviction as long as it is expressed with adequate civility and courtesy.

Citing Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, Justice Kenney argues that “the Constitution does not guarantee citizens a right entirely to avoid ideas with which they disagree.”  And as to prayer at public or government-related events, he concludes:

Should nonbelievers choose to exit the room during a prayer they find distasteful, their absence will not stand out as disrespectful or even noteworthy.  And should they remain, their quiet acquiescence will not, in light of our traditions, be interpreted as an agreement with the words or ideas expressed.  Neither choice represents an unconstitutional imposition as to mature adults, who “presumably” are “not readily susceptible to religious indoctrination or peer pressure” (Marsh, 1983).

Justice Kennedy’s ruling is a welcome reminder that some of our fellow citizens just need to grow up.  Whether, in our era of political correctness and ready woundedness, they will or not is a different question.

War on the Pledge: new tactics, but the same tired thinking

by Travis Weber

April 23, 2014

The American Humanist Association (AHA) recently filed suit against the Monmouth County (New Jersey) Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District. The offending action? The school district is following a state law providing that students recite the Pledge of Allegiance each day. The thinking behind this and other suits is the same tired thinking that any such mention of God in a public body violates constitutional protections. Usually some alleged violation of the Establishment Clause is claimed.

Yet here, the AHA and its plaintiffs (who remain anonymous) have alleged that this recitation of the Pledge violates Equal Protection provisions contained in the New Jersey Constitution. No doubt this is an attempt to test a legal pathway for success in knocking the Pledge out of public life. This would be a win for the AHA, which likely cares very little for legal integrity but very much in achieving its goal. Yet the idea that the Pledge discriminates against some students is ridiculous. Students already have the right to refrain from reciting the Pledge. The AHA and its “plaintiffs” in this case want to force everyone else to stop saying it too.

While the AHA identifies itself, the offended student and parents remain unidentified. While reasons for anonymity in litigation vary from case to case, here it is likely they are afraid of the pushback they would receive should they be known as the plaintiffs in this suit. Yet pushback would be understandable, especially when one is the catalyst for a meddling organization to come in from out of state and tell local students and their parents how to live their lives day to day.

Yet the philosophy underlying this and similar claims begs a larger discussion. As courts have interpreted the Establishment Clause to eliminate even relatively minor indicia of religious expression from public life on the grounds that such mention is state “endorsement” of religion, public bodies are left to operate in a philosophical vacuum. Courts have permitted public schools to “endorse” secularism and humanist principles. The result is an “establishment” of a “state philosophy” and orthodoxy of secularism, with the full force of the government and power of law promoting these beliefs.

As a result, the courts have bought into a lie that scrubbing God from public life to “comply” with the Establishment Clause will lead to the ideal result – an even playing field in which no one view is promoted. Yet a philosophical vacuum cannot exist for long. And since indicia of religion are being eliminated from public schools, indicia of alternative belief systems (secularism and humanism) have rushed in to fill the void. The result is that we are indeed left with a state established religion – the “religion” of humanism.

Sight of a Bible Too Controversial for Airmen to Stomach?

by Leanna Baumer

March 31, 2014

The mere sight of a Bible in a public place prompts “controversy and division,” according to commanders at Patrick Air Force Base. To avoid any such upheaval, officials for the 45th Space Wing recently decided to remove a private organization’s memorial display containing a Bible and intended to honor missing soldiers and prisoners of war (a “Missing Man Table”) from a base dining hall.

Of particular irony is the fact that this reversal of a long history of including such memorials in dining halls occurred at the same installation where the Department of Defense’s equal opportunity agency — the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute — is housed. DEOMI is tasked with training military Equal Opportunity (EO) advisers on how to instill respect and tolerance for diverse viewpoints in service members. Apparently, that respect and tolerance isn’t supposed to extend to religious speech or the ability of an organization to recognize the role religious faith has played in the lives of many service members.

That position not only contradicts Supreme Court precedent that condemns the restriction of speech solely because of its message, it also does a disservice to our ability to remember the stories of American war heroes. One such service member is former Alabama Senator and Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton, Jr., a Naval aviator who spent seven years in captivity in Vietnam and who spoke frequently of the role a deep Catholic faith played in carrying him through unspeakable prison camp horrors.

The American public best knows Rear Adm. Denton as the Vietnam captive who blinked T-O-R-T-U-R-E in Morse code, successfully communicating with American intelligence officers regarding camp practices, when forced by his captors to appear on television in 1966. Rear Adm. Denton died just three days ago, a respected veteran and public servant who had inspired many fellow captives to return “home with honor.” Faith played a part in his story, and the story of many other captives. Requiring organizations and individuals to ignore that reality not only violates legal precedent, it hollows out the heritage of many of our war heroes.

Bowdoin College and Religious Bigotry

by Rob Schwarzwalder

February 20, 2014

Bowdoin College, one of America’s elite institutions of higher education, has now “banned a local lawyer and his wife from leading campus Bible studies with students after the couple refused to sign a non-discrimination agreement they say violates their Christian faith.”

For nearly the past ten years the couple, Rob and Sim Gregory, has been volunteers with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF). They have been told they will no longer be welcome on Bowdoin’s campus after May because of their commitment to the Bible’s teaching that sexual intimacy is reserved for a heterosexual couple within the covenant of marriage.

The following excerpt from The Maine Wire explains the story well and succinctly:

For nearly a decade, the Gregorys have been a fixture of Bowdoin’s community and source of counsel and comfort for college-aged Christians. But last year administration officials informed the Gregorys they would be required to sign a non-discrimination agreement in order to continue serving as an advisor to BCF.

If someone’s participating in an organization and they are LGBTIQA [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Questioning, Asexual] and they are not allowed to participate in that organization because of their sexual orientation or they cannot lead that organization because of their sexual orientation, then that’s discrimination,” said Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, according to the Bowdoin Orient.

According to the Orient, Foster said the initiative grew partially as a reaction to the Penn State scandal in 2011 in which assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of multiple counts of child molestation. “One of the things we realized,” Foster told the Orient, “is that we have people on our campus working with students, spending a significant amount of time with students, and we don’t know a lot about a lot of these people.”

Gregory, who runs a Damariscotta-based law firm and is also a minister, had no qualms submitting to a background check. But for him, signing the agreement would constitute a violation of his Christian faith. So he offered a revision to the agreement that would protect his right to teach the historical Christian faith - without Bowdoin’s censorship. Similar religious exemptions have been adopted at other American colleges and universities.

The suggested amendment to the agreement read, in part, as follows: “Reservation of Rights to Religious Beliefs and Practices: The signature on this agreement shall not be construed to limit in any way the right of the undersigned Volunteer to hold, teach and practice his/her sincerely held Christian religious beliefs and to follow, hold, and teach the religious beliefs and practices of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the conduct of its campus ministry at Bowdoin College.”

In a Feb. 5 email obtained by The Maine Wire, Nathan Hintze, associate director of student activities, rejected Gregory’s compromise language.

I’m sorry that you have decided not to agree to the College’s volunteer policy,” said Hintze. “Both the Muslim and Catholic volunteers have in fact agreed without reservation.. It is simply unacceptable to have College-recognized student organizations effectively discriminate against individuals in violation of Maine law, which protects students’ right to fully participate as members of an organization and to lead that organization regardless of one’s sexual orientation.”

The stern, unbending voice of crypto-fascism is all too prevalent in the college’s condescending comments. For Rob Gregory, as quoted in Bowdoin’s student paper, The Orient, the fundamental issue is fidelity to Scripture and to historic Christian teaching: “The Bible teaches that human sexuality is expected to find its fulfillment inside of the twoness of persons and the twoness of genders.”

For this affirmation of biblical teaching on human sexuality, the Gregorys are being forced off the Bowdoin campus.

A friend of mine, who is associated with Bowdoin, sent me the following in a confidential email:

Rob and his wife, Sim, have hosted students countless times at their homes, taken on pro bono an internationally-covered cause to help a Bowdoin student, and spent thousands of dollars to love Bowdoin students out of their love for Christ. I know this firsthand, though Rob doesn’t say this publicly at all. In short, Bowdoin could not be targeting and smearing a better man (and his wife). Rob is gospel-centered, a man of oak, and does all this work (usually 35 hours a week) when he’s not being a high-powered Maine attorney. He and his wife aren’t paid a dime for this! They serve Bowdoin’s students selflessly, and Bowdoin has the temerity to try to crush them.

The historic Judeo-Christian understanding of morally valid human sexual expression is not bigoted, intolerant, or whatever other tired terms-of-political-art its opponents use whenever their social suzerainty in our decomposing age is questioned. And if the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality is true, then there is no ground for compromise with those who insist it not be taught. There is no common ground here, which is scary for anyone who cares about liberty and justice in a self-governing society.

The Gregorys deserve our thanks for their willingness to stand unequivocally “for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:2). They are losing access to the Bowdoin campus in time, but for them, a well-deserved eternal reward awaits. Not a bad trade-off, that.

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