Debate Forum 12/22/15

Of God and government

By Tim Walker

Recent polls state that 83 percent of Americans self-identify as Christians.
God is everywhere, they say, and they may be right—you can’t pick up the newspaper these days, it seems, without seeing His (or her) name. Oklahoma state officials voted recently to remove a massive Ten Commandments monument from the grounds of the state capitol to comply with a court order. Following months of intense debate, the Capitol Preservation Commission, which manages the placement of artwork on public property in the state, voted 7-1 to remove the one-ton granite statue. The monument—a six-feet-tall, three-feet-wide slab of stone shaped like two tablets—was installed in November 2012, three years after a bill authorizing it was passed by the state legislature and
signed into law by then-Gov. Brad Henry, and was paid for with private funds.
Saying that the monument violated the idea of separation of church and state, three plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union brought suit challenging its placement on state property. Oklahoma’s Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the suit, and ordered the removal of the monument, stating that it indirectly benefited the Jewish and Christian faiths.
Similarly, in Stone County, Missouri, Sheriff Doug Rader has been criticized for recently placing bumper stickers reading “In God We Trust” on the backs of the county’s patrol cars. Rader said on Facebook on July 21 that the decals were appropriate because “In God We Trust” became the national motto in 1956 and is on all U.S. currency. “There has been no better time than now to proudly display our National Motto!” the sheriff wrote. Opponents, again citing the need for separation of church and state, complained publicly about the sheriff’s actions.
Other recent news events have further blurred the idea of religion being separate from American government. From county clerk Kim Davis making headlines for citing her personal beliefs while refusing to marry homosexual couples, to a recent United States visit by Pope Francis in which His Holiness was courted by the Washington political elite, to the Republican presidential campaign trail where religious values are repeatedly brought up in attempts to attract Christian voter support, God—and his presence in public life—is in the news, and this idea makes some citizens uncomfortable.
Proponents of Christian ideals state that God has always had a place in our public policy, and that including religious displays or sayings on government property is no different than having “In God We Trust” on the dollar bill. They say that this country was founded on Christian principles by our godly Founding Fathers, and they argue that the idea of “separation of church and state” can be found nowhere in our nation’s Constitution. Liberal organizations like the ACLU, they say, have taken the concept to a ridiculous extreme.
Opponents—those in favor of the complete and total separation of church and state—cite freethinkers dating back to Thomas Jefferson and English philosopher John Locke. They point out that this nation was founded on the idea that religion has no place in government—that our laws were based on that principle by people fleeing England, where the government and the Church of England are bound together.
Religious displays on public property, they argue, unfairly disenfranchise millions of non-Christian American citizens.
Should displays such as the Ten Commandments be removed from public buildings? Are crosses and Christmas decorations in government offices an insult to non-Christian Americans? Has the Supreme Court, along with the ACLU, gone too far in trying to remove all trace of religion from public property?
Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their 2 children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts.

Keep your religious icons to yourself

By Brad Sarchet

The answer to this question? Absolutely. The crux of the issue, however, is, is the separation of church and state an important or necessary principle for the governing body of a free and democratic society? I contend that it is.
One doesn’t need to look far to find the incredible injustice and limits to personal freedom where the church and state are intertwined. Case in point: Afghanistan, which is about 99.8 percent Muslim.
Combining church and state also clearly hinders freedom of religion, which is guaranteed to all U.S. citizens in the First Amendment. The Founding Fathers undoubtedly included this as an important freedom as they reflected on several hundred years of having church and state combined in England due to King Henry VIII’s political (and marital) agenda. In 1533 King Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church as a way to finagle a marriage with Anne Boleyn and was excommunicated by the Pope for his efforts. His answer to this was to denounce Catholicism and brand himself as the new head of the Church of England. Thus began the reformation and the established connection between the church and state of England. The rest, as they say, is history. And that history was religious intolerance in the extreme, where people were tortured and beheaded for religious beliefs that conflicted with the state. King Henry even had his greatest mentor, Sir Thomas More, executed for refusing to turn from Catholicism to his new religion, Protestantism.
Not long after King Henry’s religious coup, the English philosopher and thinker John Locke was born in 1632. Locke witnessed firsthand the hindrance to personal freedom that resulted from an enforced state religion and argued strongly, and convincingly, for religious tolerance. Locke stated three arguments for the separation of church and state which are, roughly, 1) Human beings are in no position to evaluate claims of competing religions to determine which one is “correct” and should be the accepted/enforced religion. 2) Belief cannot be forced by violence, so trying to push everyone into the state-accepted religion would simply not work; and 3) Forcing religious consensus would actually lead to more social problems than permitting the freedom of religion. The Founding Fathers were clearly following Locke’s lead when thinking about and writing the U.S. Constitution.
We should also separate statements regarding what IS the case from what OUGHT to be the case. It certainly IS the case that our currency states “In God We Trust,” but this is not an argument that this SHOULD be the case. I would argue that this in itself combines church and state in an inappropriate manner and should be changed. In whose God are we supposed to trust? There are many versions of god that I certainly would not trust! The debate center also claims that “83 percent of Americans self-identify as Christians.” So? The same percent of Americans may self-identify as heterosexual, and great strides are currently being made to remove that issue from the individual freedoms to get married, raise children, share employee benefits, etc. Religion should be treated the same way—and the religious beliefs of any group should not be forced on the rest of a democratic society by combining those beliefs with political decisions and government structures.
The fact that God is in the news is also not grounds for combining church and state. The U.S. did indeed recently welcome Pope Francis, as we absolutely should have done. The Pope is a very important figure and by all accounts an excellent and progressive Pope. I would be surprised and upset if the U.S. didn’t welcome His Holiness with open arms and great respect, and I would be equally upset if we didn’t welcome the Dali Lama. But this has nothing to do with welcoming the religious beliefs of either man into the politics of my government.
Regarding Christmas trees or Menorahs in the offices of state employees, I would raise the distinction between personal freedom/personal space and public space. Placing a cross or Christmas tree in one’s office is granting that person the individual freedom to express him/herself within their own personal space. This is very different from a one-ton statue on the front lawn of a government building that seems imply that the state is advocating for that specific set of beliefs.
In the end, I believe that everyone has the right to their own personal choices and beliefs, and a political candidate is clearly free to express his/her beliefs, but those beliefs should not make their way into political decisions that will affect MY life and well-being.

Brad Sarchet, Ph.D., has advanced degrees in philosophy and physiology and is currently a biology professor at a local university. He is interested in the philosophy of science and animal physiology. He’s also an old hippy and Dead Head. Reach him at BradSarchet@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Wanted: Judeo-Christian morality

By Mike Snead

The appropriate starting point is to establish definitions for the following commonly used terms: “Secular progressive” refers to a “non-religious person or organization that promotes and supports liberal change and reform” (Yourdictionary.com). “Liberalism” is a “political doctrine that takes protecting and enhancing the freedom of the individual to be the central problem of politics” (Britannica.com). “Anarchy” is “political and social disorder due to the absence of government control” (Dictionary.com).
Grassroots Americans reject the secular progressive movement because it fundamentally has no acceptable moral code and without a social moral code, there is anarchy. Recall what happened in Baltimore this past summer. The secular progressive mayor acknowledged she permitted anarchy in her city when she said, “we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.” Looting and destruction quickly took place because, for a time, law enforcement was intentionally abandoned. The fact that the mayor is still in office speaks to the broad political corruption in that community, and the general immorality of secular progressives who call themselves liberals.
What secular progressives fear is being morally judged because when they act without moral conscience, as the Baltimore mayor did, their lack of personal honesty and good character is plain to see and easy to publicly criticize. Thus, to hide their wrongdoing they seek to silence the public voices exposing their wrongdoing and their personal immorality. The public voice they seek to silence is that of grassroots Americans adhering to our long-cherished national moral code of honesty and good character based on Judeo-Christian religious teachings. Remember the historic fable of the young six-year-old George Washington chopping down the cherry tree and saying, “I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet.” The undeniable honesty and good character of George Washington were instrumental in the creation of the United States. This fable, used to teach morality to young Americans for generations, acknowledged that Washington, in war and as our first president, led this nation by adhering to Judeo-Christian moral teachings. Now, youths in major urban areas are being taught that lawlessness and rioting are moral tools of social justice. In what liberal’s utopia of peace, love, and tolerance is this desired?
To silence criticisms of their failed moral character, secular progressives are working hard to push grassroots Americans’ public Judeo-Christian morality out of the public square of political debate. They decry any mention of Judeo-Christian morality as an attack on the freedom of the individual. Their current intense defense of abortion on demand is a clear example. Recently, 177 secular progressive politicians in the U.S. House of Representatives voted against a new bill to stop infanticide—the intentional killing of born-alive babies that have been “check-marked” on the mother’s medical permission form to be killed. Infanticide is the ultimate expression of what secular progressives view as their “freedom of the individual” moral code. What moral person approves of infanticide?
The U.S. constitution has the very important first amendment that is germane to this topic. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The establishment clause, as the first phrase is called, prevents the formation of a national (Christian) church as was then common in many European nations. (At that time, almost all Americans were Christian.) The purpose of the establishment clause was to protect the religious liberty contained in the following phrase, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” A religious follower could not have the liberty to live their lives according to their religion’s teachings if they are coerced into joining a single national church or living according to certain religion’s teachings. The establishment clause builds a wall between the federal government and the formation of a national church or the preference for one religion over others; nothing else. Hence, having no national church or preferred religion, the establishment clause should be moot.
Secular progressives are arguing that the establishment clause extends to banishing Judeo-Christian morality. Their argument is that the mere expression of Judeo-Christian morality constitutes a “national religion”—an absurd conclusion—and, thus, must be banned from legal and political discussions. In fact, what the religious liberty clause does is reinforce the importance of bringing Judeo-Christian morality into these discussions. To understand why this is the case, just read the rest of the first amendment: “or abridging the freedom of speech; or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assembly, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Why would the authors insert religious liberty, with its clear Judeo-Christian moral influence, into the same statement with these other cherished liberties if these moral teachings were not considered vital to their constructive exercise? Were they seeking to protect an unchallenged right to lie in the public square as a means of enhancing public discourse? Obviously, they thought (and by virtue of this amendment, made lawful) that Judeo-Christian morality, encouraged by religious liberty, has an important place in the public square to counter those that lie.
The promotion of anarchy by the secular progressive Baltimore mayor as a tool of political domination and the immoral vote of secular progressive politicians supporting infanticide show that a forceful expression of grassroots Judeo-Christian morality in the public square is now as important as it ever was. We are the public voice opposing anarchy, social justice by mob rule, and abhorrent secular progressive liberalism.

Mike Snead is a professional aerospace engineer focused on advanced human spaceflight and energy systems. You can reach him at MikeSnead@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Tim Walker
Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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