Katie & Briscoe

Katie & Briscoe

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Response to a Comment...

On the night of the Super Bowl, I posted about the absurdity of how the NFL rejected a commercial with a less than overt Christian message, yet offered several items of their own that openly and repeatedly referred to God: Are You Ready for Some Football (and Religion?) To my surprise, I received a comment from someone I do not know and have never heard of who took issue with my views. Here is his comment:
I trust you are not intentionally disparaging our nation's founding principles and religious heritage.

The truth is that church state separation is central to America's founding principles and faith heritage ... in reaction to the theocracies of colonial America, where "Christian" colonies persecuted and even killed citizens who refused to embrace the official state faith or obey the official religious laws.

In 1644, Baptist Roger Williams (persecuted by Massachusetts' "Christian" colonial theocrats, who considered Baptists heretical) called for a "wall of separation" between church and state. Baptists' "wall of separation" would prevent government from interfering with the free exercise of religion, and prevent government from incorporating religion into governance.

Generations of Baptists were persecuted, and shed blood, in the fight (against colonial theocracies) to separate church and state. Their triumph finally came in the enactment of the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, establishing the Baptist vision of a "wall of separation" between church and state.

Deniers of church state separation often respond that the phrase "wall of separation" is not in the U. S. Constitution. Well, neither is the word "Trinity" in the Bible, but most deniers of church state separation probably believe in the Trinity.

More importantly, Christians of the late 18th and early 19th centuries clearly understood that the First Amendment wording - "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" - separated church from state. Their testimony bears much more weight than the fabricated history loved by many modern conservative Christians and politicians.

Make no mistake: denying church state separation mocks our nation's founding principles and faith heritage. Church state separation was good for America in 1791, and it is good for America now. To see the problems of merging church and state, look to the Middle East, where conservative religious law (Sharia Law, based on the biblical Old Testament) rules.

Church state separation is a liberal, and American, moral value of which we all can be proud.

Bruce Gourley
Baptist History & Heritage Society
 I visited his sites and decided to respond to his comment. I had to do so by email, since he provides no way for me to comment publicly on his "Wall of Separation" site. Here is what I said:

Mr. Gourley,
You recently commented on a post I made on my blog: winsomebulldog. While I appreciate your interest in my opinion, I believe you misunderstood the point I was attempting to make. I visited your “Wall of Separation” site and in your “Responding to the Lies” section you write this: “Today, many conservative Christians and politicians falsely claim that separation of church and state does not exist, and that the First Amendment was designed only to protect religious persons from government intrusion, not to prohibit government from favoring or establishing religion.” [emphasis mine] Where, precisely, did I made such a claim within my blog? In fact, I expressly stated that the purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit the government from establishing religion. I said, "All it was ever intended to do was ensure that this nation would never establish a National Church..." I followed this up with a reference to the Church of England, which is in fact the very thing our forefathers were attempting to prevent in this country. I would also like to mention that I find it somewhat lazy of you to avoid addressing my thoughts and words directly and instead simply “cut and paste” the exact words of your website. Apart, of course, from your opening sentence in which you make a thinly veiled suggestion that I am “intentionally disparaging our nation's founding principles and religious heritage.”
I can also cut and paste large groups of words. From your website: Responding to the Lies
And here is a good followup to the argument that goes something like this: “I do believe in separation of church and state, but today the concept is applied to strictly” [Just as an FYI, the word before “strictly” here should be “too,” not “to.”]
Are you in favor of all faiths and no faith – Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, pagans, wiccans, atheists, etc. – equally being allowed to pray (or offer faith-based or non-faith based spiritual or similar commentary) in government-sponsored public settings like public schools, town council meetings, state legislators, Congress, etc.? Or do you think that such public religious roles, in government-sponsored settings, should be reserved for Christians only (or monotheists only)?
Baptists from the 17th century onward insisted that Christians, Muslims, Jews, pagans and atheists should be treated equally. And yes, they advocated for an absolute separation of church and state, as does our U.S. Constitution.
The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution does allow all individual religious persons to express their faith freely as citizens, and prohibits a religious test clause for government service (that is, a person’s faith or lack of faith has no bearing on government service). At the same time, the First Amendment prohibits government from promoting any religion or enacting religious laws.
This is not to say that America (in practice) always adequately separated church and state even in the 19th century, much less today; theocratic tendencies from our colonial era haunted us then, and still do. Religious majorities yesteryear and today, with their powerful influence and righteous certainty, too frequently want governments to enact their own faith-specific agendas.
My guess would be that many Americans today cannot fully grasp the historical context of our nation’s heritage of separation of church and state, apart from living as a person of minority faith, say, in the Middle East.
And I am quite certain that if Christianity were a small, minority sect in America today, the very voices now condemning separation of church and state would, suddenly, be demanding a strict separation of church and state.
Hmm... first of all, I would say that prayer is not “commentary,” whether it be of Christian, Muslim, or any other origin. [Another FYI, Buddhists do not actually pray to any god.] I would suggest that a prayer of protection and guidance, as would likely be submitted at any of the events you have suggested, cannot be compared to “faith-based or non-faith based spiritual or similar commentary.” Commentary is something you and I and countless others do in places like our blogs and websites.
You speak of Baptists insisting that all points of view (whether religious or atheistic) being treated equally. How, pray tell, does any of this have anything at all to do with me suggesting that a commercial with a profoundly muted Christian message was rejected simply because it had any Christian message at all? And how does any of what you’ve said address the fact that the NFL did this in spite of the fact that they allowed multiple other items with an undeniable religious message to be presented in their broadcast? These are the things I was speaking to. I was simply amazed at the blatant duality of their choices.
You may argue that the First Amendment was intended to support a strict separation of church and state all you like. You, like every other American, are certainly entitled to your opinion. I am simply unwilling to ignore the fact that faith in a single God, the Creator of everything, played a pivotal role in the foundation of this nation. The fact of the matter is, we are a nation with a majority of citizens who claim to be Christian. In the Middle East, where Islam is the dominant faith, I cannot imagine any sane person suing the government because they’re offended by hearing prayers of that faith. And I am not talking about the potential danger of doing such a thing in a place where open rejection of Islam can often be grounds for death. I am merely speaking to the fact that in any nation where the majority of citizens practices a specific religion, I would not be offended to hear them pray to whatever deity they choose to follow. I would not be offended by the sounds of Buddhist believers meditating in Korea or China. I would not be offended by the public Hindu shrines placed on public lands throughout India. These are the beliefs of those nations. I feel no need to fight them simply because I do not share them. By the same token, I cannot understand why so many, especially atheists, are so profoundly offended by prayers that they are not forced to take part in. The solution is very simple. Do not listen. Do not take part. If a nativity scene offends you, look away. If you do not believe in The Ten Commandments, don’t read or practice them.
These are exactly what I and every other Christian do when we encounter something we do not believe in. For example, as a Christian I find many of our society’s trends offensive. I am sickened by how often sex is used to sell products, but I have not sued any business because of it. I simply turn off their commercial or look away from their billboard. I am offended by the fact that the distinctly anti-Christian Theory of Evolution is taught as fact in our government-sponsored public schools, yet I have not sued anyone because of it. I find infidelity abhorrent, but I have not sued or boycotted or otherwise thrown a tantrum in an effort to convince the government to regulate the ceaseless television programs broadcast on public television stations that promote this behavior. The list could go on and on.
My point, which you clearly missed, is that our society bends over backwards to avoid stepping on the toes of those who do not share the Christian faith while making an art form out of slapping Christians in the face at every turn.
I will be addressing your comment on my blog. Please feel free to respond to this if you like. However, do so as an individual who does not share my opinion, not a person seeking to promote, and gain donations for, your website.
Jennifer L.
I am open to dialogue. I have no problem debating my beliefs with anyone. But I do take issue with someone trying to use my blog to promote themselves. Mr. Gourley seeks to gain members, support, and donations on his "Baptist History & Heritage" site. He reprinted word for word his text from his other site in his comment. This is unacceptable to me. If you want to debate my views, do so personally, not by rote.


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  3. While the First Amendment undoubtedly was intended to preclude the government from establishing a national religion as you note, that was hardly the limit of its intended scope. The first Congress debated and rejected just such a narrow provision ("no religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed") and ultimately chose the more broadly phrased prohibition now found in the Amendment. In keeping with the Amendment's terms and legislative history and other evidence, e.g., Madison's statements, the courts have wisely interpreted it to restrict the government from taking steps that could establish religion de facto as well as de jure. Were the Amendment interpreted merely to preclude government from enacting a statute formally establishing a state church, the intent of the Amendment could easily be circumvented by Congress and/or the Executive doing all sorts of things to promote this or that religion--stopping just short of a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new church.

    While many founders were Christian of one sort or another, care should be taken not to make too much of the founders’ individual religious beliefs. In assessing the nature of our government, the religiosity of the various founders, while informative, is largely beside the point. Whatever their religions, they drafted a Constitution that plainly establishes a secular government in the sense that it is based on the power of the people (not a deity) and says nothing substantive of god(s) or religion except in the First Amendment where the point is to confirm that each person enjoys religious liberty and that the government is not to take steps to establish religion and another provision precluding any religious test for public office. This is entirely consistent with the fact that some founders professed their religiosity and even their desire that Christianity remain the dominant religious influence in American society. Why? Because religious people who would like to see their religion flourish in society may well believe that separating religion and government will serve that end and, thus, in founding a government they may well intend to keep it separate from religion. It is entirely possible for thoroughly religious folk to found a secular government and keep it separate from religion. That, indeed, is just what the founders did.