Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Care about Boston; care about the world

Certainly everyone reading this knows about the horrific bombing in Boston on Monday that, as of this writing, left three dead and injured more than 100 others. This attack rightfully captures our attention and inspires our prayers and our concern. And there are some other things that happened in recent days that perhaps also broke our hearts.

Did you hear about the 16,000 children that died unnecessarily yesterday? They died of hunger related causes even though there is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone.  

A bombing of a bus in Pakistan killed 8 people. A suicide bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia killed 29 people in a court complex. Nine children were among the 15 killed in a bombing of Aleppo, Syria. Ten people have been killed in recent days in clashes between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. A boat carrying Afghan refugees sank killing 5, but 53 others are missing and feared dead. 

Don't get me wrong; we should pay close attention to what happened in Boston. Our hearts should ache for the dead, for the injured,  and for the hatred or sickness or whatever that led to this act of violence. We should pray for those who are grieving and those who are injured in the wake of this bombing.

I understand completely why an act of terror close to home grips us more than violence and tragedy elsewhere. My question is do we really care at all about killings and catastrophes in other places? Do we make any real effort to pay attention to the daily news of the senseless killing and regular tragedies in other countries? Does God's compassion stop with the borders of this country? Should ours?   

Thursday, April 4, 2013

NC lawmakers seek to set up a state religion (part 2)

Yesterday I wrote about NC House Bill 494 that seeks to open the door to a state establishment of religion in this state. Using a feature from the earthly ministry of Jesus I showed that Jesus established a separateness between his mission and government. Now I would like to respond to some comments of the sponsors of the bill published in an article in the Raleigh News and Observer.

Carl Ford and Harry Warren, the Rowan County Representatives who filed the bill, say that they have no intention of setting up a state church. They want to support Rowan County Commissioners in a legal battle with the American Civil Liberties Union about the regular use of specifically Christian prayers to open their meetings. While the motivation behind the bill may be to allow such prayers the actual language of the legislation goes much further. The measure states that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution "does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion" and that North Carolina does not recognize federal court rulings that regulate or prohibit the state or any political entities within the state from "making laws respecting an establishment of religion."  

So these two State Representatives and the eleven others who have signed on as sponsors may only wish to support Christian prayers at County Commissioner meetings, but the language of the bill clearly expresses support for a state establishment of religion.

However, the language of the legislation would have to go that far in order to accomplish the aim regarding Christian prayers at government meetings. The framers of the Bill of Rights clearly understood the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to express strict separation of church and state.   

One year after Congress approved the Bill of Rights, in the discussion concerning the census bill, James Madison explained why he did not include on the census a question concerning the occupations of citizens. He was concerned about listing religious professionals. Madison did not think it proper to list members of the clergy because “the general government is proscribed from interfering, in any manner whatever, in matters respecting religion; and it may be thought to do this, in ascertaining who [are] and who are not ministers of the gospel." No member of Congress disagreed with Madison's reasoning.

So the actual framers of the Bill of Rights believed its language to prevent the government from asking citizens what they do for a living because the question would have to be posed to ministers which was not allowed because the government was not to touch religion "in any manner whatever." This is obviously an expression of strict separation between church and state, and this is the interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by the the body that adopted it.

However, the sponsors of NC House Bill 494 say that the First Amendment does not apply to states. The problem with this thinking is that a series of Supreme Court rulings in the 1920s interprets a portion of the Fourteenth Amendment to mean that the First Amendment is enforceable against state governments. But the NC bill in question says that it does not recognize such court rulings. The problem with this thinking is that anyone with two grains of sense knows the the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the law in this nation.

But what about the root cause of this lousy bill: prayer at County Commissioner meetings. Whatever you may think about that issue the solution proposed by the Rowan County Reps is way over the top. Yet, is public prayer at government meetings really a wise move?

Are Muslims allowed to lead prayers in Allah's name at County Commissioner meetings in Rowan County or any other county? Are members of any other religious faith other than Christians allowed to lead such prayers? What about those of no faith at all, how are they to participate in these prayers? I don't know the answers to these questions--I'm just asking.

The response of those who would support only Christian prayers in government meetings might be that the overwhelming majority of the citizens in their area claim to be Christians so it is appropriate that only Christian prayers be offered. The problem with this reasoning is that religious liberty is a fundamental right for all and if that right does not extend to everyone then everyone is not free.  The driving force, really, behind the religion clauses of the First Amendment was oppression of religious minorities in this land. 

Baptists in particular were severely persecuted as a religious minority in Virginia from about 1760 to 1780. In practicing their faith they were beaten, jailed, and fined by other Christians when church and state were united there. In response Baptists and others said that church and state should be separate in order that the government would not infringe on the rights of conscience of anyone, including those belonging to religious groups that were not in the majority and those claiming no religious faith at all. 

Many would say that religious freedom is best preserved by keeping government out of religion entirely, including public prayer at government meetings. But Christians who want for this to remain a truly free country and who desire prayer in government meetings must make the practice free and fair for all faith groups and for those of no faith, including those in the minority. And I'm wondering how that can be accomplished in a manner that guards the fundamental right of religious liberty for all. 


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

NC lawmakers seek to set up a state religion

My oldest daughter sent me a text message saying there is an effort underway in the North Carolina legislature to create a state establishment of religion in this state. She knows my passion for church-state separation so I figured this was the opening to some joke, but she assured me that she was serious. I poked around online and discovered that she is right.

According to one article, House Bill 494, filed by Rowan County Representatives Harry Warren and Carl Ford includes this language:

"The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion ... The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion."

Eleven other House members have signed on as sponsors including Majority Leader Edgar Starnes. I have no idea what chance of passage this bill has, but I hope it's zilch. It is disturbing enough  that at least 13 legislators of this state would support such an embarrassing, stupid, and appalling bill. 

I've had trouble with the government of this state losing tax documents that my accountant mailed (fortunately using certified mail). If the government can't keep track of my tax documents, Lord knows I don't want the government messing around in my religion or that of anyone else.

There are so many angles from which to underscore the utter idiocy of this bill. It would be easy to start listing the long trail of blood left in history by state establishments of religion. But, for the moment, I'll stick to an application of one feature from the earthly ministry of Jesus. 

The devil offered Jesus the power of the governments of the world to accomplish his mission and Jesus rejected the offer for what it was: a temptation of Satan. Thus Jesus established a pattern of separateness between his mission and government. He died not with the sword of government in his hand but with the spear of government in his side.

Would that the 13 lawmakers sponsoring this bill would apply this wisdom of Christ by keeping government and religion institutionally separate.