Religious Bullies

The anti-theists bullies are at it again picking on small communities that have very little resources to fight them. These groups which include the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Free Thought Society seek to eradicate all references to religion in public forums and government venues including schools, town halls, and city council meetings. They claim to represent the “separation of church and state” as a Constitutional precept but these words are nowhere to be found in the Constitution of the United States of America. In fact, those words were pinned by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association assuring them that there would be no US Church like the Church of England and that they would not be required by the government to teach a certain doctrine so the government would not dictate religious teachings. He also assured them that there would be no speech codes or punishment for speaking out against government policy. This was essential for the freedom of speech. The main thing these organizations misinterpreted is the first statement of the First Amendment.

 

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  (emphasis added)

The first thing we should notice about this amendment is that it is restricted by the language in it to the Congress. It was fully understood that Congress referred to the US House of Representatives and Senate. There is no mention of the states in this amendment which indicates what the states had wanted with the Bill of Rights and that was limited Federal government. The entire Constitution was not about granting rights to the people but rather protecting God-given rights from erosion from the government. Looking at the Constitution in this way is essential to understanding the mindset of the people in 1789. You must remember that they had just won independence from England and there were fears that the new government would become just as bad. They wanted assurance that the natural rights of the people would be protected by the new government. They wanted very limited central federal government that had primarily a few responsibilities that were enumerated in the Constitution. They did not want the oppressive rule of the former to become the current. This was true for religious, speech, and press freedoms where, not only could the press, but the churches could speak out about political issues. The latter of which would be challenged by the IRS.This was also true for the states as they wanted more local input and interaction.

 

The thing that I believe that most Constitutional scholars have wrong if the interpretation of the “establishment clause”. I am not a graduate of a prestigious college specializing in Constitutional law, therefore my analysis is strictly novice in most circles but I believe that this was the same mindset that most people had at the time the amendment was ratified. First you must look at the wording used in the amendment that says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” and we must understand what that means. An establishment in this case is the same as the words we would use today in saying an eating establishment. In other words, we could say that Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment meaning that there should be no law respecting a church. This blows up the conventional understanding of the phrase. This does not mean that churches can’t be involved in government in the fact that they have no say but that government can’t be involved in church activities. This was understood by those in government because before the capitol was built they met in churches in the area. The influence of Christianity and the belief in God were very strong in the newly formed United States so much so that the Ten Commandments are behind the justices of the Supreme Court. This was clear evidence that the leaders wanted Christian principals to lead the new government and that the wall was to keep the government out of church affairs. Atheists today say that the separation of church and state, which is not in the Constitution, means there is no place in government for religious expression including schools and government buildings and that churches should not be politically active at all. If this were true, one would have to renounce their faith to hold public office or work for a government agency and those with religious faith would be barred from speaking out for or against a political issue, that would be unconstitutional.

 

Since the beginning of the US and before the nation had even gained independence, there was a prayer said at the beginning of each congressional session. Prayer was of great importance in the daily lives of the clear majority in the US at the time and the first public school was created by the Puritans in 1635in Massachusetts and taught among reading, writing, and math the values the community held dear, including prayer. Daily prayer was common in public schools as were the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and in some cases reciting the 23 Psalm. While it was not required that you had to believe in God to attend school, it reflected the majority of the community. Madalyn Murray O’Hair has been credited with ending the practice of prayer in school in 1962 it was the cases, Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963)Wikipedia that ushered in the prohibition of prayer in school. Although I understand that not everyone believes in God and that they do not pray but there was no real harm in the issue but that is a conversation for another time. After the eradication of prayer in school, it was not long before anti-theists started to attack all religious expression in all public venues. This would include schools, government buildings, and government owned land and these attacks would be so vicious and well-funded that schools and government agencies would start to infringe on people’s right to free speech.

 

The Freedom from Religion Foundation was formed in 1976 with the mission to “educate” non-theists on their rights and rectify violations. Unfortunately, they believe any exposure to religion is a violation even when it comes from other citizens in a setting on government property. They seem to target low income communities where they would know that there were not many resources to fight their accusations. They targeted graduations where there was a prayer and then started targeting speeches of valedictorians that included references to God, Christ, and the Bible. This has prompted schools to review speeches from private citizens for censorship of anything remotely religious. This is in direct violation of the free speech clause as the valedictorian in a private citizen and their speech is a personal reflection on their lives and is not a “state-sanctioned” endorsement of religion. Among other things this organization has targeted was a large cross in California erected by veterans as a war memorial but because it was on “public” land the FFRF filed lawsuits to have it removed. These foundations have attacked communities during the Christmas season for displays of nativity scenes and other holiday decorations that reflect the traditionally religious nature of the holiday. Most of the time, there is not a complaint from a single resident of the community and the foundation is in Wisconsin but will sue in any state. Most recently, there have been a couple of instances where these organizations have crossed the line in their pursuit of eradicating religion from public view.

 

In Opp, Alabama, they have a tradition of holding a baccalaureate service for graduating seniors on the Sunday before graduation. This service is religious in nature and was held in the auditorium which, according to the FFRF is a big no-no. Commentator Todd Starnes has reported on this situation. Most baccalaureate services are held in churches in the community but some are held at the school if there is not a large enough venue elsewhere. One thing that the FFRF does not acknowledge is the fact attendance to these services are voluntary and those who do not wish to attend are not punished if they abstain. Most baccalaureate services are hosted by a church and are not sponsored by the school although school officials may participate in them. Alabama has a court ruling made in 1991 stating that a school district must “ensure that no other school officials promote, lead, or participate in the service.”  This is akin to saying if you hold an official title, you can’t participate in religious services. This is not what the Constitution means with the “establishment” clause. Secondly, Todd Starnes reported on a high school graduate that was told she could not mention God, Jesus, or pray in her graduation speech because it was against the law. Remember this not a public official, this is a private citizen who is giving a speech to her classmates about her life and memories. She does not represent the school, as some would have you believe, but she represents herself and her speech should reflect her beliefs. She has the First Amendment right to say what she believes even at a government event because she is a citizen of the US. To say that just because you are at a school sponsored or government event that you forfeit your free speech is just what the founders wanted to prevent. Many atheists point to the fact that most schools receive funding from the federal government and that negates religious liberty but if that were applied to all funding then those who receive food stamps would be barred from attending religious services as well.

 

While atheists claim that schools are for education and not proselytizing, schools have started going further in limiting students from reading their Bibles on school property and barring students from meeting to pray together before class. Many schools will not allow religious groups access to the school after hours while allowing other groups, including politically controversial groups access. Teachers have even told students that they are not allowed to share their faith at school due to the “separation of church and state” with one student being suspended. This is a gross miscarriage of the concept of the establishment clause in that it completely ignores the expression clause where individuals can share their faith. It also violates the student’s free speech protection as there are no qualifiers as to when you can have free speech so it is considered always in effect. Freedom of speech should not and must not be limited by your surroundings. You should be able to share your views on religion, politics, or any other topic you like and should not be restricted because you are in a government building or public property. The First Amendment keeps Congress from forcing churches to teach “approved” doctrine but does not keep religion out of public life as it also allows the free exercise of religion even in public venues. Contrary to what atheists’ claim, the US was founded on Christian values of private property, freedom, and individual liberty and God was acknowledged by the founders in almost every document written during that time.

 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s name says it all. They do not want freedom of religion, instead they would like to see religious views relegated to church and nowhere else. They believe that any religious artifact, no matter how significant it is to the history of the country on public property is somehow an endorsement of religion and therefore forces it on the people. One absurd thing they have attacked is a welcome sign that was erected by local churches welcoming people into the town. The atheist organization claims that it sends a message that you are not a favorite citizen if you are not Christian. This is the most ridiculous claim I ever heard. Many of the towns where I live have welcome signs that have been put there by the local Mason’s lodge, does that mean I am not a “favorite citizen” because I am not a Mason? What about welcome signs from local businesses? Am I not favored if I don’t shop at their establishments? Where would this end? Churches welcoming you to their town is not an endorsement of one religion over another or none. If you look at the picture in the article, you will notice that the Kiwanis have their emblem on the sign. Does that mean only members of the Kiwanis are “favorite citizens”? For people who don’t believe in God, the FFRF sure are offended by Him quite easily. Is what the FFRF doing Constitutional? Although they claim atheism is the absence of religious belief, I see atheism as a religious belief because not believing in God is as much a religion as believing especially when you go through great lengths to promote non-belief over belief in the way FFRF does. They claim they want the all government agencies to be neutral on religion but instead push hostility toward it. By pushing non-belief so hard they have proven they are the biggest proselytizers of all time, trying to force their worldview on everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate atheists and everyone is entitled to their beliefs but to go after high school students’ free speech is not cool.

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