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Better Things to Do

Don’t we have anything better to do than this? The ACLU, a group whom I generally support and applaud, is sueing a city in Louisiana over a painting of Jesus that is displayed in its courthouse. As a devout secularist, all I can say, is… C’mon, people! Who the heck cares?!?!

Listen... no one is more for the seperation of church and state than I. The Constitution is bang-on the money when it says the government can't institute a state religion... and I certainly have no time for all the Christian fundamentalists who are out there spouting off about how our nation was founded on Christian values and Christianity is under attack and we should all be Christian and blah blah freaking blah... I do not believe that wishing someone "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" means that you hate Christmas and Christianity. All of this said, what I am about to say may seem rather contradictory, but it is not.

Religion, the christian religion in particular, is deeply woven into the American culture. It has been since the first Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and will likely be for hundreds of years to come. It is a part of our national history. The United States of America is a devoutly religious country, unofficial as it may be.

A painting on a wall, in my opinion, in no way establishes a state religion. The ban on establishing a state religion is the only thing the Constitution has to say on the matter of religion. It does not say we are to be free from religious expression. I think it was Joseph Liebermann who said it best (it may not have been, as it has been a while since I heard this) when he said "The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion." This is a very important distinction.

I also think it could be argued that the painting belongs there from a historical perspective. Here's the thing... Our nation, like it or not (I personally am not a fan, but whatever...) was founded on Christianity. It is true. Massachusetts was a puritain colony... Pennsylvania was Quaker... Maryland was Catholic. This is not to say that you had to be one of those denominations to live there, just that the reason they were founded were for the colonists to be able to practice their religion there. These colonies, and others, were literally founded on religious principals. So religion, the Christian one in particular, is literally an official part of our country's history.

One of the great things about our country is the fact that there is no established state religion. No one will be persecuted by the government for practicing, or not practicing, any kind of religion. This is the way it is and should always be... And having a picture of Jesus Christ, undoubtedly a gigantic historical figure, in no way interferes with these ideals.

Posted by Doug Langworthy at July 6, 2007 3:46 PM
Comments
Comment #225089

I care. My request to have a portrait of Buddha displayed in a courtroom building would be denied. Requests for the Prophet Mohammed to be displayed would also be denied by local residents. Hence, the legal principle is equal and fair application of the law, and that principle is one of the cornerstones of our Constitutional system, and that is no small deal, at all.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 6, 2007 6:13 PM
Comment #225095

David
I agree with you. As a minister I have to say that we cannot favor one religion over another. I guess that is why we have the equal access law.

Posted by: KAP at July 6, 2007 7:31 PM
Comment #225097

I have no problem going forward, no Government building, office, etc. have no religious element whatsover. What is a waste of money, time, and our court system is to spend time getting rid of it, removing it, etc.

And based on these efforts, won’t we eventually want to get rid of “So help me God” when swearing in during a court hearing?

Posted by: Honest at July 6, 2007 7:35 PM
Comment #225100

Honest, I never say “under God” in the pledge of allegiance. Reciting it is voluntary, and no one seems to even notice that I leave those words out. As for testifying under oath, when they ask me, my answer would be “NO”, I don’t swear to that oath. I would then hasten to add that I do solemnly promise to tell the truth. Since this action would not result in a contempt of court citation, it too is voluntary and more folks should exercise that right as far as I am concerned.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 6, 2007 7:52 PM
Comment #225111

David, I hope the court system makes a habit of making that clear to those that must testify. That would show respect for our Secular ideals.

Posted by: Honest at July 6, 2007 10:13 PM
Comment #225115

A father, and his Little League child eagerly anticipated another year of Little League. However, upon arriving to the Big Game, the officials of Little League inform them that participation in baseball is no longer allowed because the committment and dedication they have shown for years on the team has been found to be offensive to some, and their dominance and success in some areas has caused some others to think that Little League, and many of its fans, favor them over all the other players?

The League officials choose to confront them, and they make this ruling out in front of the entire crowd of parents and kids, demonizing the young Little Leaguer as though there was something terribly wrong with the child and the chosen coaching and support of the Father that had been accepted for years and years of Little League. Some, even previous friends, in the crowd begin a steady chant against the Little Leaguer, “NO WAY! He don’t play!!!… NO WAY! He don’t play!!! Growing hatred and vitriol toward the Little Leaguer and his Dad continue to spread throughout all of the other Little Leagues.

The Little Leaguer and his father are shocked with disbelief that they had been so villified in front of all the people even after all the dedication, excitement, and support that they had given to the game. They are hurt, and being kicked even when they are down. Yet they never lose their faith that one day, they will show that the old rules are better than the new rules. Others are angry at the way they have been treated.

In the meantime, the Little Leaguer’s position is given to someone else to display his talents on the field, and his art for the game in the dugouts, at the cheering and admiration of the crowd that had previously chanted “No Way! He don’t play!!! to the Little Leaguer and his Dad.

After decades of having been demonized and excluded from the game, the child has now grown up to see that the rules of the game have changed for the worst. Instead of playing the game with committment and dedication, many have stopped playing the game at all, and have become lazy and apathetic. Instead of playing with respect, dignity, and sportsmanship toward the other players, these rules have been replaced with violence, drugs, and a vehement demonization and physical threats against those who think the previous rules were better, and provided a more peaceful, fun, and wholesome game to watch, and for the kids to play. The purveyors of the new rules continually berate the umpires, the fans, even each other for not being aggressive enough in throwing out the other Little Leaguers who still have faith in the traditional rules of the game…

The now-adult Little Leaguer watches out the window as a group of kids form to start a sandlot baseball game across the street. Every day the kids try to form there now, but can not play because a ruthless neighbor keeps them from enjoying the freedom to play sandlot ball. “You can not participate”, he says, unless you play by my rules! These kids are said to be tired of the new game of hate and violence. They are tired of being beaten and bloodied by the neighbor. They are tired of being beaten and bloodied by those who wish to play by the new rules.

The Little Leaguer thinks that maybe I can go over and teach them the rules that my Dad taught me, and that we once played when our Little League was first starting out. Perhaps, their love for the game will dissolve their fear of the neighbor.

The Little Leaguer binds the neighbor who oppresses the kids. He begins teaching the kids the old rules of the game. Others hear about the high ideals of the now-old Little Leaguer, and flock to the sandlot. They threaten and beat and even shed the blood of the kids who simply wished to play by more peaceful rules. The now-old Little Leaguer is criticized and accused of starting the blood shed. He is ridiculed for having thought that one could teach those who have been raised in the new rules of violence, the old, traditional rules of “his” Little League. They threaten to bring him before the officials of the Little League again. And wish to attempt to ban him from Little League forever. Yet, the Little Leaguer keeps the faith that one day the fans and players will look past their hate and bigotry and see the greatness of the traditional game of baseball.

JD

Posted by: JD at July 6, 2007 10:44 PM
Comment #225123

David, “equal and fair access to the law” first requires it to be established that there is any question of equality, access, or law involved in the first place.

I fail to see how a painting hung in a courthouse lobby constitutes the “law.” If you requested a portrait of Buhdda to be displayed in the courthouse, you probably would be denied, just as you would be denied if you requested any kind of decoration. Personally, I think they should hang up a velvet poster of dogs playing poker—but hey, who listens to me?

If you actually donated such a portrait, however, and whoever was in charge of the decorations decided to hang it in the lobby, so what? Why should or would anyone care? I sure wouldn’t, and the ACLU would be better advised to defend free expression that falls short of establishing a state religion, which seems to be the case here.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at July 6, 2007 11:36 PM
Comment #225129

Loyal Opp, it would be pointless for me to try to help you understand how public tax dollars which pay for the courthouse and everything in it conflicts with one religion’s icon in the courthouse without all the others also represented. All tax payers have an equal right to access to government representation. Which means if one religion has access to its religious icons in publicly paid for buildings, under our Constitution and laws, so do all other religions. To discriminate for and against taxpayers on the basis of religion is is a violation of our laws.

But, it would be pointless for me to make that argument to you, I suspect, so, I won’t bother with the legal subtleties. :-)

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 7, 2007 12:15 AM
Comment #225132

David, in that case I won’t point out (because doing so would be pointless) that the laws and legal precedents which you’re not pointing out (because, after all—what’s the point?) have long established that the mere existence of decorations with religious content in public buildings is no violation of the establishment clause of the United States Constitution.

In any case, we seem to have agreed not to discuss this in any way, so I’m certainly not going to point out that I’m right and you’re wrong. So I won’t.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at July 7, 2007 12:33 AM
Comment #225182

Doug,

When you wrote…

“A painting on a wall, in my opinion, in no way establishes a state religion. The ban on establishing a state religion is the only thing the Constitution has to say on the matter of religion. It does not say we are to be free from religious expression. I think it was Joseph Liebermann who said it best (it may not have been, as it has been a while since I heard this) when he said “The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.” This is a very important distinction.”

…you are dead bang on. There are no laws establishing a state religion, therefore a painting of Jesus does not constitute “state sponsored religion”.

In fact, if I were to appear in court, I would WANT a painting of Jesus or Budda or SOME religious figure on the wall. It would instill in me some confidnece in fairness, justice and mercy within the building.


David,

When you wrote…

“Loyal Opp, it would be pointless for me to try to help you understand how public tax dollars which pay for the courthouse and everything in it conflicts with one religion’s icon in the courthouse without all the others also represented. All tax payers have an equal right to access to government representation. Which means if one religion has access to its religious icons in publicly paid for buildings, under our Constitution and laws, so do all other religions.”

…did you mean that you’d gladly give your tax dollars to have all our currency enlarged to 2 feet by 3 feet so that we could include “In Budda We Trust” and “In Allah We Trust” and “In Nobody We Trust”, etc., et al?

Look, I’m very willing to oppose ANY law mandating religion or denying our freedom of worship. I’m all FOR putting a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn for Christmas…and a star of David for Rosh Hashanah…and a crescent moon for Ramadan…I’m even FOR someone putting a sign there that says, “There is no God”. I’m FOR any other symbol that someone wants, because that property belongs to the public. ALL the public. That’s OUR property. We OWN that property.

My take on the Constitution is that to deny someone the freedom of expression of their religion (or lack thereof) is in direct violation of that very Constitution.

Posted by: Jim T at July 7, 2007 2:38 PM
Comment #225219

Maybe a little late for this, but I served jury duty around three years ago, and we were all given the option to be “affirmed” rather than “sworn”. When a group of us were called for selection, one elderly man (who was clearly trying eveything to get out of serving) said he had a problem being sworn in, so he was offered to be affirmed, and he took it. I took the offer also, out of curiosity. [I’m probably mostly agnostic, but I beleive in spirits and aliens.]

Went something like this: “Raise your right hand… do you affirm, under penalty of perjury, to tell only the truth during any and all testimony” … or some such line. “Yes” is the expected response.

Anyway, I can certainly see David’s point, but I’ll have to agree with Doug on the whole importance thing. From what I hear, the ACLU has agents roving around, touring courthouses, searching for religous items like this in public places. I suppose that’s understandable if your in the business of national controversy.

Posted by: wtc7 at July 7, 2007 6:27 PM
Comment #225235

Jim T. You are emphasizing the wrong word when you say: “We OWN that property.”

The emphasis needs to be on WE. YOU Don’t own the courthouse. I don’t own the courthouse. The collective WE of the taxing authority community own the courthouse. And that is the point. You, nor I, nor any person has the right to put a religious icon on the collective people’s courthouse. That courthouse is to serve the law for us all. Not the religion of one or many. Put up the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Bill of Rights in the courthouse. That would be far more appropriate, within the bounds of the law and Constitution, and would give no one a rational point of dissent or debate.

Also, we must deal with the facts. All religions were not represented in that courthouse, only one. The law deals with the facts, not hypotheticals.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 7, 2007 7:42 PM
Comment #225237

Jim T., are you arguing that brain surgeon has the right to pray in the middle of surgery. How about an Muslim pilot leaving the wheel of the jet for afternoon prayer observance? How about a cop in the middle of a gun fight to protect children? There are a host of instances where exercising the freedom of religious expression would constitution dereliction of duty if not outright manslaughter.

Is it appropriate to paint the face of Jesus in the bottom of a urinal? How, on bags of manure? Can you imagine the uproar. Place and time. There is an appropriate place and time for religious observance, just as we build courthouses as appropriate places for discovering truth and deliberating guilt or innocence among a host of other legal activities.

Everyone has the right to pray silently in a public venue regardless of that venue. That should be sufficient. For those for whom it is not, the reason is clear, they intend to impose their religious visibility on others who choose not see it. That is not a passive act. That is a forcible act of religious imposition. Freedom of religion in our Constitution INCLUDES freedom from having others impose their religious icons, text, teachings, and values in our face.

The day that changes is the day the courts will back Muslims or Hindus pushing their religious items in our face wherever we go as the religious war for advertising space gets truly creative. Best to leave the Constitution’s verbage and interpretations on this issue just the way they are lest one or another religious group open a pandora’s box they will regret for decades if not centuries as is now seen between Pakistan and India or inside Iraq.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 7, 2007 7:54 PM
Comment #225261

Is it appropriate to paint the face of Jesus in the bottom of a urinal? How, on bags of manure?
Posted by: David R. Remer at July 7, 2007 07:54 PM

I can assure you David, if someone wished to do this, the ACLU would certainly defend their First Amendment right to do so!

JD

Posted by: JD at July 7, 2007 11:42 PM
Comment #225275
Jim T., are you arguing that brain surgeon has the right to pray in the middle of surgery. How about an Muslim pilot leaving the wheel of the jet for afternoon prayer observance? How about a cop in the middle of a gun fight to protect children? There are a host of instances where exercising the freedom of religious expression would constitution dereliction of duty if not outright manslaughter.

Those examples are total red herrings. None of the freedoms guaranteed by the US Constitution are so absolute that you can practice them at any time under any circumstances without danger of being fired or otherwise punished. The Second Amendment doesn’t mean that kindergarten teachers can shoot at targets in their classrooms over the heads of their students, and the First Amendment doesn’t mean that you can’t be fired for spending your entire workday giving political speeches to your coworkers instead of sitting down at your desk and doing your job.

When David states an opinion, he calls it “the law,” and he’s entitled to his opinions about what the laws should be, but not about what the laws actually are. Fact is that again and again, the Supreme Court has determined that displaying religious symbols is not a violation of the establishment clause. It’s a simple fact, and you can’t just keep saying that your opinions are the law when they are actually not. Well, I guess you can actually say anything you want to, but that doesn’t make you right when your demonstrably wrong.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at July 8, 2007 1:23 AM
Comment #225291

Loyal Opposition,

It depends upon context. In cases in which areas were available to any group, groups can set up religious displays. In addition, displays that have a secular purpose, such as memorializing state history, can also be permissible.

Sometimes governments in fear of violating the Establishment Clause go too far, are too restrictive. Many of the religious cases in which the ACLU is involved are concerned with defending a group’s rights to put up religious displays on government property. As long as there is equal access or a secular purpose is being served, religious displays are ok. In practice, that means sometimes you can display law codes such as the Ten Commandments and sometimes you cannot. I know that can be confusing; sometimes governments err on the side of caution.

What is not ok is for the state to use its power to propagate the religion of one particular group.

One recent case in which I disagreed with a court’s ruling had to do with a valedictorian using her speech to credit God for her success. I felt that because the speaker was selected on objective grounds — that is, she had the best grades of her class — that she could make a speech containing a religious message. (There was no policy in place against religious messages in general.) As long as she was free to speak on any religion, I thought she should have been permitted to say what she wanted. (In fact, her mike was cut off and she continued without a loudspeaker.) Just my opinion.

Anyway, LO, you are correct that some religious displays are just fine. The ACLU has handled many cases supporting rights to display religious symbols on state property. It all depends upon context. I think the ACLU is probably right in the present case. Unless other religious groups have equal access to the walls of the courthouse in Louisiana, then it probably is a violation of the Establishment Clause, unless, that is, some clear secular purpose is being served.

Posted by: Gerrold at July 8, 2007 9:59 AM
Comment #225303

David Remer wrote:

Everyone has the right to pray silently in a public venue regardless of that venue. That should be sufficient. For those for whom it is not, the reason is clear, they intend to impose their religious visibility on others who choose not see it. That is not a passive act. That is a forcible act of religious imposition. Freedom of religion in our Constitution INCLUDES freedom from having others impose their religious icons, text, teachings, and values in our face.

Very well said! This is it in a nutshell.

Posted by: Adrienne at July 8, 2007 12:17 PM
Comment #226628

David,

So now you are the judge of whether someone should pray silently or out loud. Are you not then censoring the speech of the individual. If I wished to pray for someone else in public (out loud), so that this person would know the extent of my concern, and fervency of my prayer, for him, and you just happened to be walking by, would that be an imposition on you? Or, would you be imposing your animosity (toward us), upon us by forbidding me to pray out loud, even though my friend may have appreciated my sincerity and kindness?

I get it, David, go ahead and pray, just keep your trap shut, right?

JD

Posted by: JD at July 16, 2007 11:34 PM
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