Unspun Logo

“Let’s Get This Straight”

Posted by Rick · August 17th, 2003 · 7 Comments

That’s what Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said to a mob that gathered to support his flouting federal law and a court order.

What exactly are we supposed to get straight? “It’s about the acknowledgement of G-d.”

On TechStop™, a law blog I maintain, I went into great detail, examining case histories as far back as the 1800s to show what the law says—and give some understanding of why it says it—concerning the separation of church and state. In that post, I examined the Lemon criteria for determining when the line is crossed. And the primary way in which that line is crossed is when an act is performed in a way that makes it a governmental endorsement of G-d.

Please read this carefully; this is where a lot of the heat over this controversy is generated:

There is nothing in the concept of separation of church and state that constitutes an attack upon either G-d generally, or of Christianity in particular.

The divisions and arguments in our society over this come about because of the inability by some to accept that there is a time and place for everything. And a belief that there is a time and place for everything does not require a belief that limiting when and where certain things may happen is equivalent to an attack upon those things. This is the same with expressions of religious belief as it is of anything else.

For example, when at work, if I stop the programmers from going out for a three-hour game of baseball at the start of the work-day, there is nothing in that which indicates that I hate baseball. It doesn’t mean the programmers may never play baseball. In other words, it doesn’t mean I want to completely abolish baseball. In fact, I can forbid the programmers to play baseball during regular business hours even if I fervently love baseball and enjoy playing it myself!

If, as a parent, I tell my children, “No ice cream before dinner,” this does not mean that I don’t want the kids ever to have ice cream. It doesn’t mean I want to put ice cream makers out of business. In fact, I can forbid the children to have ice cream before dinner even if I utterly delight in the joy it brings me to see children enjoy a good bowl of ice cream!

Similarly, if I were a christian, I could “Love the L-rd [my] G-d with all [my] heart and with all [my] soul and with all [my] mind” and still forbid governmentally-sponsored, -endorsed or -funded displays “acknowledging G-d.” (See Matthew 22:37.) Forbidding a monument to the Ten Commandments inside a government building does not mean that no one can ever read the Ten Commandments. It doesn’t mean I want to completely abolish the Ten Commandments. (It doesn’t even mean I want to remove G-d from the lives of the people.) In fact, I can forbid a governmentally-sponsored, -endorsed, or -funded monument to the Ten Commandments—or any other idol, for that matter—even if I fervently love the Ten Commandments and the G-d they represent and delight in following them!

What appears to be happening here is that some followers of a particular god have decided that they will force everyone else to accept living in a society where all civil functions and properties are adorned with symbols and reminders of that particular god.

These people, who identify themselves are christians, appear to believe that we should not allow laws to control what we may and may not do in relation to the rest of the society in which we live.

What else can be the meaning when Jerry Falwell says (according to a story from the Associated Press published in my local paper) that Moore is right to defy the federal authorities if he believes he is obeying G-d.

Do we really want to live in that kind of society? Do we forget that there was a time when it was believed to be the law of G-d that “the races be kept separate” and anyone who defied this law was summarily lynched? Do we forget that there was a time when it was believed that by law of G-d, women were inferior and subservient to men? (There are still people who believe these things today. Interestingly, they are often, though not always, the same people who insist on doing away with the separation of church and state.)

Again, I tell you:

There is nothing about the separation of church and state that is anti-god.

It is entirely possible to keep gods of all sorts out of places where we, the people, come for the administration of Justice and Law without saying, “All gods must be abolished, including the one followed by the christians.” To say “you cannot erect monuments to religion in governmental spaces with or without governmental monies” does not mean “you cannot believe in G-d; you cannot follow your religion.” It is entirely possible to worship your god without doing it by placing monuments to things he reportedly said inside the rotunda of a government building.

Remember—whether we want to believe that this was originally a homogenous christian nation or not—we are not a homogenous christian nation today. We are a multi-cultural society, filled with people who have different religious beliefs.

Evelyn Bradley, 73, of Norwalk, California states that

[S]he made the trip [to the mob rallying against the federal court order] because “the Ten Commandments is the most precious and most important thing in my life right now” and “[n]o judge has the right to tell us we can’t post them.” – See The Fresno Bee, August 17, 2003, p. A4, paper edition.

And Bravo! for Evelyn, but will she say the same thing about posting “The Witch’s Creed“? Will she accept a monument to the commandments of Heitsi-Eibib in the rotunda of the courthouse?

Somehow, I doubt it.

In fact, I’ll bet she would fight tooth-and-nail to keep it out. And I’ll bet that she&#8212and others like her—would like to see witches, their creed, Heitsi-Eibib and all other African gods as well as their followers disappear from the face of the earth. In fact, I’ll bet that she—and others like her—would not support a monument to any other gods except the christian god in a government building, with or without governmental funds used to support it, or anywhere else for that matter!

Evelyn, Judge Moore, and Jerry Falwell, I’m with you on keeping these other monuments out of governmental buildings.

In fact, I say we ought not to support a monument to any god at all within a governmental building.

There is a time and a place for everything.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go pray that Melekh Ha’Olam will not display himself in the courthouse, but rather, will show in my life.

Books On This Topic

Categories: Religion


7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Steve Malm // Aug 17, 2003 at 8:07 pm

    Rick, the argument that there’s a time and place for everything is pretty weak, ole buddy. The real reason for the separation of church and state is the idea that endorsement of any one clan’s idea of God is mutually exclusive to the idea of freedom. That’s the key, pal, and, as you well know, it’s based upon lessons of years of religious persecution in Europe at the hands of “right thinking” governments.

  • 2 Winkola // Aug 17, 2003 at 9:16 pm

    Although you’re correct, apparently you’ve missed the point of people like Judge Moore.

    Their claim is that the way the separation of church and state is enforced these days is, well, ungodly. They believe there’s an actual conspiracy of the unwashed heathen to get rid of their god.

    In their opinion, your argument would be the weak one, because to their way of thinking, there is no justification for not allowing their god to be acknowledged in our courtrooms and our legislatively-passed laws. To do so, they believe, is to abolish their god from our lives.

    Years of watching the news should convince you that the common sense argument that endorsing their god (especially since they oppose endorsing any others) is *wrong* doesn’t make a lot of headway.

    Also, it appears you only read part of my post. (Perhaps you read the whole thing and I was just too subtle in my argument?) I pointed out that there was a problem with government endorsement of one clan’s god, as you put it, and asked what would happen if someone suggested endorsing a different clan. The (what I didn’t actually think was very subtle) point of that was that one very good reason for disallowing the government endorsement of any one clan’s god (again using your terms) is that the government cannot endorse one that everyone would agree on, because not everyone worships the same god.

    Which argument is the weaker will depend, to some extent, on which point is being addressed. If the point being argued is whether there is any place for gods in the lives of citizens of a free country, then the idea that government shouldn’t endorse gods doesn’t always fly. After all, the Romans did pretty well by endorsing virtually everyone’s god.

    And, too, the United States government isn’t actually godless: Our god is money and the ultimate destruction of anything that stands in the way of the ruling class’ acquisition of it.

    Problem is, we can’t find a good way to get THAT god out of government…

  • 3 Steve Malm // Aug 17, 2003 at 9:31 pm

    When you approach the issue with an eye to change minds, it’s best, I believe, to change minds by creating a little cognitive dissonance in the reader. The idea that our America stands for “freedom,” cherished by fundamentalists, is not readily juxtaposed amid a government that endorses one version of god. The two concepts are in conflict. Your argument that “to everything a purpose and a place under Heaven,” although an interesting parody, says little about WHY the place for religion under “heaven” is not government.

    The answer to that question is that the framers chose in their experience to value freedom above all else as the pathway to truth, whatever one may conceive that to be. How else might one attain the “pursuit of happiness” if one was pursuing a contrary, government-sanctioned god? This idea is key.

  • 4 Winkola // Aug 17, 2003 at 10:08 pm

    I hope you realize we aren’t in disagreement over the points you’re making about why religion in government is wrong. It’s my thinking that I said as much in the original post, which contained TWO arguments.

    The first point was an attempt to address the oft-repeated incorrect argument that attempts to keep church and state separate are attempts by the godless to get rid of the christian god. The reason I started by addressing that argument is because that is specifically what Judge Moore and his supporters are worked up about. They appear to believe that we, the people, who wish to form a more perfect GOVERNMENT are trying to kill god.

    My first point was that anyone who believes this is simply misguided. As I said, there is nothing in a staunch defense of the separation of church and state that is anti-god. Nothing. By recognizing that refusal to allow government endorsement of religion is not anti-god, a lot of gas is let out of the balloon of those who favor the importation of christian symbols into government facilities on the grounds that to do otherwise is anti-god.

    The second point I made—that christians like Evelyn Bradley, Judge Moore and Jerry Falwell want government endorsement of christianity, but would not want government endorsement of the Witch’s Creed, etc.—is truly the number one REASON for the separation of church and state. The Founding Fathers, as you rightly noted, had their experiences with government-sponsored, government-endorsed, and, in fact, government-ENFORCED religious systems and were already aware of the impact this had on religious freedom. (After all, one of the primary reasons for coming to the colonies had been to escape religious persecution!) And for that REASON there was an insistence upon a Bill of Rights which, in the very first clause of the First Amendment to the new Constitution of the United States, said that Congress was to make NO LAW RESPECTING an establishment of religion. (The second clause, which cannot be forgotten, said that Congress could not prohibit the free exercise of any religion.)

    Oddly enough, that brings us back to point one I was making, because Judge Moore and the others like him believe their freedom to practice religion is being impinged when we do not allow them to post monuments to their god in government buildings.

    Yet, the stand in favor of a separation between church and state is actually not about gods at all. It’s about the view that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people has to be “of” ALL of the people, “for” ALL of the people, and “by” ALL of the people. It’s about the fact that a government act or law “respecting” ANY religion (or even ALL religions) is doing exactly what was forbidden in the first clause of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

    The reasons for it are multiple. I’ve noted two and you’re endorsing one of those two. You call the other “weak.” Yet just as to every thing (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (see Ecclesiastes, 3:1-8, or Peter Seeger’s (1954) “Turn, Turn, Turn”, sung by The Byrds), so to every argument there may be a time when it is weaker and a time when it is stronger. I believe when someone’s driving concern is that we, the godless, are trying to destroy their idea of a more perfect nation, by insisting upon the constitutional virtue of the separation of church and state, then that is the time to make sure they are made aware that it’s not about casting away stone monuments, but rather about gathering people together into one nation that follows the rule of law. (Cf. Ecclesiastes 3:5.)

  • 5 Harryl // Aug 18, 2003 at 8:44 am

    While this may be a point lost on those that follow the more fundamentalist path of Christianity, rather than that of the Roman Catholic Church, the behavior of this judge is clearly disapproved of by Canonic law. It is an example of “apostasy inobedienti?”: disobedience to a command given by lawful authority, in this case the lawful authority being the current interpretation of the constitution. The Decretals of Gregory IX make this very clear. Rather hypocritical, considering his conflicts with Frederick II over the emperors reluctance to pursue the crusades and his oppression of heresies, in particular the Albigenses.

  • 6 Only Connect // Aug 20, 2003 at 4:28 am

    Nicely done.

  • 7 Winkola // Aug 20, 2003 at 7:06 am


Leave a Comment