Friday, March 25, 2011

Religious Conservatives and the Constitution

     I received an email purporting to quote Billy Graham's daughter, Anne Graham Lotz. According to the email Ms. Lotz was speaking at a “Superintendent of Schools Seminar.” When she was asked what she thought was leading to the decay of morality and self-respect in the young students today, she supposedly replied, “...when the Courts [decided] to take God (Lord's Prayer) and respect for our Country (Pledge of Allegiance To Our Flag), and took down the symbol of our Country (picture of George Washington) out of the Classroom".
     An exhaustive search failed to find any evidence of Ms. Lotz having spoken at such a seminar, nor could I verify that she had ever made such a statement. The closest I could find took place on CBS's “The Early Show” on September 13, 2001. Interviewer Jane Clayson asked, "I've heard people say, those who are religious, those who are not, if God is good, how could God let this (the September 11 attack) happen? To that, you say?"
     Ms. Lotz replied, "I say God is also angry when he sees something like this. I would say also for several years now Americans in a sense have shaken their fist at God and said, God, we want you out of our schools...”
     There are two lessons to be learned here. The first is that unless you know that a forwarded email is absolutely true, check it out at or It is possible that whoever originated the email had an agenda, and was not above some exaggeration.
     The second lesson is that some Christian evangelicals, e.g. Ms. Lotz, and many other conservatives who should know better, are also spreading a false message: God has been taken out of our schools. It's just not true!
     The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In the immediately relevant case, Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963), the court held that “When the power, prestige and financial support of government is placed behind a particular religious belief, the indirect, coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion is plain.” In other words, the government, including the school authorities, were forbidden from leading or requiring any religious activity. Nothing prohibits any student, at any time, from praying; God is there for individuals.
     This is in keeping with Christ's instruction in Matthew 6: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others...But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.”
     Ms. Lotz also may have been about talking about the efforts of atheist Michael Newdow to have the words “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. In this case the Court decided that the phrase did not convert the pledge into a prayer, therefore it could stay.
     Personally, I think that not reciting the Pledge is extremely disrespectful, but in this country we are free to ignore any speech with which we disagree. If Mr. Newdow does not wish to say “under God,” he is perfectly free to skip the phrase, or even the entire Pledge.
     The email which I quoted goes on to say, “If Muslims can pray on Madison Avenue, why are Christians banned from praying in public and erecting religious displays on their holy days?”
     The short answer: neither public praying nor religious displays, Christian or otherwise, are banned. A case in point is the protesting at military funerals by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. If a Muslim group were to try this, I believe we would have our first lynching in many years.
     As for religious displays on public property, the rulings have been unpredictable. In these decisions, the Court has relied heavily on a close examination of the particular history and context of each display. In one case the court stated that a nativity scene in Pawtucket, RI simply recognized the historical origins of the holiday; one that has secular as well as religious significance. In those circumstances, the justices concluded, the nativity scene did not reflect an effort by the government to promote Christianity.
     Five years later the Court ruled that a nativity scene on the staircase of a Pittsburgh, Pa., courthouse was unconstitutional. In that instance, the court concluded that, unlike the previous situation where the crèche was shown together with more secular symbols, the Pittsburgh crèche was prominently displayed on its own and thus amounted to a government endorsement of religion. Whether the appointments to the Supreme Court of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito will clarify the picture remains to be seen.
     I could not find any instance in which the courts ordered removal of George Washington's picture from a classroom, or anywhere else.
     Although the originator of this email probably does not realize it, he or she is spreading beliefs inimical to the Constitution.
     It took the next 300,000 years for the nuclei to start capturing electrons to form neutral atoms. Matter, in the form of complete atoms of the light elements, was born!
     Some 300 million years later the first stars ignited, enabling the formation of approximately 90 heavier natural elements within their interiors. These elements were ejected into the surrounding space as "stardust."
     Matter Matters – The Spirit Runs Through It.

      The Spirit Runs Through It is available in paperback or on Kindle from Amazon.

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