Posts Tagged ‘separation of church and state’

“[E]ven more disturbing than the threats from foreign terrorists is a second threat that is right here at home. It is an ideology so fundamentally at odds with historic American values that it threatens to undo the cultural ethics that have made our country great. I call it ‘secular-socialism.'”
— Newt Gingrich
New Gingrich speaking and pointing

Newt making a point (Photo by Rick Diamond/WireImage)

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a family member who is politically conservative and religiously agnostic. He was complaining about a video clip he had recently watched (from the Southern Republican Leadership Conference (SRLC) in New Orleans) of Newt Gingrich discussing the need for Republicans & conservatives to unite against what he has dubbed the “secular socialist machine”. My relative was annoyed & offended, because he felt that Newt was demonizing secularists, as if they couldn’t be anything but socialists. “Does he really think that only Christians (or religious people or non-secularists) are true Americans? Or that those who don’t believe in a Higher Power can’t be legitimate conservatives? I usually like and respect what Newt has to say, but he’s disappointed me, and I’ll think twice about trusting him now.”

Not having seen the clip, I wasn’t sure what to say. I know Newt is a professed Christian, and as one myself, I understand his concerns about secularist influences. So, I decided to watch the video clip myself and try to understand what Newt was getting at. If you’re interested, here it is:

Newt does mention “secularism” a couple times in the beginning, but doesn’t mention it again until near the end. For the bulk of the spliced-together clip, he defines and elaborates on the corruption, incompetence, and arrogance of Obama’s radical-Left administration and their comrades in Congress. He emphasizes their determination to ram through transformational legislation, often without even reading (let alone fully understanding) what they are voting for, and against the desires of the majority of the American people. By the way, the “machine” consists not just of those in the Executive and Legislative Branches, but also certain Federal judges, many labor union leaders, tenured faculty and news media on the hard left, and other groups who put Obama in office.

The clip ends with Newt saying:

This is a fundamental fight over the core definition of America, and it is going to require us to talk, I think, in a very different language than normal politics. I think it requires us to talk about the American culture, not American politics. Does work ethic matter, or is redistribution the alternative? It’s very central. Are we endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness? Or, does Government define who we are?… And I believe the radicalism of this administration and the incompetence of this administration make it possible to have a decisive choice for every American. And we need to make sure it’s a choice of two positive versions, not Obama versus anti-Obama, but America versus a secular socialist machine.”

I really don’t think Gingrich was implying that only Christians (or non-secularists) are true Americans. Nor do I think he was implying that secularists in general are bad people or… whatever. Even if he believed it, he’s savvy enough not to say it in public… repeatedly.

Perhaps I’m being charitable, but if I were to guess, I’d say Gingrich’s purpose for specifying the secular aspect of “the machine” is twofold. First, it distinguishes a certain brand or branch of socialism from another (i.e., “religious socialism”, as with those that hold to a “liberation theology”). If this is accurate, then I see no problem with calling it as it is. It isn’t meant to unfairly label all secularists as socialists any more than referring to “Islamist” (or “Islamic”) terrorists is meant to unfairly label all Muslims as terrorists. (Of course, that’s what the PC crowd tries to tell us it does.) Or, all terrorists as Muslims, for that matter.

Secondly, I think the “secular” term is a reminder that the “progressives” that are pushing our nation Leftward are the same ones that most often try to remove all religious symbols and expressions from the public arena or to silence “religious” people, while brandishing their “separation of church and state” slogan. Not only is it a gross misrepresentation of what Thomas Jefferson was promoting in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, but it is a slap in the face to — and, in some cases, a denial of — the Judeo-Christian principles upon which this nation was founded, as evident in the writings of our Founders and Framers. (I’m not denying some Enlightenment ideas were involved, but that’s a different discussion.)

[Aside: Of course, there are also “secularists” (i.e., atheists & agnostics) on the political Right who would like to eliminate all religion and symbols thereof from the public square (even from society at large) — e.g., Christopher Hitchens. But, I think more of them are like my relative, who recognize the good that religion can & does have in society — some, at least — and who personally have a more “live and let live” attitude, as long as no one tries to “force” religion on them or punish them for not believing as they do.]

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution (painting by Howard Chandler Christy)

It is precisely those principles that inspired the (Protestant) “work ethic” that Gingrich mentions. It was the understanding that basic, human rights can ultimately only be granted by a Higher Power and not by some government that can take them away at the whim of whomever happens to be in power. I would also add that America is much more accepting and tolerant of various religions, worldviews, & ethnicities than any other nation, whether secularist (e.g, N. Korea or Soviet Russia), theocratic (e.g., Iran), or whatever. The ideology that recognizes these things is what America was founded on, it is what makes it unique, and THAT is the America that Gingrich says is at war with the “secular socialist machine”.

I’ll finish up here with an illustrative excerpt from the transcript of the full SRLC speech that did not make it into the above video:

Let me give you an example that I find absolutely amazing, and it explains part of why I have ‘secular’ in the term ‘secular socialist machine.’ Rick Tyler, who runs Renewing American Leadership, at my request left Los Angeles and drove three and a half hours out U.S. 15 and turned south and drove eight and a half miles on a two lane road in the middle of the Mojave Desert. He came across a cross which had been erected in the desert in 1934 by the Veterans of Foreign Wars on behalf of the American dead in World War I. That cross today is surrounded by a plywood box because a government employee decided they were offended that this cross was on Federal land, and the ACLU has filed a lawsuit.

Now, from my personal perspective, a secularist who is terrified of a cross in the middle of the Mojave Desert is a totalitarian. They are so frightened of any choice, of any freedom, of any option that I think they verge on being deranged. [Applause.] And I think a country which was founded on the premise that our rights come from our Creator has some right to decide that our Creator can appear in public life.”

It’s not just any secularism, and not just socialism, per se. The big threat is the combination of the two, which is taking over our nation. “The Left has thoroughly infiltrated nearly every cultural commanding height of our civilization,” he says. “That is, they hold power, influence and control of academia, the elite news media, Hollywood, union leaders, trial lawyers, the courts, the Congress, and the bureaucracy at all levels of government.”

Now, of course, Newt has just released a new book titled To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine.  So, I guess we can all read it to find out what exactly he does mean.

Any Right-leaning secularists want to weigh in with their thoughts on Newt’s term-of-choice?

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If you’ve been reading AVftR for awhile, you may recall a post I did back in February about a controversy over whether it was legal to put Mother Teresa on the face of a U.S. postage stamp. Sounded reasonable, given the decades of humanitarian work and self-sacrifice given by the woman. But, those who objected had the law on their side.

Now, a similar issue has made it into the news, at least in the New York City metro area, but this time there’s no law to justify the apparent discrimination.

Empire_State_Building_1_Oct_2009

As residents and others familiar with NYC know, every sunset to midnight the uppermost floors of the Empire State Building are illuminated by an elaborate system of colored, external lights. The colors & pattern vary, depending on what (if anything) is being honored. It’s a tradition since 1964, and anyone can submit a request to have something or someone celebrated or honored in this way — from a Yankees win to a favored charity to Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday (in blue, of course). (Last year they even lit up the ESB in red & yellow in honor of the 60th anniversary of the communist take over of China! (see image to left)) Such lightings are, of course, a privilege rather than a right, and decisions are made “at the sole discretion of the ownership and management.”

A few months ago, the lay advocacy group Catholic League submitted an application to have Mother Teresa’s life & legacy honored in blue and white this August 26 — what would be the beatified nun’s 100th birthday. They have even submitted a supporting petition with 40,000 signatures. But, for some reason, the request has been rejected. According to the ESB’s owner, real estate mogul Anthony E. Malkin,

The Empire State Building celebrates many cultures and causes in the world community with iconic lightings, and has a tradition of lightings for the religious holidays of Easter, Eid al Fitr (marking the end of Ramadan), Hanukkah, and Christmas, [but it] has a specific policy against any other lighting for religious figures or requests by religions and religious organizations.”

“Wait a second!,” protests the Catholic League. MLK, Pope John Paul II, and Cardinal John O’Connor have all been posthumously honored by the ESB. So, what gives? Why not Mother Teresa? The NYC Council just this week announced their official disagreement with the “boneheaded” decision (as per City Councilman Vallone), too. But, no response has been forthcoming by Malkin or his spokesman, Daniel Hernandez Lyon.

I am not Roman Catholic nor a devotee of Mother Teresa’s work, so this isn’t a sectarian matter for me. But, I do appreciate what the woman did. So, I am trying to figure out the inconsistency here. True, these other religious figures were not your average priest or pastor down the street, their influence was certainly much more than local and not limited to religious circles or purely religious concerns. But, all of these attributes apply to Mother Teresa, as well. The issue can’t be exclusivity to Americans, either, because the Pope was Polish by birth. (Mother Teresa was Albanian.) And there have arguably been much less-deserving people & causes that have been celebrated by the ESB lights.

Mother TeresaI know, some of you are thinking that Mother Teresa would not want the attention or adulation, and that the Bible teaches that God’s servants are to give the credit to Jesus, etc. And, you’re correct on both accounts. But, that isn’t really the point. The point, rather, is about what appears to be a frivolous decision that smacks of religious and/or some other type of undue discrimination.

There are no federal regulations to point to, in this case. Just a private owner with “a specific policy against,” which can apparently be disregarded at the whim and “sole discretion of the ownership and management.” They do have the right, true. (The American Atheists and the New York Atheists groups have, of course, voiced their support of the decision. On the other hand, some atheist individuals think it’s stupid.) And, maybe there’s a valid and reasonable explanation. But, if so, why hasn’t it been given? Not surprisingly, protests are already being organized. Whatever personal or business(?) reasons Mr. Malkin may have for upholding the rejection of this application, I think he needs to, at the very least, look at this from a PR perspective, issue an apology, and order a top-notch lighting celebration on August 26th.

Amen?

Usually at this time of year, the “attacks” center on Easter Sunday, or, more appropriately, Resurrection Day. This time, however, Good Friday got some extra attention.

Isaiah 53 passage

Isaiah 53 -- "by His wounds we are healed"

The memo went out to municipal employees last week from Craig Malin, City Administrator for the town of Davenport, Iowa. From now on, Good Friday was “history”. In its place was the more ecumenical and politically correct “Spring Holiday”, or “Celebration of Spring”.

Acting on the advice (from last summer!) of the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, Malin unilaterally made the decision. Not surprisingly, the reasoning had to do with “separation of church and state” claims and sensitivity within an ethnically and religiously diverse community. (Apparently, the commission had also considered and dismissed the idea of renaming Easter Sunday, because it fell on a weekend, when government offices were already closed. Christmas, too, was a no-go.) The first problem, though, was that such policy changes must be voted on by the City Council, and they didn’t even know about it until they read it in the Quad City Times.

News of the memo spread through town like wildfire and was the topic on everyone’s minds and lips by Palm Sunday. Resistance to the name change came from two fronts. First, of course, was the religious objection from those who thought it was an attack on Christianity — typical in the culture wars these days — and that the “separation” talk was bogus. The second objection came from city employees (including police), who thought it might violate their union contract, which stipulates Good Friday (not “Spring Holiday”) as an official municipal holiday. Mayor Bill Gluba said, “I understand why people were so upset. My position is we have a lot more important issues. We’ll fix this and move on.”

And “move on”, they did. On Monday, the city issued a press release stating that:

City Administrator Malin, in error, forwarded the recommendation to staff for further review and action, leading to release of a holiday notice with the holiday named ‘Spring Holiday,’ rather than ‘Good Friday’.”

So, either someone in City Hall zealously jumped the gun on this one, or they’re trying to help Malin save face for some reason, or both. Maybe just trying to keep the peace?

Ah, well. Bottom line is that the council voted and this stupid, PC name-change of a 2000 year-old holiday has been reversed. Things in Davenport, Iowa, are as they should be. (As far as I know.) For now….

As soon as the U.S. Postal Service announced plans for a new stamp of Mother Teresa, the atheists started crying foul. They claim it would be a violation of U.S. Postal Service regulations. I think it’s a stupid thing to get upset about, but they’re right on the legal issue. There are 12 qualifying criteria for who can be on a U.S. postage stamp. The ninth one states: “Stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor religious institutions or individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs.”

As the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s (FFRF) spokesperson pointed out to Fox News, “Mother Teresa is principally known as a religious figure who ran a religious institution. You can’t really separate her being a nun and being a Roman Catholic from everything she did.”

So, what about someone like Martin Luther King, Jr., or Malcolm X, you ask? Weren’t they religious figures? Both Mother Teresa’s humanitarian efforts and MLK’s non-aggressive civil rights activism were informed & inspired by their Christian convictions based on New Testament teaching. How did King pass the above test and get his own stamp (1979)? Whereas Mother Teresa is “principally known as a religious figure”, perhaps the powers that be/were determined that King (like X) is principally known as a socio-political figure whose religion was more… circumstantial. Something like that, anyway. (Or, maybe criterion #9 wasn’t in place in 1979?) This is along the lines of the FFRF’s position: “Gaylor said the atheist group opposed [Boys Town orphanage founder] Father Flanagan’s stamp but not those for King and Malcolm X, because she said they were known for their civil rights activities, not for their religion.” Of course, it still doesn’t explain why or how Jesus and His mother Mary passed muster to get their own stamps.

Personally, I think it’s a stupid guideline, probably put there for “politically correct” reasons meant to appease those (like the FFRF) who consistently twist the whole “separation of church & state” issue. But, it’s the law. If Mother Teresa is to be legally given the honor of having her own postage stamp, then the official postal regs need to be changed. Call your Congressperson!

Major defense contractor Trijicon has been at the center of some debate, lately. It seems that the company, whose late founder Glyn Bindon was a devout Christian, has for three decades been inscribing Bible verses on its products. (Well, just the references, really — like 2COR4:6.) The equipment is sold to governments such as the U.S., Great Britain, and New Zealand for use by their militaries, including the telescopic gunsights in question, which are attached to combat rifles. Company officials say they don’t publicize the practice and they have never received complaints about it before now. A defense spokesman said most soldiers & marines aren’t even aware of the references, as they are tacked onto the end of the stock number. But the Military Religious Freedom Foundation claims it has received several complaints from troops (who remain anonymous), both active-duty and retired.

Carbine rifle with sight

U.S. M-4 carbine rifle with Trijicon gunsight (AP: via Sydney Morning Herald)

The main concern is that the sights are used in Afghanistan and Iraq, because there is an official ban against proselytizing by troops while in country. A U.S. military spokesman assured that there was no violation of the ban, because the inscribed equipment stays with the troops who use them. But, others have admitted that sometimes the U.S. forces give (lend? sell?) combat rifles to their local allies. The MRFF warns that groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda can use the inscriptions as “proof” of Christian proselytizing and give their followers yet another reason to distrust and hate “the occupiers”. (The term “Crusades” often comes up.)

The latest news is that the Michigan-based contractor has agreed to stop the controversial practice and to remove all Biblical references from equipment at their factory. It will also provide 100 “modification kits” to the various military units, which will allow for removal of the “inappropriate” inscriptions.

My original reaction to this story was, “What’s the big deal?” Frankly, to make it a “separation of church and state” issue about “coded Bible references”, as some bloggers/commentators have also tried, was going a bit far, I thought. As for proselytizing, I suppose there is some truth to it, but only in that Bindon probably thought he was being faithful by helping to “spread God’s word.” (And, no, there is no such thing as a coerced conversion — at gunpoint or otherwise — in orthodox Christianity.) I strongly doubt that there is any real intent or effort by any of the governments who purchase the equipment to somehow convert Muslims into Christians, either using these inscriptions or anything else.

But, upon retrospection, I realized a couple things. First, let’s take the “Muslim” part out of the equation and assume that the Bible references were for the benefit of the troops issued the rifles. As well-intentioned as they originally were, the inscriptions themselves are probably not very effective, either as “comfort” or “witness”. As an evangelical Christian, I know God can use even the slightest thing to encourage a person or perhaps to “lead them to Jesus”. But, generally speaking, if the majority of troops don’t even notice the inscriptions or realize what they are, how effective can they be? So, to some of my fellow-Christians who may be concerned that removing the inscriptions is somehow striking a blow against Christianity or censoring God’s Word from the troops or “dissing Jesus” or any such thing,… don’t worry about it.

Second, I have to concede that knowledge of these inscriptions (especially now that it’s been in the news) could indeed be enough to incite accusations of Christian propaganda and proselytizing among both our Muslim allies and enemies in the Middle East & abroad. (Ironically, the enemy will use even the mere “appearance” and accusation of propaganda & proselytizing by us as propaganda itself to proselytize for their own extremist cause.) As the New Zealand defense minister, Wayne Mapp, said, “We all know of the religious tensions around this issue and it’s unwise to do anything that could be seen to raise tensions in an unnecessary way.” So, I am glad that the “removal kits” are being distributed and hope that this all soon becomes a non-issue.