The purpose of Our Conscience weblog is to facilitate a greater discussion and understanding of church and state separation in our community and in others. Underlying this is the value that each individual should be allowed to follow the dictates of his or her own conscience without influence, coercion, or direction from the State when it comes to matters of religion.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Resolution deserves short shrift

By Edgar Simpson, editor of The Joplin Globe.

A resolution working its way through the Missouri House of Representatives that would designate Christianity as the state’s majority religion is ridiculous and the worst kind of electioneering.

What is the purpose of stating the obvious, unless it really is to somehow stifle some faiths and denominations and launch a wave of unnecessary and debilitating lawsuits?

Other than pandering to certain groups for blatantly political purposes, the resolution carries no weight of law and achieves nothing, other than fanning the already-burning debate of the proper relationship between religion and government...

This resolution should go away, quietly and with no remorse.


Monday, March 13, 2006

All are Welcome to Participate

The front page “Resolution” story (Globe, March 8), exposes some area politicians to the need for repetition in regard to religion. I love George Washington, the “Father of our Country,” but he was not a communicant of any Christian church. He was a Freemason and a deist. If any readers want to read a good book, read “George Washington and Religion” by Paul F. Boller.

As for repetition, the Globe has been kind enough to allow me to print the following statement from James Madison several times, “Father of the Constitution”:

“Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history.” (”Detached Memoranda,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3:555).

Readers can easily read Madison’s words on the Internet simply by Google searching “Detached Memoranda.” By the way, Madison attended but was not a communing member of any Christian church, either. Madison, too, was a deist. Madison’s wife, Dolly, did join the Episcopal Church several years after he died.

The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and embodies the principles upon which the government of the United States is founded. The 1787 founding fathers commanded, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” (Art. 6., Sec. 3.)

The words “church and state” are not in the Constitution. It is a “religious” test that shall not be required, and it is “religion” which shall not be established by law. In 1788, the people of America approved those words. Therefore, about what America really is: A nation wherein citizens of all religions and of none are welcome to participate fully in all of America’s social and political functions. That is the message to which America’s politicians should be resolved.

Gene Garman
Pittsburg, KS

"Religion" is not a State Church

Conservative religious fundamentalists continue to make the silly claim that the Establishment Clause only prohibits the creation of a state church.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." ~Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

I always thought "religion" encompassed more than a church such as beliefs and practices. If the Founders wanted courts to follow the narrow reading of the First Amendment offered by these conservatives would they not have worded it narrowly in the first place?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Show me Teaching, not Preaching

Verne MacKinney (Joplin Globe, March 5th 2006) voiced support for legislation that would "allow public school districts to offer classes in which the Bible is taught" (SB 736) by calling the Bible “the truth.” Verne should be commended for promoting and advocating for our religious beliefs but I would suggest that seeking a government that shares any religious preference is neither in the best interest of religion or government.

The desire for religious uniformity through State coercion seems to me rather insecure. That type of insecurity does little to inspire converts and in fact pushes them away.

The liberal watchdog group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) has made it clear that “objective study about religion in public schools is legal and appropriate.” This bill makes legal, something already legal. What then is the purpose of this bill? Answer: to prey on public misconceptions about Church and State Separation in order to score political points.

The bill is worded in order to avoid Church and State difficulties in making clear what AU also notes about the law, that Bible classes are appopriate as long as the government action has a "legitimate educational purpose, not a devotional one." I believe that we should trust teachers to have the professionalism to teach and not to preach in the context of a government that is doing the same.

Friday, March 03, 2006

MO House Pushing Boundries of Church and State Separation

Missouri House Concurrent Resolution 13 "resolves that voluntary prayer in public schools, religious displays on public property, and the recognition of a Christian God are not a coalition of church and state." It continues, "our forefathers of this great nation of the United States recognized a Christian God and used the principles afforded to us by Him as the founding principles of our nation." This view of our nation's history can be supported to a degree but do we want the State or the people to express it?

1). Not all of our founding fathers were Christians: "Deism was also influential in late-18th-century America, where Deistic views were held by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. The most vociferous American Deists were Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine" (History Channel, 2006).

2). Voluntary prayer has never been ruled illegal so why include it? Only prayer that has been encouraged, discouraged, or written by the State has been prohibited. Preying on this common misconception is something Republican strategists have became very good at. My concern is the Democrats have allowed them to do so without setting the record strait.

3). "Religious displays on public property" may or may not be constitutional depending on the motivation of the officials. For example, the motivation to teach about the history of law is fundamentally different from promoting one's own religious views via law or official capacity. The content and context of the display is also important. For example, Judge Moore's display with the Protestant version of the 10 commandments is different than the frieze at the Supreme Court which includes Moses, Confucius, and Greek lawmaker Solon.

4). This expression of legislator's views on church and state is protected by the Free Exercise Clause so long as they do not use their official capacity to promote it. This is precisely what they are doing and they are doing a disservice to both government and religion.