04/19/2010 (1:17 pm)
A flap developed at the end of last week over President Obama choosing to cancel a White House ceremony surrounding this year’s annual National Day of Prayer, scheduled this year on May 6. Liberals and progressives noted that the President had to do it, you see, because a Wisconsin federal judge ruled that the National Day of Prayer violated the Establishment clause of the Constitution. They somehow missed the fact that the judge immediately stayed her own decision pending expected appeals, so the President was not required by the court to change anything. It hardly matters, though, because it is entirely consistent for this President to use progressive-generated smoke screens to do what he would have chosen to do himself were he not attempting to keep part of the populace fooled into thinking him a centrist Christian. He does not have to cancel the ceremony; he wants to.
Atheists and leftists continue to pretend that their war against Christianity is nothing but an attempt to maintain the neutrality demanded by the Constitution. One need look only at the results of their “neutrality” to determine that it is anything but. Coaches, fired for praying with their teams before games. Historic monuments all over America being threatened with removal. Graduating high school seniors instructed that they may not mention Jesus in their commencement speeches, and classes told they may not pray. Military chaplains told they cannot pray in the name of Jesus. History textbooks about the Pilgrims altered to avoid saying they gave thanks to their God. Kindergarteners told they cannot pray over their lunch. Teachers forced to pray in a closet for the sick children of co-workers, lest they be jailed for contempt of court. If this is neutrality, I want somebody to tell me what hostility looks like.
The very name, “Freedom From Religion Foundation,” tells the tale all too clearly. These people are not looking for neutrality, they want to scrub the public square clean of any mention of Christianity (their ardor burns much less brightly against Islam, for reasons I’ll address elsewhere). Their hostility is apparent on the face of things. They’ve been trying wedge cases for decades. They actively recruit students to sue their schools, and pursue their claims long after the recruited students have graduated. Whenever a religious parent wins the right to free exercise guaranteed by the Constitution (at enormous personal expense,) these haters of Christianity just look for another municipality in which to persecute yet another innocent citizen doing what they thought they had a protected right to do, hoping to find a friendly judge who will join them in scrubbing the public square of Christianity.
The anti-religionists found a reliable friend in Judge Barbara Crabb of the US District of Western Wisconsin, a Carter appointee. Last Thursday’s decision in Wisconsin, like all such decisions, is a masterpiece of judicial activism aimed at changing the Constitution into a progressive manifesto. Such decisions have to engage in semantic mayhem, since there is no honest way to conflate “establishment” with “endorsement” or “encouragement.” Those are different words in English, denoting very different acts, and all the government is enjoined from doing is “establishing.”
In every court decision that articulates some principle that says a government entity is not permitted to mention anything concerning religion (other than “it’s not welcome here”), the activism is the same: they all invent a right to feel welcome — a right that somehow applies only to the non-religious. Listen to how US District Judge Barbara Crabb frames the legal debate in her decision:
Decisions under the establishment clause are controversial and difficult in part because of the competing values at stake in each case. Religious freedom under the First Amendment contains two components, the right to practice one’s religion without undue interference under the free exercise clause and the right to be free from disfavor or disparagement on account of religion under the establishment clause. (p. 12)
According to Judge Crabb, there exists a Constitutional “right to be free from disfavor or disparagement.” She claims that this right exists in the First Amendment, but no such right gets articulated there. Where the First Amendment addresses religion, it simply identifies two powers that Congress lacks: the power to inhibit the free exercise of religion, and the power to establish a national religion. These are not in conflict, they are the same. Only one right inheres to citizens here: the right to worship as they choose. A declared National Day of Prayer that does not specify which type of prayer, does not inhibit this right in any way; on the contrary, it upholds the right openly.
Crabb cites at length from a legal textbook that engages in a bit of sociological pseudo-science (Eisengruber and Sager, Religious Freedom and the Constitution,) claiming that a declaration of a day of prayer creates “in” groups and “out” groups in the community. That people may feel such things is likely; but I’m looking in vain for how this becomes a legal principle in the absence of specific legislation. Crabb illustrates this “legal principle” with the following example:
Eisgruber and Sager ask the reader to imagine citizens who are erecting a large sign at the entrance to their town. One potential slogan is “Fineville: A Nuclear-Free Community”; another possibility is “Fineville: A Christian Community.” Although both signs could create heated disagreements among the citizens of the town, it is unlikely that the first sign would be construed as a message of disparagement by those who believe in nuclear power. In contrast, the second sign would almost certainly be viewed by non-Christians as a message that they are not welcome in the community or that they are simply a tolerated minority that does not have equal status to Christian residents of the town. Id. at 124-25.
Judge Crabb, who I infer lives in the Liberal Paradise of Wisconsin, obviously has never been on the receiving end of such political disparagement. As a conservative living in Massachusetts, I can assure her that the first sign is viewed as being precisely as disparaging as the second — and in fact, that the first sign is no less religious than the second.
More to the point, though, nobody who understands the US Constitution would consider that anything in it prevents a community from making such a declaration, if that’s the sense of the community. The Constitution protects me from sectarian laws demanding that I violate my conscience; it does not absolve me of my responsibility to stand courageously for what I believe in the face of a popular majority that believes otherwise. There is no Constitutional right to feel like I’m accepted.
Where the Constitution does not protect anyone against having to feel like they’re different, it does protect citizens against official government sanctions that have the effect of banning their religious practices. Judge Crabb, who goes to such lengths to protect those poor atheists from the horror of hearing that most people disagree with them, should be made to explain how she thinks the woman feels who faced contempt charges over her husband’s prayer at a private function, and who has to pray in a freaking closet. Do you think maybe she feels disparaged, a little?
Michelle Winkler, a clerical assistant, earlier faced contempt charges after her husband read a prayer at a private banquet held at a Naval base to honor noninstructional school-district employees. The judge eventually found that Winkler’s husband’s prayer at a voluntary gathering outside of school did not violate any court order.
During her recent testimony, Winkler broke down on the witness stand as she told a story about how her coworker sought comfort from her after losing her 2-year-old child.
The two hid behind a closet door to pray, for fear they would be seen and held in contempt of the court order.
This woman is not made to feel like she’s an outsider; she’s made to feel like she’s an outlaw. I wonder if the Constitution has anything to say about that? In what way is this not “law … prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]?”
Judge Crabb cites a number of decisions decrying a slippery slope that leads from “government endorsement of one religious group against another” to the outright suppression of the non-endorsed group. This is, in fact, the historical context in which the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses were conceived; think about the French Catholic suppression of the Huguenots in the 17th century, or the Anglican suppression of the Puritans. However, she goes out of her way to find those cases where, in order to further the secular war against Christianity, some judge or other has added the incorrect “or religion against non-religion,” as though to say something positive about religion generally is somehow the same as to favor one sect over another. They are not the same, as I’ll explain next; but even if they were, the Constitution prohibits the establishment of a national religion, not an expression of a favor toward religion generally.
The claim that the Constitution arbitrates an ongoing conflict between “religion” and “non-religion” is logically incoherent. There is no sect called “religion.” Religion describes the common practice of mankind to congregate in sects that hold different views of what are the central duties of humankind, and how they should live as a result. The attitude that posits an ongoing public struggle between “religion” and “non-religion” is nothing but the special pleading of a particular religious group, a group whose religion deifies the political and social aspirations of Mankind. “There is no god,” says this group, “but we have the power to make of ourselves whatever we choose.”
That such a statement is religious is evident simply by examining a sound definition of religion discussed elsewhere on this blog. To recap:
…“theism” is not a useful definition of religion: there are major, recognized world religions that contain both many gods (Hinduism, Shintoism, Buddhism) and no gods (Confucianism and Taoism.) A better definition of religion would be “a dogmatic set of cohesive ideas purporting to explain the nature and purpose of the universe, and from that to derive how Man should live.” By that robust definition, Humanism is clearly a religion, as are versions of Strong Atheism (the positive belief that there is no god or gods, as opposed to weak atheism, which just ignores the god question altogether) and many major philosophical schools, like Rationalism, Existentialism, Nihilism, etc.
The outcome of the Court’s ongoing attempts to prevent endorsements of religion generally is to establish this secular religion as the national religion. Judge Crabb, with her dishonest reading of the law, is doing precisely the thing prohibited by the US Constitution: she is making a national secular religion that can be legally enforced against other religions. This is why Christians are now forced to pray in book closets, and have to go to court to secure their right to pray over a meal.
David Limbaugh’s excellent book Persecution cites hundreds of cases in America from the past decade in which religious people have been forced to go to court to defend their right to practice their religion in public, a right clearly articulated in the First Amendment. The religious people usually win these cases, and that’s a good thing; but the point is, they should not have to spend their life savings defending their right over and over again. They have to because the secular religion is finding allies in progressive judges like Judge Crabb, who think “Congress cannot establish a national religion” means “Congress can’t say ‘religion generally is a good thing.’” Their goal is to make the Constitution say, by dishonest rendering of clear words, “The Courts can stamp out Christianity.”
The Wisconsin case offers us the irony that it is Barack Obama who is the defendant, and is defending the National Day of Prayer as constitutionally proper. It remains to be seen whether the Holder Justice Department will appeal Judge Crabb’s legal abortion of the Constitution. I suspect it will not. But I could be wrong. Stranger things have happened. This is still a very religious nation, and Barack Obama is still a politician. But make no mistake: there will be no White House celebration of the National Day of Prayer, because President Barack Obama does not want one.