STEVE BOUSER: Church and State: Let‚Äôs Not Play With Fire
I like the nice people at the Christian Book Store in downtown Southern Pines. When I stop in, they give me fudge samples.
But when I walk by the store‚Äôs big plate glass window these days, I feel like averting my eyes. Nothing personal, but what I see therein increasingly makes me uncomfortable ‚ÄĒ not because I have a problem with churches (I attend one), but because the displays so often reflect larger societal trends that worry me half to death.
Before you reach for your poison pen, Dear Reader, please hear me out.
Lately, the window has been dominated by a supersize poster containing the Ten Commandments. So far, so good. A Christian store or a Christian church is exactly where they belong. Where they don‚Äôt belong is in a court of law ‚ÄĒ especially not if the idea is that the court is supposed to be enforcing said commandments.
Yet right there in that same display window are copies of three books currently on sale inside. One is called ‚ÄúSo Help Me God: The Ten Commandments, Judicial Tyranny and the Battle for Religious Freedom.‚ÄĚ It is written by Roy Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, who is still mad about losing a dispute over a massive stone Commandments monument that he had placed inside the court building.
The other two books currently being promoted in the window are ‚ÄúMen in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America,‚ÄĚ by Mark Levin (intro by Rush Limbaugh), and ‚ÄúCourting Disaster: How the Supreme Court Is Usurping the Role of Congress and the President,‚ÄĚ by Pat Robertson.
Those are not religion books. Those are government books.
Why have all the right-wing Web sites and talk shows (and bookshops) suddenly launched this choreographed campaign to discredit our supposedly independent courts? Why do the Supreme Court nominations mean so much to them? Simple. They now control both of the other two branches, Congress and the presidency. The judiciary is all that stands between them and their dream of remaking the nation in their own image.
And what blueprint would they use for this remaking? Why, to hear them tell it, presumably nothing other than the Ten Command-ments.
I hope not. They‚Äôre great as religious ideals to strive toward, but I‚Äôd hate to see our country being run by them.
Have you read them lately?
Take No. 1: ‚ÄúI am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.‚ÄĚ What would that mean if courts were really to start enforcing it? That Hindus and Buddhists, who have other gods before them, would be charged with committing a felony?
How about ‚ÄúThou shalt not make unto thee any graven image‚ÄĚ? Do we arrest all the artists and sculptors and printers among us?
‚ÄúThou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain‚ÄĚ? ... ‚ÄúRemember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy‚ÄĚ? ... ‚ÄúHonor thy father and thy mother‚ÄĚ? ... ‚ÄúThou shalt not covet they neighbor‚Äôs house‚ÄĚ? Come on. Does anybody really want to start playing Taliban and criminally prosecuting everyone who cusses or plays golf on Sunday or disses his dad or casts an envious eye on the split-level next door?
If the answer is no, which I hope and pray it is, then let‚Äôs quit playing with fire. All these demagogues suddenly rushing headlong to try to rile people up by mixing religion with politics (mostly right-wing politics) scare me. Before they‚Äôre finished, I fear they will have done a lot of damage to our Republic and the principles that are supposed to underlie it.
And, yes, one of those principles ‚ÄĒ don‚Äôt let them bamboozle you into believing otherwise ‚ÄĒ is the principle of separation of church and state.
The Constitution may not say anything about a ‚Äúwall.‚ÄĚ But the founding fathers had a reason for forbidding government, right there in Amendment No. 1, from passing any laws ‚Äúrespecting an establishment of religion.‚ÄĚ
They knew from first-hand experience with England the dangers that lie in anything smacking of a state church. They didn‚Äôt want it to happen in America.
'Separation' Not Intended BY PAMELA FRANCIS: Special to The Pilot
To Editor Steve Bouser:
I am the manager of the Christian Book Store, and I put together the window you criticized in your column of Oct. 5. I was pleased to see you quote God's word in your article. Even if your intention was to ridicule it, thank you.
You mentioned three books in the window and state: "Those are not religion books. Those are government books." What is a "government book," and when did it become wrong for Christians to sell or promote a "government book"?
We sell books containing the truth and books on issues Christians are concerned about. Just because you don't agree with them doesn't make it wrong for Christians to promote or sell them.
The First Amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
There are some very significant semicolons in the text. You should also know that a semicolon indicates that the clauses following it are closely related to the main clauses where they are not joined with a coordinating conjunction, as is the case in this text.
Our freedoms of speech, the press, to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances are inseparable from our premier freedom to exercise our religious liberty without any prohibitions from Congress. You must agree that you have even less authority than Congress here.
Our founding fathers were very clear. By their First Amendment, they protected religious speech, religious press, religious assembly, and religious petitions to the government for a redress of grievances, which were not protected under the king of England.
You do not enjoy these freedoms because our founding fathers recognized a great need to protect obscenities, perversions, and the godless masses from Christianity, as one might think from your article and all that passes as protected speech today; you enjoy these freedoms only because our founding fathers valued their religious liberty more than any other right they possessed.
I don't mind sharing my First Amendment religious freedoms with secular institutions; however, it concerns me greatly that you would be so afraid of my exercise of them that you are compelled to exercise your own secular attachment to them to make a public argument against my good, peaceful, and lawful exercise of them as some sort of public danger.
How dare you? You have the audacity to take this freedom which has been secured for you by good, decent, and courageous Christian men who pledged their lives, fortunes, and honor to protect and defend; and who, true to their word, took up arms, fought and died to defend; and whose children and grandchildren and theirs also have fought and died to defend; and you attack Christians' use of it with it! You ought to be ashamed.
As for the "wall of separation" between church and state, the only wall intended by our founding fathers was to keep government out of our churches. They could not possibly have wanted to keep churches out of government, or they would not have included "and to petition the government for redress of grievances" as an exercise of religious freedom which they so clearly intended to protect under the First Amendment.
We have a government of the people, for the people, and by the people and according to the First Amendment, people, whether they are Christian or not, have the right to the peaceful, free exercise of their religion as they actively participate in this great government of, for, and by the people.
There is no "choreographed campaign to discredit our supposedly independent courts." However, there is a common ground of beliefs and values held by Christians regardless of their church affiliation. We do not conspire with one another; we all read the same book. This is a Christian nation, and because it is a Christian nation it preserves and defends the right of people to worship their God as they see fit.
You have grossly misstated the purpose and goals Christians have regarding government, politics, the law, and the courts. We simply want to defend the Constitution as written and prevent rewriting of it without the two-thirds majority required. Attempts to disenfranchise any law-abiding American citizen, including Christians, from involvement in American politics should be what worries you half to death.
About not playing with fire; The Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end said, "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." Revelation 21:8.
Let's not play with fire
Pamela Francis is manager of the Christian Book Store in Southern Pines
Nation Based On the Bible By Charles Garrison: Special to The Pilot
I would like to respond to some points that Steve Bouser raised in his column, "Church and State: Let's Not Play With Fire."
First, he said, "A Christian store or a Christian church is exactly where … the Ten Commandments … belong. Where they don't belong is in a court of law — especially not if the idea is that the court is supposed to be enforcing said commandments."
That statement contradicts our whole judicial system. Every day, the Ten Commandments are enforced by judges: "Thou shalt not kill … Thou shalt not steal … Thou shalt not bear false witness." Not only do the Ten Commandments belong in our courts of law — they are the underpinning of our legal system.
And that is the great contradiction in this nation. The same judges that enforce the Ten Commandments in their courtrooms ban them from public school classrooms. In three separate cases, the courts declared that it was unconstitutional for students to see the Ten Commandments since they might read, meditate upon, respect, or obey them.
Too bad Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris weren't allowed in their school to "read, meditate upon, respect [and] obey" the sixth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." The families of 12 students and a teacher who were murdered at Columbine High School wish they had. Apparently, however, Mr. Bouser agrees with the courts. He says the Ten Commandments are "…great as religious ideals to strive toward, but I'd hate to see our country being run by them."
Mr. Bouser says that the judiciary is all that stands between right-wing, fundamentalist Christians and "their dream of remaking the nation in their own image." The opposite is true. The Supreme Court is the only way the "left" has been able to implement its agenda. Liberalism cannot win at the ballot box. The only way that liberal philosophy — removing prayer from public schools, abortion, gay marriage, removing "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance — can become law is through the courts. The judiciary is all that stands between the left and the Democratic Party and their dream of remaking the nation in their own image.
Concerning the First Commandment — "I am the Lord thy God … Thou shalt have no other gods before me," Mr. Bouser asks, "What would that mean if the courts were really to start enforcing it? That Hindus and Buddhists, who have other gods before them, would be charged with committing a felony?" He believes that right-wing, fundamentalist Christians want to ram our religion down everybody's throats.
The facts are to the contrary. The reason that we have freedom of religion in this country is because of America's biblical heritage. The Bible teaches that God will never coerce anyone to become a Christian — which is why we find the words "whosoever will" so often in the New Testament. Right-wing fundamentalist Christians do not ram their religion down people's throats; it is the left that rams its religion, secular humanism (declared to be a religion by the Supreme Court in Torcaso v. Watkins, 1961), down everyone's throats — especially children in public schools.
Finally, he says that right-wing, fundamentalist Christians are trying to "bamboozle" people concerning "the principle of separation of church and state." The separation of church and state did not begin with Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. It began with God and the Ten Commandments.
The first four Commandments deal with man's relationship to God. Those represent "church." Commandments five through 10 deal with man's relationship with man, the biblical function of government; they represent "state." Here in the Ten Commandments — these inspired, infallible words that form the basis for all human law — there is separation of church and state.
The founders of our nation understood this. We see it in the writings of Roger Williams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and in the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The restriction is on the government, not on the church.
The left in this country are "bamboozling" the people into misinterpreting the First Amendment. They have taken the words "separation of church and state" and misled the people into believing that they allow the removal of Christianity and God from the government and from American life.
Charles Garrison is interim pastor at Calvary Memorial Church in Southern Pines.
Argument Didn‚Äôt Fly By Dwight M. Creech: Special to The Pilot
Editor Steve Bouser envisioned an attempt to threaten the life of his worldview relative to the issue of church/state relations.
In his commentary, entitled ‚ÄúChurch and State: Let‚Äôs Not Play With Fire‚ÄĚ (Oct. 5), he pled for restraint in reaching for one‚Äôs ‚Äúpoison pen‚ÄĚ until his wisdom was heard out. There is really not much need for a ‚Äúpoison pen‚ÄĚ here. I am reminded of the old farmer who strapped fodder under his arms and jumped from the barn loft. His idea just did not fly.
There is no such thing as religious neutrality in government. All law is religious in nature. Law in any culture reflects the beliefs of that culture. The United States Supreme Court acknowledged that even secular humanism (atheism) is a religious belief.
The myth of separation between church and state springs from the myth that ‚Äúneutrality‚ÄĚ in education is possible. Nothing could be further from the truth. The government schools of this nation are religious schools to the core and teach values, beliefs, and fears as faithfully as any church. It is the idea that ‚Äúneutrality‚ÄĚ is possible in education that has given rise to the notion of ‚Äúneutrality‚ÄĚ in matters of government.
All education and all governments are religious in nature. The battle is over whose religious views are going to have the force of law. Government is the battleground of the gods, and the winner has the force of law.
The Ten Commandments are not 10 suggestions, neutral in nature, from a committee of gods. The founders of our nation did not craft a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution around the many gods of many religions. The preamble to every state constitution in the union acknowledges the deity of the One True and Living God and invokes his blessing upon matters of government. There is no sense of separation between religion and state but in the minds of liberal thinkers whose self-styled religious views are threatened by the fact that a real deity might be out there.
One day, each will stand before the only True and Living God there is. In that day, Commandment No. 1, ‚ÄúI am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me,‚ÄĚ will have riveting meaning.
The founders of this nation understood this. The First Amendment of the Constitution chained the government out of the church, but not the church out of government. They understood that law must not have its origin in secular government; law has its origin in nature‚Äôs God ‚ÄĒ the Creator. The Church is the guardian of his oracles.
In America, government blossoms from the beliefs of the people. Should the Christian consensus be lost via the secular government schools (where the myth of separation of church and state originated), the Constitution, the very foundation of Americanism, will also be lost. America is not a Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim nation by faith. America is a distinctively Christian nation, and her laws traditionally reflect this.
Mr. Bouser said, ‚ÄúAll these demagogues suddenly rushing headlong to try to rile people up by mixing religion with politics (mostly right-wing politics) scare me.‚ÄĚ To the contrary, nothing could be more frightening than a brute secular government that strips every vestige of Christianity from its institutions by force of law.
Communist Russia is a fitting scenario for purely ‚Äúsecular politics.‚ÄĚ There is no government ‚Äúunder God‚ÄĚ there. The government in Russia (until President Reagan‚Äôs declaration, ‚ÄúTear down this wall!‚ÄĚ) had a ‚Äúwall of separation‚ÄĚ between church and state. Their government was not under God, but ‚Äúunder‚ÄĚ a totalitarian dictator.
The last time I noticed, governments not ‚Äúunder God‚ÄĚ had walls around them to keep the people in. Many have lost their lives until this present day trying to escape to the government that is still ‚Äúunder God.‚ÄĚ Our liberties were not purchased with the fortunes and life‚Äôs blood of the ACLU or the liberal press, but with the fortunes and blood of a generation of whom this generation is not worthy.
The founders did not fear the God of the Scriptures in matters of government. What they feared was a secular government that would wall God‚Äôs law out of it. This has happened with a continuing vengeance.
President Eisenhower once said, ‚ÄúWithout God, there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life. Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first ‚ÄĒ the most basic ‚ÄĒ expression of Americanism.‚ÄĚ
Thus, the founding fathers of America saw it, and thus with God‚Äôs help, it will continue to be.‚ÄĚ
Dwight M. Creech principal of Calvary Christian School in Southern Pines.
Dwight CreechDwight Creech, is a native of North Carolina, born into a farming family in Pine Level, N.C. He graduated from Pine Level High School in 1963 and went on to...