June 10, 2004

Church-state separation: A threefer of the regnant folly

A quick anthology of stories from the past few days, demonstrating the absurd, sometimes revisionist, lengths that some people will go to secularize Western society:

Folly #1: Those horrible, dangerous crosses

Recently the ACLU (Anti-Christian Lawsuit Union) announced that it intended to file suit against Los Angeles County because its official seal has a tiny cross on it.

The cross represents the influence of missions on the history of California. It appears adjacent to depictionss of the Hollywood Bowl and two stars, representing culture and the entertainment industry. (The official explanation of all symbols may be found here).

Of course, the ACLU says nothing about the Roman goddess Pomona who appears front and centre, representing agriculture, even though the connection between Roman polytheism and growing oranges is infinitely more tenuous than the connection between a cross and the religious history of California. No, it's the little tiny unobtrusive cross off to the side that is problematic. This is historical revisionism, pure and simple. The contribution of the Church to California's settlement is about to go down the memory hole.

Faced with the choice between spending tons of money to fight a civil suit, and spending tons of money to change the seal, the county caved. Then the plot thickened when the Thomas More Law Center filed suit against the county to have them retain the cross, because its removal "sends a government-sponsored message of hostility towards Christians in violation of the United States Constitution." Go figure.

Folly #2: Americans United for Separation of Church and Mind

The latest antics of Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is asking the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of a Catholic diocese because the Bishop instructed his diocese on who may receive Communion.

"Any Catholic politicians who advocate for abortion, for illicit stem cell research or for any form of euthanasia ipso facto place themselves outside full communion with the Church and so jeopardize their salvation," Bishop Michael Sheridan told the people of Colorado Springs. . . .

"Bishop Sheridan's letter is code language that says, 'Re-elect Bush and vote Republican,'" charged the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Everyone knows Bush and Kerry differ on the issue of abortion. Sheridan is using a form of religious blackmail to steer votes toward the GOP. The IRS should look into this immediately."

[Full Story]

In Barry Lynn's fantasy world, "separation of church and state" doesn't mean what it does in the real world: no established church such as exists in England, where changes to the doctrine and practice of the Church of England are legislated by Parliament, and the Queen is the head of state as well as the head of the church.

Rather, Lynn envisions a "separation of church and state" where, absurdly, the morality taught by the church has no bearing on how one lives his life outside the church and, conversely, one's behaviour outside the church has no real consequences inside the church.

Ironically, the United Churches of Christ, in which Lynn is an ordained minister, states on its Web site that

[s]ince its very beginnings, the church of Jesus Christ has wrestled over issues of inclusion and exclusion. Who can be received as a member? What are the qualifications, barriers, or tests required? Who is permitted to assume a leadership role?

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Elsewhere on the same site:

Church leaders of two mainline Protestant denominations yesterday (May 20) sent a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush expressing concern for the people of Gaza and the future of a nonviolent resolution to the conflict in the Middle East.

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So it's OK for the UCC to define its membership and to dictate policy to the government, but not for the Roman church. Go figure.

Folly #3: Revisionist Shakespeare

"Jennifer," a high-school English teacher, recounts an anecdote in which she got called to the principal's office for teaching that Shakespeare was influenced by the Bible:

I taught "Merchant of Venice" to seniors one year; in it there's a line where one character is insulting another, by saying something along the lines of "He damns the ears of all who hear him, by calling him 'fool.'" One of the kids asked me what that meant, so I explained that one of the lesser-known verses of the Book of Matthew has Jesus saying that anyone who calls another a fool will be damned. (I recited chapter and verse, though I can't remember it now.) . . .

"So anyway," I said to the class, "back in Shakespeare's day, when people were far more familiar with the Bible than they are now, instead of insulting someone by saying 'You are a fool,' you'd say 'You are a--well, I can't SAY what you are because then I'd go to hell.' That's what he's doing in the play."

Next day I get called into the principal's office; some parents were FURIOUS that I had told their kids that Jesus said anyone who says 'fool,' will go to Hell.

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So it's come to this. It is now "insulting kids' religions" for a literature teacher to discuss the influence of the Bible on Shakespeare. Some of those kids don't believe the Bible, therefore it is verboten to tell them the brute fact that Shakespeare did. God help us.