Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On Religious Hostility

— A federal judge threatened “incarceration” to a high school valedictorian in Castroville, Texas, unless she removed references to Jesus from her graduation speech.

— City officials prohibited senior citizens in Balch Springs, Texas, from praying over their meals, listening to religious messages or singing gospel songs at a senior activities center.

— A public school official in St. Louis physically lifted an elementary school student from his seat and reprimanded him in front of his classmates for praying over his lunch.

These statements all just three of some 600 in a recent report on religious hostility. The report claims, “America would be unrecognizable to our Founders.” I’m not sure that true.

Our founding fathers were no strangers to religious hostility. I remember reading about Patrick Henry attending a trial in colonial America. The story goes that two Baptist men had been arrested because they were preaching outside of the authority of the religion in that area. Patrick Henry argued for their release by pointing out that these men had been arrested for preaching the Bible. They were released, but that doesn’t change the fact that prior to the First Amendment people were hostile to religious beliefs that opposed their own.

And what of the Danbury Baptists? They wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson because they feared the First Amendment was treating religious liberty “as favors granted and not as inalienable rights.” These are not the sentiments of men who did not know religious hostility.

Let’s face it. Religious hostility exists and has always existed in America. Though we have enjoyed freedom to practice the religion of our choice these many years, the First Amendment does not have the power to remove hostility. That “wall of separation” has taken a beating over the years. But it is still there. It has been weakened at times, but it is still there.

As the ones who benefit from the protection of that wall, we need to stand behind it and support it. When the government threatens to limit our freedom, we need to push back. When religions attempt to use the government for their own purposes, we need to push back. We need to strengthen that wall so that religion remains “a matter between God and individuals.”