Fatal Contradictions

Gallons of ink and piles of paper will be consumed in analyzing Lee v. Weisman, the Supreme Court's dreadful decision banning prayer at public school graduations. But we mustn't overlook several other recent church-state cases--cases the Court chose not to hear, allowing a lower court's ruling to stand. Taken together, these cases make a patchwork quilt of contradictions that no one could possibly make sense of. Consider just a few of them. A teacher in Denver, Colorado, was ordered by a district court to stop reading a Bible during recess and to remove religious books from his classroom library. The court ruled that a Bible may be shelved, however, in the school library. Figure that one out if you can: It treats religious literature as dangerous to young minds if kept in a classroom library, but harmless if kept in the school library. In another case, the city of Zion, Illinois, was ordered to remove the cross from its city seal, which dates back to the turn of the century when Zion was founded as a religious community. Yet Austin, Texas, which also has a cross on its city seal, was allowed to keep it. The Supreme Court said the cross could stay because of its historical roots. The two rulings are completely contradictory. In Crestwood, Illinois, a lower court ruled against holding an Italian-language mass in a public park during the city's annual Italian festival. Yet in the Equal Access ruling a few years ago, the Supreme Court said religious groups may not be singled out and barred from public facilities. If other groups are permitted to use a public place, religious groups may not be denied access. That would be discrimination. It seems that when it comes to church-state issues, our courts are hopelessly confused. And the reason is that most judges have forgotten the original purpose of the First Amendment. The establishment clause was designed to prevent a national church--a church that all Americans would be compelled by the government to attend and to support with their tithes. Obviously, America has no national church. The First Amendment has done its job well. So now the courts--hand in hand with the ACLU--are stretching the First Amendment to apply to all sorts of other things it was never designed to cover. It's being used to wipe religion out of public life. So today a teacher may have all sorts of other books on his desk and shelves--but if there's a religious book among them, it's singled out for removal. A city may have all sorts of other symbols on its city seal--but if there's a religious symbol among them, it's singled out for removal. This destructive trend is not going to stop until Christians learn the true meaning of the First Amendment, and then lovingly teach it to our friends and local leaders. The purpose of the First Amendment is to protect religious liberty--not to turn America into a secular society.


Chuck Colson


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