Church/State Separation—Where Is the Line?

What is the fascination with putting Christian propaganda on public property? Is it a Tourette’s kind of thing, where some people just can’t avoid crossing the “Do Not Cross” line?

Another Christian display on public land

A year ago, a private Christian group erected a Ten Commandments monument on courthouse property in Starke, Florida. American Atheists fought to have the monument removed. They lost that fight, but they did force the county to create a “free speech zone” to permit monuments with other views, and they recently erected their own atheist monument. To no one’s surprise, some Christians are displeased.

In “Atheists Flood the Public Square,” Benjamin Wiker sounds the alarm to concerned Christians. This comes from tothesource, a site with the slogan, “Challenging hardcore secularism with principled pluralism.” (You mean like the hardcore secularism that’s defined in the U.S. Constitution?).

Wiker imagines an elaborate game of chess (or chicken) where the atheists exploit loopholes in the system to annoy honest, hardworking Christians who want nothing more than to exercise their freedom of religion. With luck, these atheists figure, they can so burden Christians that defending their God-given rights becomes too difficult and they retreat.

The strategy is to flood the monument market until Christians simply give up, give in, and move out.

I have no interest in taking rights away from Christians. I don’t think I’ve met an atheist who does. The problem may be that we disagree on the rights the Constitution gives to Christians.

Let’s be clear: the Constitution calls the shots. In the U.S., the Constitution grounds our rights, not Christianity or the Bible. Religion has a safe haven within society because, and only because, the Constitution says so. That haven doesn’t come from God or the supernatural. It’s not part of some “natural law” outside humanity that everyone can sense.

If your attitude is that the Bible is your Constitution, don’t expect any respect for that opinion in a courtroom. In fact, the U.S. Constitution was the world’s first explicitly neutral constitution and its protections make it the Christian’s best friend.

I don’t get why this author is so agitated in the first place. Christianity doesn’t already have enough public displays of its message? Or is Christianity’s hold on its adherents so fragile that it needs to rope the government into proclaiming its message as well?

Ah, but atheism is a religion!

The game atheists play, according to Wiker, is to “flood the public square with monuments” to drive away the Christian ones. Eventually, we’ll have the atheists’ goal, the “naked public square.”

If we’re talking about the literal public square, then Wiker’s hysteria is off target. Again, no atheists are talking about removing free speech, religion included, from the public square. On the other hand, if we’re talking about the state-supported public square—schools, courthouses, and government buildings—then he’s exactly right. Atheists demand no religion or, failing that, equal access for all worldviews.

But don’t pretend that this is fair, Wiker tells us.

The truth is secular liberalism isn’t what you get when you subtract all religions. What you get when you subtract religion is another religion, secular liberalism, an entirely secular worldview dominated by materialism and hedonism and exceedingly intolerant of all other religions, especially Christianity.

Again, who wants this? I see the problem with materialism and hedonism. I see the problem with religious intolerance. What fantasy world is this guy living in?

But approach this from another angle. See him as Chicken Little, spreading alarm to rally the faithful, and his rant begins to make sense. Whipping up support through hysteria seems to be the goal, not honesty.

Christians, you’re on your own!

Christians can’t expect the government to protect Christianity; Wiker says they must do it themselves.

Face it, we Christians have become slothful. We wanted the government to ensure that we could enjoy all the benefits of living in a Christianized culture, without any of the work or sacrifice on our part—a kind of welfare mentality in regard to the faith.

As before (with the use of “public square”), he’s using words with several meanings. What’s a “Christianized culture”? If it’s a culture in which religion is protected, that’s something that I want as well. Dr. Wiker, show me where in America the right of Christianity to exist or Christians to profess their beliefs in the (literal) public square is under threat, and I’ll publicly express my support for your cause. The Constitution that doesn’t protect the Christian won’t protect the atheist either.

But if “Christianized culture” means a culture suffused with Christianity (“Merry Christmas” during the holidays, churches on every other corner, overwhelming church attendance), you’re on your own. Look to the market to support this. Don’t expect the government to help you out or even to care.

[Our mistake is that] we want the federal government to ensure that our faith is displayed publicly, even though we have done precious little to evangelize the public, so that more and more of the public is less and less Christian.

Who could possibly expect the federal government to display Christianity publicly? The only reference to religion in the Constitution is to prohibit any religious test for public office. The First Amendment says, “Government shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Just how weak is your faith that you would ever expect government help?

Other posts in this series:

When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity.
When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a religion.
— Robert M. Pirsig

Photo credit: Before It’s News

10 Commandments (for Atheists)
Church Civil Disobedience: Pulpit Freedom Sunday
Ten Commandments Have no Role in Public
God Needs a 12-Step Program to Obey His 10 Commandments
About Bob Seidensticker

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