Christian Pastor Who Made Boneheaded Comment on Local News Segment Tries to Clear It Up

After the San Diego Coalition of Reason put up their latest billboard, a local news channel did a story on it. As usual, they tried to get an opposing viewpoint to provide “balance” to the story and they got Pastor Chris Clark of the East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church.

While Clark sounded just fine initially, he said something completely inane toward the end of his sound bite:

Pastor Chris Clark

“I don’t know that they’re picking a fight necessarily. I think they’re trying to get their message out,” said Clark.

Clark said he supports the group’s freedom of speech. He just wants to make sure there’s no pushback if his church wants a billboard recruiting believers.

“All I’m asking for is equal access. Don’t get upset when there’s a nativity scene on the public square,” said Clark.

Umm… no. That’s not how it works. Just because atheists pay for a billboard doesn’t mean you get unfettered access to promote your religion on the public square — unless atheists (and everybody else) get to put up their own displays next to yours.

Anyway, Clark has now set up a blog of his own specifically to respond to criticisms of his remarks:

Time would simply not allow a full development of my position in the brief news report. A mere 15-20 seconds of sound byte is hardly enough time to describe what I had for dinner, let alone a position on such a topic.

For the record, I understand the difference between private property and public property. I understand the difference between private parties engaging in a business transaction with an advertising agency to purchase billboard space to communicate their product, service, or message, and a message that is displayed on public property.

Fair point. Sound bites aren’t always fair. Let’s see how Clark elaborates on his remarks now that he has all the space he wants to do it:

Notice that the phrase “separation of church and state” appears nowhere in the [First] amendment…

Oh, Jesus, he’s playing this game…

The irony to this debate comes when the elements of secularism, humanism, and atheism are introduced into the public square. Secular, humanist, and atheist beliefs are not only permitted, but welcomed.

As such, there are more than a few examples of humanism/atheism on display in the public square — in education, in the halls of government, on public property. Were it necessary to cite specific examples, an additional blog post would be in order.

It’s in order. Let’s see these examples. Because I can’t recall public schoolchildren reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with the phrase “One Nation, under no God, indivisible…” or members of Congress being sworn in on a Richard Dawkins‘ book after getting elected.

So what’s he talking about? The teaching of evolution? Government neutrality on matters of religion? I’d love to know.

Finally, Clark gets to the meat of his comments (emphasis his):

For example, I have no problem whatsoever with a humanist/atheist display in a public area that states their view. I have no problem with a sign in a park with their new slogan that is being used on the billboard by the 94 freeway. I don’t think the government has any business prohibiting the free exercise of the humanists or the atheists to espouse and practice their deeply held beliefs, as that is protected by the First Amendment.

All I am asking is that the same protection be afforded to the Christian groups that want to put a Nativity scene in that same park nearby the humanists’/atheists’ sign. Let the Jews put up a symbol of their religion; Muslims theirs; Buddhists and Hindus theirs. Let them all freely exercise their religious beliefs; and if that includes allowing them a chance to publicly display those beliefs, then so be it.

There’s only one problem with that statement: That’s exactly what the law demands and it’s what atheists have been fighting for this whole time. So why act like we’re opposed to it?

The problems occur when Christians want special access to government property and exclusion of all other points of view. While Christians usually just have to ask politely to put up a Nativity Scene in front of City Hall, atheists often have to file lawsuits to get the same treatment.

I promise you no atheist group has a problem with a Nativity Scene on public property — as long as we can put up a display of our own right beside it. If that’s too problematic for everyone, then local governments shouldn’t allow any displays at all.

December isn’t owned by Christians. They don’t deserve better treatment than everyone else in the eyes of the government.

If Clark thinks Christians have it rough when it comes to public displays of religion, he has no idea what the rest of us have to put up with.

(Thanks to @crankyhumanist for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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