When pastor Robert Dekker of Lewes, Delaware decided it would be a neat idea to hold weekly church services on the public beach of nearby Rehoboth, the well-informed city manager rejected the plan. Rehoboth Beach may not issue such a permit, the manager wrote to Dekker, because that would run afoul of the Constitution:
“I am so sorry to inform you that I cannot grant your request to have church services on the public beach in Rehoboth. I cannot mix Church and State. I trust you understand. Wishing you the very best.”
For instance, Dekker keeps stressing that he’s not a “mean” or “nasty” person and that he really likes the folks at city hall — apparently forgetting that he’s been distributing a flyer that accuses them of nothing less than tyranny.
He invokes Jesus’ peacemaking to describe the love that’s in his own heart, and yet implicitly connects Rehoboth Beach’s executive staff to World War II nazism — three times.
He says he wanted to have 8:00a weekly sermons to minimize traffic disruptions, then announces an illegal mid-morning beach service on what may well be Rehoboth’s busiest day of the year. (I’ve been there half a dozen times — the place can get crowded.)
Yeah, you heard right — despite not having a permit, the good reverend is going to turn a stretch of public beach into an open-air church anyway.
The deliberate lawbreaking is pretty remarkable in its own right, but two further things about his defense of the “Line in the Sand” rally strike me as opprobrious.
One is the assertion that he’s being silenced:
God has called me to preach the gospel, preach the good news. … To put a muzzle on my mouth and say that I can’t speak about Jesus is disheartening to ponder.
As for public property, he’s got rights there, too, just like you and I do: He may pass out flyers, or try to engage strangers in conversations about Jesus (not that they have to listen to him!), or walk around dawn to dusk with a sandwich board praising his deity of choice.
It’s true that holding an actual church service on city property would be just as ill-advised as installing a nativity scene there. The courts don’t allow it.
Is that censorship? Tyranny? Please.
The other thing that irked me is this bit of sophistry:
My dad lived in the Netherlands and endured some of the occupation stuff, and when he became an American and transformed from an immigrant to citizen, there were some neat things that America had that he longed for, and some of those freedoms are — to be able to worship God.
I happen to be an immigrant to America myself. Like Dekker’s dad, I was born, raised, and educated in the Netherlands. The son’s implication that his father wasn’t free to practice his religion until he came to the U.S. is pure hokum. Though my country of origin started seriously secularizing in the sixties, religious freedom is hardly under attack in Holland even today. Except for the German occupation, when Jews had to live in constant fear of their lives, it never was. To argue otherwise is to dismiss the historical evidence.
That Christians twist themselves into pretzels to construct some persecution narrative is one of the least attractive features of their faith — right next to their propensity to claim the public sphere as if it is their private theater, exhibition space, and canvas.
I see the elder Dekker’s ostensible reason for emigration from Holland, and I raise him one: I came here, among other things, to bask in a Constitution that, far from pushing gods down my gullet, allows me to be free from government-sponsored religion.
At least, that’s the idea(l) — one that’s worth defending against the creeping swell of Christian privilege.