Lutheran church wins Supreme Court case

Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) of Columbia, Missouri, won its case at the Supreme Court.  The state of Missouri had denied its application for a program to use shredded rubber to make its playground more safe, invoking a state law against taxpayer money going to a religious institution.

Said Chief Justice John Roberts in the decision, “the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”

The vote was 7-2, with Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg dissenting.

This was the second Missouri Synod congregation to successfully petition the Supreme Court in an important church/state case.  In 2012, the court ruled that Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church could define its “ministers” as it wishes, throwing out a discrimination suit from a teacher in its school who was fired.

[Read more…]

LCMS congregation will go before the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case from an LCMS congregation.  Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri, was denied a state grant to improve its school’s playground, in the name of the separation of church and state.  This could prove to be an important case in drawing those lines.  Watch for  Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley. [Read more…]

Supreme Court allows Christian prayers in public meetings

The Supreme Court has ruled that public meetings, including those involving local governments, may feature distinctly Christian prayers, including those that are in the name of Jesus. [Read more…]

Pulpit Freedom Sunday

Yesterday had been declared “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” by a group of activist pastors and a conservative legal organization.  Over a thousand pastors purposefully violated the law by endorsing, by name, a political candidate, something non-profit organizations are not allowed to do.  They recorded their endorsement sermons and are all going to send a copy to the IRS.

The idea is to force the IRS to take action against them, setting up a court challenge on the grounds that the law violates the Constitution’s guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  See Pastors to take on IRS in plan to preach politics from the pulpit | Fox News.

Did any of you pastors take part in this act of civil disobedience?  Did any of you attend a church where this happened?  Do you know of any Lutheran churches that participated (which would seem to be a clear violation not only of the secular law but of Lutheran doctrine with its Two Kingdoms theology)?

Doesn’t this violate Romans 13?  Shouldn’t the churches that did this lose their tax exempt status?  After all, civil disobedience includes taking the punishment for violating the law.  If churches want to exercise a political authority–something that the Reformation utterly opposed when the Pope did this sort of thing–shouldn’t they just abandon their tax exempt status so they can function like other political organizations?  Is it really unconstitutional?  Or is there a case to be made for Pulpit Freedom Sunday?  If so, what is it?

The hedge of separation

John Garvey, the president of Catholic University, has written an op-ed piece in which he explains why his institution is joining scores of other Catholic groups in filing a lawsuit against the contraceptive & abortifacient mandate in Obamacare.  In the course of his essay (in which he mentions also the Hossana-Tabor case involving the LCMS school), Garvey discusses the “wall of separation of church and state,” finding the metaphor’s origins not in Thomas Jefferson (who wanted to protect the state from the church) but, earlier, in Roger Williams (who wanted to protect the church from the state):

When the Supreme Court first considered the issue of aid to parochial schools in the 1947 case Everson v. Board of Education , it invoked separation as a limiting principle. The court quoted Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Conn.: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

Jefferson was a child of the Enlightenment, suspicious of organized religion. He believed that efforts to establish an official religion led to persecution and civil war.

The metaphor was not original to Jefferson, though. Roger Williams, who founded the colony of Rhode Island on principles of religious tolerance, used it in 1644. History has shown, he observed, that when churches “have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall . . . and made his garden a wilderness.”

Williams had different reasons than Jefferson for preaching separation. Jefferson thought that religion was bad for government. Williams thought that mixing church and state was bad for the church.

These two perspectives often give us the same results. They both warn against tax support for churches and against prayers composed by public school boards. But Williams’s theological metaphor may have been more influential than Jefferson’s political one in the adoption of the First Amendment.

via For the government, what counts as Catholic? – The Washington Post.

Not just a “wall” of separation but a “hedge” of separation.  The church is a garden.  The world is a wilderness.  Making a hole in the hedge is punished by God who turns the garden into a wilderness.  Powerful metaphors.  Apply them to current issues.

And yet, is Rogers’ formulation adequate?  He was a Baptist, so we see here elements of the doctrine of separation from the world.  Is the secular arena more than just a wilderness?

Courthouse Christmas displays gone mad

Christmas time is here, so it must be time for controversies over Christmas displays at the county courthouse.  Every year we have one here in Loudon County, Virginia.  Having a Nativity Scene, including one that had been donated by a local family and that had become a tradition, would seem to violate the separation of church and state.  Even Christmas trees have a Christian association.  So surely if the courthouse displays Christian symbols, it would be appropriate to display a Jewish menorah, since Hannukah takes place in the same season.  And we had better display an Islamic Crescent, even though no Muslim holidays are really at issue.  But now the imperative of being “interfaith” has given way to the imperative of including no-faith and anti-faith displays.

What the county officials did, to solve the annual controversy, was to agree to put up symbols of the first 10 people or groups to apply for a space.  So here is what we ended up with:

– The Welsh family nativity scene

– A sign calling Christian figures “myths” and promoting the Loudoun Atheists submitted by a Leesburg resident

– A banner promoting the separation of church and state by American Atheists and NOVA Atheists, submitted by a Leesburg resident

– A banner calling for “reason in the holiday season” submitted by a Lansdowne resident

– A holiday display possibly including the Tree of Knowledge from a Sterling resident

– A letter from Jesus submitted by a Middleburg resident

– A Santa Claus on a cross to depict the materialistic nature of the holiday, submitted by a Middleburg resident

– Two signs from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, one from a Leesburg resident and the other from a Reston resident

The tenth application, which may or may not be allowed to present a display, is Christmas-themed and submitted by Potomac Falls Anglican Church.

via WMAL 105.9 FM/AM 630: Stimulating Talk – Breaking News.

So in this Christmas display, there will be at most three Christian symbols (depending on what the “letter from Jesus” says, and depending on whether the Anglicans get their display accepted).  Maybe just one, the traditional Nativity scene.   The others will be signs from atheists, either directly attacking Christianity (saying that Jesus is a myth), or mocking God (“the flying spaghetti monster,” which atheists pretend to argue for, as just as valid as the arguments for the existence of God), or just being blasphemous (Santa Claus crucified on a Cross).

If the county is indeed advocating Christianity by allowing displays of its symbols to mark a Christian holiday, then by the same logic  the county is now advocating atheism.

Wouldn’t it be better not to have anything?  Is there some other solution, such as allowing different religious groups to have displays, but not groups that are, by definition, not religious?  Or just leave it to churches to celebrate the birth of Christ, cutting the government out of it, even though that, of course, is what the atheists are trying to achieve?