Therefore, I created this blog in order to provide myself a little more room to articulate my position. My hope is that in doing so, my position will be at least understood and respected. I am not at all hopeful to persuade any who would disagree with me--although if that were to happen, that would be great.
Please understand: I am not out to win any arguments. If your mind is already made up on these issues, that's fine. I'm not trying to change your mind, because I can't. And I really do not have much time to debate. But at least after reading this, you will know where I stand and why.
Because this is more of a position paper than anything else, feel free to comment with the following conditions understood:
- Please--no personal attacks or insults;
- Avoid any offensive or vulgar language;
- Please provide links to any documentation you might reference
Having described my objective, I will begin.
My Position in the Report
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.
I understand that anyone, if they have the financial means to do so, may purchase billboard space to communicate with the commuting public. I could buy billboard space, my church could buy billboard space--understood. I respect that. And quite honestly, I have no problem with the billboard going up along the 94 freeway. I do not agree with the message of the billboard--by any stretch. But I am not threatened by it. Anyone who is genuinely seeking out truth ought to hear what the different groups have to say and then form an opinion or a belief. No problem.
My contention, however, lies within the accessibility of both groups to communicate their message in the public sector. Let me elaborate:
The Constitution was written in rather simple terms, using simple phrases so that the average citizen might be able to read and understand its content. The First Amendment is an example of such content:
The first two clauses of the First Amendment--also known as the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause--address the issues of a) the government establishing a state-run church such as the Church of England; and b) the government otherwise prohibiting or inhibiting the freedom of Americans to practice their religious beliefs.Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Notice that the phrase "separation of church and state" appears nowhere in the amendment. That phrase was used by President Thomas Jefferson in his reply to a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, who were concerned that this constitution would serve as a precursor to the establishment of a state-run church, where another denomination would receive favorable standing in the state and they as Baptists would be on the outside looking in, as it were.
Fast forward to 1947. A fellow named Arch Everson did not like the fact that his tax dollars were going to reimburse parents in the township of Ewing, New Jersey, who were transporting their children to school--both public and parochial--via public transportation. Everson contended that such reimbursement violated both the federal constitution as well as the New Jersey Constitution. In what became the well-known case of Everson v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court found 5-4 that it was not a violation of either charter. However, in writing the majority opinion, Justice Hugo Black concluded by writing the following:
The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach. New Jersey has not breached it here.
What is interesting is that in reading Black's opinion, he warns against the establishment of a state-sponsored church. His decision supporting the Board of Education indicates that tax money used to reimburse parents' public transportation costs in sending their kids to parochial school did not constitute an establishment of a state-sponsored religion.
Yet numerous judicial decisions since 1947 have used Black's statement to create the notion that "separation of church and state" means that the "church" (now religion in general) needs to stay completely out of the public square. Out of the school, out of the halls of legislature, out of public property.
The problem then arises, in my opinion, with the second clause of the First Amendment, the Free Exercise Clause. These relatively recent misuses of Jefferson's phrase to misrepresent the Establishment Clause have now crossed into the territory where the Free Exercise Clause is routinely violated. Something as publicly displaying a Nativity scene in a park, where the state has not proactively sponsored, either financially or otherwise, is seen as establishing a state religion and thus a violation of the Establishment Clause. Yet such a prohibition itself could constitute a violation of the Free Exercise Clause, as that group putting up the Nativity scene is thereby prohibited from the free exercise of its religious beliefs.
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.
The irony of this lies in understanding just how the term "religion" is defined. Consider the definitions found at dictionary.com:
"a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects;"It is my contention that humanism, as well as atheism, are in actuality religions:
- They both have a set of beliefs as to the cause of the universe;
- They both have a set of beliefs as to the nature of the universe;
- They both have a set of beliefs as to the purpose of the universe;
- They would both espouse the human intellect (call it reason, knowledge, or whatever you please) as the supreme source of authority;
- They would both point to the ultimate purpose of humanity to be self-realization
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.
Yet my contention is not that I believe that humanism/atheism should be removed from the public square. In fact, I believe the exact opposite: that the humanists and the atheists should have every opportunity to exercise their religious beliefs without any governmental intrusion.
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.
So yes, I understand the difference between groups buying billboard space to put their message out in public, and a display on public property. Yes, I understand that I have the same opportunity to buy billboard space as does the humanist/atheist coalition in San Diego. But my point had to do with what I consider to be the inconsistent application of the First Amendment with regards to the humanists/atheists and every other religious group when it comes to public square messaging opportunities. I am one who believes that one viewpoint should not be espoused in the public square to the exclusion of all others.