Flag Lowing for the Pope is Un-American

While surfing the web Saturday night I came across a blog where the writer complained about the Freedom From Religion Foundation complaining about the Governor of Wisconsin ordering the lowing of flags on state buildings to mark the death of Pope John Paul II back in April. Here is part of the story the blog quoted:

Half-staff flags for pope questioned

Doug Erickson Wisconsin State Journal

A Madison secular organization is protesting Gov. Jim Doyle’s order to fly flags at half-staff at public buildings all week to remember Pope John Paul II.

The gesture “appears like an endorsement of Roman Catholicism over other religious viewpoints,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Gaylor said her organization would have looked the other way if the order had been for just Friday – the day of the pope’s funeral – instead of all week.

“This seems excessive,” she said. “Not everyone in the country is Roman Catholic, and (the pope’s) not even American.”

The blog author went on about how the FFRF complaint was trivial since the Pope was known for fighting Communism. He also said that FFRF and the American Humanist Association’s Tony Hileman (also quoted in the Journal article) were “cry babies”.

Here is an expanded version of the comment I left on that blog:

The Pope is the leader of a church and half mast flags for a week at the order of a Governor for the leader of a church is excessive and quite frankly goes against the tradition of separation of church and state. Back in 1960, when JFK was running for President, evangelical Christians and other Protestants complained that Kennedy was unfit for office because he was Catholic. They smeared him as a pawn of the Vatican and a danger to all the good Christians in the US.

Kennedy decided to meet the issue head on in a speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, which was a southern Baptist group, in September 1960. He said in part:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute — where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote — where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference — and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish — where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source — where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials — and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For, while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew — or a Quaker — or a Unitarian — or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim — but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end — where all men and all churches are treated as equal — where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice — where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind — and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, both the lay and the pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe — a great office that must be neither humbled by making it the instrument of any religious group, nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding it, its occupancy from the members of any religious group. I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty (nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so). And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for if they disagree with that safeguard, they should be openly working to repeal it.

I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none — who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require him to fulfill — and whose fulfillment of his Presidential office is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.

This is the kind of America I believe in — and this is the kind of America I fought for in the South Pacific and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we might have a “divided loyalty,” that we did “not believe in liberty or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened “the freedoms for which our forefathers died.”

And in fact this is the kind of America for which our forefathers did die when they fled here to escape religious test oaths, that denied office to members of less favored churches, when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom — and when they fought at the shrine I visited today — the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died Fuentes and McCafferty and Bailey and Bedillio and Carey — but no one knows whether they were Catholics or not. For there was no religious test there.

I ask you tonight to follow in that tradition, to judge me on the basis of fourteen years in the Congress — on my declared stands against an ambassador to the Vatican, against unconstitutional aid to parochial schools, and against any boycott of the public schools (which I attended myself) — and instead of doing this do not judge me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we have all seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic Church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries, and rarely relevant to any situation here — and always omitting of course, that statement of the American bishops in 1948 which strongly endorsed church-state separation.

I do not consider these other quotations binding upon my public acts — why should you? But let me say, with respect to other countries, that I am wholly opposed to the state being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit or prosecute the free exercise of any other religion. And that goes for any persecution at any time, by anyone, in any country.

And I hope that you and I condemn with equal fervor those nations which deny it to Catholics. And rather than cite the misdeeds of those who differ, I would also cite the record of the Catholic Church in such nations as France and Ireland — and the independence of such statesmen as de Gaulle and Adenauer.

But let me stress again that these are my views — for, contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President [but the candidate] who happens also to be a Catholic.

I do not speak for my church on public matters — and the church does not speak for me.

Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictate. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if this election is decided on the basis that 40,000,000 Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.

ADDRESS TO SOUTHERN BAPTIST LEADERS (1960)

So it makes the week long flag lowering and President Bush kneeling at the foot of John Paul II’s body at the funeral all the more un-American. If we continue down that road then everyone will need a tissue.

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Doug Written by:

Founder, editor and host of Secular Left - please be gentle