William Raspberry misses the point

Columnist William Raspberry wrote a piece this week concerning the recent Supreme Court rulings involving the 10 Commandments titled “Nation needs tolerance, especially of religious ideas”.

I tried to find a link that could be used so you could read his column before reading my comments but I couldn’t find one. It was published in my local paper on July 11th but you have to pay to read it. It was not on the Washington Post website, so please view the column on this special page if you want to read the column without my comments first.

Raspberry, not known to be a religious conservative, none the less presents the common myth that removing the Decalogue from government buildings and property is the same as removing religion from the public sphere and that it is anti-religious.

He talks with Kevin Hasson of the “The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty”.

Raspberry writes:

The trouble with the Kentucky display of the Ten Commandments, said the Supreme Court, while approving a similar display in Texas, is that it was motivated by a “predominately religious purpose.”

The trouble with the court’s confusing – some say absurd – rulings, says Kevin “Seamus” Hasson of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, is that they proceed from an impossible premise.

“The ‘predominately religious’ test suggests that anything not predominately secular must be religious. It in fact has strong anti-religious overtones.”

Hasson has it wrong. The test he refers to is what is used anytime a question about the state involving religion comes up. What is the purpose of the action? In the Kentucky cases it was quite clear that the county officials created the display to favor the Christian perspective while in Texas the monument was among other historical monuments.

Intent is always a factor in judicial reviews and has been since the court began and not just for religious issues.

The column continues:

Hasson, whose organization is devoted to defending the free expression of all religious traditions, believes the court – and many of America’s intellectuals and civil libertarians – are missing the fact that expunging religion from public life is neither possible nor desirable.

That isn’t the goal of any efforts that I know of. Common sense tells us that expunging religion from public life is not possible. This is a straw man argument – created by Raspberry in order to knock it down.

Hasson said:

“There’s nothing in common sense – and certainly nothing in the First Amendment – that requires government hostility to publicly expressed religion, which is where the requirement that government be ‘secular’ takes you,” he says. “I think it’s better to say ‘temporal’ rather than secular. Temporal means the here and now, without reference to the hereafter. Our government was designed to be temporal, but you have only to look at the words and actions of the founders to understand that they had no interest in the sort of secularity the court now seeks to enforce.”

That is a plain lie and used a lot by the religious right to justify their arguments.

History shows us that the founders were very weary of mixing religion and government and went so far as adopting the language that became the First Amendment. The language makes clear that the government is to be neutral in religious matters. The founders expressly left out the word “God” from the constitution, specifically prohibited a religious test to hold office, and many of the founders were deists – people who believe in a personal private God who has nothing to do with how the world runs after the creation of the bible. God had nothing to do with the formation of the country. It was the work of the founders.

There is also the unasked question. Why do people like Hasson believe that the government must acknowledge their religious beliefs with official acts or public displays?

As conservative commentator Cal Thomas wrote in 2000 concerning a court case against prayer at high school football games:

The Supreme Court said nothing at all about that far more powerful and effective type of prayer. But in our culture, which highly values what the world values (filled stadiums, television appearances and other visible expressions of “success”), things done out of public view don’t count for much. In fact, the only kind of faith that actually does work is that which is first practiced. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with the statement: “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.”

The behavior the Court did not and cannot proscribe is the kind that will make a far greater impression than teenagers praying at high-school football games. It is the behavior that begins with the discipline of deeds, including prayer for one’s enemies, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and caring for widows and orphans.

Conservative Christians ought to stop looking to the state for permission and validation and start looking to God for their commission and marching orders. With this kind of faith, they won’t have to petition government. Government will petition them to find out why what they’re doing works.

If and when they do, they will find they are exerting real influence. They will stop believing that public displays of their faith are changing anything, from the outcome of football games to the transformation of culture.

From: Court, Jesus agree on public prayer by Cal Thomas of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. Jun 22, 2000

Hasson said:

But it’s not just in impossibly arcane Supreme Court decisions that “secular” plays us false, says Hasson. “It gets us in needless trouble internationally as well. The Arabic word for secular is ‘almehni’, meaning godless. So when Muslim fundamentalists hear us talk about secular government, they think we mean, quite literally, a godless government. Temporal translates into another Arabic word entirely, ‘dunyawi’, or worldly.”

Hasson misunderstands Islam. Anything not Islamic is evil according to Islam. He can play word games to justify his agenda if he wants but using “temporal” is not going to cause Osama to give up or would have prevented the London bombings.

Raspberry writes:

Hasson, who has described himself as a Catholic conservative, recalls in his book several appearances on al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite network noted for its broadcasts of al-Qaida propaganda.

“Why did they take me seriously? I had already put my money where my mouth was. I had successfully defended the right of two Newark police officers, who were Sunni Muslims, to grow their beards. I get invited to Hasidic Jewish weddings (because I have) demonstrated respect for their consciences by successfully defending their rights.

“Writ large, that is the solution to the culture war: Respect for others’ consciences, even when we’re sure they’re wrong, is contagious. Not because it’s nice. Rather, it’s contagious because it conveys an important idea:

“Whether it’s a tradition as old and venerable as Buddhism or as new and flaky as parking-barrier worship doesn’t matter. Because of how we’re made, we are each free – within broad limits – to follow what we believe to be true in the manner our consciences say we must.

Hasson is right on one point. Religious beliefs and practices are an individual matter and almost no act or law can interfere, BUT it is a different matter when the STATE (aka the government) expresses or supports a particular religious view point through official acts or displays.

That is the point that people like Raspberry and Hasson totally ignore in their zeal to cram Christianity into the government. According to the Bible it is also un-Christian as Cal Thomas wrote in his column:

Jesus has this advice on prayer: “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. . . And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. . . But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matt. 6:1 and following).


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