If you closely follow the culture wars you know that a court has ruled the Bronx Household of Faith may hold its services in a school building in New York City. Yadda, yadda, whatever – Presbyterian Blues isn’t as concerned about who wins as much as it is about why they win. And on that note, guess what? It wasn’t the white hat Free Exercise clause that won the day but the superciliously slandered, maliciously maligned Establishment Clause that saved the day. Check it out:
the Court concludes that Ch. Reg. D-180 “call[s] for official and continuing surveillance leading to an impermissible degree of [government] entanglement” with religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause.
Is that poetry, or what? But in case you’ve forgotten the Establishment Clause, the U.S. Constitution tells us that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” You may think the Establishment Clause is just there to take prayer out of schools and creches out of public squares but it can keep the government away from doing theology. And from where I sit, it’s a good thing Representative Pelosi and Representative Boehner aren’t working together on a theological compromise bill as I write this.
Back to the case in the Bronx, the school district was making theological determinations of what “worship” is. It’s a question the school district was deciding because the district regulated the use of the buildings with the following exclusion:
[n]o permit shall be granted for the purpose of holding religious worship services, or otherwise using a school as a house of worship.
In response to this regulation, a pastor contacted the school board to ask if her church’s Wednesday night activity would constitute impermissible worship. Here’s what followed:
[The Pastor] explained in a subsequent email that “Wednesday night is Prayer . . . and congregation members come to the front to share their requests. And then they pray. Our Bible Study is teaching from our Pastor or from one of our elders or ministers.” … The Board official eventually answered Cole’s inquiry by stating that “Bible study would be ok, but not prayer meetings.”
Now consider a Presbyterian trivia question: how many Orthodox Presbyterians pastors have been quoted in federal court decisions? I have no idea, but to explain why school district officials shouldn’t define worsip, Judge Loretta Preska quotes Orthodox Presbyterian Pastor Brian Hertzog:
From my theological perspective, the Bible gives us a taxonomy of worship that includes different angles on this word. For example, there is a sense (from the Bible) that everything the Christian does is worship—including eating and drinking . . . . There is another aspect of worship which includes certain things that are more particularly set apart for God. For example, prayer can rightly be called worship, because it is an act of worship.
In view of all this, the Court concluded:
it is the religious adherents alone who can determine for themselves how to “shape [their] own faith,” Hosanna-Tabor, 132 S. Ct. at 706, and no amount of bureaucratic second-guessing—even if based solely on the adherents’ own words—may invade their province.
I usually delete legal citations, but I hope you recognize Hosanna-Tabor as the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court that we looked at not too long ago. So whine all you want about their Obamacare decision but be fair and give credit where it is due. That would include giving credit to the Establishment Clause.