Category Archives: Establishment of Religion

Edouard Convictions Reinstated

On Friday the Iowa Supreme Court re-instated the trial court’s convictions of Patrick Edouard for violating Iowa’s Sexual Exploitation by a Counselor statute.

The Court began with a sad recitation of facts as a jury might have received them. According to witnesses, Rev. Edouard preached sermons that were “‘amazing,’ ‘great,’ and ‘dynamic.’ ‘He definitely could preach the word of God.’” But in private Continue reading


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A Victory for Solemn Civility, I Guess

Uncle Sam in PrayerSome things don’t change. Two thousand years after Paul’s sermon at Athens, Greece is still free to invoke the gods. Now it’s in Greece, New York, where, in Town of Greece v. Galloway the Supreme Court has held that “government must permit a prayer giver to address his or her own God or gods as conscience dictates.” This is thought to be a good thing because “Prayer that is solemn and respectful in tone, that invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common ends before they embark on the fractious business of governing” lends gravity to civic occasions and that prayer “reflect[s] values long part of the Nation’s heritage.” Perhaps civil religion does help what is civil, thought it’s another question altogether whether it helps religion.

Noting that this was a 5-4 decision does not adequately show the depth of the Court’s division, which was accompanied by two concurring opinions and two dissents. The majority opinion was written by the moderate Justice Kennedy, and I suspect his motivation was moderate as well. The motivation behind this decision to allow prayers prior to board meetings in Greece might be no more than his observation that “A test that would sweep away what has so long been settled would create new controversy.” Since so much of the country is still reeling from same-sex marriage decisions, Kennedy might have a point.

As for the law, the establishment clause is not offended if there is no coercion involved. That is, it is not enough that someone is offended by the prayer, as long as there is no govermental coercion. On this pont, the SCOTUS explains:

Nothing in the record suggests that members of the publicare dissuaded from leaving the meeting room during the prayer, arriving late, or even, as happened here, making a later protest. …board members and constituents are “free to enter and leave with little comment and for any number of reasons.”… Should nonbelievers choose to exit the room during a prayer they find distasteful, their absence will not stand out as disrespectful or even noteworthy. And should they remain, their quiet acquiescence will not, in light of our traditions, be interpreted as an agreement with the words or ideas expressed. Neither choice represents an unconstitutional imposition as to mature adults, who “presumably”are “not readily susceptible to religious indoctrination or peer pressure.”

I suppose I should be excited about this. Let me work on that.

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Filed under Church and State, Courts, Establishment of Religion

The ACLU is Right Again – But for Different Reasons

Should_portrait_of_Jesus_at_school_be_re_215490002_20130108073853_320_240From The Christian Post:

The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have filed suit against an Ohio school district where one school has a prominently displayed portrait of Jesus Christ.

The “portrait” is the old-fashioned print of a bearded man with long wavy hair who is looking at the horizon. Continue reading


Filed under Culture Wars, Establishment of Religion, Religious rights, Uncategorized

Church Freedom and Church Subjection to the Court

edouard testifyingAnyone considering the Bandstra v. Edouard petition might be concerned about how much a court can tell a church what it must do.  For example, can a court second-guess a church’s hiring and supervision of its pastor?  Can a court declare an elder’s moral assessment to be defamation?  We know there is a “separation of church and state,” be we also grant that pastors can be required to obey the speed limit and churches are justly liable for on-premises injuries due to an obviously dangerous condition.  Today we’ll take a look at how two courts have drawn the line between church freedom and church subjection.

In a 1997 case that arose from sexual activity between an adult woman and a priest who was giving her marriage counseling, the Maine Supreme Court considered a suit against the Catholic Church. Continue reading


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The Bible in the Public Square vs. Our Natural Law Foundation

In considering the propriety of arguing from the scriptures in the public square (to advocate in the civil realm) it is well to think of the characteristics of that square. In this regard, the question is not what may be said; the right of free speech does and should allow for scriptures in the public square. Rather, the focus should be on the nature of the public square, i.e., its foundation and consequently the language suitable for the public square. And with that understanding, it is well to consider the Declaration of Independence:

Declaration-of-independence-broadside-croppedWhen in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,

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Filed under Church and State, Culture Wars, Establishment of Religion, Natural Law

The Annual Battle Over Nativity Scenes

Of all the places for the Savior to be born, God chose not a place of kings, of the wealthy, nor of the powerful. The scene is not even one of comfort, but one which shows that neither worldly power, worldly affluence, or worldly wealth were his interest. It would not be a place a husband would choose for his wife, nor one the pregnant wife would choose for her comfort or the well-being of her child.

pbsremix-bobrossjpg-3dca534ebf24ad7cYet we have romanticized the occasion, with lyrics that speak of bright stars above, cattle lowing, the “sweet” head of the Lord Jesus, and “no crying he makes.” For a visible representation of this misapprehension, consider the standard nativity scene. It is to the biblical narrative what the PBS painter guy is to art, with a little bit of a Norman Rockwell nostalgia mixed in.51aWWLwtC6L__SL500_AA300_

That nativity scenes have become an annual source of contention is evidence not of vital Christianity but of something gone awry.

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Filed under Establishment of Religion, Free exercise of religion, Religious rights

The Line Between Free Speech and Establishment of Religion

CEF logo

In balancing the various First Amendment clauses it is important to remember that the Establishment Clause forbids “government speech” which endorses religion, while the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect private speech endorsing religion

Child Evangelism Fellowship of Minnesota v. Minneapolis Special School District No. 1 is a story of a school district that denied CEF permission to continue to utilize the district’s after school enrichment program that is “designed to encourage social, mental, physical and creative abilities, promote leadership development and improve academic performance.” CEF had previously been involved in the program and had distributed flyers on which the district disclaimed sponsorship and endorsement. After the district denied CEF’s access to that program its attendance declined from 47 down to 5.

A district official had overheard a prayer to Jesus Christ and thereafter the district informed CEF that it would no longer have access to the program due to its “prayer and proselytizing.”

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Filed under Establishment of Religion, Religious rights

So What is Rick Santorum’s Religion?

Logo from Regnum Christi Chicago

Assessing Mitt Romney is a matter of reviewing his record, evaluating his proposals, and weighing his intangibles. Since he’s given no indication that his Mormonism will at the heart of his potential Presidency, his religion is a non-issue. Not so with Rick Santorum given his nauseation over the idea of separating church from state.  But just what is this church that won’t be separated from the state?

Since Santorum has made it an issue, it was no hit piece when the New York Times recently detailed his religious life, noting that Continue reading


Filed under Church and State, Establishment of Religion, evangelical politics

Sometimes Losing is the Best Option

You’re the Superintendent of a school district. A couple high schools in your district don’t have suitable spaces for graduations.  So, by student vote with the principals’ approval and your acquiescence, the graduation ceremonies are held in the sanctuary of the church you attend.  Here’s what the church is like during the graduation ceremonies:

 [a] sizeable cross was not the only vehicle for conveying religious messages to graduation attendees. Upon passing through the exterior doors of the church, attendees proceeded into a lobby that contained numerous religious materials. Those materials included pamphlets for “middle school” and “high school” ministries. The middle school ministry pamphlet stated, “We are calling students to live and love like Jesus.” Continue reading


Filed under Courts, Culture Wars, Establishment of Religion, Religious rights