Whenever possible, I like to find real-time connections for the things I write about here. Like Friday’s post on capital punishment, for instance. Sometimes, those tie-ins are few and far between; other times, it feels like I’m buried under an avalanche of time-critical subjects, all crying out to be addressed right now. If I was a better, more disciplined writer (like Fred Clark, maybe) I’d post more often than 3 days a week. Or, more than once a day. Unfortunately, life gets in the way of that. And, by life, I mean essential activities like catching up on Marvels Agents of Shield or The Daily Show (a case can be made for TDS being research), playing Solitaire Magic on Facebook or heading over to the comic book store for my latest fix of Locke and Key. But, I digress. What I’m trying to say is it’s a real boom or bust environment and, right now, it’s booming.
Last week, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that sectarian prayers could be offered at government meetings without violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. While, for many of us, this is extremely troubling, others don’t see it that way. For conservatives, this was a major victory, even if it didn’t go far enough. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, said “…government has no business restricting or regulating the free exercise of religion anywhere—including in the public square.” Holy crap, Robert.
Now, you would think that a good Baptist couldn’t support any violation of the separation of church and state. I mean, seriously, the Baptist church in America was founded in part because early Baptists wouldn’t allow their children to be baptized (a practice in the Puritan colonies that had distinct political overtones). Hell, the term “separation of church and state” entered the American lexicon because of Baptists. In 1801, the Danbury Baptist Association wrote to then-President Thomas Jefferson about concerns that their state constitution lacked explicit protection of religious liberty and might allow a state-sponsored religion. Jefferson wrote back that the Establishment Clause built “a wall of separation between Church and State.” In reality, Jeffress’ statement is a rejection of historical Baptist thought and practice.
Let me take a second to address something before we go on. Somewhere, someone is reading this, thinking “Sure, but the phrase “separation of church and state doesn’t appear anywhere in the First Amendment.” True, but the Establishment Clause was based on The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, written by Thomas Jefferson. And, the First Amendment was written by James Madison who also used the term in several writings outside the Constitution, so I think it’s a safe bet the Establishment Clause is meant to effect that “wall of separation”.
Now, let’s contrast Jeffress’ words with something Ted Kennedy said at Liberty University several years ago:
“The separation of church and state can sometimes be frustrating for women and men of religious faith. They may be tempted to misuse government in order to impose a value which they cannot persuade others to accept. But once we succumb to that temptation, we step onto a slippery slope where everyone’s freedom is at risk.”
A good Catholic boy sounding more like Roger Williams, the founder of the Baptist church in America, than Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the largest Baptist church in America? If that’s not down the rabbit hole, I don’t know what is.