I have marveled over the years at the kind of fear and anger the Christian Faith generates in some sectors of our society. Even the suggestion that there might a a small nativity scene in a park, or Christmas tree near City Hall, or a display of the Ten Commandments often elicits a hew and cry and brings forth camera crews and elicits lawsuits. But the venom seems especially reserved for symbols of the Christian faith in particular and to some extent the wider Judeo-Christian heritage. A reference from the Q’ran in school is seen by many of this same crowd to be “tolerant” and “diverse.” But to quote the Bible is an egregious violation of the (so-called) separation of Church and State. A comedy skit on a TV show that even indirectly depicts Mohammad is bemoaned as intolerant and anti-Muslim (which it may be) but a photo of a crucifix submerged in urine is called “art” and receives funding from the National Endowment of the Arts. Well, you know the basic drill.
Most Americans are not offended by religious display. It remains a small but very vocal minority which seeks to remove all reference to America’s spiritual and religious heritage. And due to this movement’s particular hostility to things Christian one is left to conclude that we are not dealing with a rational objection here but rather one rooted in bigotry, hatred or at least aversion to the Christian faith.
The latest round in anti-Christian fervor has taken place in San Diego (Spanish, by the way and meaning “St. James”!) California. I will excerpt the story here from briefing by the Thomas More Law Center and provide a few comments of my own in red. The Full briefing with other links can be found here: Poway School Board Continues Fight to Ban God .
In a closed-session meeting held on Monday night, the Poway Unified School District board in San Diego, California, voted to appeal the ruling of Federal District Court Judge Roger T. Benitez that held school officials violated math teacher Bradley Johnson’s constitutional rights when they ordered him to remove two patriotic banners from the walls of his classroom because they referred to “God.” The appeal will be filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Notice, the specific reason they said they wanted the posters removed was because they referred to God. The posters did not endorse a specific denomination or even reference Jesus, they simply mentioned God. Note too, they were all quotes from official US documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the National Seal, and the usual conclusion to any presidential speech: “God bless the United States of America.” Now the School officials SAY that they were concerned about references to God. But where they? As we shall see they allowed other religious references to remain. It would seem that their objections focused only only on religious references to God that emanated from the traditional Judeo-Christian heritage of this Nation’s past. This God has to go but other religious figures from Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu sources can stay. Also, as you will see anti-religious slogans were also permitted to remain. So, what are we dealing with here? Is it some sort of misguided but at least consistent and principled stance against any religious or sectarian display in public schools? Obviously not. It is an inconsistent singling out of the Judeo-Christian heritage of this land and seems more bigoted than principled.
The banners included the phrases, “In God We Trust,” “One Nation Under God,” , “God Bless America.” [“All Men Are Created Equal, They Are Endowed By Their Creator.”]. The school district claimed Johnson’s banners, which had hung in his classroom for two decades without complaint, advocated an impermissible Judeo-Christian view point and may be offensive to a Muslim student. I could not find in any of the articles I read on this that a Muslim Student had actually complained. The School officials seem to have merely concluded that a Muslim student might be offended. But I wonder if they would? Muslims are not Christians but neither are they secular. If I were in a largely Muslim Country and saw references to Allah and was greated Allahu Akbar (God is Great) I would not be offended. After all I too think God is great. I do not share the Muslim faith or worship God under the title or vision of Allah. But somewhere I suspect that they and we are both striving for God. I think their notions of Him are quite flawed but I am surely not offended by references to Allah. It is always possible that a militant Muslim of some sort might be offended by a reference to “God” but the militants aren’t going to be pleased no matter what. So I seriously doubt that the average Muslim is going to be offended by a sign that says, “In God We Trust.”
However, the school district left untouched displays that included a 35 to 40 foot string of Tibetan prayer flags with images of Buddha; a poster with the lyrics from John Lennon’s anti-religion song “Imagine,” which begins, Imagine there’s no Heaven; a poster with Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi’s “7 Social Sins;” a poster of Muslim leader Malcolm X, and a poster of Buddhist leader Dali Lama. OK the gig is up, they’re singling out Christians and the Judeo-Christian Heritage.
In a public statement made shortly after the vote to appeal the ruling, School Board member Jeff Mangum stated, “[I]f this is allowed, what else can go up on the wall?” The board member’s question was answered by Judge Benitez, who noted in his ruling that school officials banned Johnson’s patriotic displays while permitting other teachers to display personal posters and banners promoting partisan political issues such as gay rights and environmental causes, including global warming. Looks like the Judge smelled a rat of rank hypocrisy and selective outrage
Judge Benitez’s 32-page opinion was strongly worded and critical of the Poway school districts aversion to God: “[The school district officials] apparently fear their students are incapable of dealing with diverse viewpoints that include God’s place in American history and culture. . . . That God places prominently in our Nation’s history does not create an Establishment Clause violation requiring curettage and disinfectant for Johnson’s public high school classroom walls. It is a matter of historical fact that our institutions and government actors have in past and present times given place to a supreme God.”
The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, filed the federal lawsuit on Johnson’s behalf after the school district ordered him to take down his banners in January 2007. The Law Center vows to defend Judge Benitez’s ruling before the Ninth Circuit and to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary…..Robert Muise, the Thomas More Law Center Senior Trial Counsel handling the case, commented,…. [School Officials] “have no objection to a 40-foot display of sacred, Tibetan prayer flags in a science classroom, among countless other religious and political displays. But they do have a personal objection to Mr. Johnson’s patriotic banners because they recognize a fundamental truth that school officials dislike: God plays a prominent role in our Nation’s history and heritage.”
The Ninth Circuit is unfortunately not friendly to traditional religion however. I suspect there may be trouble in this appeal but there is hope if it gets to the US Supreme Court which commonly overturns the 9th Circuit. An example of this happened very recently when the Supreme Court allowed a War memorial Cross to stand on a hill top on Federally owned land in California. You can read more of that here: Supreme Court overturns objection to cross on public land
This video summarizes the school case and even includes a little humor.