January 6, 2010

Church-State Violators Count on Our Apathy

church_state1.jpgWhen local or state government officials knowingly violate separation of church and state by permitting nativity scenes on public property and the like, they are counting on one of two things. Either we will be too apathetic to mount serious opposition, and they'll be seen as heroic for promoting Christianity in their communities, or we will oppose them, allowing them to posture as champions of Christianity who rise to defend it from the evil atheist hordes. Even if they lose a court case or two, they merely demonize us and raise large sums of money in doing so.

Take this recent case from Arkansas. It took a federal judge to allow the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers to place a winter solstice kiosk at the state capitol alongside a nativity scene. The entire state of Arkansas couldn't figure out something this simple, prompting the atheist group to sue the Secretary of State.

In my opinion, Secretary of State Charlie Daniels (gee, I wonder if he plays a mean fiddle?) knew full well what he was doing and that his decision would never survive judicial review. The law is fairly clear around this subject, and Daniels had to know he would likely lose. Regardless of the outcome, I bet Daniels will emerge as a hero among Arkansas Christians.

Granted, I am just speculating here and perhaps Daniels is the exception to the general rule. But I have to think that most church-state violators at his level of government know what the law says. If they are going to permit Christian displays on public property, they open the door to all other displays.

Here is what the Christian group, the Family Council, had to say:
Judge Wright took the opportunity to speak against the Nativity in general. Even though the complaint filed by the Freethinkers argued that rejecting their display violated their free speech rights, Judge Wright interjected her own arguments and made it a religion case. She stated that in its current form the Nativity is likely in violation of the First Amendment Establishment Clause which prohibits state sponsorship of religion.
So, how do we change this sort of thing and remove the motivation of government officials to knowingly break the law in order to become heros to the Christian community? There may be other options, but I would suggest that we need to increase the political cost of this type of behavior. The costs associated with defending oneself against lawsuits like this need to be thoroughly publicized. After all, this is taxpayer money being squandered.

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