Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Establishment Clause

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That's how Amendment I reads.

Congress shall make no law a) that establishes a national religion, or b) prohibits any individual's free exercise of religion, or c) abridges freedom of speech, the press, or assembly.

I grew up not far from Lebanon, Missouri.  It's a town of about ten or twelve thousand, the main drag of which is old Route 66.  It sits just off Interstate 44.  I have stayed and dined at the Munger Moss Motel, and last time I passed by it was still in operation.  People honk a lot there, and it always seemed like busy place, a sort of trade center for that area south of the Lake of the Ozarks.  A lot of hillbillies picked up some cash money selling stave bolts to the old Independent Stave Mill.  You knew you were getting close to Lebanon when you saw the smoke rising from the kilns.  If you go out on Highway 64, you will soon reach Bennett Springs State Park, a destination for trout fisherman, especially every March 1st. 

The principal of Lebanon High School, Kevin Lowery, made Fox News, with a bit of our patented Ozark snark as he reminded graduates that:

... [T]he nation’s motto of “In God We Trust” can be found on U.S. currency and in Francis Scott Key’s original version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Lowery also wryly noted during the May 23 commencement that even though “God is reflected in the very fabric” of the nation, it would be inappropriate to mention The Almighty at a secular ceremony.

“So while it would not be politically correct for us to have an official prayer this evening, I would like for us to have a moment of silence in honor of tonight’s graduates,” Lowery told students. “Thank you. And just in case you’re interested, during my moment of silence, I gave thanks to God for these great students, their parents, their teachers and for this community.”

The funny thing about this is that he riled up the atheist and "freedom from" religion crowd.  Fox quotes David Muscato, a spokesman for American Atheists:

“I find this extremely objectionable,” Muscato said. “I think it’s clear that Kevin Lowery violated the spirit of the First Amendment separations of religion and government. This was an underhanded and dishonorable way for him to forcibly inject his personal religious views onto his students and the others present and into his role as a government official.”
 Imagine my surprise when I could not find where Kevin Lowery is a member of Congress or where he passed any kind of law.  You see, Mr. Muscato had to throw in "the spirit of" because it is impossible for anyone other than Congress to violate the letter of the First Amendment. 

Actually, I'm wrong.  The Supreme Court and other federal courts routinely violate the actual letter of Amendment I by limiting the free exercise of religion and speech of American citizens.  When a Christian baker who believes that, according to his religion, homosexual marriage is wrong, he may be forced by the courts to violate the dictates of his conscience and acquiesce to those demanding he bake a wedding cake for them.

Kevin Lowery, though, did not force anyone to pray.  He voiced his opinion as an educator, spoke correctly about the history of his country, and spoke of his own personal action.  He did not mention a name of God.  He did not mention Yahweh, Jesus Christ, Allah, Mohammed, Buddha, Joseph Smith, Zeus, Hecate, or Bob Dobbs.  If I were to speak to Mr. Muscato, I would ask he to tell me from what he said to which religion Mr. Lowery belongs and which religion he was promoting.

The spirit of the First Amendment is that we let everybody believe as they like.  We let everybody say what they like even when we find what they say objectionable, challenging, or offensive, because, Mr. Muscato, saying "Have a nice day" or "Don't worry; be happy" doesn't really need protecting.

Kevin Lowery is paid by taxpayers, like David Muscato and other atheists as well as by Christians like me and 95% of the people in Lebanon,  to serve as an administrator for a government school.  In his position as principal, his job is not to evangelize or teach Christianity or any kind of theism.  However, a person is their character.  We are, at least in part, a product of what we believe.  We all everywhere have the right to say what we believe.  We, none of us, have the right -- not private citizen or government official or lawyered-up atheist -- to impose our beliefs on anyone else. 

We are not endowed by our Creator with the right not to be offended by what someone else says, or to control, censor or suppress their speech because they don't agree with us.  I understand the taxpayer side of this.  I understand that atheists are offended by the "proclamation" of any type of theism, and I respect their right to be offended.  Be as offended as you like.  Wail and moan and squeal like a cut pig.  But do not tell me to shut up -- unless you are a lot bigger than I am, and even then you might want to make sure I don't have an axe handle with me.

Now look at what Lowery said, "...during my moment of silence, I ...".  What if he had said, "During my moment of silence I was silent because I don't believe there is a god to whom we can pray"?  Would I have been offended?  Maybe.  But I would not have tried to invoke the First Amendment.  I would have said everybody is entitled to their opinion, and it's a free country -- or at least it used be. 

That really seems to me more like the American Way. 


  1. love it.

    We have the same folks here. They are busy attempting to shut down the 30 mintutes per week that we have 'Bible in schools' taught by volunteers in the community, when the school is offically 'closed' so as to prevent objections.

    It seems most parents in the community want Bible in Schools to continue, just a few malcontents don't, and they have been to the Human Rights Commission to get their 'rights' enforced.

    Must be tough carrying all that angst, day after day. Will they be happy if they finally get their way?

  2. Must be tough carrying all that angst, day after day. Will they be happy if they finally get their way?

    I know that's a rhetorical question, but, No, they won't. I don't think they even know what way they want.