2/08/2009

CIVIL RIGHTS, AND UNCIVIL PRIVILEGES

There's a lot of weirdness out in the pews these days. One of the weirder ideas that has gained great currency amongst some Christians (largely evangelicals) is that Christianity, or at least the evangelical version of Christianity, is under assault by the culture, Hollywood, liberal elites, etc.

The truth is that Christians are in the majority in this country, obviously, and that historically that majority has been heavily-privileged in the public square. This practice continues in much of the United States to this day. It's so ingrained in many communities that it's not even questioned. Fresno has been, and probably still is, one of those communities.

Case in point: there is a National Day of Prayer, which I've posted about before. Last spring, I joined other members of the Interfaith Alliance in essentially 'crashing' an evangelical-only party with city government, as a ceremony was held on the steps of City Hall with the participation of Mayor Alan Autry. The purpose was to peacefully make the point that the National Day of Prayer is for all faiths, not just one segment of the Christian community, and that in no way should the local government's actions privilege one house of worship over another. It is a great credit to Mayor Autry that he welcomed the Alliance's participation. We were not invited, but once there, non-Christians were allowed to participate, ending a 16-year tradition of exclusion at this event:



Now it would be wonderful to report that the evangelicals have seen the light, and that they now intend to extend the olive branch of inclusion to all faiths in the community, and (one would think) especially the largest religious denomination in Fresno County, the Roman Catholic Church (there were no Catholics last year!). Yeah, it would be great to report that. Except what is actually happening is that evangelicals have quietly made inquiries as to whether the Interfaith Alliance intends to attend this year's observance. If so, it's been suggested that they may move the National Day of Prayer from City Hall to one of their mega-churches.

I have mixed feelings about this. Obviously, if they change the venue as indicated, they are avoiding the sort of entanglement with religion that leads to Establishment Clause challenges in the courts, and the secular nature of our government is affirmed. That's good, as far as it goes. But how sad is it, that the evangelicals would rather go undercover than risk being caught in public praying with non-evangelicals, or even (gasp) Catholics or (double-gasp) non-Christians?

I mean, they still control the local political apparatus, it's not like a moment of civility with other groups is going to cause their power base to unravel.

See, many of my fellow Christians are used to having a privilege, at being given a leg up on other faiths, and so when someone has the nerve to disagree with them or ask them to revisit the Establishment Clause, they act as if they are having their rights violated...when of course the truth is that the privileging of their views in the public square is likely to violate the sensibilities (and perhaps the rights) of non-believers. It is my unfortunate duty as an American citizen to direct their attention to the Constitution on this point, but often times all that gets through their cognitive filter is 'your religion . . . no'. Which is not the intended message!

6 comments:

ShellyD. said...

Wow. This is disappointing. As an "evangelical Christian" (I don't like that label, but I suppose it is where I would fit if you boxed me in) I want everyone's religious rights protected. In my local area (not CA) there are many prayer services on the National Day of Prayer in many different kinds of places. Most are advertised on the radio, tv and newspaper. I went to one last year at our local Y and there was a priest, a bapist and a rabbi there off the top of my head (sounds like one of those bar jokes). It's precisely that kind of behavior (exclusion) that makes us Christians look stupid over and over again.

Kimmers said...

Do you know when the next one is? Maybe a Catholic group could crash.

Stan said...

If you think it reasonable to demand that Muslims pray together with Wiccans, Mormons with pantheists, Christians with Satanists, I think you are way off base. This sort of secular egalitarianism is the root of the attempted devaluation of all religions to a common denominator... that of equal falseness. Under those conditions is it any wonder that certain beliefs, if not all of them, would withdraw?

The relativist interpretation of the Constitution which you obviously prefer should force the cancellation of such a thing as a national day of prayer from the secular venue, which I am surprised you did not insist upon.

This false interpretation of the Constitution is what leads to the idea that religion in the public square is a "privilege". It is not a "priviledge", it is a right: "Congress may make no law ... prohibiting the free exercise thereof [religion]." First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

For believers to withdraw from the politically correct devaluation inherent in such such events should be expected. I would think that you would applaud it.

Stan said...

Kindly disregard the spelling issues in the above comment...

RBH said...

Stan wrote

Kindly disregard the spelling issues in the above comment...

And the gross disregard for the Constitution, the Supreme Court, and the rights of those not in your particular sect. I'll be glad to disregard them all.

Stan wrote further

The relativist interpretation of the Constitution which you obviously prefer should force the cancellation of such a thing as a national day of prayer from the secular venue, which I am surprised you did not insist upon.

Some of us do insist on that. In particular, some of us insist on getting the state out of religious affairs.

I can only suppose that Stan didn't actually read the OP for content, and in particular he missed that bit about the distinction between "privilege" and "right."

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Stan:

If you'll revisit my post, you'll see it had to do with an all-evangelical event held on the front steps of Fresno's City Hall, with the express support and participation of many local politicians, on government property.

No one is demanding/imposing/requiring fellowship. That would be absurd, and evangelicals are within their rights to pray, or not pray, with anyone they want. But what they do not have a right to do is to hijack the 'National Day of Prayer' and the apparatus of local government and turn it into an all-evangelical affair. The point is not to enforce a secular egalitarianism on an individual's private conscience, but to insist upon the secular purpose of government. They are free to fellowship (or not) with whom they want....just keep government out of it, thanks.

When you write, 'the relativist interpretation of the Constitution', I am amused. Surely you realize that the tendency to insist upon an absolutist literal interpretation is a common thread which connects young Earth creationists like Ken Ham and strict constructionists like Justice Scalia? Am I a relativist to point out that Justice Thomas is descended from three-fifths of a person, according to the Founding Fathers, but that (somehow) he is a full person, today?

Should the National Day of Prayer (NDP) be cancelled? I freely admit that some of the folk in the Interfaith Alliance are inclined to think that way. It's a very diverse group. I don't hold that opinion, nor am I trying to eliminate the local celebration. I just don't think that any group should use the apparatus of government to monopolize the public square on this topic. I'm not a legal scholar, but it obviously NDP has not been canceled and the courts have consistently affirmed that it is 'OK' to have 'In God We Trust' and other symbolic acts associated with government as long as they are non-sectarian. But when government acts to privilege a particular class of Christians, it is in fact establishing religion. You seemed to missed that part of the First Amendment.

But then, so did most of the people at last year's event.