Category Archives: religious news

SCOTUS errs on Establishment Cause ruling

Can it be that judicial conservatives are capable of court activism?

The U.S. Constitution is abundantly clear to many of us on this point about the establishment of a state religion: Government cannot show preference for any religious faith, period, done!

An Alabama prison inmate wanted an Muslim imam to pray for him before he was put to death. The 11th Court of Appeals had issued a stay for Dominique Ray. But then the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the lower court was wrong to issue the stay, and it allowed Ray’s execution to go forward.

The 11th Court had ruled that Alabama officials violated Ray’s constitutional rights by disallowing the imam to pray for the inmate. The state said it would allow Christian prayers, but not from a Muslim religious official.

According to Reason.com: The Alabama prison typically allows a Christian chaplain, also a prison employee, in the execution chamber, where the chaplain may stand near inmates and pray with them. But for security reasons the prison does not allow non-employees into the chamber, and it refused to make an exception for Ray’s imam.

Oh, my goodness. This is utter nonsense.

The U.S. Constitution does not allow government to favor any religion over another one. Indeed, the nation’s governing document does not even mention the words “Christian,” or “Jesus Christ.”

It is a secular document. Why in the world is that so difficult to grasp?

Dominique Ray, to my way of thinking, clearly was denied his constitutional right to have a member of his preferred clergy pray with him as he prepared to die for the crimes he committed.

As Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissent: “The clearest command of the Establishment Clause,” this Court has held, “is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.” But the State’s policy does just that. Under that policy, a Christian prisoner may have a minister of his own faith accompany him into the execution chamber to say his last rites. But if an inmate practices a different religion—whether Islam, Judaism, or any other—he may not die with a minister of his own faith by his side. That treatment goes against the Establishment Clause’s core principle of denominational neutrality.

Dominique Ray was executed. He deserved the opportunity to pray with a religious leader of his choosing. The state of Alabama was wrong to deny it. The nation’s highest court was wrong to go along with the state’s misguided decision.

Too funny to let pass

There’s really very little to add to this item that showed up on my Facebook feed this evening.

I had seen the president’s Twitter message hailing the possible return of Bible studies to our public schools. I already have commented on that notion, suggesting that church — not our public schools — is the place to study God’s holy word.

Then there’s the response from the individual who thought it appropriate to remind Donald Trump about what the Old Testament says about adultery, a sin about which the president has actually boasted.

I’m out.

Study the Bible in church, not public schools

Hold on a second! Donald J. Trump now says he supports the notion of allowing public school students to study the Bible. He endorses the idea of students learning about the history of the Judeo-Christian holy book.

Let’s put the brakes on that one.

The founders created a secular document to govern the United States of America. The very first clause in the very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishes a rule that Congress “shall make no law” that creates a state religion.

Legal scholars and courts have interpreted that to mean that government agencies — and that includes public schools — must avoid traveling down the slipperiest of slopes by allowing religious study in tax-supported schools.

So what is the president trying to do? My best guess is that he believes that the U.S. Supreme Court — which includes two justices he has appointed — would rule in favor of Bible study in public schools if the issue ever to reach the highest court on appeal.

Trump wrote this on Twitter: Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible. Starting to make a turn back? Great!

Legislators in six states are proposing Bible study in public schools. I guess it’s some sort of move to return “prayer in school,” which the Supreme Court rule in the early 1960s violates the First Amendment’s implied separation of church and state.

There’s a place for everything in this world of ours. I believe firmly that the place to study the Bible is in a house of worship. We should make our public schools the place where students can learn about math, science, civics, humanities, theater . . . and the whole host of curricula that teach them about their earthly world.

I’ll just offer this notion as well: If we are going to study the Bible in public school, do we then allow the study of works read by our non-Judeo Christian citizens?

That’s what I mean by the “slipperiest of slopes.”

Falwell Jr. channels his late father

Jerry Falwell Jr. is showing that the proverbial nut doesn’t fall far from the ol’ tree.

The president of Liberty University is sounding a lot like his late father in terms of despicable political rhetoric.

Jerry Falwell Sr., the one-time televangelist, once took part in the production of a film called “The Clinton Chronicles” that alleged that Bill and Hillary Clinton took part in a series of criminal acts, including harassment of women, shady real estate deals, protecting a drug smuggling ring and — get a load of this — murdering drug smuggling witnesses and covering up the cause of death of a close aide and friend of theirs, Vincent Foster. How Christ-like, yes?

Now comes the son to say that evangelical Christians who opposed Donald John Trump “might be immoral.” A Washington Post interviewer questioned Falwell about whether evangelicals should expect a higher standard of personal behavior from the president, given Trump’s admitted philandering and groping of women to whom he wasn’t married.

“It may be immoral for them not to support (Trump) because he’s got African American employment to record highs, Hispanic employment to record highs,” Falwell said.

I suspect that wasn’t the crux of the question, which I gathered sought to focus more on the president’s behavior.

Falwell, therefore, is justifying Trump’s hideous behavior on the basis of matters having nothing whatsoever to do with what the president has admitted to doing.

I don’t get it.

The Post interviewer, reporter Joe Helm, asked Falwell if there is anything Trump could do that would lose his support. His answer: “No.” I know. It’s simply shocking to hear such a thing.

Well, there you go. Imagine for one moment whether Barack Obama had done anything of the nature that Trump has done. What do you suppose would be Jerry Falwell Jr.’s response to that?

I would bet real American money Falwell wouldn’t be so forgiving.

Yes, there is a church-state ‘separation’

A former colleague of mine used to insist that because the United States Constitution doesn’t contain the phrase “separation of church and state” that the concept somehow is not relevant.

Well, I would remind him that the First Amendment about a prohibition against writing laws that establish a state religion implies the separation graphically.

Enter the new man nominated to become the U.S. attorney general, William Barr. He has declared his skepticism about the “secular” state the founders created in the late 18th century. He wants to invoke “God’s law” when enforcing the laws of the land.

I am going to presume he means the laws of the Christian God. But what about the laws of all the other gods that Americans worship? The Islamic god, the Jewish god, the Hindu god, the Buddhist god, the Shinto god? Do they matter? Of course they do! Or at least they should.

Except the founders created a Constitution that say there should be no law passed “with respect” to a particular religion. It stipulates there should be “no religious test” for anyone seeking public office.

The words “Christian,” “Christianity” or “Jesus Christ” are not mentioned in the Constitution. Nor does it mention “Jewish” or “Muslim” or “Buddhist” or “Hindu.”

So, to the AG-designate, I merely want to urge him to stick to enforcing the laws of the land, as enacted by Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the courts.

Rename the ‘Community Prayer Breakfast’?

When you see a billboard advertising an upcoming “community prayer breakfast,” you might be inclined to think of it as an inclusive event that welcomes people of all faiths.

I certainly would.

With that, I am going to venture briefly into an area that I am certain is going to bring some potentially scathing criticism to this blog.

Amarillo is going to play host Tuesday morning to its annual “Community Prayer Breakfast.” I attended quite a few of them over the years when I lived in Amarillo. They’re lovely affairs with lots of fellowship, a nice breakfast served to crowds exceeding 1,000 individuals who get up early in the morning to attend the event at the Civic Center.

However, it’s not a “community” event that welcomes people of non-Christian faith. If you’re a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Buddhist you don’t feel welcome necessarily. These events have the look, sound and feel of a Christian revival meeting. There’s a bit of evangelism going on.

I am acutely aware that the Texas Panhandle is an overwhelmingly Christian community. But it’s not exclusively Christian.

I aim any criticism only at those who continue to call it what it is not. The broadest definition of Amarillo’s “community” has to include those who worship non-Christian deities. Were they to walk into this event, they wouldn’t feel as welcome as those of us who do worship Jesus Christ.

I say all this as one who was baptized as a Christian. I have been a devoted Christian my entire life. I believe in the salvation that comes with a belief that Jesus is the Son of God.

But I speak only for myself. Not for others. Thus, the “Community Prayer Breakfast” needs either a new name — one that reflects its Christian emphasis — or it ought to consider broadening its appeal a more ecumenical audience, which is what the National Prayer Breakfast seeks to do.

Prayers from a rabbi or an imam would be a start.

This just in from Kentucky: Kim Davis loses

Who, you might ask, is Kim Davis?

She is a Rowan County (Ky.) clerk who made a spectacle of herself when she declined to sign marriage licenses requested by same-sex couples. That was her reaction to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that made gay marriage legal in all 50 states.

Well, Davis has lost her bid for re-election.

Too bad? Actually, no. It isn’t.

Davis proclaimed that her religious beliefs precluded her from signing marriage license requests for gay couples. She had run initially as a Democrat; she switched parties, becoming a Republican. Her refusal to uphold her oath landed her in jail briefly. She came out and made a big show of it by standing alongside Baptist preacher (and former Arkansas governor) Mike Huckabee.

Here’s the deal, though. Davis’s oath of office demanded that she obey the U.S. Constitution. She declined to remain faithful to her oath. She then let deputy clerks sign those certificates to protect the boss from doing so.

She’ll be out of office by the time January rolls around. That’s fine. Hit the road, Mme. Clerk.

Evangelical support of POTUS remains a mystery

I am shaking my head. Hard. I cannot believe how this particular president has managed to do the seemingly impossible: retain the support of the nation’s Christian evangelical movement.

I’ll start this rant, though, with a word of praise for Donald Trump. I am thrilled that he and his administration were able to obtain the release of an American pastor held captive in Turkey for the past two years. Andrew Brunson is a free man and the president insists the United States gave away nothing — not a thing — to secure his release from the Turks.

Leaders praise Trump

Brunson went to the White House to thank the president. The men prayed in the Oval Office. I am delighted he is home, a free man once again. Congratulations belong to the president and his team.

***

But then comes the strange endorsement of Trump from religious leaders who continue to sing the man’s praises, even though they know of his myriad indiscretions, his serial philandering, his abuse of women, his hideous public rhetoric about how he has never sought forgiveness for his sins.

Televangelist and Trump adviser James Robison said this: “He wouldn’t be our Sunday school teacher necessarily but he’s doing a great job of leadership.  I love him so much I can hardly explain it.”

Necessarily, Rev. Robison? Do ya think?

How in the name of all that is holy did this president pull this off? Sure, he has made some policy pronouncements that have stoked joy in the hearts of evangelicals. He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; he sought to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military; Trump has been able to seat two conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.

I just cannot get past the man’s lengthy history of decadence and behavior that used to send chills up the spines of the most faithful among us. No longer, or so it seems.

Evangelicals are willing to give him a pass because he is so effective at pandering to their wishes.

Baffling. In the extreme!

Reports of sexual abuse are truly stomach-churning

I am sickened, right along with millions of other Americans, at the news out of Pennsylvania involving reports of sexual abuse of thousands of children by priests associated with several Catholic dioceses.

These children have grown to be men and women. They are speaking out. The church is now having to deal with yet another terrible scandal involving is holy men and the children under their spiritual care.

But there’s another aspect of the story that also sickens me. It is that Pennsylvania has a statute of limitations that prohibits these individuals from being prosecuted for their heinous crimes.

I am thinking that one legislative remedy might be for Keystone State lawmakers to rescind the statute of limitations for sex crimes, particularly those involving children.

They ought to look, for example, to Texas, which has no such time limit on when it can prosecute someone for crimes they commit against the most defenseless among us.

This story is far from its conclusion. May the victims — who call themselves “survivors” — find some measure of peace. I hope they draw some strength from the love that comes their way from the rest of the nation.

What do evangelicals see in POTUS?

Of all the elements of Donald Trump’s base of support, the one that baffles me in the extreme is the evangelical Christian movement.

I keep hearing how religious leaders, such as the Rev. Franklin Graham, have parted company with the president over the “zero tolerance” policy that yanks children from their parents’ custody at the southern border of the nation.

What I’ll never understand is how Trump managed to garner their support in the first place. He is not a Godly man. He isn’t associated in any demonstrable fashion with any religious organization. Trump has never been attached to, say, Habitat for Humanity, American Friends or any other faith-based non-government organization.

Yet the evangelical Christian movement aligns itself with this guy.

He’s a serial philanderer. He has admitted to grabbing women by their, um, whatever.

Still, despite all this — and more! — he maintains this base of support.

How in the world does that happen?