Friday, September 22, 2006

Religious liberty, the culture wars, and a Merry Christmas to all

Click thumbnail to read larger version of editorial from Sept. 21, 2006 Valley News DispatchYesterday's Valley News Dispatch had a pretty good editorial on religious liberty. I tend to agree with much of what the editorial says, but the characterization of a right to the "freedom from religion" seems like a misstated over-simplification of the rights afforded by the First Amendment.

Mr. Gibbs' religious motivation in representing his clients, including one side of the Terry Schiavo case does not seem like a religious intrusion to me. (For that matter, should the fact that my own faith is a motivation for caring about a number of issues require me to keep silent about those issues?) But if Mr. Gibbs ever convinced a judge to hold that a particular legal outcome was necessary because of the view that our nation was based on the Bible that would be a far different story.

I know that there are some people who take offense when they see a religiously oriented message on a commercial billboard along the highway, and complain that their "freedom from religion" has been infringed. As far as I am concerned their problem is the same as that of religious people who take offense at receiving a secular greeting at the holidays.They would like the privilege of being out in public without having to deal with the diversity that is there.

We have a freedom from established religion, i.e. from governmentally-supported and imposed religion. I think there is a difference. The "freedom from religion" slogan asserts a right that is not constitutionally protected.

(So if you want to see a real First Amendment issue, consider the locked, official bulletin board on the Tarentum Borough Building, where a poster from the Harvest Baptist Church advertising Mr. Gibbs' appearance stood alongside official borough notices. Why should a governmental entity be advertising a religious event at one church involving a speaker on only one side of a major policy issue in our nation?)

As to the controversial views of Mr. Gibbs, the Valley News Dispatch gave him publicity by making his appearance in New Kensington front page news on Monday. Was that really the most important story that day?

Christmas at Eckerds on September 21, 2006Meanwhile, here in the Valley it is now the Christmas season at Kmart and Eckerds and many other stores. This makes me far more aware of how the church is so counter-cultural. In late September I am still looking forward to World Communion Sunday, All Saints' Day, Thanksgiving, Christ the King Sunday, before I even get to Advent 1, 2, 3, and 4. The secular creeping of the holidays seems odd.

With the appearance of the red and green and gold packages with angels and snowmen and nutcrackers appearing on the store shelves, can the bickering over the holidays be far behind? I am not looking forward to the whining about how someone was greeted at Walmart, or whose holiday deserves to be celebrated, or who is offended because someone is even aware that there are other people celebrating other holidays. I am looking forward to celebrating the fact that Jesus Christ, truly God and truly human, the unique Savior of the world was born in Bethlehem. And if the stores are giving me an earlier opportunity to announce that Good News, then I will just start wishing folks a Merry Christmas.

God bless us every one.

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