Joe Cook has long since apologized for what he said last summer.
Although he is director of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and strenuously opposed to anything resembling prayer in public schools or God in public life, he says he wasn’t speaking for the ACLU – or, curiously, even for himself – when he said what he said.
He said it about some teachers, students, and school board members in Tangipahoa Parish who, on infrequent occasions, have offered public, “sectarian” prayers in their classrooms, at school banquets, or to open board meetings.
“They [the Christians] have always crossed the line of separation of church and government,” Cook said. “They believe they answer to a higher power, in my opinion… which is the kind of thinking you had with the people who flew airplanes in the buildings in this country.”
While his comment didn’t draw the media attention that Mel Gibson gets for cursing a cop’s ethnic heritage, five years after 9/11, it is still arguably the most succinct and candid expression of what is transparently the ACLU’s guiding philosophy. The ACLU, after all, has spent most of the last 100 years working to silence Christian voices and curtail Christian influence in every arena of public life.
Taken at face value, Cook’s statement equates a teacher praying for, say, a student’s ailing mother, or her pupils’ performance on a standardized test, with the determination of radical Muslim terrorists to destroy as many innocent lives as possible. A child saying grace over lunch or a teen praying for the team’s injured player is really no different from a terrorist praising Allah for the privilege of slitting a flight attendant’s throat.
Because, Cook said, people who really believe in God are often the people who find fulfillment in destroying other people.
No, no, no, he says, now. That’s not what he meant.
“Our message in the Tangipahoa schools case and elsewhere is simple,” he says. “Religious freedom thrives best when government stays out of religion.”
But, of course, what the ACLU really wants is for religion to stay out of government. That’s why its attorneys have spent years pressuring California courts to remove the cross on Mount Soledad. The cross, which for half a century has honored American war dead on government property in San Diego, enjoys enormous popular support in the community. But it’s a thorn in the side of the ACLU’s philosophy of government-sponsored atheism.
Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor in the Reagan Administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.