Ashbrook Bible Harms No One

Posted: May 16, 2001 12:00 AM
I’m trying not to be defensive here, but can you tell me why Attorney General John Ashcroft’s morning Bible study in his offices at the Justice Department is newsworthy? Didn’t Christian bashers sufficiently quench their appetites during Ashcroft’s confirmation hearings? Monday morning the Washington Post ran a story titled "Ashcroft’s Faith Plays Visible Role at Justice." Keep in mind that the morning Bible and prayer meetings, led by Ashcroft, are behind closed doors in his personal office or an adjacent conference room -- so they’re only visible to those in attendance. Also, these meetings do not involve the Justice Department or any role for it whatsoever, as the title implies. All employees are welcome, but not required to attend. The Attorney General is merely continuing a practice he has engaged in for years, including while serving as a U. S. Senator. His meetings are no different from those conducted by scores of congressmen everyday on Capitol Hill. General Ashcroft considers the meetings to be personal and to have no bearing on his job or those of his employees. Such assurances, however, are not satisfactory to critics. Some of the 135,000 Justice Department employees who do not share what the Post describes as "Ashcroft’s Pentecostal Christian beliefs" are, according to the story, "discomfited by the daily prayer sessions." Why? "Because they are conducted by the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, entrusted with enforcing a Constitution that calls for the separation of church and state." One Justice Department attorney supposedly told the Post that the purpose of the Department of Justice was to do the business of the government, not to establish a religion. Another lawyer described the meetings as "alienating." Anti-Christians seem to be gaining more and more confidence to muzzle Christians by seeking to expand the Establishment Clause light years beyond its intended scope by the framers of the Constitution. It stretches credulity to argue that voluntary prayer meetings in General Ashcroft’s office beginning and ending before the workday begins constitute an establishment of religion by the government. Let’s also not forget about that other little religion provision in the First Amendment. To deny Ashcroft the right to hold such meetings on public property just because he is the nation’s chief law enforcement officer (below the president) is repugnant to the Constitution and its First Amendment Free Exercise Clause. Constitutional analysis does not require us to abandon common sense. In no way is Ashcroft seeking to coerce or even gently encourage his subordinates to adopt his religious beliefs. He neither rewards those who attend, nor punishes those who do not. Indeed, the meetings are open to non-Christians as well. Shimon Stein, a Jewish Justice Department program analyst, regularly attends the meetings and says of Ashcroft, "He’s made every effort to make everyone and everything feel comfortable." But radical secularists are not satisfied with the facts. They are anxious to eradicate God from every facet of public life, regardless of whether or not constitutional implications are involved. They know they are on shaky constitutional grounds in objecting to Ashcroft’s morning meetings so they resort to the absurd reaches of political correctness. Secularists now contend that Ashcroft has a responsibility not to offend employees of different faiths. Let me get this straight: John Ashcroft and other Christians are not even allowed to express their faith in private meetings on public property for fear of offending people who are not there? If you haven’t already figured this out, this isn’t about John Ashcroft encroaching on the rights of other people. It’s about other people muzzling Christians and Christian conservatives because they are vehemently opposed to their views. In fact, this entire Post article, in my opinion, is contrived to create a controversy to further dog John Ashcroft. When I occasionally use this column to discuss religious issues, sometimes fellow Christians tell me that Christians should avoid being confrontational. I agree that we should try not to be confrontational about matters of faith if at all possible. On the other hand, Christians and Christianity are under systematic assault by our culture and those who advocate passivity in the face of such attacks are doing nothing to defend the cause they purport to serve. We cannot ignore the problem in the name of collegiality and expect it to go away. Tolerance is a two-way street. By refusing to stand up for our rights as Christians, we are inviting further abuse. If our forefathers had adopted that approach this nation would never have been established.