Chilling christian expression

Posted: May 01, 2002 12:00 AM
Christian conservatives rightly lament the extent to which the courts have restricted religious freedom in the name of protecting it under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. But in focusing on the courts, we may be overlooking a more damaging menace to religious (Christian) expression. I have no doubt that many who urge the strict "separation of church and state" sincerely (though mistakenly) believe that they are acting as foot soldiers for the framers of the Constitution. Others are purely hostile to religion -- particularly Christianity -- and use perverted constitutional interpretation as just one of many tools in undermining the Christian worldview and policies flowing from it. These secular forces are not satisfied with the slow progress of the courts in eradicating all vestiges of religion from the public arena. They also employ their pens and microphones -- which is clearly their right -- to chill Christian expression by public officials. Take, for instance, a recent New York Times story about a speech by President Bush on his faith-based initiative. The Times didn't criticize or quote others criticizing the president's program, about which I have my own reservations, but questioned certain statements in his speech involving "religious ideas." Bush said, "We feel our reliance on the Creator Who made us. We place our sorrows and cares before Him, seeking God's mercy ... justice and cruelty have always been at war, and God is not neutral between them." The Times seemed particularly troubled that these utterances sprang from the president spontaneously and not as part of some pre-written speech. "Bush set aside his talking points and for 20 minutes spoke the language of faith," according to the story. You see, it's one thing if the president occasionally throws a slab of raw meat to his canine conservative base for political purposes. But it's downright spooky if he really means it. The Times must have felt compelled to interview people about the propriety of Bush's over-the-top remarks. Rev. Arthur Caliandro, co-chairman of the Partnership of Faith, "a coalition of leading clergy members in New York," warned, "I think it's very dangerous." The always-reliably-hysterical Rev. Barry Lynn, of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, added, "He went from a kind of post-Sept. 11 pluralism to presidential evangelism today. This man (Bush) now seems to have an enormous difficulty separating his personal religious commitment from his public policy positions." Let's not miss the message here: It is not only wrong and dangerous for a president to refer to God in his speeches. But he must not even allow his religious worldview to inform his public policy decisions. You can't get much more radical (and ridiculous) than that. Another high-profile example affirms the point. The left's sometimes-favorite whipping boy, Congressman Tom Delay, was roundly denounced for comments he made in response to a question following his speech for Worldview Weekend in Houston, Texas. He was asked what could be done about colleges in Texas precluding the teaching of creationism. Delay said they could call their state politicians and complain. "They can change things. They can throw the PC out and bring God in." That would take some time, Delay acknowledged, "but the immediate is don't send your kids to Baylor -- don't send your kids to A&M." The Houston Chronicle editorial board was outraged and said, "Delay's distaste for Baylor and Texas A&M is part and parcel of his rejection of distinguished scholarship and scientific inquiry and his fanatical desire to transform American government into a theocracy. House Republicans who value reason should reconsider their bizarre commitment to have Delay replace retiring Rep. Dick Armey as Republican leader in the House." It's one thing to question Delay's comments about these colleges or his views on teaching creationism, but it's quite a leap to conclude that he rejects distinguished scholarship and scientific inquiry (as if creationism is inherently incompatible with science and as if adding creation means omitting science). And it's fanatical itself to impute to Delay a "fanatical desire to transform American government into a theocracy." Where in left field did that come from? Whether intended to or not, these kinds of constitutionally protected, but irresponsible, editorial comments chill religious expression by public officials even in private settings. Christian public officials should be permitted to proclaim their faith without fear of being accused of advocating a theocracy. Secularists have succeeded in banishing God from public schools; we must ensure they do not prevail in excising Him from the minds and mouths of public officials.