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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label freedom of religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label freedom of religion. Show all posts

Friday, March 16, 2018

What Drives a Cult Leader like David Koresh?

Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. Government had surrounded the compound of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, embroiled in a stand-off that would last 51 days and tragically ended in gunfire with 75 of the 84 people inside dead, including children.

I was recently interviewed by Brody Harness for a research project he was doing on the siege and I thought these questions were very poignant and valuable to better understand the cult leader and others like him. Here's a copy of that interview.

Briefly, the Branch Davidians were a group of religious believers whose version of biblical theology was explicated by David Koresh. Many of their important beliefs, and the reason they lived communally at a compound, Mt. Carmel, centered on Koresh's interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Can you shed light on this group directly (or perhaps generally) based on similar groups who focus on Revelations?

The Branch Davidians were an offshoot of the Seventh-Day Adventist movement. The emphasis on the Book of Revelation comes from their focus on the end times scenarios. The term “Adventist” stems from the word advent which refers to the coming of Christ. Just as we celebrate Christ's first coming before Christmas and call it the season of advent, advent can also refer to His second coming. Most modern Adventist groups, such as the Seventh-Day Adventists and the Jehovah's Witnesses find their origin in an early 1800's preacher named William Miller, who preached that Jesus would return in 1844. He became very popular and gained a wide following. The subsequent failure of Miller's prediction is known as The Great Disappointment.

When Jesus didn't return as expected, the “Millerites” (who preferred the name Adventists) started coming up with alternate explanations, such as Jesus had returned invisibly (Jehovah's Witnesses) or Jesus came into the heavenly Holy of Holies and ended the age of grace, and is now beginning his period of Investigative Judgment (Seventh-Day Adventists).

The Branch Davidians splintered off the SDA back in the 1930s when a leading Adventist in the Los Angeles area, Victor Houteff, began teaching the church wasn't being holy enough. David Koresh's mother was a member of a Texas SDA church and Koresh himself was also a member for a while, before being attracted to the Davidian sect. According to Apologetics Index,  Koresh claimed to be God's agent, (and ultimately taught his followers that he was divine) and instructed those that followed him to preparing themselves for Jesus's return.

Part of the governments “case” for treating the Branch Davidians as they did was the fact that David Koresh was legally married to a cult member when she was just 14 years old, and that he was fathering children with the wives of the other adult males, while banning all other sexual relationships within the church. The government felt children were endangered at Mt. Carmel by these practices which did not appear to be the case according to some sources close to the investigation; however, it did appear to reflect and elevate Koresh's psychological hold on the group. Can you discuss some of the dynamics of sex/family/religion practices? (Again, either specifically with the Branch Davidians, or generally in cults.)

Sex drove a lot of Koresh's desires. Even in the mid 1980s, Koresh began taking on multiple wives as he also started establishing himself as a leader within the Davidian movement. He was a polygamist and saw himself as taking a role akin to David in the Old Testament establishing the Davidic Kingdom of Israel (thus the Davidians portion of the name.)

Since David had multiple wives in the Old Testament, Koresh felt that justified him to also have multiple wives.  Of course, as his power and following grew, he became more and more self-absorbed, something that is typical of cult leaders. His doctrines “departed radically from the essential doctrines of the Christian faith”1 and he demanded total control over his followers, cutting off outside ties and subjecting them to various physical and mental abuses.2

There was a general belief by the FBI and ATF that the Branch Davidians had a suicide pact and this was part of the federal government's decision making process which led to a military rather than law enforcement approach with the Branch Davidians. From what you know, was this assumption rational? Would it have been more rational in the 1993?

There are two pieces that powered the concern by the authorities at the standoff. The first is that David Koresh had a known history of violence, since he and some of his early followers took control of the Davidian compound in a gunfight with then-leader George Roden. But the biggest spectre in everyone's mind was the Jonestown Massacre of 1978. There, another charismatic leader, Jim Jones, took a large group of followers from California to the jungles of Guyana and created a commune. He ultimately convinced his followers to commit suicide by drinking cyanide placed in Kool-Aid. Those that didn't or were too young were forcibly given the poison.

The loss of those 908 people, along with the prior shooting of U.S congressman Leo Ryan who sought to investigate Jones' alleged human rights abuses gave the public grave concern that a similar event would take place in Waco.

I don't think we are any more or less likely today to come to a different conclusion. Religiously motivated actions have taken on a deeper suspicion in our culture. The powers that be may not jump immediately to a suicide cult assumption; I believe the suspicion would still exist. It is the aftermath and criticism of the Waco siege itself that tempers actions now.

When the government attacked, surrounded, and eventually destroyed the compound in 1993, the Branch Davidians interpreted all of the government's aggression as fulfillment of prophecy. Koresh probably contributed to the destruction of his community by insisting that they were being “tested” and if they left the compound they would lose their place in the kingdom to come. Koresh also provoked the ATF and FBI by repeatedly promising and stalling surrender to complete writing his own revelation which would be released publically. Is there a psychological profile, maybe narcissism or delusions of grandeur, which characterizes charismatic leaders like Koresh?

Absolutely. Jim Jones, David Koresh, L. Ron Hubbard, David Miscavige, and even Joseph Smith all exhibit this kind of self-absorption. In all these cases, you have a single individual who tells others that he alone has the true and secret knowledge of God/salvation/eternity and everyone else needs to listen to him. As he gains adherents and adulation, it feeds his narcissism and for most groups one can see their doctrine devolve more and more.  With all the men above, their paranoia and desire for control escalated as well.

Finally, do you have thoughts about government (law enforcement) interference with the free practice of religion –like the Branch Davidians, or polygamists or other cults?
All rights have limits. Everyone recognizes one's right to free speech, but you cannot yell “fire” in a crowded movie house. Similarly, one's right to practice the freedom to worship does not include the physical abuse of children or child rape. The difficulty is in finding where that line begins and ends.
We all agree that keeping thirteen children half-starved in a shack with some chained to their beds is no longer simply exercising one's freedom of religion, but is homeschooling abuse? Is corporal punishment abuse? The questions get complicated pretty quickly.

For the most port, the government has given the benefit of the doubt to the religious organizations. Scientology is a good example of a modern day American cult who engages in psychological techniques and even imprisonment of its disobedient members that the government has not interfered with.

Any other ideas you would like to share on this subject?

The big thing to remember in Waco, Jonestown, and other cult situations is that these are fringe groups that were cults in both the religious and the sociological definitions. Those definitions are important, too, for one can be a cult sociologically but not have a religious basis. Charles Manson and the Manson family would be an example of a non-religious cult. Of course Manson used the Bible to try and justify his views, but he also used the Beatles and his followers were more concerned about race relations than become God's chosen.

Sociological cult leaders will use religion simply because it is easier to talk of mysteries where they can give their “inside knowledge” that gullible people will accept. Even Hitler used religion as a motivator.

For more on the making of a religious cult, see my articles:
Thanks for the interview! Let me know if I can be of any more help.

1. "The Branch Davidians." Christian Research Institute, 04 Mar. 2012. Web. 16 Mar. 2018.
2. Ibid.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Identity vs. Use: What Is Religious Prejudice?

Imagine you are part of a church with a preschool and daycare center. You enroll children of any religion, and the townspeople rely upon to make ends meet. The preschool qualifies in every way for a state program to resurface your playground, but its application is denied simply because it is a church. Is that prejudice or simply the separation of church and state?

In the Supreme Court decision handed down for Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, seven of the nine justices agreed that the state of Missouri was discriminating against Trinity Lutheran Church by denying its application to participate in the state's successful Scrap Tire Program, where the school would be reimbursed for using ground up old tires as playground cover. Written by Chief Justice Roberts, the opinion states:
Trinity Lutheran is not claiming any entitlement to a subsidy. It is asserting a right to participate in a government benefit program without having to disavow its religious character. The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the Church—solely because it is a church—to compete with secular organizations for a grant.1
So far so good. However, three of the concurring justices objected to a single footnote of Chief Justice Roberts's opinion enough to note it in their concurring statements. The footnote read “This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”2 In other words, Roberts narrowed the ruling.

Don't be surprised if people act according to their beliefs.

Justice Gorsuch, in writing his concurring-in-part statement, raises some important points, notably that the opinion is trying to make a distinction between what constitutes religious status and what makes up religious use. He then asks:
Does a religious man say grace before dinner? Or does a man begin his meal in a religious manner? Is it a religious group that built the playground? Or did a group build the playground so it might be used to advance a religious mission? The distinction blurs in much the same way the line between acts and omissions can blur when stared at too long, leaving us to ask (for example) whether the man who drowns by awaiting the incoming tide does so by act (coming upon the sea) or omission (allowing the sea to come upon him).

I don't see why it should matter whether we describe that benefit, say, as closed to Lutherans (status) or closed to people who do Lutheran things (use). It is free exercise either way. 3
Justice Gorsuch's question is a good one. A person's beliefs should and will affect his or her actions. It shouldn't be surprising that Christian will do Christian things as a part of living life. He will hold to Christian beliefs and he may even write about those beliefs, as White House nominee Russell Vought has done. Yet, just two weeks ago, Senator Bernie Sanders redressed Vought for doing just that, blustering “this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.”

Sander's statement is a great example of why Gorsuch, Thomas, and even Justice Breyer had a problem with that little footnote. This isn't only about playground resurfacing. Discrimination against religious believers is become more and more common, and we need a strong opinion to halt it in its track or we may lose the very essence of the First Amendment protections for faith. That is truly what this country is not about.


1. TRINITY LUTHERAN CHURCH OF COLUMBIA, INC. v. COMER. Supreme Court of The United States. 26 June 2017. SCOTUS Blog. Supreme Court of the United States, 26 June 2017. Web. 26 June 2017.
2. Trinity, 2017. 14. Footnote 3.
3. Trinity, 2017. Gorsuch Concurring in Part.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Ignore the Right of Conscience at Your Peril

At the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, we are treated to an ominous scene. Dozens of subjects are marched to the gallows and hanged as an official reads an edict from the local magistrate declaring:
In order to affect a timely halt to deteriorating conditions and to ensure the common good, a state of emergency is declared for these territories by decree of Lord Cutler Beckett, duly appointed representative of His Majesty, the king.

By decree, according to martial law, the following statutes are temporarily amended:
  • Right to assembly, suspended.
  • Right to habeas corpus, suspended.
  • Right to legal counsel, suspended.
  • Right to verdict by a jury of peers, suspended.
By decree, all persons found guilty of piracy, or aiding a person convicted of piracy, or associating with a person convicted of piracy shall be sentenced to hang by the neck until dead.
The message the filmmaker wants to communicate is unmistakable. Unilaterally jettisoning the rights of the people allows despotism to flourish. As we watch even a young boy approach the hangman's noose, we are to recoil at the injustice of it all. We are to understand Lord Beckett as evil.

What About the Greater Good?

The film's portrayal of such measures is ham-fisted, which is to be expected when the heroes are the pirates. In reality, pirates have been and still are real menaces to society. They threatened life, peace, and property. So, would declaring a suspension of rights for the general safety of the colony and the colonists be the right thing to do? I guess it depends on the rights in question and the circumstances necessitating it, but such actions prove to be dangerous.
At the beginning of the Civil War in the U.S., President Lincoln suspended the right to trial for Southern sympathizers in the North who were sabotaging telegraph cables and attacking troops. A U.S. News and World Report article reports how Lincoln believed such drastic action would be limited and for a very short period, with no long-term effects.1 However, the powers in the state of Missouri took martial law to new levels and greedily clung to the efficient effectivelness of forcing the citizenry to its own point of view:
In March 1865, a newspaper correspondent in St. Louis reported that many Republicans in Missouri—not just the state's leaders—had come to admire the efficiency of martial law: "So far from being unpopular, it is believed that a large portion of our loyal people are willing to see a provision incorporated in the charter of the city, requiring six months of martial law to be imposed . . . every five years to clean up all the little cases of outraged justice, loose indictments, public corruption and private peculation, which the ordinary courts cannot reach.2
The article quotes historian Eric Foner that Lincoln found "It is much easier to put these restrictions in place than it is to stop them."3

The Danger of Losing Our Right to Conscience Today

Today, there is a mindset gaining ground in our courts and among our politicians that certain rights are less important than what they perceive as the good of the public. The rights of individuals to exercise his or her sincerely held religious convictions by refusing to participate in same sex union ceremonies has come under attack. Small business owners, like Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, Cynthia and Robert Gifford, Aaron and Melissa Klein, and a bevy of others have felt the power and pressure of the state to violate their beliefs and their consciences in order to two what those in power perceive as an appropriate line.

What makes the states' actions all the more insidious is the fact that there is no imminent threat of "rebellion or invasion" which Lincoln pointed to when issuing his suspension of the law. There aren't even any pirates that threaten one's life, peace, and property. There are only those who assert they must quash such acts of defiance in order to fight "discrimination," as Colorado Civil Rights Commissioner Diann Rice declared in ruling against Masterpiece Cakeshop:
Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be — I mean, we — we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to — to use their religion to hurt others.4
To see the irony of Rice's statement, you should probably read the article "How a Cakebaker Became an Enemy of the State" over at The Federalist. It is Rice and those who think like her who are actually the ones justifying discriminative policies that jeopardize the rights of the citizenry. She sounds very much like the Lord Beckett character, declaring the curtailment of rights simply to "affect a timely halt to deteriorating conditions and to ensure the common good." But what happens when that power is targeted towards other ideas, perhaps ideas that Rice herself holds? She may find that it is much easier to put these powers into place than it is to get rid of them.


1. Ewers, Justin. "Revoking Civil Liberties: Lincoln's Constitutional Dilemma." U.S.News & World Report. U.S.News & World Report. LP, 10 Feb. 2009. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.
2. Ewers, Justin. 2009.
3. Ewers, Justin. 2009.
4. Harsanyi, David. "How A Cakemaker Became An Enemy Of The State." The Federalist. The Federalist, 06 Sept. 2016. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Using Public Funds to Establish Atheist Beliefs

What counts as state-sponsored indoctrination? That's a question that has increasingly come under examination, especially with regard to the establishment of religion. In the United States, the First Amendment to the Constitution declares that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise." The amendment limits the power of the Federal government from creating or giving favor to a specific religious entity or belief system.

Atheist advocacy groups have taken the first portion of that statement, known as the establishment clause, and interpreted it very broadly. Organizations such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Americans for the Separation of Church and State continue to file lawsuits against cities or public agencies for displaying crosses on hilltops or Nativity scenes at Christmas. They complain that these displays amount to an endorsement of one kind of viewpoint, and since their content is religious it violates the establishment clause.

Such charges have followed into even the public school system, where attempts to teach the problems with neo-Darwinian evolutionary models have been shut down. Neo-Darwinism has at its core unguided and purposeless changes in the genome, which are then established and propagated through natural selection. If one were to challenge this viewpoint, one must presuppose some kind of non-purposeless process; we call such causes intelligent and the challenging idea is labeled intelligent design.

Of course, intelligent design has been fought vigorously by the atheist groups as being religious. While intelligent design does not support any specific religion itself, these groups feel that any school district teaching intelligent design is using a public institution supported by tax dollars to advance a particular religious view. They claim this violates the First Amendment's Establishment clause.

The most well-known of these challenges was the high-profile Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board trial, where this line of reasoning was used extensively. Of course, intelligent design has been fought vigorously by the atheist groups as being religious. An article in Time magazine summarized their charge well, saying "intelligent design is inherently religious since it relies on a supernatural creative force, which cannot be tested or proven by scientific experiments."1

Geese and Ganders

Here's the thing in all of this, it is impossible to take a position and not use public agencies or public tax money to thrust some kind of belief system upon others. If one holds that displaying a Nativity scene or a cross on a mountaintop advocates for a specific religious position, then demanding the public schools teach that there is no God who took part in the origin or the development of life also advocates for a specific religious position, namely the position that any belief system holding a contrary view is wrong. If affirming a religious claim violates the First Amendment's establishment clause, then demanding a denial of that claim does so as well, for the subject of the claim is religious in both instances.

So, how is it the public schools are leveraged and my tax dollars are spent on actively advocating for a no-God position regarding life and this isn't also violating the Establishment clause? If any kind of intelligent agency proposal is banned, then there is a clear bias towards a non-belief in God presented in the instruction.  It seems to me those who complain about religious messages being offered through public agencies aren't worried at all when the message is the one they wish to communicate, only when it is one with which they disagree. That is the kind of position the First Amendment was meant to guard against.


1. Scully, Sean. "'Breathtaking Inanity': How Intelligent Design Flunked Its Test Case." Time. Time Inc., 20 Dec. 2005. Web. 25 Aug. 2016.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Morality: Answering "What Makes You Think You Know Better?"

When the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling on Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman, they tacitly approved the actions of the state of Washington, who is forcing pharmacy owners to sell abortifacient drugs against their religious beliefs. In that case, the Storman family would not stock two drugs that would cause abortion either days after or weeks after conception in their general stores, which included pharmacies because they held life begins at conception.1 However, Washington state passed laws specifically targeting religious pharmacy owners, forcing them to sell the drugs according to a 2012 Federal court ruling.2

The Stormans' case has its critics. Someone recently commented on an article I wrote concerning the case. She felt that the choice of the pharmacy to not stock the drugs was what was limiting freedom:
How is it that you see it as ok for a pharmacist to second guess a prescription ordered by a doctor? The pharmacist is not the one treating the patient, he has not evaluated the patient and likely has no knowledge of other conditions the patient may have. If the pharmacist has a problem with a d[r]ug a doctor prescribes he should discuss it with the doctor, just as he does when he catches a potentially dangerous drug interaction that the doctor may have missed. It seems highly unprofessional to just refuse to fill the prescription.
I simply replied that her description of the situation was euphemistic. I noted the drugs weren't simply a "prescription ordered by a doctor." They were designed for a very specific purpose: to cause an abortion. I also noted that a prescription is not sacrosanct. I would have a problem selling drugs designed for the purpose of euthanasia, which is also wrong. She challenged my objection, stating:
When a person, in consultation with their doctor, decides that ending their own life or terminating a pregnancy is the best course of action for their unique situation, what make you think that you know better?
There are two problems with such a question. First, it seems to assume that ethics are only situational and closed to only those who know the intimate details of the situation. But that isn't true at all. Imagine if I were to say "If a person in consultation with their doctor decides that killing their two year old is the best course of action for their unique situation, what makes you think that you know better?" Such a question would rightly be considered absurd. In such a circumstance it isn't necessary we know all the details; killing an innocent human being is wrong full stop. Unique circumstances don't change that.

Who Gets to Decide What's Moral?

But this isn't even the main problem in the Stormans' case. I get that my interlocutor holds a different points of view on abortion. At issue in the Stormans' case is the right of individuals to freely follow their consciences and their religious beliefs. By forcing them to sell drugs they see as immorally ending a life, the state deems its own interpretation of morality more valid than that of its constituents. This is wrong. It is well within one's rights to not engage in commerce when it violates one's conscience on clear grounds.

I can offer a real world example to make my point. Capital punishment has been authorized in 31 states with lethal injection being the primary way the sentence is carried as the Supreme Court declared a three-drug cocktail as being legally acceptable.3 However, many activists both here and across Europe object to any form of capital punishment. Pressure from several European countries has led drug manufacturer Pfizer to not allow its drugs to be used in lethal injections.4

These are almost parallel situations. According to the logic of the 9th Circuit ruling, Pfizer should be legally compelled to sell its drugs to all states for use in lethal injections. Who is Pfizer to override the will of the people who voted in capital punishment? How can any activist who is believes capital punishment is morally wrong and applied pressure to Pfizer to stop selling the drugs to correctional facilities claim that other companies must be forced to sell abortifacients to whomever walks in off the street?

Should State Fiat Overrule Conscience?

Of course, even in this instance, Stormans' has the more defensible position. While Pfizer's primary motivation for banning the purchase of its drugs for lethal injection is economic (Pfizer doesn't want to lose the significant customers of several European national health systems), the motivation for the Stormans family is based on strongly held personal conviction which could actually cause them to lose money by not making a sale.

If the Washington case is indicative of how matters on conscience are to be treated in the future, all Americans can be forced to participate in actions they deem immoral. If the state gets to decide which moral issues may be worthy for objection and which hold mandatory participation, then it isn't our consciences that matter. We become the pawns of the state; which is the very thing our founders fought against.


1. Alliance Defending Freedom. "Stormans v. Wiesman." Alliance Defending Freedom, 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
2. Harkness, Kelsey. "Alito: Value Religious Freedom? You Should Be Worried." The Daily Signal. The Heritage Foundation, 28 June 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
3. "States and Capital Punishment." National Conference of State Legislatures. National Conference of State Legislatures, 1 Jan. 2016. Web. 28 July 2016.
4. Eckholm, Eric. "Pfizer Blocks the Use of Its Drugs in Executions." New York Times. The New York Times Company HomeSearchAccessibility Concerns? Email Us at We Would Love to Hear from You., 13 May 2016. Web. 28 July 2016.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

SCOTUS Ignoring the Constitution

It's the end of June and it means that another round of Supreme Court decisions It's the end of June and it means that another round of Supreme Court decisions have been released. One of the biggest decisions getting press is the finding in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, where the Court overturned a Texas law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of other ambulatory surgical centers in the state. Because this is the first Supreme Court ruling on an abortion case in nearly 20 years, it has gotten a lot of press. However, the bigger story is the decision the Court made to not hear a case.

Today, the Court's majority denied a hearing for the owners of a Washington State pharmacy who are resisting being compelled by state law to sell abortifacient drugs at their business. This is a terrifying decision, and not simply because it involves abortion. The case hung on the fact that compelling someone to engage in commerce against their convictions and religious beliefs is unconstitutional. That's what free exercise of religion means. That's why the Pilgrims left for America and it's why religious freedom was demanded as the first of the amendments guaranteed in the Constitution. To simply ignore that now is to gut the very freedom upon which our country is built.

Lest anyone think I'm exaggerating, I offer this quote from James Madison on the need for religious liberty separate from any state compulsion:
Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, "that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man's right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

2. Because if Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited: it is limited with regard to the co-ordinate departments, more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves (emphasis added).1
What makes Madison's arguments even more interesting is in this instance he was arguing against compulsion from the state to subsidize a particular form of Christianity, but he anchored his arguments in the understanding that personal conviction takes precedence over the state's desire. It is the guarantee that the people have the right of conscience to live out their beliefs to the Governor of the Universe first that is inalienable. In denying the hearing, the Court 's majority is denying that any such right exists.

Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Alito understood the problem rejecting the case poses for religious liberty. In their dissenting opinion, they call this “an ominous sign” and conclude “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.” 2

I'm concerned. I'm deeply concerned that judicial reinterpretation is erasing the very rights upon which this country was built and why it should exist. Madison thought it was a big deal, maybe our judiciary should, too.


1. Madison, James. "Amendment I (Religion): James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments." The Founder's Constitution. The University of Chicago, 1987. Web. 28 June 2016.
2. Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman. Supreme Court of the United States. 28 June 2016. Supreme Court of the United States. Supreme Court of the United States, 28 June 2016. Web. 28 June 2016.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mark Feb 24 as a Key Date in the Battle for Religious Freedom

Today is a significant date in Christian history, for it was on February 24, 303 AD that the edict was issued by Roman Emperor Diocletian that began the first empire-wide and most bloody persecution of Christians. Prior to 303, Christians had been persecuted in various provinces of the Roman Empire, but this was different. It was systemic and all-encompassing.

The Diocletian Persecution is important partially because of how it began. Historian W.H.C. Frend explains the crafting of the laws that launched the persecution:
The persecution resembled Valerian's more than Decius's. It had been carefully planned and the consequences had been weighed. Diocletian recognized the danger of making Christians martyrs. No blood, he insisted, must be shed. The aim was to recall the Christians to their duty of recognizing the majesty of the Roman Gods. The edict he promulgated on 24 February ordered throughout the empire churches were to be destroyed, and the sacred books of the Christians handed over to be burned. Christians in public offices were to be removed from them. In private life Christians in the upper classes (honestiores) were to lose their privileges. In particular, they could not act as plaintiffs in cases of injury, adultery, or theft. Christian slaves might not be freed. But there was no requirement for universal sacrifice. The attack was concentrated on the organization of the church, its life as represented by the Scriptures and buildings, and on its influential members. (Emphasis added.)1
Notice the thought process by Emperor Diocletian who had to initially be convinced to issue the edict. We're not going to force people to worship Roman Gods. It's simply the duty of those who enjoy the benefits of Rome's governance to recognize there is a social standard to which they must adhere. Thus, Christians should be removed from public offices since their Christian beliefs run counter to the beliefs the state wishes to promote. Wealthy Christian businessmen should lose any protections they hold, especially those that would protect them legally. The church as an organization should be attacked as a wrong-thinking institution. But no blood should be shed and Christians can believe what they will in the privacy of their own homes.

The Loss of Freedom Today

Of course, we are not in Diocletian's Rome. Frend spends several pages discussing why conditions in the Empire at that time made the persecution more likely than before. Those conditions do not exist today and I'm not arguing that we are heading for another Diocletian Persecution. However, the trend to weaken religious freedom is increasing, and many of the justifications used sound eerily familiar. If you're a Christian court clerk in Kentucky who refuses to sign a marriage certificate, people demand you be removed from public office. If you are a baker or wedding photographer, your beliefs and your conscience are secondary to what the state feels is moral. Here's how the Harvard Law Review summarized the judgment against one such photographer:
Justice Bosson concluded that "[i]n the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. . . . [I]t is the price of citizenship."2
The freedom of religion is often referred to as the "First Freedom." In the United States, it is the first freedom to be recognized in the Constitution's Bill of Rights, but it is the first freedom in more ways than that. Without the freedom to not simply "do whatever we want in the privacy of our homes," but to incorporate our beliefs into our broader lives, we are not truly worshiping freely. It is the state that is setting the rubric of what counts as true beliefs verses what counts as inconsequential beliefs. How much can you belief something if it never affects the way in which you live? The short answer is: you can't. By dictating which beliefs must be sacrificed for the price of citizenship is effectively setting a state religious litmus test.

Escalating from Legislation to Volience

The second reason why we should remember the Diocletian persecution is how quickly it elevated from a calculated, no-blood political move to an all-out blood bath against Christians. The Christian History Institute sums it up nicely:
Before the end of the year, Diocletian issued two more proclamations against Christians and Maximian issued a fourth the following year. One ordered the imprisonment of Christian teachers, filling the prisons with bishops and clergy. The next ordered that these prisoners either sacrifice to the pagan gods or be tortured. The third directed that all Christians should be required to sacrifice on pain of torture.

Christians suffered terribly, especially in the eastern empire. Some were thrown to wild beasts, others burned alive or roasted on griddles. Some were skinned or had their flesh scraped from their bones. Others were crucified. A few were tied between trees that were bent so as to meet and, when the branches were released, the force ripped these victims limb from limb. Eventually the Romans wearied of this and set the remaining Christians to work in mines or gave them menial jobs. In many instances, they gouged out an eye or maimed a hand or foot before sending the workers off. From this period come many notable martyrs, including the young girl, Agnes of Rome.3
While the powers that be began in limiting their scope of the edicts, it quickly grew out of control. The tortures were fierce and had gone beyond what the designers had imagined. Even those Christians who had adopted Roman customs were not immune. Frend writes, "For some, the Persecution must have come as a great shock. Even in towns where they were most numerous, we find Christians sharing fully in the Greco-Roman culture, taking part in city life as councilors, and not adverse to references to Hades and the Muses on their tombstones."4 To have assumed those who just "go with the program" or one who agrees with the state and capitulate to its edicts means they will not be targeted was mistaken. Just the name "Christian" was enough to condemn one to death or to slave labor.

AS we mark the anniversary of the Diocletian Persecution, we should consider these things and think about what we risk in our own society. People are people and they tend to repeat themselves. What lessons should we learn before we allow our religious freedom to be adjudicated into something less than an irrevocable right held by all mankind?


1. Frend, W. H. C. The Rise of Christianity. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984. Print. 457.
2. "Constitutional Law — First Amendment — New Mexico Supreme Court Holds That Application Of Public Accommodations Law To Wedding Photography Company Does Not Violate First Amendment Speech Protections. Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock, 309 P.3d 53 (N.M. 2013)." Harvard Law Review 127.5 (2014): 1485. Web.
[. "Start of Diocletian's Great Persecution | It Happened Today." Christian History Institute. Christian History Institute, 24 Feb. 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
4. Frend, 1984. 445.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Banning God from Government isn't Neutral

At the last Republican presidential primary debate in Iowa, atheist groups plan on holding a demonstration entitled "Keep Your Theocracy Out of Our Democracy." According to a press release by the Coalition of Reason, the event is a way of "demanding a separation of religion from government" as well as "to raise the visibility of the voice of non-theistic voters and the issues that they care about."1 ;The theme of separation of church and state plays prominently in the press release and will do so at the event as well.

The theme of; Eastern Iowa COR spokesman Rocky Gissler summed up, "An elected government official takes an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution that applies to all citizens, and their 'sincerely-held beliefs' should not supersede the supreme law of this country. When religious bias is allowed to influence our laws, it can result not only in discriminatory actions toward whole groups of people, such as the LGBTQ community, but grievous harm to individuals."

The complaint that religious belief should have no influence on governmental decision-making is a recurring one among atheist groups today. That's exactly what the title of this protest communicates. I also just wrote about how atheist Justin Scott has been quizzing the various candidates on whether they plan to cater to atheist values and telling Marco Rubio "there's talks in our community about you running as Pastor-in Chief instead of Commander-in-Chief." When engaging with Mike Huckabee, Huckabee asked Scott whether he thought the public schools should be anti-religious. Scott's reply is telling. He said, "Not anti-religious. I believe there's value in teaching religion in terms of history, in terms of literature, but not in terms of 'This is truth.'"

Secularism Makes Truth-Claims about the World

What Gissler, Scott, and others like them fail to realize is the sentiment of holding religion as an untruth is not taking a neutral position. There's a big assumption that because something may be classified as secular it is unbiased, but that simply doesn't follow. For example, Gissler's statement above takes a particular moral stance on the same-sex marriage debate. He is allowing his secularism to inform him of what legislation he deems appropriate and which legislation he deems discriminatory.

When one looks at education, we can find the same trend. To teach evolution as the dominant explanation for the diversity of life on the earth is understandable in a science class. However, by labeling evolution as "secular" and any and all competition theories as "religious," an inherent bias is set up. That's problematic, because neo-Darwinism needs to be falsifiable to be a scientifically solid explanatory theory. ;But what would the parameters of what falsification look like? Instead of blind natural processes, diversity would require some kind of purposeful creator. Atheist claim this is forbidden.

The preference of atheists to assert secularism over other types of beliefs are clear. Atheists demand that none of their tax dollars goes to anything even remotely resembling faith. Nativity scenes, crosses existing on public lands, and even food pantries for the poor have all been targeted by atheist groups who hate any association of tax dollars with even the hint of a theistic belief system. But what about Christians who are supposed to support secular programs in schools to the exclusion of their beliefs? Why should only those who make the claim "God does not exist" get the free ride? That's what the protesters are really demanding; they want their beliefs to be the only ones in government. But our government is founded upon the belief that it is God who gives us certain rights . Take God away and all those rights the atheists are demanding fold like a house of cards.

Demanding Freedom or Oppression?

It's easy to try and play off secularism as a neutral position, but secularism isn't neutral. It stands opposed to most religious belief systems. If our country is truly going to be a free one, then its citizens must be able to draw upon their first freedom of the free exercise of religion. We must be able to exercise that freedom in our workplaces, in our schools, and in the voting booth. And those whom we elect should be able to exercise their beliefs and draw upon those beliefs to inform their views while in office. Anything less is demanding as oppressive a government as the one our Founders fled.


1. "Godless Expression of Free Speech from Atheist Voters at Final GOP Debate." United Coalition of Reason. 26 Jan 2016. Web. 28 Jan 2016.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Do Religious Candidates Pose a Threat for Atheist Voters?

It's an election year in the United States and presidential candidates have been stumping for votes across the country. Most have been holding various town hall meetings where they could meet with voters and answer their questions or concerns. Interestingly, one YouTube vlogger named Justin Scott has been attending some of the meetings as a representative of the atheist community. Here's how Scott approached Republican candidate Marco Rubio with his question:
I'm an atheist voter. I represent millions of atheists and non-theists around the country, one of the fastest growing voter blocs and you said earlier that you want to stand up for religious freedom and all of that. My question is for atheist voters that are looking for somebody that will uphold their rights as Americans and not pander to a certain religious group.

I just noticed your recent ad. It mentioned nothing about policy, it mentioned nothing about ideas. It simply talked about wanting us to follow faith and find God and go to heaven and things like that, which is fine for those people that align with you.

My question is how do you plan on upholding our rights and focusing on non-theists. You know, there's, there's talks in our community about you running as Pastor-in Chief instead of Commander-in-Chief, so I'm curious your thoughts.
Notice the core of Scott's question. He states atheist voters are looking for a candidate to "uphold their rights as Americans and not pander to a certain religious group." He then asks Rubio "how do you plan on upholding our rights and focusing on non-theists."

Scott's line of questioning is strange. Must the president of the United States focus on non-theists in order to uphold their rights? If that's true, then he must also focus on every group of every religious persuasion, a daunting process in a widely diverse country of 330 million people. Scott also includes a couple of ad hominems in his question, using the label "pastor-in-chief" and implying Rubio may be pandering to a certain religious group.

Notice, there are no specifics tied to his concerns. He doesn't point to any legislation Rubio sponsored that violates the First Amendment rights of non-believers. He offers no specific instances where Rubio personally showed animus towards non-believers and Rubio does a great job of answering Scott by pointing to the First Amendment. (You can watch the entire exchange here.)

Scott's similar question to Mike Huckabee offers more illumination on Scott's concern:
I'm an atheist, and I feel as if the Republican Party lately is hell-bent on tearing down separation of church and state. I want to know your thoughts on that. I also want to know why should I vote for you. Why should millions of atheists around the country support a candidate that has made comments like you've made about us?
At this point, Huckabee asks Scott "What have I made about you?" Scott again dodges any specific charges, simply offering a generalized caricature of the comments as "they haven't been pretty." Huckabee answers he would in fact uphold the First Amendment and how if guarantees Scott and any other non-believers "to be atheists as much as it guarantees me the right to be a Christian, or somebody else the right to be a Jew or Muslim or Hindu, or Buddhist." Huckabee is right here. The separation clause of the First Amendment simply says the Federal Government cannot compel any religious belief or non-belief upon its citizenry.

One point Scott seems to miss here is being a passionate believer about one's particular faith is not a disqualifier for office, even the office of president. If one holds to Christianity, that doesn't simply mean the person attends Sunday church. It means the Christian worldview will shape his or her understanding of all reality. That's protected by the very First Amendment that also protects Scott's view of reality.

Because Scott can't seem to offer specifics of where the candidates demonstrate a predilection to abridge the rights of non-believers and cannot even name exactly which rights he means, his question strikes me as pandering. He's unjustifiably biasing a candidate solely on their religious views. Thus, Scott really fails to add any substance to the discussion on the candidates and how non-believers will fare under their leadership.

Tomorrow, I will explore a bit more of Scott's comments and specifically his concern with religion in schools. But for now, the lack of detail should be more troubling for those who are cheering Scott on than for any of the candidates.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Undermining Morality in Medical Care

Yesterday, I wrote an article on the necessity of religious freedom to exist for freedom to exist at all. If one cannot live according to his or her values and are forced to adopt the values of another, then that person is not living in freedom. It is exactly this kind of oppression that Thomas Jefferson and the framers of the Constitution took pains to prohibit.

However, the culture of today has devalued conscience and religious freedom so much that people complain about anyone who tries to exercise their religious freedom when it comes in conflict with the desires of another. One can simply point to the recent lawsuit brought on by the American Civil Liberties Union against Mercy Medical Center in Redding, CA for refusing to perform a tubal ligation on a patient during a C-section delivery. According to the Sacramento Bee, the Dignity Health, which is the group who manages the Roman Catholic hospital was simply following their policy "'not to provide sterilization services at Dignity Health's Catholic facilities,' in accordance with guidelines issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops." 1

Given that 1) Mercy Medical Center is a Catholic institution 2) the procedure is elective and in no way necessary and 3) Catholic doctrine does teach sterilization are interfering with the proper function of reproductive systems as God designed them, their denial shouldn't have been a surprise at all. One should no more expect a Roman Catholic hospital to perform sterilization surgery than to expect a Muslim restaurateur to serve alcohol or an Orthodox Jewish Deli to offer a ham and cheese sandwich. If you want that, you may have to go elsewhere.

Who Gets Priority?

The central issue in this fight is one of priority. No one is advocating legislating a ban on tubal ligation procedures. In fact, Dignity Health manages other hospitals that are non-Catholic and performs the procedure at those.  The policy of the company is simply to honor the wishes of the institution it serves. The question is does the desires of the patient take precedence over the moral values the organization wishes to practice? Whose desires take priority?

In his recent commentary on the case, Charles C. Camosy correctly noted that medical care needs to hold to a higher moral standard than, say, a fast-food restaurant:
Alarmingly, this understanding of medicine is coming under tremendous pressure from what Mark Mercurio, a professor of pediatrics and ethics at Yale University's medical school, calls "the Burger King model." Instead of medicine being treated as a profession governed by internal norms and values, it's increasingly seen as market-based, with patients as customers who come in and "Have It Their Way."

But if you take a professional view of medicine, the following question must be asked: Is intentionally interfering with someone's reproductive system (in ways which do not address some injury or disease) an act of healthcare? This is a disputed question, of course, and one's answer depends on one's particular value system. From the Catholic Church's perspective, it is not. 2
Camosy is right here. We hear complaints all the time that corporations are greedy; they shouldn't be in it only for the money but make corporate decisions in way that are morally upright, too. This is much more important for healthcare organizations where the bottom line can include pulling life support in order to save costs on a viable patient. But one cannot have it both ways. You can't demand a corporation adopt a moral framework then ask them to violate it because it conflicts with the desires of a few individuals who don't want to travel to another location. I would rather know a hospital has a strong moral stand towards the preservation of human life in both its existing and potential forms than seek treatment at an avowedly amoral institution.

Camosy concludes "When healthcare providers are forced by law to violate the values that make them who they are — because of the request of customers demanding goods and services in the free market — it signals the end of medicine as a professional practice."3 If medicine becomes a "whatever the buyer wants" business, it loses any moral compunction to do the right thing. In matters of life and death, I'm not willing to make that trade.

The ACLU, an organization claiming to uphold religious liberty, is the agency bringing the lawsuit. Clearly, this institution is more concerned about being on the left side of the political spectrum rather than the right side of conscience.


1.Buck, Claudia. "ACLU Sues Dignity Health over Redding Hospital's Refusal to Perform Contraception Surgery." The Sacramento Bee, 29 Dec. 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.
2.Camosy, Charles C. "Why a Catholic Hospital Shouldn't Be Obliged to Do a Tubal Ligation." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 18 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.
3.Camosy, 2016.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

There is No Freedom without Religious Freedom

This weekend marked two important dates in the advancement of freedom. The more widely known was Martin Luther King, Jr. day, celebrated on the third Monday in January. MLK Day is a federal holiday in the United States, set aside to remember not just the work of Dr. King, but his cause.

To view another human being as less worthy or less capable for no other reason than the color of one's skin or heritage is wrong, for all human beings should hold an "equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them" as Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of independence. MLK Day recognizes the concept enshrined in that document. Senator Jack Kemp, when voting for the holiday after rejecting it years prior, made the point well:
I have changed my position on this vote because I really think that the American Revolution will not be complete until we commemorate the civil rights revolution and guarantee those basic declarations of human rights for all Americans and remove those barriers that stand in the way of people being what they are meant to be.1
I think that's what makes MLK Day important. It makes Jefferson's belief that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" consistent for our nation. Jefferson's ownership of slaves may make some question his beliefs on this subject, but living inconsistently does not mean the idea itself is wrong; it only demonstrates the person who seeks to follow that idea is flawed.

The Other Holiday for Freedom

The other day that marks the advancement of freedom is less well-known, but no less important, and it also involves the writings of Thomas Jefferson and he felt this document was just as important as his crafting of the Declaration. That document is the Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, otherwise known as The Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty and it became one of the sources for the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution and it was passed on January 16th of 1786. January 16th has come to be known as Religious Freedom Day.

In the statute, Jefferson lays out why the state should not be able to compel only certain opinions or religious views. It not only argues against elevating a certain denomination or sect (such as the Church of England, that had been recognized as the official church of the state of Virginia), but it argues that government impeding any religious beliefs is a violation of the natural rights of men. Jefferson argues that "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions, which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical." He then points out "proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right" (emphasis added). 2

Jefferson finally argues that any civil official who wants to enforce his own understanding of what is allowable and what is not regarding religious questions actually robs all people of liberty:

To suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own3

Losing Religious Freedom Today

But in cases of Christians who seek to both exercise their professions and uphold their religious convictions, that's exactly what we are seeing today. Civil magistrates are trying to override the beliefs of Christian cake bakers, photographers, and county clerks with whom the magistrates' opinions differ. Even the Obama administration hailed Religious Freedom Day as honoring "one of our most cherished ideas" even while it pursued legal action against a group of nuns who hold that abortion is morally wrong.

Today, while racism is widely reviled both in public and in the media, the importance of religious liberty is being eroded. Much of that comes from the confusion over what religious liberty entails. But be certain that if religious liberty is eroded then there will be no check left against whatever opinions those in power wish to impose on the citizenry.

When signing MLK Day into law, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed:
Dr. King had awakened something strong and true, a sense that true justice must be colorblind, and that among white and black Americans, as he put it, "Their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom; we cannot walk alone."4
The same relationship exists with religious freedom. If we lose the ability to speak about our faith when legislation is debated, we lose our voice of conviction. If we must be compelled to a certain action even though it stands in opposition to our understanding of right and wrong, we are being denied our natural rights. Natural rights cannot be taken from people by governments. Our country is founded on this principle. To compromise on religious freedom would mean subjecting ourselves to the tyranny of the powerful. That's a future that even Dr. King would loathe for his children.


1. Jack Kemp Foundation. "Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday." Jack Kemp Foundation. Jack Kemp Foundation, 16 Jan. 2012. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.
2. "Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, January 16, 1786." Transcript.
3. "Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, January 16, 1786."
4. Reagan, Ronald. "Remarks on Signing the Bill Making the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a National Holiday." Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. 2 Nov. 1983. Web. 19 Jan 2016.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Keeping Crosses on Public Lands (audio debate)

Within the last ten years or so groups like the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have brought lawsuit after lawsuit seeking to remove crosses from various public lands. One recent skirmish hit very close to home for me, as AU attorneys sought to remove the historic Mt. Rubidoux cross in my home town of Riverside, CA.

When the cross was threatened, I was asked by radio host Lou Desmond to appear on his show and go toe to toe with the secularist attorney seeking to sue the city of Riverside. Listen in as we discuss the historic background that roots the cross in culture and see why arguments like those made by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State are inconsistent and ultimately unconvincing.

Download the mp3 file here.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Religious Symbols, Public Land, and the Charge of Offense

Is a cross an offensive object and if it is, in what way is it offensive? In today's over-sensitive culture, causing offense is one of the worst things one can do. With charges of microaggressions and trigger warnings now the norm on college campuses, we've moved to a surreal understanding of what is deemed proper in polite society. Still, does a cross on a city-owned hilltop in and of itself cause offense?

A couple of years ago, I engaged in a discussion on the radio with the lawyer from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State who had threatened the city with legal action because a 110 year old cross sat atop publicly owned property. The hilltop, known to local residents as Mount Rubidoux, had been owned by the family of Frank Augustus Miller, one of the influential citizens in the young California community. Miller was a fan of California history and mission-revival architecture. Miller built the Mission Inn in downtown Riverside and placed the cross atop Mt. Rubidoux to honor Father Junipero Serra along with a plaque explaining the same. The monument was unveiled by President William Howard Taft in 1909.1 After Miller's passing, his family donated Mt. Rubidoux to the city, as a gift for the community to enjoy.

How Does Offense Disappear with Ownership?

I offer this background to show that the primary purpose of the cross was recognition of a historical figure, father Junipero Serra. Yet, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) wanted it taken down. In the radio interview, AU associate legal director Alex J. Luchenitser claimed the cross was considered offensive. "We received a complaint by a local resident who was deeply troubled by the cross." It was troubling for this person to look up at the cross every day and see what he considered an endorsement of a specific religion. The supposed complainant was "deeply troubled" to use Luchenitser's own words.


I could imagine Jewish people looking over a monument with a Nazi swastika being offended at seeing that every day. I could understand it if a city left up signs in front of drinking fountains that said "Whites only" as being offensive. I don't understand how this cross fits in the same category, yet I will take Luchenitser at his word.

My problem, then, is with the solution that Luchenitser offered: if the city would simply sell the cross monument and the land surrounding it to a private entity, the problem will be solved; the cross would no longer be offensive. Now, how does that work? I'm certain that the Jewish citizen would continue to be offended at the Nazi insignia prominently displayed no matter who owned the thing. Similarly, selling the drinking fountain and the building to which its attached would in no way diminish the offense of a "Whites only" sign. This resident that initially complained to the AU, won't he or she still wake up every morning and see that cross in the same place as before? Why is that person no longer offended?

Ultimately, the solution that Luchenitser offers proves the offense objection isn't sincere. Either the cross is an offensive symbol or it isn't. What Luchenitser and his ilk at the Americans United for Separation of Church and State really want is to try and erase any and all reminders that religious motivations factored into the founding of our nation and our local communities. That's the real goal of such frivolous lawsuits. Luchenitser also argued that such a display is tantamount to the government proselytizing. That's a separate argument that can be answered at a later time. My point for today is that any claim that a cross would be removed because it is offensive should be rejected.

In order to settle the dispute and not tie up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs, the city of Riverside chose to sell the cross to a private organization, the Friends of Mt. Rubidoux. It stands in the same spot and is still visible for miles around. It is either a beacon of offense (and if so, the city is complicit in allowing such an offensive symbol to remain) or it is what it always has been: a symbol recognizing the role that Christianity played in settling Riverside and the state of California.


1. Drysdale, William T. "A Memorial to Mt. Rubidoux." Friends of Mt. Rubidoux. Sept. 1999. 4-5. Web. Oct. 12, 2015.
Image courtesy Paolo and licensed via Creative Commons [CC BY-ND 2.0]

Monday, August 24, 2015

Conscience, Death, and Marriage

Earlier this year, a bill that would make certain instances of assisted suicide legal in the state of California was passed by the state Senate and is now trying to slip through the assembly via a special session, according to Los Angeles Times reporter George Skelton.1 Modeled after a similar law that has been active in Oregon, the California bill would allow patients who supposedly have less than six months to live to end their lives by taking lethal drugs prescribed by a physician.

These kinds of laws are problematic for a number of reasons, which I will go into in a later article. However, Skelton made one comment in his opinion piece as he tried to sell the legislation that caught my eye. He wrote, "To protect hospitals and physicians from acting against their beliefs, none would be required to participate."2When I reviewed the actual legislation, it did indeed contain a clause for conscience. SB-128, Sect 443.14 (e)(1) reads:
Participation in activities authorized pursuant to this part shall be voluntary. Notwithstanding Sections 442 to 442.7, inclusive, a person or entity that elects, for reasons of conscience, morality, or ethics, not to engage in activities authorized pursuant to this part is not required to take any action in support of an individual's decision under this part.
Isn't that interesting? A physician, a hospital, or any other appropriately licensed individual or organization may refuse the wishes of the patient "for reasons of conscience, morality, or ethics.” This runs contrary to what normally happens when patients walk into care facility and are suffering. Doctors are supposed to alleviate suffering. Emergency rooms are required by law to take in and examine all patients who complain of significant pain, whether they can pay or not. It would seem the responsibility of hospitals would be the same in this instance as the patient is still suffering, but it's due in this instance to a terminal illness.

The Double Standard

Don't get me wrong. I'm no supporter of this legislation, and I'm glad that doctors will have the opportunity to opt out if it violates their beliefs. But here's the thing; a suffering person is a far more urgent situation than say a wedding and a physician carries a far greater responsibility to the public good than a cake baker or photographer does. It is a more urgent situation than having one's employer pay for whatever kind of birth control will help you fulfill your carnal desires. Why then would democratic legislatures in the state of California include such an extremely wide and open conscience clause in this piece of legislation when we are told over and over that belief isn't something that should affect one's profession? Why aren't the pro-assisted suicide groups rallying to throw out this exception, complaining that it's inherently discriminatory, that one's beliefs shouldn't impose on the suffering patient, or that any person who chose to go into health care should have known that they may need to provide life-ending drugs?

One can quickly see the disconnect in the two positions. If belief, moral conviction, or ethical understanding is enough reason for any doctor or an entire institution like a hospital to refuse to alleviate the suffering of a patient, then it is clearly more than enough reason to refuse to bake a wedding cake or take pictures at someone's wedding. Skelton trumpets the exemption in the bill as a good thing. Would he be willing to support such legislation if that clause stood alone, such as a Religious Freedom bill? Or is this clause to get the camel's nose under the tent until a judge decides to wipe out the exception through judicial fiat? I can only surmise, but one thing is clear. It is wholly inconsistent to uphold an exemption for belief when suffering is involved but to say one's convictions don't count in lesser circumstances.


1. Skelton, George. "Legislature's Action on 'right to Die' Bill Is Fair and Square." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 24 Aug. 2015. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.
2. Skelton, 2015.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Why God is the Foundation of American Liberty

In the United States, the Pledge of Allegiance has been a part of American life since 1942 when congress passed the Flag Code into law, describing the proper ways to display and treat the nation's flag. 1 At that time, the pledge did not contain the words "under God" in it. It also originally stipulated that citizens should say the pledge with their right hands outstretched toward the flag. However, given that salute's eerie similarity to the Nazi salute, the wartime congress quickly amended the law to have citizens place their right hands over their hearts. 2

It wasn't until 1953, when Democratic Congressman Louis Rabaut and Republican Senator Homer Ferguson introduced a bill to congress to amend the Pledge to include the words "under God" that the national debate was brought center stage. During this time, many different voices contributed to the debate. While a lot of media today explain away the addition as simply a knee-jerk response to those "Godless communists" in the Soviet Union, I think there is much more to the addition than that. Several civic groups, most noticeably the Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus had decided to include the phrase in their recitation of the Pledge a few years prior, modeling it after Abraham Lincoln's use of the term in his Gettysburg address.3 Other groups began to do likewise.

God and the Constitution

In general, the question of how God relates to American government was swirling at the time. In 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court had just decided a case (Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306) stating school children should be excused from attending public school for reasons of religious education or religious observance. Justice William O. Douglas, in writing for the majority said:
The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State. Rather, it studiously defines the manner, the specific ways, in which there shall be no concern or union or dependency one on the other. That is the common sense of the matter. Otherwise the State and religion would be aliens to each other—hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly…

We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses. We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and creeds as the spiritual needs of man deem necessary. We sponsor an attitude on the part of government that shows no partiality to any one group and that lets each flourish according to the zeal of its adherents and the appeal of its dogma. When the state [343 U.S. 306, 314] encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions.4

Liberty Relies on the Natural Rights that God Bestows

As one can see, it was widely recognized that the United States was a nation founded upon certain principles, and those principles had at their root the belief that God exists and he is the source of those natural rights that this country holds so dear.

Such a concept shouldn't be shocking to anyone who has read the Declaration of independence. Even though Thomas Jefferson was a deist, he recognized that God alone grounds our rights. In writing about the revolution, he said "The god who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them."5 Jefferson in another letter goes on to reinforce this view. When speaking on the issue of slavery, one that had begun to divide the nation, he said:
And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever. 6
Because the liberties of Americans depend on God and the foundational recognition that all governments must be held to this standard, which is a standard above themselves, the pressure increased to add the words "under God" to the pledge.

A New Birth of Freedom

On Feb 7, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower attended a service at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church where he heard Rev. George Docherty deliver a sermon entitled "A New Birth of Freedom," highlighting this distinction and drawing on Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. While Docherty did say "I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag in Moscow with equal solemnity," to assume that was the focus of his reasoning would be to do him and President Eisenhower a disservice. You may real Docherty's entire sermon here, but for conciseness, here is the relevant portion:
There is no religious examination on entering the United States of America- no persecution because a man's faith differs even from the Christian religion. So, it must be 'under God' to include the great Jewish Community, and the people of the Moslem faith, and the myriad of denominations of Christians in the land.

What then of the honest atheist?

Philosophically speaking, an atheistic American is a contradiction in terms. Now don't misunderstand me. This age has thrown up a new type of man-we call him a secular; he does not believe in God; not because he is a wicked man, but because he is dialectically honest, and would rather walk with the unbelievers than sit hypocritically with people of the faith. These men, and many have I known, are fine in character; and in their obligations as citizens and good neighbors, quite excellent.

But they really are spiritual parasites. And I mean no term of abuse in this. I'm simply classifying them. A parasite is an organism that lives upon the life force of another organism without contributing to the life of the other. These excellent ethical seculars are living upon the accumulated spiritual capital of Judeo-Christian civilization, and at the same time, deny the God who revealed the divine principles upon which the ethics of this country grow. The dilemma of the secular is quite simple.

He cannot deny the Christian revelation and logically live by the Christian ethic.

And if he denies the Christian ethic, he falls short of the American ideal of life.

In Jefferson's phrase, if we deny the existence of the god who gave us life how can we live by the liberty he gave us at the same time? This is a God-fearing nation. On our coins, bearing the imprint of Lincoln and Jefferson are the words "In God we trust." Congress is opened with prayer. It is upon the Holy Bible the President takes his oath of office. Naturalized citizens, when they take their oath of allegiance, conclude solemnly, with the words "so help me God."

This is the issue we face today: A freedom that respects the rights of the minorities, but is defined by a fundamental belief in God. A way of life that sees man, not as the ultimate outcome of a mysterious concatenation of evolutionary process, but a sentient being created by God and seeking to know His will, and "Whose soul is restless till he rest in God."

In this land, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female, for we are one nation indivisible under God, and humbly as God has given us the light we seek liberty and justice for all. This quest is not only within these United States, but to the four corners of the glove wherever man will lift up his head toward the vision of his true and divine manhood.7
After that sermon, President Eisenhower went to congress and asked them to reintroduce the amendment to the Flag Code, which he signed into law on May 28, 1954.


1. Streufert, Duane. "United States Code." Duane Streufert, 8 July 1995. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.
2. "Historical Timeline - Under God in the Pledge.", 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.
3. "Historical Timeline", 2015.
4. Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952). United States Supreme Court. 28 Apr. 1952. Web.
5. Looney, J. Jefferson, ed. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. Princeton: Princeton University, 2004. Web.
6. Looney, 2004.
7. Docherty, George. "A New Birth of Freedom." Virtue, Liberty, and Independence. City-On-A-Hill, 7 Feb. 1954. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.
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