Same Gender Marriage & The State: A Perspective Rooted in Freedom & Faith

2014-01-13 09.26.10

Yesterday I stood with hundreds of fellow citizens outside the doors of the Indiana State House Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing on HJR-3 – a proposed state constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. I was part of the large crowd opposing this unnecessary, anti-family proposal.

As a person of faith and as an American, I oppose HJR-3 for many reasons. Here are just a few.

  • Constitutions ensure, rather than deny, certain rights and protections.
    This proposed constitutional amendment would prohibit a class of citizens from eventually accessing a body of legal protections available to the general population, and would limit the ability of future legislatures and courts to provide that class of citizens with those legal protections.
  • Democracies don’t vote on legal protections for minority groups. All are equal under the law.
    If passed by the legislature, HJR-3 would lead to a general election vote on whether a minority group should ever have the chance to access certain legal protections that are enjoyed by the general population. In this case the minority group is gay and lesbian citizens. Which minority group will be next to have their legal protections determined by the majority’s vote?
  • Marriage doesn’t need protection. People do.
    Supporters of HJR-3 speak of protecting or defending marriage. Marriage is an institution that has changed dramatically over the centuries – socially, religiously, and legally. The state has authority to address only one understanding of marriage – civil marriage. Civil marriage, and the rights, responsibilities, and protections it affords, is quite popular and doing just fine. Civil marriage doesn’t need any so-called “protection.”
    What does need protection is the class of citizens whose families are endangered because they cannot enjoy the rights, responsibilities, and protections of civil marriage. Let’s protect people.
  • Gay and lesbian soldiers and veterans deserve legal protections.
    I am applying to join the Indiana National Guard as a chaplain. I am concerned that soldiers who serve our state and nation could be denied legal protections if this constitutional amendment passes. People who offer their lives in service to others don’t deserve this kind of legal discrimination. Neither do their families.
  • 2014-01-13 09.58.37John 10:10 – “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
    My faith informs the way I live and the way I look at public policy. How can my neighbors enjoy the abundant life that our Lord desires for all people if they are denied basic legal protections for their families? We’re talking about inheritance, health benefits, property ownership, joint bank accounts, medical decisions, and so forth. An abundant life is made much harder by legal and constitutional restrictions on a class of people.
  • The Fifth Commandment – “Thou Shalt Not Kill”
    In explaining the fifth commandment in his Small Catechism, Martin Luther writes that not only are we not to kill, but we are to do everything we can to improve the wellbeing of our neighbor. Limiting access to legal protections harms the wellbeing of our neighbor and is a violation of the fifth commandment.
  • Micah 6:8 – “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
    Scripture is chock full of calls to justice – to protect the orphan and widow, to extend care to the outcast and marginalized, to welcome the outsider, to lift up the lowly, to visit the imprisoned, to feed the hungry, and so forth. HJR-3 is exclusionary and runs counter to the Scriptural call to extend care and protections for all people.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:5 – “Love does not insist on its own way.”
    HJR-3 insists on its own way – a narrow definition of civil marriage that would restrict legal protections and rights for a minority class of citizens. Why not have a more inclusive approach to the rights and protections of civil marriage? Even if HJR-3 is defeated, people who hold a certain “traditional” view of marriage will still be able to maintain their traditions and teachings. Even if same gender civil marriage eventually comes to the Hoosier state, “traditional” marriage will continue to be legal.

I enthusiastically endorse freedom of religion, and I respect those whose faith lead them to hold other views of marriage and sexuality. My objection here is not about those who hold a so-called “traditional” view of marriage.  My objection is that HJR-3 would deny a class of citizens from one day enjoying certain legal protections and benefits.

We do not need to deny our fellow citizens access to legal protections. We do not need HJR-3.

Morning Prayer Following the Elections

Tomorrow at my congregation, Grace Lutheran on the East Side of Saint Paul, we will gather to pray for our state and nation following the elections. Please join us – in person, or in spirit.

Morning Prayer On the Occasion of Local, State, and National Elections
Wednesday, November 7, 10am
Grace Lutheran Church, Saint Paul, MN

Order of Prayer adapted from the Church of England’s Common Worship materials. Hymns numbers refer to Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

Prelude

Gathering Dialogue
O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Your faithful servants bless you.
They make known the glory of your kingdom.

Let us pray.
Silence for reflection
Blessed are you, Sovereign God,
ruler and judge of all,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
In the darkness of this age that is passing away
may the light of your presence which the saints enjoy
surround our steps as we journey on.
May we reflect your glory this day
and so be made ready to see your face
in the heavenly city where night shall be no more.
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Blessed be God for ever.
Amen.

Hymn #771 God, Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens

Scripture refrain (Philippians 3:20)
Our citizenship is in heaven,
and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior,
the Lord Jesus Christ.

Psalmody
Psalm 42

As the deer longs for the water brooks,
so longs my soul for you, O God.
My soul is athirst for God, even for the living God;
when shall I come before the presence of God?
My tears have been my bread day and night,
while all day long they say to me, ‘Where is now your God?’
Now when I think on these things, I pour out my soul:
how I went with the multitude
and led the procession to the house of God,
With the voice of praise and thanksgiving,
among those who kept holy day.
Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul,
and why are you so disquieted within me?
O put your trust in God;
for I will yet give him thanks,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.

Prayer
The night has passed, and the day lies open before us;
let us pray with one heart and mind.
Silence is kept.
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day,
so may the light of your presence, O God,
set our hearts on fire with love for you;
now and for ever.
Amen.

A Song of the New Creation
Isaiah 43.15,16,18,19,20c,21

I will make a way in the wilderness,
and rivers in the desert.
‘I am the Lord, your Holy One,
the Creator of Israel, your King.’
Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
‘Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
I will make a way in the wilderness,
and rivers in the desert
‘Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
‘I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
‘The people whom I formed for myself,
that they might declare my praise.’
I will make a way in the wilderness,
and rivers in the desert.

Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.

Scripture refrain (Philippians 3:20)
Our citizenship is in heaven,
and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior,
the Lord Jesus Christ.

Message

Hymn #887 This Is My Song

Gospel Canticle
The Benedictus (The Song of Zechariah)

Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel
who has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Savior
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets God promised of old
to save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all that hate us,
To show mercy to our ancestors,
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath God swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of all their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.

Prayers
Let us pray for the church, the world, and all those in need. In particular, we pray for our state and nation, asking God’s grace and blessings following yesterday’s elections.

God of the heavens and the earth, you are Lord of all. Give us the strength to resist putting too much hope in any one political party or ideology, for you are the hope of the world. Fix our hearts on you and on those whom you love. Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, you raise up leaders and give those in high office great responsibility. Bless those whom we have elected to office, especially (names). Grant them your wisdom and grace in their holy calling of leading this nation. May they use their authority to seek not the narrow interest of small groups, but the interest of all. Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God of reconciliation, bring together the people of this land to accept, embrace, and pray for our newly elected officials. Give us the eye to see this nation not as a people divided by Red and Blue, Republican and Democrat, but a nation that strives together to live into its greatest hopes of liberty and justice for all. Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God of healing, unite the people of this state under the banner of your love. Grant your wisdom to the state legislature as it seeks to implement the state constitutional amendment(s) approved in yesterday’s election. May (any) legal challenges or re-counts proceed fairly and justly, and may all who advocated for or against the amendments seek the best for this state, and interpret the actions of their political adversaries in the best possible light. Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God of the poor and marginalized, you sent prophets to call out on behalf of the poor, and your own Son proclaimed Good News to the poor and captive. Give all who hold positions of authority, and the citizens who elected them, the will to use their power for the good of the poor. Give your wisdom and care to business owners and community activists, to church leaders and to school officials, to managers and to laborers, that we might all contribute to alleviate the plight of all who suffer. Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

All these things and whatever else you see that we need, grant us, O God, for the sake of him who died and rose again and now lives and reigns with you in unity with the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen.

Uniting our prayers with the whole company of heaven,
let us pray with confidence as our Savior has taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen.

Scripture refrain (Philippians 3:20)
Our citizenship is in heaven,
and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior,
the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hymn #888 O Beautiful for Spacious Skies

The Conclusion
May Christ, who has opened the kingdom of heaven,
bring us to reign with him in glory.
Amen.
Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Postlude

Pastor’s Approach: Praising God, Honoring Country

I’ve been writing monthly newsletter articles about my approach to various aspects of congregational ministry – worship, sacraments, weddings, funerals, and so forth. This month, I wrote about the intersection of patriotism and Christian worship. It is a variant on pieces I’ve written on this blog in the past. Below is what appeared in my congregation’s July newsletter.

The 4th of July is a wonderful holiday, celebrating our nation’s independence and calling all who live in this land to reflect on the freedoms we are privileged to enjoy in this land. There will be flags waving outside of houses – including my house – and parades with red, white, and blue processions, and store aisles filled with patriotic products. Yet at church we don’t make patriotic celebrations a centerpiece of our worship or fellowship. This is intentional.

When Christians gather for worship on Sunday mornings, we gather around the Risen Christ, the Living Word of God. Worship is a time to give praise to the God of our ancestors for the grace and mercy He has shown to us, most clearly through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hymns and songs are part of the proclamation of the Word of God. Hymns allow us to simultaneously proclaim and hear God’s Word through the gift of music. Yet if a hymn’s theme is secular, and cannot be reasonably understood as giving praise to God, it is not appropriate for Christian Worship.

Our worship services include – and our tradition demands – that we pray for our government and nation, and especially for those in positions of leadership. This we do every Sunday, and on occasions of national holidays those prayers are carefully crafted.

And at times the church even hosts special times of prayer and worship on occasions of national significance. But even when we gather to pray for our country, the prayer and liturgy remain Christian in character, and are not patriotic ceremonies. In these gatherings national concerns guide the selection of readings, hymns, and prayers, but such worship services remain Christian worship services in which the faithful gather around God’s Word.

Outside of those times that are set aside for worship, Christians are called to active engagement in the civic life of our country and our community. Christians should enthusiastically and patriotically attend civic celebrations, memorials and ceremonies. Though waving the flag and saying the Pledge of Allegiance is not appropriate for Christian worship, let us wave the flag in the local parade and recite the Pledge of Allegiance in the town square. “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies” is a beautiful anthem, and appropriately sung underneath the beautiful sun-lit or firework-streaked sky at a civic gathering.

There is a time and a place for everything – and though we pray for our nation in church, worship is not the time or place to celebrate our patriotism. As Christians, our central celebration is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Hope of all nations and all peoples. We don’t cease being Americans when we come to worship, but neither do we come to worship to celebrate our American heritage. We come to worship to sit at the foot of the cross, to gaze into the empty tomb, to hear the Good News for us and for all people, and to receive the grace and blessings that can come only from God.

May you have a safe and wonderful Independence Day holiday.

—–
Our worship book, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, includes several prayers appropriate for national holidays in a section called Civil Life, Government, Nations (pages 76-78). Below are two prayers you might consider using at a time of family prayer on July 4th or on any other national holiday.

Holy Trinity, one God, you show us the splendor of diversity and the beauty of unity in your own divine life. Make us, who came from many nations with many languages, a united people that delights in our different gifts. Defend our liberties, and give those whom we have entrusted with authority the spirit of wisdom, that there might be justice and peace in our land. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our sovereign and Savior. Amen.

Almighty god, our heavenly Father, bless the public servants in the government of this country/state/county/town, especially (insert name of elected leaders), that they may do their work in a spirit of wisdom, charity, and justice. Help them use their authority to serve faithfully and to promote our common life; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Bustin’ Unions, or Bustin’ Faith? Why Diana Butler Bass is wrong about Scott Walker

I'm a bit shocked that Diana Butler Bass makes an unfair and unwarranted attack on Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, assulting the supposed role of his faith in his confrontation with state Senate Democrats and the government employee unions. If she wants to write a piece critiquing his policies and politics, that's fine … but his faith? 

Read: God in Wisconsin: Scott Walker's "Obedience"

Dr. Bass, who earned her Ph.D. from Duke University and has taught at the college and seminary level, makes some terribly inaccurate conclusions, ones that would earn any undergraduate student points off of a term paper.

First, she cites the many religious groups – Roman Catholic and main line Protestant – who have been speaking out on behalf of the unions and their collective bargaining rights. Then, noting that Governor Walker is a member of an independent, evangelical congregation, she claims that

Scott Walker does not give a rip about pronouncements by the Roman Catholic Church, any Lutheran, Episcopal, or Methodist bishop, or the Protestant social justice pastors. These religious authorities, steeped in centuries of theology and Christian ethics mean absolutely nothing in Scott Walker's world.

Really? It is terribly tenuous to suggest that, simply because of his church membership, Governor Walker "does not give a rip" about what Roman Catholic or Mainline Protestant church leaders say. Just because someone belongs to one group or adheres to one creed does not mean that they do not "give a rip" about other creeds or perspectives. He need not agree with them, but to suggest that he does not "give a rip" goes too far in recklessly slandering a man who hasn't actually said anything akin to "I don't give a rip about what Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal or Methodist leaders say." Dr. Bass assumes that Governor Walker has little respect for the Catholic or Mainline churches and their leaders, simply because of where he chooses to worship on Sunday morning.

(In fact, in a speech that Scott Walker gave to a group of Christian businessmen in 2009 – a speech which Dr. Bass critiques later in her piece – Walker speaks graciously about the different adolescent rites of passage within Christian churches, notably the believer's baptism of his church, and the first communion practices of other churches. That doesn't sound like someone who doesn't "give a rip" about other beliefs.)

Furthermore, by dredging up his congregation's statement of faith (which she dismisses as "boilerplate") and assigning to him the beliefs outlined therein, Dr. Bass once again makes a false assumption. Should we assume that everyone who attends a particular church adheres, completely, to that church's statement of faith? The Lutherans accept the Athanasian Creed as a "true declaration of the faith of this church" (ELCA Constitution, 2.04). Will Dr. Bass next start assigning to all Lutherans an unwavering belief in the eternal damnation of those who have done evil, or a belief that only those who believe this creed "firmly and faithfully" will be saved? Of course she won't, but that's exactly the leap she makes with Governor Walker – assigning the stated beliefs of his congregation to him, without nuance.

After attacking the governor because of what his church website states, Dr. Bass goes after his own words of faith. Governor Walker shared a testimony before a group of Christian businessmen in which he said that he sought to trust and obey Christ in his life. From his stated desire to trust and obey Christ, Dr. Bass infers that Governor Walker has an overly confident evangelical spirituality in which doubt is not allowed and confidence in God's leading is absolute.

She then claims that Governor Walker shares this dangerous spirituality with George W. Bush, the favorite boogeyman of the left. This spirituality, Dr. Bass suggests, led the former president to wage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Then, critiquing this spirituality (which she assumes guides Governor Walker's every decision), Dr. Bass claims that "in this theological universe, hard-headedness is a virtue, compromise is the work of the Devil, and anything that works to accompish God's plan is considered ethically justifiable." Suddenly, the man who gave a faithful testimoney to a small group of businessmen is now part of a divine plan to invade countries and plow ahead with a politically conservative holy mission dictated by God on high. This is the kind of exaggeration, guilty by faux association, and horrendous leaping to conclusions that the left routinely critiques when performed by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and other right wing luminaries.

I've listened to the entire speech that Scott Walker gave before that group of businessmen in November 2009, and I have a hard time coming to her same conclusions. In it he talks not about politics but about his childhood, his faith, running for office in college and later in state politics, how he met his wife, and his involvement in church. The theme of "trust and obey" weaves through his wandering comments, which are authentic and honest, and reflective of an evangelical piety. Is his belief that Christians are called to trust and obey God worthy of her vicious political attack? No.

Main line liberal Christians might not use the word "obey" much any longer in our piety, but we certainly use the word "trust," and the call to live a Godly life – no matter what words we use – is prevalent in our beliefs, practices, and rites. In the rite for Holy Baptism, we acknowledge that "living with Christ an in the communion of saints, we grow in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God" (Holy Baptism, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, pg. 227). And more: "Called by the Holy Spirit, trusting in the grace and love fo God, do you desire to have your children baptized into Christ?" (Holy Baptism, ELW, 228). Obedience and trust and the call to live holy lives are all part of the main line Protestant tradition. Yet, dressed up with different words, Dr. Bass trashes this same commitment when coming out of the mouth of an evangelical Christian Republican.

This essay is sloppy work by Dr. Bass, and exemplifies – from the left! – the worst of mixing religion and politics. If Governor Walker were to state, "God has called me to bust the unions," or "All that I do in politics is led by God," then her worry would be justified. If she could cite more direct proof of Governor Walker's co-mingling of faith and partisan politics, perhaps her essay would be stronger. But absent such a direct link of his faith and politics and the current political standoff, her essay is simply irresponsible rubbish that serves only to fan political flames and unnecessarily introduce religion into what is already an ugly political situation.

Praying at the Foot of the Flag

I recently received a brochure encouraging me to attend or organize a See You at the Pole event in my area.  See You at the Pole is a national movement organizing Christian prayer events on school campuses, usually at a flagpole, prior to the start of classes.  This year the event is on September 22.

Though I pray for our schools and our nation frequently, I have serious misgivings, both theological and social, about organized public Christian prayer events to take place on school campuses at the foot of the American flag.  In short, I worry that See You at the Pole risks turning the discipline of Christian prayer into a segregated rally that can unnecessarily divide the school community.

First, let me be clear that my critiques are about the event itself, and not the youth who participate.  The youth who participate likely do so for a variety of reasons, including the urging of their pastors or youth leaders, and many genuinely find it to be an exciting, faithful event bringing diverse Christians together to pray.  What Christian kid, when invited by their friend to a prayer rally, would say no?  And what Christian pastor or parent would say "no" to a child who wants to pray with other kids?  But despite the enthusiasm and faith that might be cultivated by See You at the Pole, and the great intentions that might be held by those who organize these events, I fear that See You at the Pole is so rife with problems that we should caution our youth before they participate.

See You at the Pole almost can't help but become a platform public posturing.  After all, it seeks to gather Christian kids in front of the school to pray, allowing fellow students, teachers, and passerby's to see and hear them pray in the name of Jesus.  Yet when teaching his disciples how to pray, our Lord Jesus instructs them to pray in private, so that the one who prays isn't tempted to turn an act of faith into an opportunity for "look at me" pious grandstanding (see Matthew 6:1-18).  And note that this event is not called Pray at the Pole, but See You at the Pole.  Clearly, seeing and being seen is central to this event.  (The See You at the Pole FAQ page responds to the Matthew 6 critique, with an argument based on one's motive for public prayer rather than the act of public prayer itself.)

But I also question the wisdom of praying at the foot of the American flag.  Our faith is a universal faith, not tied to or identified by any national or ethnic identity.  When Christians pray, we are addressing the Lord of all nations.  Thus, prayer should not be done in a way that conflates our Lord with our nation; but praying at the foot of a flag does just that.  National symbols are not appropriate gathering places for Christian prayer (see past post, Praising God, Honoring Country).  (The See You at the Pole FAQ page explains that the flagpole is a meeting place simply because nearly every school campus has a flagpole.  Some See You at the Pole events meet at other locations on campus.)

There is also a significant social aspect to this event.  The event's name – See You at the Pole – makes it clear that this event is about being seen in prayer, just before the start of the school day.  But what about those kids who will not be seen at the pole?  Essentially, See You at the Pole gathers Christian kids at the flag pole to pray, to the exclusion of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics, Christians who don't believe in praying outside of their fellowship, and others.  And what about Christian kids who don't participate?  Will they risk being accused by some participants of not being true Christians?  I fear that drawing faith lines so dramatically and so publicly at this age,
over and against the diversity of the public school environment, is harmful to the school community.  The last thing we need is for Christian prayer to become an opportunity for division in our school communities.

And more.  By gathering at the foot of the flag to pray in a Christian manner, these kids are identifying the American flag as a gathering place for Christian prayer, thus alienating Americans of other faiths from their own flag.  It's a way (however unintentional, perhaps) of claiming the flag as a Christian symbol, rather than lifting it up as a national banner that flies over Americans of all faiths and traditions.

The organizers of See You at the Pole could faithfully and wonderfully encourage prayer in many other ways, without running afoul of the problems outlined above. 

  • They could invite children and families to pray at home, behind closed doors, in accordance with our Lord's teaching.  An organized, at-home prayer event joining millions of households in prayer would be quite powerful.
  • Or, if they really want to gather people for prayer, they could hold events behind the closed doors of a local church one morning before school. 
  • But if they insist on holding an event on a school campus, they could do so on a weekend, when they are less likely to start a school day by dividing the student body according to religion. 
  • But if they truly insist on holding these events on a school day and on campus, they could at least pick a different spot, a more modest spot, away from the main doors to the school building where the flag is usually located, and away from the bus lanes or other very visible locations.

From what I can tell, See You at the Pole is a well-intentioned but flawed event that has the potential to sow division in our school communities, and which seems to be just as much about being seen as it is about prayer.  I hope and pray that I am wrong, and that those who participate find it to be a powerful experience of Christian unity and prayer that leads them closer to God, and that through God they draw closer to their neighbor.

Knick-Knack Jesus OK in VA

I just read Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's opinion regarding the constitutionality of religious displays on public ground during the holidays, including displays of Jesus (pdf document of opinion; Washington Post blogpost on the matter). The sad thing is this: displays of Jesus are allowed on public ground so long as such displays are "not making a religious statement."

Translation: As long as Jesus remains a knick-knack (and not, you know, the Son of God who destroys death, raises up the lowly, feeds the hungry, and inaugurates the Kingdom of God, among other things) He can be displayed on public ground in Virginia, according to the Attorney General.

Truth be told, I'm not picking on Cuccinelli. I just get really annoyed when Jesus is turned into a knick-knack, whether by politicians, marketers, or by fellow Christians who somehow think that a taxpayer-funded "Court House Jesus" is a good idea.

Question: Why would anyone who respects religion want to rob its symbols of meaning just so they could be set on a court house lawn?

After all, the Supreme Court has already ruled that the phrase "In God We Trust" is essentially devoid of religious content and thus perfectly suitable as a national motto.  How sad it is that we are glad to render God language meaningless so that it can be fit for a coin.

Dear Government: Please keep your hands off of religious symbols. Religious communities and individuals can practice their religion just fine without your help.  Thank you.

—–

Church/State issues are a favorite of mine.

Freedom of Religion vs. Freedom of Worship

In speeches over the past few months, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both used
the phrase "freedom of worship," rather than the more common phrase "freedom of religion," found in the First Amendment.  Some religious conservatives are raising concerns about what this change in terminology could mean for domestic and foreign policy.

Short a much broader analysis of administration speeches and reports,
I have no way of knowing if this language change is widespread or is
simply a quote from a few speeches cherry-picked by administration
critics to make a political point. Nonetheless, the phrase has found its way into speeches, and could reflect a significant change in perspective for the Obama administration.

From Ms. Samelson's piece:

Any person of faith knows that religious exercise
is about a lot more than freedom of worship. It’s about the right to
dress according to one’s religious dictates, to preach openly, to
evangelize, to engage in the public square. Everyone knows that
religious Jews keep kosher, religious Quakers don’t go to war, and
religious Muslim women wear headscarves—yet “freedom of worship” would
protect none of these acts of faith.

I don't share the Orwellian fears held by Chuck Colson (in a disturbing, anti-homosexual, leaping-to-conclusions video here) and others that this change of terminology reflects a clear intent by a liberal government to quash religious freedom and eradicate religion from the public square.  But I do believe that words are important, and that if this change is more than mere semantics, it could have a significant impact in how our government, through both foreign and domestic policy, engages matters related to the personal and corporate religious practices of people worldwide. 

As someone who believes that the practice of religion extends far beyond the act of worship, I'd be concerned if the administration is making a policy change in favor of "freedom of worship" rather than the broader, Constitutional, and much more comprehensive "freedom of religion."