Christianity should not receive preferential treatment

2012-12-12T19:33:00Z 2012-12-12T19:34:52Z Christianity should not receive preferential treatmentThomas G. Gans Napa Valley Register
December 12, 2012 7:33 pm  • 

I am writing in response to Marjorie Preston’s opinion piece on public displays of religiosity (“Atheist demands are unconstitutional,” Dec. 5).

Ms. Preston argued that “atheists and civil rights organizations” are denying Christians their “right” to display the symbols of their religious belief. That claim is nonsense.

For context, let me state that I was reared in a Christian family; both of my parents were ordained ministers. I was taught that my religious faith was my concern, not the government’s, and that I should practice my faith without making it a matter of public display.

My parents firmly believed that one’s faith should show through in how one treated others, not in public displays of symbols or dogma.

There is nothing in the objections of “atheists and civil rights organizations” to the display of sectarian religious symbols on government property or at government expense that impedes, in any way, Ms. Preston’s constitutional right to practice her faith.

Rather, the objection is to her insistence on receiving government support for her beliefs. She wants the government to erect symbols of her faith on government property at government expense.

That is unquestionably a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. It is providing tangible government support to a specific religious belief.

Ms. Preston’s understanding of the establishment clause is badly distorted by her belief in the absolute righteousness of her religious faith. The courts have consistently interpreted that clause to mean that the government is barred from showing any preference for one faith over others, not just from requiring that citizens practice a governmentally preferred faith.

Posting Christian symbols on government buildings or property is just the kind of preferential treatment of Christianity that courts have consistently held to violate the establishment clause. This might be clearer to Ms. Preston if she considered how she would feel if a government agency decided to erect a Buddhist shrine on its grounds.

If Ms. Preston were to place a nativity scene or a cross on her own property or that of her church, I am quite sure that the “atheists” of whom she complains would not object. Further, I am absolutely certain that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), to which she alludes, would not only not object, but would defend her right to do so.

Those Christians who want the government to participate in public displays of their faith should re-read the passages in the Gospels where Jesus addressed public displays of religiosity.

He excoriated the Pharisees for their practice of ostentatiously praying in public places and enjoined his followers to do their praying in private.

His modern-day followers should heed that injunction.

Gans lives in Napa.

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(9) Comments

  1. rpcv
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    rpcv - December 13, 2012 6:45 am
    Excellent. Thank you, Mr. Gans.
  2. pastordt
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    pastordt - December 13, 2012 8:34 am
    A couple of thoughts,

    That Supreme Court you note has consistently held to violate the establishment clause has Christian symbols (as well as Masonic) all over its building, and has not so consistently decided this way. Do your research please.

    Two, Jesus did discuss the public displays of faith as well - when he talked of His crucifixion, which was public. What Jesus did confront was the hypocritical way the pharisees made public displays without their heart being focused on God.

    Three - the establishment clause - is talking about the government establishing a religion - which by dentition includes both atheism and agnosticism - they are religious systems as well. It has not been held that a religion cannot have preferential treatment - though there are some that would love to see the government establish the religion of atheism and/or agnosticism throughout the land.

  3. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - December 13, 2012 12:49 pm
    http://www.history.com/topics/christmas

    The link above pretty much sums up that Christmas (in spite of Christ in the title) was an evolution of the celebration of winter solstice.

    Santa Claus has nothing at all to do with Christianity other than perhaps the generosity of giving, which is also inherent in other cultures. Here's a brief history of Santa reindeer "In 1939 the Montgomery Ward company wanted to give away a Christmas booklet as a promotional gimmick." Santa's reindeers were born in 1939. Hardly a Christian concept.

    That said, Santa, elves and reindeer are not Christian symbols. Natvity scenes, images of Christ on a cross etc. are. I'm a little surprised that Christians are comfortable with the image of Christ being displayed for purposes of commercialism. Isn't that what it's all about? Stimulating an economy to promote more growth? I think people would buy into it with or without Christianity being attached to it. Perhaps the focus should be on Winter solstice?
  4. MyWrites
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    MyWrites - December 13, 2012 4:46 pm
    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

    Think that says it rather succinctly - directly from the founders and the Constitution. Do not try to force that logical fallacy that if an individual does NOT accept the institutional teachings of a mainstream religion (or their disbelief in God) it is "by definition" also a religious belief. It is NOT! This is a phony rationalization religious zealots have been using to create an equivalent argument through asserting that non-belief is a religious system.

    Most atheists do not participate in the rituals of organized religion. Organized religion is essentially membership in a spiritual association with others who are like-minded and practice the same set of observances/rituals. Your argument is semantic gamesmanship but neither logical nor true.

    Atheists are fed up with the social retardation that occurs due to the refusal of religious fundamentalists to accept science.
  5. alucawanza
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    alucawanza - December 13, 2012 6:18 pm
    An image of Christ on the cross is not a symbol of Christmas. Rather, it is symbolic of the cruxifixion on Good Friday. I agree with you vocal. But I also think that the spirit of Christmas reflects on the spirit of giving, family fun, good meals, thoughtful surprises, the delight of children waking up in the morning to se if "he" has come, and seeing Santa as an advocate for "good" behavior. It's just a fun time and doesn't have to be excessively commercial. Hope yours has a good surprise!
  6. 1Napanow
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    1Napanow - December 13, 2012 8:20 pm
    I am afraid that you need to do your research.

    Yes the Supreme Court building has Christian and Masonic symbols on it. It also has representations of Menes, Hammurabi, Moses, Solomon, Lycurgus, Solon, Draco, Confucius, Augustus, Justinian, Muhammad, Charlemagne, John of England, Louis IX of France, Hugo Grotius, Sir William Blackstone, John Marshall, and Napoleon. The intent is to honor those in history who have contributed to the modern legal system. It does not promote any single religion, which of course is the point of the establishment clause.

    Two, Maybe the point should really be that Jesus did not ask the government to promote his teaching. As he said, "My kingdom is not of this world."

    Three - Atheism and agnosticism cannot by definition be considered a religion. It is like asking what color is the number 3?

  7. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - December 14, 2012 12:17 am
    alacuwaniza, I'm all for the fun of Christmas, but I also acknowledge that it's origins have nothing at all to do with Christ. Also, as an FYI the origins of a cross have Pagan roots - http://www.albatrus.org/english/religions/pagan/origin_of_cross.htm - not that it really matters to me.

    I enjoy Christmas primarily because I view it as a torch lighting up the beginnings of winter. I enjoy all the lights, the fun energy. I do not write anything else into it. I also think it's ok for government buildings to be adorned with santa claus, reindeer, christmas lights because those things are not representative of religion. I have a problem with nativity scenes on government property though. That crosses the line.
  8. gettingreal
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    gettingreal - December 14, 2012 2:38 pm
    Religious fundamentalists do accept science. They just don't accept flawed science like speculation being taught as if it were fact.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78z_30AIlwQ
  9. Madison Jay Hamilton
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    Madison Jay Hamilton - December 14, 2012 11:02 pm
    Atheism is not a religion, as it is not based on faith (i.e. belief without proof). Atheism is a lack of belief; therefore, it requires no evidence with which to be bolstered.

    Bold claims require bold evidence; therefore, to assert one's belief in god[s] places the onus of evidence squarely on the person claiming to be a believer, not on the disinterested unbeliever/disbeliever. The Constitution's First Amendment calls for government neutrality with regard to religious debates and/or the promotion of religious viewpoints, and suggestions that public monies, public property and/or public employees advance religious belief ought to be considered arrogant, disrepectful and illegal infringements on the rights of all citizens.

    I'm glad that the Constitution protects me FROM religion. (www.ffrf.org)

    What's the difference between a santa and a saint? On which date do some celebrate the life of Saint Nicholas? What's a Yule log? Didn't the Saxons worship evergreens at the Solstice?
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