The Assault Against Christianity
Militant atheists are wrong — there is no right to 'freedom from religion'
Atheist organizations are waging a low-intensity war against Christian Americans’ religious liberty, aided unfortunately by a widespread misunderstanding of the First Amendment.
On May 31, Brewster County, Texas, settled a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) over cross decals that were placed on county sheriff vehicles. Not only was the Brewster County Sheriff’s Department forced to remove the decals, but the county also paid for the FFRF’s roughly $14,000 in legal fees and awarded nominal damages to two local FFRF plaintiffs.
The notion that the Constitution guarantees “separation of church and state” is an insidious myth.
“We’re very pleased with the rapid and amicable resolution of this case,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. “But the sheriff — who took an oath to uphold our nation’s secular Constitution — ought to have known better.”
The FFRF is ruthless in its assault on public displays of Christian imagery, always invoking the Constitution as a pretense for its effort to eradicate entirely said imagery from public life.
In April, the organization sued Mission City, over the display of a 14-foot cross in a public park which marks the former location of an 18th century Spanish mission. “The city can’t endorse religion in this fashion, history or no history. The government can’t take sides on religion,” Gaylor said of that case.
The same week it settled with Brewster County, FFRF threatened the Bentonville School Board in Arkansas over its proposed Bible class. The proposed class is not religious in nature, examining the Bible in its literary and historical context, but nevertheless the school board received a letter from FFRF informing them “that Bible classes in Bentonville schools … are legally problematic under [the] federal Constitution.”
The only thing that is problematic, however, is Gaylor’s understanding of the Constitution. Despite what Ms. Gaylor and the FFRF would have the country believe, the Constitution does not actually prohibit displays of religion on public property, be it a police car, a courthouse lawn — or even (gasp) in a classroom.
This fact was raised often by the late Justice Scalia, who usually led the dissents against the court’s ideologically motivated attempts to erase Christianity from the public sphere. “The Court’s oft-repeated assertion that the government cannot favor religious practice is false,” he wrote in the dissent in McCreary County v. ACLU.
"Nothing stands behind the Court's assertion that governmental affirmation of the society's belief in God is unconstitutional except the Court's own say-so, citing as support only the unsubstantiated say-so of earlier Courts going back no further than the mid-20th century," Scalia wrote.
So, let's look at the part of the First Amendment that FFRF will tell you means it is illegal to study the Bible in a public school, or display a cross on a police cruiser, is the Establishment Clause. It reads:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion … "
That is all it says. It does not say a police department cannot display Christian imagery, nor does it prohibit students from studying the Bible from an academic perspective — in fact it doesn't even prohibit students from studying the Bible from a religious perspective.
The only thing this law does is prevent Congress from establishing a religion. Establishing religion means instituting a state religion, such as the Church of England. It was common in countries with established religions that one had to be a member of said state religion in order to have basic civil rights. This is all the founders were trying to avoid. They were not trying to give militant atheist organizations like the FFRF a means to live life without ever being exposed to the slightest trace of Christianity.
"Historical practices thus demonstrate that there is a distance between the acknowledgment of a single Creator and the establishment of a religion," Scalia wrote in McCreary. "Publicly honoring the Ten Commandments is thus indistinguishable, insofar as discriminating against other religions is concerned, from publicly honoring God. Both practices are recognized across such a broad and diverse range of the population — from Christians to Muslims — that they cannot be reasonably understood as a government endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint."
Furthermore, the amendment in question deals explicitly with the federal government — "Congress shall make no law" — not state governments, let alone local school districts. Indeed, most of the former original colonies had official religions until well into the 19th century.
And given the Establishment Clause is followed directly by the Free Exercise Clause ("or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"), one might also infer that the Founders felt that the ability to exercise one's religion freely is a fundamental natural right. If that is the case, when it comes down to disputes over public displays of religion, it seems that the FFRF are the only party in these disputes actually threatening anyone's constitutional rights.
The notion that the Constitution guarantees "separation of church and state" is an insidious myth, employed by militant atheists to keep Christian communities and individuals from celebrating their faith publicly.
High-profile, divisive issues such as gay marriage and the transgender "bathroom wars" receive the most attention when it comes to the fight for religious liberty, but atheist groups like the FFRF have done more damage to religious liberty than the most well-organized, well-funded LGBTQ advocacy group could ever hope to achieve.