Monday, October 28, 2013

A Problem of Prepositions


The ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation are up in arms. People are making bold references to religion and faith – in public, no less. What’s a nation to do?

Here are just a few recent examples of these heinous, unconscionable acts: A pastor uses the word “God” six times, and quotes one Bible verse, in a seven-minute talk at a public school. Students pray over the PA system just before kickoff at football games. At some local government meetings, officials open with a brief prayer and Pledge of Allegiance, including the phrase “under God.” And a congregation decides to erect huge metal crosses on church property within easy view from the interstate highway.

Doesn’t the Constitution clearly call for a separation of church and state? What’s religion – or faith, or spirituality for that matter – got to do with real life? And how dare people who embrace such beliefs rub it in the noses of those who don’t?

Well, I think I’ve figured it out. It’s simple, really – it’s a problem of prepositions.

In case English wasn’t your strong subject in school, a preposition is a word that links nouns, pronouns and phrases to other words in a sentence. Prepositions include words such as “about,” “across,” “after,” “by,” “except,” “into,” “on” and “to.”

They also include “of” and “from.” And therein lies this dilemma we face with this compelling issue surrounding church and state.

The First Amendment of the Constitution's Bill of
Rights says government cannot restrict free
exercise or expression of religious faith.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech….” (I highlighted the preposition “of” in bold italics on purpose.) Nowhere does the Constitution make any provision for freedom from religion, although people certainly have the right – as many have exercised – not to believe.

Referred to as “the establishment clause” after its adoption, the amendment prohibits Federal or state governments from establishing an official church, along the lines of the Church of England, which early American immigrants had fled. But “establishment of religion” and freedom from religion are two very different and distinct things. Frankly, it’s a grammatical issue that Mrs. McGillicudy and her freshman English class at Anywhere High School could easily resolve.

Clearly in our age of “tolerance” and “enlightenment,” there are those who argue against any references to matters of faith and religion in the public square. But everyday we all are subjected to a “faith” and religion of a different sort – the worship of knowledge and the human intellect, the notion that the only things that matter are those that can be seen, felt and measured.

Faith, of course, doesn’t meet that criteria. After all, Hebrews 11:1 explains, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

But we’ve gone too far – and we did it too long ago. For many people, studies indicate the vast majority of people, spiritual beliefs are an important and influential dimension of their lives. Countless followers of Jesus, for example, would affirm the apostle Paul’s words in Acts 17:28: “For in him we live and move and have our being.” We could no more exclude Christ from every facet of our lives than we could do without oxygen.

Granted, many people believe differently. Muslims pray to Allah, and the most devout do that numerous times every day. Hindus, Buddhists and others pursue their beliefs in their own ways. And I wholeheartedly support their right to do so.

But we don’t need freedom from any of those. If an imam chose to offer a Muslim prayer at a public gathering; if a rabbi that doesn’t believe Jesus is the Messiah prayed to the God of Abraham; or other spiritual leaders gave prayers or offered thoughts on their respective beliefs, we should respectfully listen – and choose to disagree if we wish. There's no need to argue or become antagonistic.

Why can’t we return to the long-lost realm of common sense and realize – or rediscover – that our revered Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion? If anything, it assures freedom from the establishment of non-religion.

15 comments:

Robert Allen said...

I just sent the following email to Bob Tamasy -

I just read your column in the Chattanooga.com - "A Problem with Prepositions". It doesn't look like you have an understanding of what "Establishment" means vis-a-vis OUR First First Amendment to OUR Constitution. No doubt this is due to your lack of understanding that prior to the adoption of OUR First Amendment in 1791 - MOST Calvinistic Churches within the American colonies (pre-Revolution) WERE Established (i.e. tax supported) churches. With this in mind, I'm not even sure that you understand how great a change happened during the Second Protestant Awakening, under the driving force of Charles Finney - during the early phases of the Calvinistic-Arminian conflict within America!

Oh, well.

Anyhow, Bob - The Establishment Clause of OUR Constitution makes it unconstitutional to use PUBLIC Tax-money to support PRIVATE religious thingies. Thus - PUBLIC tax-money for Schools - Roads - Parish Housing - Parish tax-breaks - etc. - IS unconstitutional.

How would you like, Bob - for YOUR Public Tax-money used to support Atheistic causes? You would be Righteously and Rightly OFFENDED - by this usage of YOUR Public Tax-money to Support - PRIVATE Atheism !!!!!! The same goes for YOUR Public Tax-money used to support Wiccan causes!!!!

Somehow, Bob - Ever since 1791 - MANY Christians have not only been upset with the Establishment Cause in OWN Constitution - but MANY Christians have also VIOLATED this separation of State and Church. I have never understood WHY - these MANY Christians who don't RESPECT the Establishment Clause within OUR Constitution - even WANT to live in America - the Leading Democracy of the Free World (or so the propaganda would have it)!!!!!

To my obviously biased way of looking at things, Bob, you demonstrate an active ignorance within your column - "A Problem of Prepositions".

I'll see what happens with these comments on your Blog Space also.

Faithlessly yours,

Bob Allen - Proud FFRF and ACLU Member of quite a number of years.

ElGordo said...

Since you are ‘Just Thinking’ anyway, let’s see if the process can be improved. Unfortunately, I’ve found misconceptions in almost every paragraph of “A Problem of Prepositions”, and I’ll try to list the main ones in order:

#1) We are not up in arms about references to religion “in public”. The public sphere can and does tolerate all manner of religious expression. We object to references “in government” and sponsored “by government” . What’s a nation to do? How about we start by honoring our secular Constitution.

#2) Almost all your examples are religious expression “in government”, not “in public”. ( See# 1). And while we might wish that a church erecting gigantic crosses might show a little more class and have a wee bit smaller chip on its shoulder, if the crosses are on private property, there will be no legal objection from me.

#7) The Constitution expresses and encourages freedom from religion everywhere you look. If our country were really based on Christian or any religious principles, the Constitution would say so. But it is a completely secular document from beginning to end, and only mentions religion in the negative.

#9) Again, references to religion are not appropriate in “government” activities. In the “public square”, anyone can express any silly idea they want. But they cannot automatically demand respect for these ideas. That is another fact about our wonderful country that our Constitution created.

This paragraph also contains one of the two huge errors in your discussion: You assume everyone MUST worship something. This degrading view of humanity is fine if kept within your own church, but those in the sciences and those free from religion know that what they study (not worship) are merely the observable facts of nature.

#10) Quotes from a Bible as though it is somehow the last word is the second major error. The Bible is the most mistranslated, misquoted, mangled, modified book in all of fiction. Since we have exactly NONE of the original documents, we are left with centuries of opinion as to what this book of tales contained. No quotes from any of the hundreds of versions of the Bible can ever be accepted here as the last word on any subject. Just stop.

#11) More Bible quotes. As well, many thousands of patriotic Americans and other citizens of the world are doing just fine without your oxygen. At a deeper level, this paragraph is an example of ‘privilege’. Assuming that your world view is the only one worth having, and having the right to force it on others is called ‘privilege’. Ask any of your thoughtful African-American friends how white privilege is working out for them, and you may get some if idea of what is going on.

#12) I’m betting that if your city council began every meeting with a Hindu prayer, or if your local public school sponsored a convocation in which local imams tried to convert the kids to Islam, you’d feel differently. That’s why the Constitution relegated these activities to the “public square” and not the “government square”.

#13) Again, (and again,) public gatherings are different than government actions.

#14 A return to long-lost common sense is exactly what we need. And that common sense included a government that takes no notice of any religion in its activities. The First Amendment doesn’t contain the words “a religion”, but rather prohibits “religion” broadly from being established. Those of us in the secular community are confident that our country will be more perfect when we all can have Freedom From Religion in governmental activities.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

An ancient Chinese proverb went something like this...dismiss what can't be proven. Religion should be kept separate from affairs of "state". Faith is just a "nice" word for no evidence. The Monk Debates in Toronto, CA, between Christopher Hitchens and former Prime Minister Tony Blair on the topic, to paraphrase..."Is religion a force for good" can be seen on UTube and is worthy of your time.

Robert Allen said...

Bob Tamasy sent me an email in response to my first comment above - so I'm going to added my response to Bob Tamasy here in this Blog Space.

From my 2nd email to Bob Tamasy -

Again Bob,

Again, you still don't seem to understand that the Establishment Clause of OUR Constitution - forbids the usage of Public Tax-money to support Private Religious thingies!

I don't believe that Ol' Tom Jefferson, a distance cousin of mine by the way (my grandma was a Grand Dame within the North Dakota chapter of the DAR), built the Jefferson Memorial - so your examples about that Memorial - have little, if anything, to do with the Establishment Clause.

However, Bob, I'm SURE that you've heard about that rather famous letter that the Danbury Connecticut Baptists wrote Ol' Tom - shortly after Tom was elected to the Presidency - with my cousin Tom writing back to those Baptists that there MUST be a Strong Wall of Separation between "church and state". You may or may not know, Bob, that it was the Established (tax-supported) Connecticut Congregational Church - at the time of their letter to Tom - that was persecuting those Baptists - with Established Tax-money!!!!

Well, Bob, my cousin, President Tom Jefferson, knew - particularly after all of the Federalism of the Previous Adams' administration (that Tom and his supporters fought) - that there was NOTHING that the Federal Government - Could or Would do - about the Established Connecticut Congregational Church - so Tom, being Tom (bless is Deist Soul, so to speak) - did the next best thing - by writing his now famous letter to those Danbury Baptists!!!!

It wasn't until 1818 - when Connecticut FINALLY got around to writing their own State Constitution - that Connecticut DIS-Established the Congregational Church - so that those Danbury Baptists would no longer be Taxed - to support the Congregationalists from persecuting them!

SO, Bob - despite Tom's letter of 1802 - the Danbury Baptists - until 1818 - that's 16 years - continued to be Taxed by Connecticut - to religiously persecute those Baptists by the Congregationalists !!!!!!

Indeed, Bob, those Long-suffering Danbury Baptists - got caught up in the on-going struggle between the Federal Government and their State Government - over the issue of spending Public Tax-money - to support Private Religious Persecution - ALL in the Name of Jesus !!!!!!

Both the FFRF and the ACLU - in this 21st Century - want to make SURE - that this Long-Sufferance does not ever happen again. But, Bob, both you and I know, that MANY Christians - IN the Name of Jesus - STILL want to use Public Tax-money - to Persecute other folk - in support of Private Religious thingies !!!!!!

I'll add my above thoughts to your Blog, also.

Faithlessly yours,

Bob Allen - Proud FFRF and ACLU Member of quite a number of years - decades, actually.

Robert Allen said...

I wonder - HOW COME - Bob Tamasy - doesn't comment on all of the above comments - within the Bob Tamasy Blog Space ?????

It looks like Bob Tamasy is afraid of having a dialog upon the topic that he was MORE than willing to start!!!!!

Great Christian Witness there, Bob Tamasy !!!!!

Just sayin',

Bob Allen

Len M. Allen said...

Bob, This just goes to prove that if you kick over a can of worms, you get worms. I don't think you are shocked and not even surprised by the reaction.
I agree that the emphasis is on the word Freedom and Religion... and the preposition is ignored.
Many would rather rage about your non-government supported comments and suggest you're ill-informed and perhaps even subversive.
I'm not surprised. The world hated Jesus when He came. We should not be surprised that it hates the idea of His mention in the public forum of blogs, e-mails, and articles.
So, you are absolutely free to SHUT UP!
May the blessings of... no, that's blessings from... no,that doesn't work either... May you just feel good about yourself... Isn't that what freedom is about?

Bob Tamasy said...
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Robert Allen said...
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Doug Indeap said...
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Bob Tamasy said...
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Bob Tamasy said...
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Robert Allen said...
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Bob Tamasy said...

I'm all for reasonable, rational discourse, but there's no point in responding to juvenile ranting. No matter the age of the source of the rants may be.
Thanks for playing.

Robert Allen said...
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Robert Allen said...
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