Let's start with some facts:
If a town uses public money (taxpayers) to put a religious display up at the holidays, it violates the First Amendment. The Courts have repeatedly said so, so no cry of, "Well, that's YOUR opinion!" enters into it. I don't want my tax money being used for any religious purpose, and I'm quite sure many religious people don't want to endorse other religions thereby. You could argue that as long as EVERYONE in town agrees, it's okay, but what happens to the one person who isn't happy? Of course, no one would single them out for harassment, right?
So, then the second item for discussion is, would it be okay if no public funds were used? That's a trickier issue. The problem here is, if ONE group is allowed to put up religious material on public property, all must be allowed to. If ANY are excluded, then we have a law "respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." I have some very earnest, religious friends very upset at the atheists posting banners next to a Courthouse nativity, and complaining the atheists are only doing so to cause trouble. That's entirely possible. However, the First Amendment guarantees them the right to cause that trouble. Likewise, though one friend said she'd "Help" put up a Satanic display in order to be fair, I expect she most likely would not. I also expect a great many others would be offended and try to vandalize it. And honestly, I'd be one of the offended ones. But, if we allow it, it's guaranteed someone would, if only to piss people off.
So, the simple, legal, constitutional, fair solution is: Do whatever the hell you like on your own home, or on your church property, and leave the Courthouse out of it." Really. Aren't there enough churches? Can't you form a new one? Don't you have a house? Why is it so important that you use a critical public building for this display? Clearly, you are seeking official validation or sanction. That's wrong, dude.
Now, one of the arguments here is, "Atheists never complain about Muslim displays." That's BS. First, find me a Muslim display on a courthouse lawn. I'll wait. Second, I guarantee you most atheists will object. Some will endorse it either to be antagonistic, or to make the point that if some Christians can get away with it, so should other sects.
Simple solution? Don't use the courthouse for any religious functions. Duh.
There's just no way to make it better. One proposal was that each religion gets a week and no one is allowed to interfere with their display during that week. First, it would take a lot more than a year to go through just the subsects of Christianity. Then, who gets Christmas week? What if Ramadan or Eid falls at that time? Do the Muslims get it? Do you really think ALL Christians and ALL Muslims are going to agree? And of course, that's also Yule and Solstice for several pagan/heathen religions. Also, if you have a government sanctioned schedule, guess what? You now EXACTLY have a law "Respecting an establishment of religion."
There is just no reason, at all, to have ANY religious tones on a display on government property.
Now, stepping away from the courthouse, if a firefighter wants to put Christmas decorations on his personal locker, that shouldn't be a problem, as long as he's not harassing others. There's a line on where it stops being government. Likewise, if a judge wants a display INSIDE HIS CHAMBERS, no problem. The problem is a public display, because there's no way it can be done without endorsement.
By the way, it's not just "atheists" who object to this. http://www.aproundtable.org/library/arti
The pastor in question believes that religion is his bailiwick, and would like the state to butt out. In this case, it was ruled to be a generic wording, and the court admonished the state to keep it that way. That's the concern. Some of the comments at the time were dismissive, phrased as, "Everyone worships God in some fashion…"
Well, no, actually, not everyone does, and that well-intentioned people think so is a risk.
"It's no big deal, they're just words…"
Very well, let's substitute, "Satan" or "orgiastic gay sex" for "God." No big deal, right? Only a prude would be offended.
Okay, for Part Deux we need to clarify a few things:
Military chaplains act not only as clergy for their faith, but for other sects and other faiths, Christian and otherwise, per their orders. They also act as social counselors, referrers, advise on ethical and professional conduct. They are a necessary part of military operations (they are the ONLY members with privileged communication), and people of every faith, and atheists, are likely to consult with them.
Just so we're clear, I'm not religious, but whenever one of my troops said, "I need to see the chaplain/I'd like to go to worship," my answer was, "Yes." I want my troops in best physical and emotional shape, and if they have questions, that's what the chaplain is for, and I don't need details unless they want to share.
The Chaplains have guidebooks for as many faiths as they can identify, even if it's only a page or two. They do what they can. Some years ago, a handful of Pentecostals (a small group, who've caused a lot of trouble) insisted they couldn't offer a prayer without making it "in Jesus' name." The end result was they left the service. No, it didn't violate their "rights." They, however, were in violation of their professional oaths. Keep in mind this has not been a problem for any other Protestant chaplain, or any Catholics, Orthodox, Buddhists, Jews or Muslims.
So, in the military, religion must mix with government, because the government has an obligation to provide support to the troops, regardless of their faith. And let me say again: Most of the chaplains do a world class job of handling really tough problems for people of a myriad faiths. How do you provide comfort to someone in the midst of a war zone, who's just seen his buddy die, when someone else commits suicide, and a letter arrives from home advising of pending divorce? Yeah, that happens.
So, military installations have adequate, generic chapels, some of them rather nice, that are used by all faiths. Generally, this means the Protestants have a service at say, 0800, and the Catholics have one at 0930. That covers 90% of American service members who wish to attend service. The other 10% make do as they can, or, find local churches, many of whom offer shuttle service from the chapel to their church.
"Adequate" can vary on conditions. A buddy of mine was a bit bothered when confession was held on a pair of folding chairs in the field with no privacy save distance. I understand. So did he.
So here's the part I put on Facebook, and selected comments, with my commentary. Feel free to see the whole discussion there:
Okay, here's a good example. The shell of the USAFA Chapel cost $3.5 mil in 1959 dollars. So, a $51,000 grove was recently added for Wiccans and Pagans, and there's a small annex for Hindus. http://www.military.com/news/article/sen
Check out the tolerant "Christians" in the comments, referring to followers of these religions as "evil," or offering to convert to "druidism" and "demand 50 virgins for worship." (I've never heard of this in Druidism.) I'm surprised they haven't accused Jews of bleeding Christian babies for matzos.
Now, military chapels are a special case, and have to serve people who are on duty, so they have specific sanction provided they serve ALL faiths.
But I think the commentary makes it clear that religious displays on gov't property are fine with the general population...as long as they're for the "right" religion, meaning vocally and visibly Christian.
Let's be fair, and build a new Christian chapel, not to exceed $51,000. Sounds good?
Now, I'm going to add some additional explanation that wasn't clear to a lot of people: A generic church in America is going to be Christian-oriented, because that's the predominant culture here. This is fine. The annex serves several purposes, and I'm paraphrasing Julie Cochrane:
Many Pagan rituals require open air, and walking room. A chapel with pews isn't appropriate. Likewise, burning sage or incense isn't going to be well-received inside. Nor is the possibility of candle wax on the carpets, or the fire risk. So outside it is.
As the article notes, ANYONE can use the facilities, for services, weddings, or even barbecues, as long as the primary purpose takes precedent. It cost 1/68th what the shell of the main chapel cost, before adjusting for inflation.
Now, yes, I am disappointed that a large number of vocal "Christians" (Who do not act as Christians are supposed to) are angry about this. I don't believe this group represents a majority. But, when 80% of the country identify as "Christian," inevitably, they're going to have the largest input, and a minority of them is still going to outmass any other movement. Their comments show prejudice, and ignorance of these religions, and in a few cases, flat out bigotry—referring to a set of beliefs as "Evil," especially without knowledge of them, just because they are different from one's own, is bigotry, and I'll call it that.
Something I found from this debate is that Christians and Muslims have a lot in common. In both cases, a minority cause all the trouble, and the majority tend (tend) to have two unhelpful responses. The first is, "I don't feel that way, so it's not a problem." This is common of any group—Normal Muslims vs terrorists, regular Christians vs the KKK, good cops vs crooked, polite smokers vs obnoxious ones, etc.
But it is a problem. If you don't police your own group, someone is going to do it from outside, and you won't like the results.
The other problem is in fact cultural cohesiveness. Even when something is amiss, a group will tend (tend) to side with its own. This is also a problem when the issue is significant, and can rapidly lead to an Us vs Them standoff. If Us is big enough, violence can happen.
Using an extreme case—the Inquisition. It was founded on twofold good intentions. First, that the person's soul was more valuable than their mortal body, and second, that mankind as a whole was in danger if it wasn't fixed. There's even a Christian proverb about good intentions (originally: Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), as "Hell is full of good intentions or desires.")
This is specifically why the Founders of America made all the legal documents non-theological in nature, and did publicly and on record demand a separation of church and state. It took quite a while to come about in some places—it's been mentioned that Rhode Island had a state church for some time. So what? The Kama Sutra was prohibited until around 1958, but that doesn’t mean the First Amendment doesn't protect pornography, art and religion, as some still claim based on that. It means the original position was in error. It took 230 years to get a good case on the Second Amendment. If all these problems didn't need resolving, we wouldn’t still have courts. But I digress.
Here are some personal examples I've encountered:
Active duty, 1988, I had an Honor Guard manager inform me that if she'd known the deceased was an atheist, she would have refused services, because, and I quote, "We're here for God and Country, and if you can't respect God you're not entitled to funeral honors." I spoke to the Inspector General, and the Services Squadron Commander spoke to the manager about this. Problem solved. Just imagine, though, if someone had identified their deceased as an atheist and she'd refused services. Never mind the bad publicity. Someone who served their nation would be denied an honor they deserved, based on faith.
My wife, as Religious Activities Representative, conducted Wiccan services at Ft Meade. She offered to do so at Camp Atterbury, and requested that they be posted on the same board that all local church services are posted on. The senior chaplain refused, but said he'd keep the information "in case someone asks." No promotion in the newsletter, no listing on the board. The man was obviously either hostile or disinterested, but just in case someone bothered to ask him, he'd have her phone number on a blotter. (NOTE: The DINFOS chaplaincy were very supportive, as was the Army training detachment. Change bases, though, and someone else is calling the shots.)
Anyone educated has probably seen the signs from post-bellum America through at least the 1920s of, "This is a Christian town. Catholics, Jews, blacks, keep walking."
Again, this doesn’t mean most Christians are like this. But yes, it is up to the majority to fix it when they see it, and lead by example as good Christians.
Several times, the Wiccan books in a cabinet at the Sheppard AFB chapel went missing, presumably by the same "tolerant" Christians who left messages that they didn't want such "evil" practices in "their" chapel. They can't have it both ways.
LW: "presumably" -- meaning, it could *just* as conceivably, have been a Wiccan who wanted them for their personal use? A Pagan who disagreed with the Wiccans? And, when Gail requested that her notice be posted, were there notices for other "lay leader" religious meetings on the board, or only those lead by chaplains (I'm taking a guess that Gail is not a Wiccan chaplain, since I'm familiar with the reqs for Chaplaincy, and I don't think Gail qualifies -- unless she *was* a leader of a coven for three years while a civilian)
MIKE'S RESPONSE: Since there's obvious unintentional ignorance here, let me reiterate: There were letters left for the Chaplains by "Christians" that those "devil worshippers" and "idolaters" had "no place in our chapel." That's a pretty clear statement of hostility. As to a Pagan taking the books for personal use, or because they didn't like the Wiccans, this is just ignorance (and I say so without anger). Would a Baptist take all copies of the Bible including the Catholic versions, the Book of Mormon, the Methodist Hymnal and the theological texts? Unlikely. It's also unlikely that one pagan would steal all the Pagan, Wiccan, Dianic, Asatru, Heathen, Egyptian and Shamanistic books, multiple times. The perpetrator would be someone with a deep dislike of all such faiths, like, say, the multiple people who wrote letters and called them names. It's understandable that you want to stand with your own group, but if you choose to stand with the criminal and/or hateful element, people are going to see you that way.
Again, I don't see this lady that way. I think she's overly well-intentioned and protective of her own group.
LW: OK, so in 1951 the Air Force built a chapel that was to be used for *all* religious services. And it has been. But now the Wiccans, the Pagans, and the Hindus *refuse* to use it for *their* services -- because.... they're more special than anybody else? They're bigots? I have no idea. But all chapels are for *all* religions. If the Wisconsin Synod Lutherans demanded a new chapel, only for them, because they didn't want to share the chapel with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America -- would you be just as supportive?
Doesn't bother me who uses a building. Bothers me when "some religions are more equal than others" -- and I get told it's, somehow, *my* fault because I'm Christian. Old Christian saying, going back to at least the first persecutions under Nero (when some clergy claimed they weren't Christian, and then went back to being clergy) "Sunlight through a sewer grate is not defiled." The surroundings don't mean anything, really. "We worship in spirit and in truth" (Jesus, speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, when she questioned Him on whether, between the Temple in Jerusalem or the altar on their holy mountain, which was THE place to worship.)
Go ahead, pretend this is all evil Christians' doing. Kind of like a guy telling his girlfriend, after he's split her lip and given her a black eye, "Look what you made me do." "You Christians are evil, that's why we have to have our own Grove! Look what you made us do!"
MIKE'S RESPONSE: Okay, now this is looking a bit…odd. First, what evidence is there that the minor faiths "refused" to use the chapel? Go back to that article. A LARGE NUMBER of commenters publicly insult and attack the members of the minority. They certainly will not tolerate that minority in "their" chapel (and previous instances I've encountered, AS A NON-RELIGIOUS PERSON WITH NO STAKE IN EITHER GROUP, support this). They're also offended by a separate but unequal facility costing less than 1/70th as much. I understand you have good intentions, but you are failing to make a rational case that the WICCANS are asking for "Special treatment." No, a rabid Christian minority are asking for not only preferential, but exclusive treatment, to keep out those evil pagans, and Buddhists, and probably Joos, and Catholics, and Mormons, and gays, and then you'll find they don’t like blacks either. They give lip service to your faith, but you are not helping yourself, your faith, the nation, or anyone else by standing up for them.
Tossing the word "bigot" at the people who've been threatened and insulted, btw, puts you EXACTLY in the camp of "look what you made me do." The tone here is very offensive. Yes, some religions are more equal than others—the one with 80% of the population backing it. It would be foolish to expect otherwise, but that's why we have the rules we have.
LW: I am not a Pentecostal. I live too far from the Academy to kick their asses. So how, precisely, is this anything to do with me?
MIKE'S RESPONSE: I never said it was to do with her. She shouldered the yoke herself and took outrage on behalf of people acting in discord with her faith. Perhaps that conflict is what has her angry.
LW: So, are you Mike, responsible for every nasty, bitter, obscene thing that I've been told by Wiccans in Boulder when I venture there? I chalk it up as "there are assholes in every group, and even Jesus said that only about 25% of people who claim to be Christian really are (parable of the seeds)" But, if you want to hold each and every Christian responsible for all the bad you've encountered, at least have the courtesy to remember the *good* that you've encountered from Christians, also. Otherwise you, sir, are a bigot.
MIKE'S RESPONSE: This lady knows I am non-religious, but in her fervor is accusing me of being so because I choose a stance she doesn't like. I consider that a potential danger sign. Again, I don't think she means ill. However, get 240 million people in that mindset and bad stuff is gonna happen.
Nowhere did I state that all Christians are the problem. I'm always very careful on that point, because most of my friends are Christian. Again, though, she seems to be siding with her group, right or wrong, and is willing to toss epithets. By not saying things I never said, I'm a bigot, apparently for being critical of the bad apples.
I stopped communicating at that point, because I was somewhat…annoyed.
Read the article again. A vocal minority that numbers sufficiently large for mob violence doesn’t want "evil" people (by nature of their chosen faith) in the military, in their chapel, in another, separate but unequal chapel outside. Yet I'm a "bigot" for pointing out the inequality and potential problems? I'm repressing those poor Christians, who only have a multimillion dollar chapel that no pagan group I'm aware of has ever suggested should be removed?
Where were the signs in the 1880s stating, "This is a Jewish town, Protestants keep moving"?
Certainly, the rights of the majority are as important as those of minorities, but not at the expense of the latter, and to shout "Repression" and hurl epithets strikes me as decidedly non-Christian, and of no benefit to the debate.
Let me offer an example:
The flag folding ceremony described by the Uniformed Services is a dramatic and uplifting way to honor the flag on special days, like Memorial Day or Veterans Day, and is sometimes used at retirement ceremonies.
Here is a typical sequence of the reading:
(Begin reading as Honor Guard or Flag Detail is coming forward).
The flag folding ceremony represents the same religious principles on which our country was originally founded.
In the Armed Forces of the United States, at the ceremony of retreat the flag is lowered, folded in a triangle fold and kept under watch throughout the night as a tribute to our nation's honored dead. The next morning it is brought out and, at the ceremony of reveille, run aloft as a symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the body.
(Wait for the Honor Guard or Flag Detail to unravel and fold the flag into a quarter fold--resume reading when Honor Guard is standing ready.)
The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.
The second fold is a symbol of our belief in the eternal life.
The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks who gave a portion of life for the defense of our country to attain a peace throughout the world.
The fourth fold represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war for His divine guidance.
The fifth fold is a tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, "Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right; but it is still our country, right or wrong."
The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The seventh fold is a tribute to our Armed Forces, for it is through the Armed Forces that we protect our country and our flag against all her enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic.
The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered in to the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor mother, for whom it flies on mother's day.
The ninth fold is a tribute to womanhood; for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded.
The tenth fold is a tribute to father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since they were first born.
The eleventh fold, in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon, and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The twelfth fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.
When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, "In God we Trust."
(Wait for the Honor Guard or Flag Detail to inspect the flag--after the inspection, resume reading.)
After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it takes on the appearance of a cocked hat, ever reminding us of the soldiers who served under General George Washington and the sailors and marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones who were followed by their comrades and shipmates in the Armed Forces of the United States, preserving for us the rights, privileges, and freedoms we enjoy today.
There's a few problems. http://www.cojoweb.com/ref-meaning-folds-f
Note that USAFA has had multiple civil rights violations, many of them religious.
The USAF has fixed this, btw:
Letter from MAAF Member regarding flag folding ceremonies - Nov 03
The following is a letter from MAAF member Chris Anderson regarding a religious flag folding ceremony often passed off as the "Official" ceremony to accompany the folding of the American Flag.
After researching numerous military regulations and directives as well as U.S. code, I am unable to find any official meaning to the individual folds as stated in this ceremony. Sources of the information regarding this ceremony refer to the United States Air Force Academy web page. I contacted the USAFA protocol office in December 2002 concerning this very ceremony. After months of research and internet correspondence, the USAFA replied that this is not an official ceremony and that its origin is unknown. The USAFA has now removed this version of the ceremony from its web site.
When people have questions concerning official ceremonies involving our flag, they turn to official .gov or .mil web sites for the answers. The proper perception is that only legitimate information should be posted on a .gov address. It is obvious the intent of your site is to provide accurate information to the people. You believed us.usafa.af.MIL to be a reliable source of information, just as others will quote your site as a reliable source of official information. In order to ensure this religious flag-folding ceremony is not portrayed as an official government-sponsored flag-folding ceremony, I ask you to remove it from your .gov site. Below is a list of documents I searched in regards to the ceremony. The Air Force conducted its own search of documents after I contacted them in December 2002.
Army Regulation 840-10 Army Regulation 600-25 Field Manual 22-5 US Code, Title 36, Chap 10 US Code, Title 4, Chap 1
Incidentally, "usflag.org" has been informed of this error several times over several years, with documentation. They have not corrected it. As with other "Christian" stories about America, a small minority repeat them tirelessly, hoping to worm them into public consciousness. Many perfectly honest Christians are misled into trusting this, and are thus urged toward a belief that they're somehow repressed because they're no longer allowed to do what they never did before, that encroaches on others.
It's dangerous, and it's unChristian, and I urge my Christian friends and readers most strongly to lead by example, and decry dishonesty, even when favorable. I know several who do, and will, and I value their courage and friendship highly.
Let me close with this:
Interesting. A few bucks spent on worship facilities for Wiccans serving their country elicits howls of outrage. Time and money spent on a mythical elf is considered okay.
Such fascinating priorities certain "christians" have.
(NOTE: I have no objection to either. I'm just pointing out the hypocrisy.)