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-ACLU Supports Christmas Prayer Vigil

by Dr. D ~ December 23rd, 2011

English: Protesters at the Occupy Wall Street ...

                                               (Image via Wikipedia)

For once, here’s a case where the ACLU is actually supporting the freedom of religion rather than trying to restrict it in the public square:

“NYCLU to City and Brookfield: Accommodate Christmas Prayer Vigil in Zuccotti Park”

NEW YORK — The New York Civil Liberties Union today wrote to New York City officials and Brookfield Properties asking them to accommodate a Christmas prayer vigil at Zuccotti Park.

Occupy Faith, which is composed of members of an Occupy Wall Street Christian interest group, is planning to hold a 24-prayer vigil in Zuccotti Park to begin at midnight on Christmas Eve and continue to midnight Christmas Day.

“The city has enabled religious events in parks in the past, including a 1995 mass in Central Park led by Pope John Paul II ,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “It is entirely appropriate for the city to allow these folks to pray together in the park. It should do so without restricting any items the group believes are necessary to express its faith.”

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6 Responses to -ACLU Supports Christmas Prayer Vigil

  1. DogmaAndPonyShow

    The fact is the ACLU has a long history of protecting individual freedom of religion. Unfortunately people of faith like to push the boundaries of the establishment clause and that’s when the ACLU pushes back. It’s really about perception. Christians, for instance, like to advance their agendas using tax payer funded real estate and positions of power, thus violating the First Amendment. When organizations like the ACLU call them out, the violators whine that their freedoms are being violated.

  2. Dr. D

    Thanks for your comments Dogma.
    However, it really isn’t a case of Christians liking “to advance their agendas using tax payer funded real estate and positions of power.” Most of the stuff being battled over has been in the public square in America for over 200 years and the writers of the Constitution itself did not think it a violation of the First Amendment.

    It is actually n advance of a ‘secular’ agenda in this generation that is bringing on the culture wars and the re-interpretation of the Constitution as a “living document” rather than the original intent.

  3. DogmaAndPonyShow

    I’ll concede that if you limit the argument to the “public square”, some violations have been in place or taken place on public lands for decades. Even if you were right and some have been around for over 200 years, the argument from antiquity is a poor excuse for allowing the violations to persist. Slavery is a very old concept and used to be allowed in the public square, condoned by our own government, and rationalized using biblical principles. Should we still allow it? Now, of course, a sole nativity scene sitting on the court house lawn isn’t exactly the same as selling slaves, but they both violate the individual rights granted to us through the Bill of Rights. We do not have a majoritarian system.
    Now, if you widen the scope to include First Amendment violations in our public schools, city/county board meetings, the military, and state/federal legislation, one can see that there clearly is an agenda to advance Christianity using tax payer dollars. These are new assaults on individual religious freedom.
    Secularists are not re-interpreting the Constitution, they’re trying to restore freedoms against a wave religious freedom haters. They’re against religious freedom unless it favors their particular brand of religion. That’s theocracy, not democracy.

  4. Dr. D

    All very good and cogent points from the current secularist view. However, none thought them to be ‘violations’ until the last few years, including those who wrote the Constitution in the first place. Christians should not be characterized as projecting any kind ‘new’ agenda -that is simply not true on any level. People of faith are only trying to maintain the right and freedom to express ones faith in the public square.

    The fact is secularists are the ones pushing an agenda trying to drive any kind of religious expression of faith from the public square using the very passages from the Constitution that are suppose to support religious freedoms rather than curtail or eliminate them. The freedom of religion principles of the Bill of Rights have been turn on their ear to now mean ‘freedom from religion’ instead?

    I will submit that the country has changed considerably in one generation. When I was growing up in the 50’s every public school day began with a prayer and scripture reading. When my parents were in school they actually learned how to read using the Bible as a textbook in public school in the 1920’s. The entire country was overwhelmingly Christian as was my neighborhood growing up though we all went to different churches and denominations except for my best friend who went to a Jewish Synagogue on Saturday.

    For you, this transition seems to be rather philosophical and theoretical but I lived it.

    I remember a time in America when everyone recognized a non-dogmatic ‘civil religion’ that respected the Creator and celebrated our Judeo-Christian foundation and culture. You can see it in the writings of the founders if you read deeply into the original documents and do not ‘cherry pick’ all the ones that support a secularist view. Even Jefferson was far more supportive of a non-sectarian ‘civil religion’ than most want to portray today. Franklin was not known to be ‘religious’ at all yet petitioned the conferees at the Constitutional Convention to begin everyday with a prayer.

    It is the tradition of a non-sectarian ‘civil religion’ that many Christians like myself are trying to maintain believing that the country is better for it and that it is what the Constitution was supporting when it was originally written.
    Obviously you have a different view.

    As the number of secularists, atheists, along with an influx of people with a variety of different world religions grows in the USA than a Judeo-Christian ‘Civil Religion’ may no longer be tenable in the future. However, the way ‘civil religion’ was so much a part of America in our past, it is patently wrong to characterize it as a ‘violation’ of the constitutional provisions for freedom of religion. It was actually supportive of it in the historical context and religious make-up of America at the time.

    Those times may be changing but you should not expect people of faith to give up and surrender to the secularist onslaught. Neither should you characterize Christians of trying to ‘advance’ an agenda when that is so far from the historical truth of the situation.

  5. DogmaAndPonyShow

    Dr. D, For the first 185 years, most Americans and legislators were fairly reasonable in their respect for each others religous rights. In the last 50 years however, there’ve been various waves of religous establishment and freedom violations, mostly by over zealous Christians. 50 years ago everyone was paranoid about communism and we ended up with “under god” in the pledge of allegiance. In the the early 1970s we had Lemon v. Kurtzman, which should’ve put to rest any questions about FA rights in public schools, but of course many Christians feel compelled to continue to proselytize to school children. Then there’s the influence of the Moral Majority and it’s various incarnations since the 1980s. Finally, after 9-11 the faithful went a little crazy. Now we have Christians trying to test the limits of the FA at an alarming rate. When they’re challenged, they say that their rights are being violated. The fact that they’re basic defense is that “we were founded on Judeo/Christian principles”, or “the majority of Americans are Christian (so we should be allowed to proselytize wherever and whenever we want to)” or my personal favorite “the words ‘separation of church and state’ don’t appear in The Bill of Rights”.

    I see the actions of secularists as mostly reactionary in the face of an onslaught  of FA violations. Then, christians get all frothy and increase the violations. Each time claiming to be the victim. It has an exponential component. 

    Yes, some actions by secularists are against “traditions”, but again, some of America’s “traditions” have been really bad ideas. Should we have never given women the right to vote because it was “tradition” to deny them that right? When secularists do draw attention to these “traditions” years after the enacting of the violation, it’s primarily because of a new awareness of the problems and changing attitudes. The Internet and news have also contributed. Most importantly, Christians themselves have helped to strengthen secular activism. Like in war, someone has to fire the first shot and I think the conservative evangelicals, dominionists, and theocrats are the guilty party. Secularists began defending themselves by shooting back, so Christians increased the fire power. I’m sure you get my point.

    When you say “I remember a time in America when everyone recognized a non-dogmatic ‘civil religion’ that respected the Creator and celebrated our Judeo-Christian foundation and culture.”‘, I sort of agree with part of your statement. I remember a time when we recognized a non-sectarian religion, but you’re wrong to equate non-sectarian religion with “our Judeo-Christian foundation and culture”. I’m not sure if you really believe that or are trying to be sneaky, but his claim about a “Judeo-Christian foundation” has been part of the problem. There’s no such thing as a “Judeo-Christian” “civil religion”. What’s been happening in the last 50 years is a change in the attitude of many Christians away from a non-sectarian view towards a dominionist form of Christianity with the idea that Christians deserve some kind of exclusive privilege and that the Bill of Rights and the Constitution grant that exclusiveness. The bottom line is that if Christians had maintained their non-sectarian ways, we wouldn’t be having a so called “culture war”.

    I know I’m right when I say that secularists want religious freedom for ALL Americans. That’s what the finding fathers real intent was when they wrote The Bill of Rights. I don’t need to “read deeply into the original documents” to understand the simple language of the FA and the courts seem to have a firm grasp on it too. By upholding BOTH clauses of the FA, the religious freedoms of all are protected. If we ignore the Establishment clause, then all we have is majoritarian tyranny. If we uphold the entire FA, everyone wins, Christians as much atheists, etc. It’s ridiculous to argue that we want to drive religion out of the public square. On the contrary, secularists argue that you and any other American are free to pray or not to pray anytime, anywhere as private citizens as long as it doesn’t disturb others. However, we feel, and the FA upholds that if one holds public office, they do not have a right to advance their sectarian religion at tax payer expense even if every single citizen In their jurisdiction follows their religion. It’s a very simple concept.

    You’ve probably heard this before, but if you want to understand what’s wrong with your position, all you have to do is imagine your child going to school and being preached to by a Wiccan or maybe having your entire city council offer up a Satanic prayer or your congressman passing a bill that forces every citizen to face Mecca. 

    Lastly, I stand by my original assertion that many Christians do have an agenda to use tax payer funded land and positions of power to advance their brand of sectarian religion, otherwise they would drop this ridiculous notion that the founders intended to bestow upon Christians exclusive unfettered religous freedoms at the expense of all others.

  6. Dr. D

    Obviously we are going to continue to disagree since both of us are firmly entrenched on different sides of the equation.

    You make several compelling arguments. 1. That an historical wrong is wrong after all and should not be maintained (i.e. Slavery, Women’s vote). 2. Christians would not want their children taught another faith in schools. I agree with both, in fact I would not want another Christian even teaching their brand of the Christian faith to my grandchildren in school. 3. We can also agree on a want for “religious freedom for ALL Americans.”

    Since I have been a Christian minister and leader for more than 45 years I am in a good position to dispute your contention that Christians have been the aggressors in the so-called ‘culture’ wars. From my perspective we have always been in a position of defense and reaction. The current secularist and liberal media obsession with a “dominionist form of Christianity” is unparalleled in disinformation and down right false assertions.

    The true dominionists have very little influence among Christians in America. Several of those who have been branded as ‘dominionist’ I know well and are far from it. Their so-called ‘dominionist’ statements have been ignorantly misinterpreted and misconstrued.

    Also, the idea that Christians are seeking some kind of “exclusive unfettered religious freedoms at the expense of all others” is not the goal of any major Christian organization or group of influential leaders that I know of. We are only trying to maintain what we have always been free to do under the Constitution in the past.

    As the religious context in America changes and becomes far more secular or even atheist than it now is, perhaps some changes will be in order. Obviously the current zeitgeist is in your favor. Nevertheless you cannot and should not expect us to go down without at a least a protest or two. Most Christian leaders like myself recognized that the tide of current thinking is against us right now. Every major Christian leader I know is praying for a new ‘awakening’ in America and hoping for a change in the ‘spirit of the age.’

    After all Dogma, it could be worse, you could be in a battle against a Muslim majority who really do have an actual theocratic ‘Dominionist’ component to their religion and the so-called ‘culture wars’ would be far more violent indeed.

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