Friday, December 17, 2010

The war on faith

A disturbing collection of articles has come my way, making me wonder if the real war isn't the War on Christmas, but a war on public expressions of faith altogether. First, from CMR, is this:

This is the federal government forcing a small town bank to take down any religious Christmas symbols in the bank.

Weasel Zippers reports:
PERKINS, Okla. — A small-town bank in Oklahoma said the Federal Reserve won’t let it keep religious signs and symbols on display.

Federal Reserve examiners come every four years to make sure banks are complying with a long list of regulations. The examiners came to Perkins last week. And the team from Kansas City deemed a Bible verse of the day, crosses on the teller’s counter and buttons that say “Merry Christmas, God With Us.” were inappropriate. The Bible verse of the day on the bank’s Internet site also had to be taken down.
What is it about "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion... or prohibit the free exercise thereof."

The Federal Reserve's argument supposedly is that the bank's decorations may "express, imply or suggest a discriminatory preference or policy of exclusion." Imply? Really? So their policy trumps the free exercise clause of the First Amendment? How does that work? [Link in original: E.M.]

Then, there was this story:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- An astronomer argues that his Christian faith and his peers' belief that he is an evolution skeptic kept him from getting a prestigious job as the director of a new student observatory at the University of Kentucky.

Martin Gaskell quickly rose to the top of a list of applicants being considered by the university's search committee. One member said he was "breathtakingly above the other applicants."

Others openly worried his Christian faith could conflict with his duties as a scientist, calling him "something close to a creationist" and "potentially evangelical."

Even though Gaskell says he is not a creationist, he claims he was passed over for the job at UK's MacAdam Student Observatory three years ago because of his religion and statements that were perceived to be critical of the theory of evolution.

Gaskell is suing the university; read more here.

Finally, in some local news, there's this one:

Two weeks after controversy erupted because the Fort Worth Transportation Authority accepted ads with the atheist message "Millions of Americans are Good Without God," the T board revised its policy Wednesday night to ban all religious ads effective Jan. 1.

"I don't like the ads. I think they create divisiveness," T board member Gary Havener said before the nine-member board unanimously approved the new policy.

But Havener also criticized the people who pressured T drivers not to operate buses adorned with the ads and urged riders to boycott the transit system.

"I don't like people coming in here and muscling our employees when we're trying to provide transportation," he said.

What do all of these stories have in common? Simple: each displays the growing cultural attitude which treats religious speech and religious expressions as inherently unworthy of the public sphere (or even, in the case of astronomer Gaskell, of some professions). As the CMR piece put it, we've stopped hearing about the freedom of religion, and started hearing the phrase "freedom of worship;" this latter phrase implies that religious speech is fine in one's church, synagogue, mosque, or similar place, but out of line in public places, business organizations, or anywhere else where some person might conceivably be "offended" by the speech.

What's wrong with that? Aside from the fact that it seriously impedes actual freedom of religion, there is the further problem that this attitude also treats religious speech as somehow in a totally different category from other speech. To look at the first example: the bank is theoretically allowed to display whatever corporate banking slogans it might find appropriate--but what if a person sincerely finds corporate banking slogans deeply and inherently offensive? I suspect the attitude would be a shrug; "banking speech" is protected as free speech, but religious speech, apparently, is not.

Or to take the second example: would a professor be denied a job because the professor is a known sports fanatic? Would his fanaticism in favor of some particular team be seen as a potential liability for the university? No; but his religious beliefs apparently are too embarrassing for the university to deal with.

And the third example is even more egregious: people might be offended by all sorts of public bus advertisements--I recall in my student days being seriously offended by a sickening anti-baby campaign put out by Planned Parenthood--but we're all supposed to be adults capable of dealing with those emotions. Except, of course, for religious advertisements, which apparently emanate offensiveness from their penumbras, or something, and must be banned altogether.

The War on Faith sees all religious expression (save only, for now, for those expressions of faith which have nothing to do with any Judeo-Christian faith) as a serious threat to secular society. That is alarming; freedom of religion is one of the pillars of American freedom, and if it is toppled it's easy to see how quickly all of our freedoms might follow suit. We should remain vigilant in defense of the freedom of religious people to express their faith at work and in the public square, if we wish America to remain the land of the free.

UPDATE: An alert reader sends a link to this story: the bank will be allowed to display its Christian messages. Good!


Anonymous said...

fed backed down:

L. said...

I think the bank has a right to display what it wants to display, and people like me have the same right to boycott an establishment that espouses something that makes us feel deeply uncomfortable.

Barbara C. said...

The astronomer may also have been discounted if he refused to worship at the idol of UK basketball. That's a religion in itself in Kentucky.

Anonymous said...

Spam is not considered much of a Christmas present.

Anonymous said...

^^ Spam returned to the firey chasm from which it came. Carry on. :)

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I'm not at all surprised that the higher-ups at the Fed over-ruled the inspection team. It was none of their business, but all kinds of people in all kinds of positions of modest lower-level front-line authority have ideas in their head about what they are authorized to do, or must do, that are completely bogus. I can't entirely blame them either - who has time to memorize the entire book of regulations for ANYTHING these days? In England, unions prefer a "work to rule" rather than a strike when having a labor dispute. Carefully making sure every regulation is meticulously observed every time will bring any industrial enterprise to a grinding halt!

Another example is the social worker who thought the Fourth Amendment didn't apply to child abuse investigations, wherefore she was sure she didn't need a warrant (Calabretta v. Floyd), and the security staff at a middle school where students pass through metal detectors and back-pack searches, who thought a student wasn't allowed to bring a Bible in his backpack.

You're absolutely correct Erin: as long as service is not refused or downgraded, as long as customers are not asked about their faith when making a deposit, opening an account, or applying for a loan, it is none of the Fed's d*** business, and it is a violation of "free exercise" to even make an issue of it.

(If a Jewish or Muslim or atheist employee objected to wearing a button, that might be a valid civil rights issue).