There is no ‘wall’ between church and state

First, I agree with Unitarian Rev. Neal Jones that if our governor is going to invite us to a day of prayer, she ought to invite everybody, and not just Christians.

And in the video above from the website of the upcoming event, she does seem to invite everybody. Unfortunately, Rev. Jones received a letter from the governor that seemed to imply a more restricted invitation, in that it said “this is a time for Christians to come together to call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles.”

Rev. Jones felt left out because Unitarian-Universalists are not what you would call Christians. Instead, they firmly believe that… um… ah…. Well, they’re not, strictly speaking, what you would call Christians.

So if the governor meant to stiff-arm his congregation, and Jews, and the Sikhs in her own family, then that’s not good. If she really meant to do that.

But… I have to object to the fact that in making the argument that Nikki Haley should not have done such a thing, Rev. Jones repeated a popular misconception, and I feel the need to correct him:

So I will not be attending the governor’s day of prayer, because she didn’t actually mean to invite me, as I am the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia. But even if she had, I would not attend. I am not against prayer, but I am for the Constitution, the First Amendment of which establishes a “wall of separation between church and state,” to use Thomas Jefferson’s famous phrase. That wall protects the integrity of both government and religion. It prevents religious zealots from using the power and purse of the government to force their beliefs and practices on the rest of us, and it prevents overreaching politicians from intruding into religious affairs. Each institution does better when it minds its own business — when ministers pray and politicians pave roads….

You see the error, right?

The First Amendment does not establish a “wall of separation between church and state.” That oft-repeated quote was Thomas Jefferson — who was not involved in drafting the Constitution or the Bill of Rights — expressing his opinion regarding the effect of the actual amendment. It was in a letter he wrote as president to the Danbury Baptist Association explaining why he, unlike his predecessors and some who followed him, refused to proclaim days of fasting and thanksgiving. The operative passage:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state…

Jefferson was on solid ground when he said the amendment provided that the Congress “should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But he ventured into opinion, and for his part wishful thinking, when he added “thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

(Interestingly, after rhetorically erecting this wall and standing firmly on the secular side of it, he closed his letter with these pious words: “I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and creator of man…”)

By the way, I place more store on the opinion of James Madison that there should be a “total separation of the church from the state.” But it must be noted that Madison did not insert such language into the amendment itself, and no amendment with that wording was ever ratified or adopted.

Too many folks continue to believe that what Jefferson chose to believe the amendment said is actually what the amendment says.

When it isn’t.

We are not to have an established church, and the government may not interfere with anyone’s particular religious beliefs or practices. This is not the same as having a wall of separation; it’s not even close.

In Jefferson’s day, a lot of folks wanted there to be such a wall, and he was among them. A lot of folks want there to be such a wall today, and furthermore sincerely believe the Constitution provides for one.

But, again, it does not.

Rev. Jones concludes:

I realize that in South Carolina, indeed across the South, it is tempting for politicians to overstep their civil authority and meddle in religious matters. Southern politicians win lots of votes by making a public display of their piety. The next time Gov. Haley prays, she might consider praying for the strength to resist that temptation … for her own spiritual health and for the health of our constitutional democracy….

Rev. Jones may find it distasteful when “Southern politicians win lots of votes by making a public display of their piety.” I might, too, depending on the circumstances and the nature of that display. Not because the civic realm is damaged by mentions of God, but because God is blasphemed by having His name yoked to an individual politician’s aims.

Many of my readers might be offended in far more instances than I would. But when politicians thus offend, they generally do not “overstep their civil authority.”

76 thoughts on “There is no ‘wall’ between church and state

  1. Phillip

    Can we compromise on a picket fence?

    The real question is, who really is “” ? This seems to be a means to gather lots of names for fundraising/politicking/mail-list purposes, as they want people to register on their website.

      1. Phillip

        If you dig a little on the website, it appears that at least one of main driving forces behind it is one Rev. Doug Stringer, Founder and President of Turning Point Ministries International.

        Then, if you read some of his writings, you see that although he feigns a certain non-partisan-ness, his agenda is pretty thinly veiled, and mostly the same old same old…so in other words, this “epic crisis” that we’re supposed to be praying together over is indeed basically that we (Americans) haven’t all accepted Christ as our savior. Stringer is Asian-American and writes approvingly of the power of a united specifically Asian-Christian vote…with two of the few politicians he cites approvingly being Bobby Jindal and…surprise, surprise, Nikki Haley.

        Stringer: “I believe the Church, united in biblical foundation and ideology, should have the greatest political voice in our nation.” The Muslim Brotherhood couldn’t have put it better themselves.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Oh, I think the Brotherhood goes a tad beyond that. Although just a tad.

          The statement “I believe the Church, united in biblical foundation and ideology, should have the greatest political voice in our nation” is pretty much a direct contradiction of the Establishment Clause.

          Now, if he said “I believe God should have the greatest political voice in our nation,” it would merely be a statement that we need a whole lot more attention to God’s will in our public lives. Something that some will agree with and others will disagree with, but merely expressing that wish doesn’t imply a violation of the Constitution.

          It’s the assertion that “the Church, united in biblical foundation and ideology” playing that role that runs smack into Establishment. That’s not even including all Christians — just the ones who, in the reverend’s estimation, have their minds right…

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. A distinction without a difference. The Governor qua Governor should not invite “Christians” to a “day of prayer.” We already have so much theocracy creep here. Frankly, Christians might ought to be offended at the dilution of their faith by demagoguery.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      No, it’s a distinction with a big difference. People who are concerned about “theocracy creep” tend to want there to be a “wall,” and even believe there IS one. That there is religion over THERE, and politics over HERE, and the twain must never meet.

      Those of us who generally see no problem with religious expressions by pols — at least in theory — are more insistent that there IS no wall.

      Religious expressions are not, by definition, out of bounds in the public sphere (as they would be with a wall). They should be judged the way every other expression of ideas and values are evaluated by voters. That includes being offended by ANY such expressions, if that is your inclination. Just don’t confuse what you find distasteful with the notion of unconstitutionality.

      1. clark surratt

        Brad, you are right. Not only is there no wall, but government and religion are intertwined with direct taxpayer subsidies of religions: Property tax exemptions, deductions for donations, and even special income tax treatments for “ministers.” All that is wrong.

      2. Mark Stewart

        That said, most religious expressions by politicians (and by judges and administrators) are out of bounds and inappropriate from representatives of a civil society.

        It isn’t hard to see the difference between acceptable and devisive. It isn’t and shouldn’t be a bright line. It is, however, plainly clear. Respect shouldn’t be such a high hurdle.

      3. Kathryn Fenner

        I well know the Constitution, and got the top grade in my law school class on it. I have spent my life in one religious minority or other, starting out as a weirdo Lutheran among Baptists in grade school, where the principal was the organist at the Baptist church down the road from my public elementary school with the same name. One teacher, in third grade, went around the room asking students to cite Bible verses. For once, I was not the one with my hand up. I went home and told my mom, and she showed me that I did know a lot of Bible verses—through the liturgy.
        and on and on

        I stand through innumerable invocations and other expressions of fundamentalist Christian piety at city council meetings and other governmental functions. This is just flat out wrong. We should not be praying to Jeeezuz at the start of a public high school game.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually, in Iran, there’s a wall AROUND mosque and state, making sure there’s no infiltration of ideas that challenge the status quo.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        In America, we’re free to espouse whatever religious beliefs we have as openly as we wish, in the public sphere or wherever.

        And people are free to vote against us if they don’t want to hear it….

        That’s the way it is, and should be.

        1. Phillip

          Is that why in a country where a tenth of the population is atheist, there is not a single member of Congress who is a professed atheist,? Yeah, you won’t get beheaded for it here, but you can forget about a political career if you dare to voice that particular belief system “in the public sphere.”

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I’m not sure what your point is. Are you saying we won’t be free until voters are required to elect an atheist, or what?

            If you espouse something that only 10 percent agree with, you don’t win elections. You think that’s wrong?

          2. Brad Warthen

            People get confused. They have the right to do something, but think that right is being denied if they are not rewarded for doing it in the court of public opinion. That’s not what freedom is…

            1. Phillip

              So Jews make up 2-3% of the US population, thus, according to you, the fact that they “espouse something that only” 2-3% of the population agrees with should mean that they “don’t win elections.”

              Except, of course, that there are 30 Jewish members of the current, 114th Congress. Burl mentioned Muslims: there are actually two elected to Congress. But for a long time, only one little Congressional district in California elected an openly atheist person, then he finally was defeated after redistricting. How often do you even HEAR of an openly atheist candidate for public office, even at lower levels? Atheists make up a far larger percentage of Americans than Jews or Muslims, but (while free to hold their beliefs) are effectively barred by a soft bigotry within our public discourse from holding elective office.

              At least in theory, one should be running for political office in America based on views on the real-world issues facing the country/state/district, and be judged on those views, NOT on the religious beliefs one may hold. By your comment, on the other hand, it sounds like you’re saying Jews should never aspire to run for President, which I know you didn’t mean to say.

              1. Barry

                umm, no.

                Jews and Christians share many of the same beliefs – and of course some of those Jewish politicians are quite liberal – not necessarily religious Jews- and in very liberal districts.

                So your comparison leaves a lot out.

              2. Brad Warthen Post author

                Not only did I not mean to say it; I don’t know how you could have thought I said it. How is it “soft” or any other sort of bigotry if most people don’t vote for an atheist? Am I a bigot if I won’t vote for a Tea Party adherent? I don’t think so.

                I just don’t see how it’s somehow nefarious to be inclined against voting for someone who espouses a fundamentally different worldview from your own. Isn’t that sort of what elections are about?

          3. Barry

            10% – (probably a high estimate) in your corner – won’t win you any election.

            1. Phillip

              Of course I know you didn’t mean to imply that, Brad. What I’m pointing out is a certain disconnect.

              You vote against the Tea Partier because you disagree with that person’s set of political beliefs, regardless of their religious affiliation. But what if a candidate who acknowledged that he/she was an atheist ran on an Unparty platform who agreed with you 100% on foreign policy and virtually 100% with your views on domestic issues. Again, what I think I’m hearing is that you might vote against that person strictly on the basis of their religious belief. Which, of course, you’re free to do, as many people still might still refuse to vote for someone today primarily based upon whether the candidate is Catholic, Jewish, etc.

              But I would hope at least that our democracy and freedom-of-religion has evolved to a point where at least candidates from many different belief systems can reasonably compete for public office and be judged on their political, not private religious (and ultimately unprovable one way or the other by mortals) beliefs.

              Clearly, since atheists can span the political spectrum from libertarian-conservative to liberal, the fact that candidates are so reluctant to acknowledge that particular belief system must mean that there is some extra level of taboo associated with that belief. All I’m saying is that the vaunted religious freedom of our country does exist, but only up to a certain point at least for now.

              However, the landscape is changing. Pew Research Center’s latest poll is quite interesting and apropos to this discussion. The purely “atheist” percentage is much smaller than the earlier figure I cited (but still much larger than either Jewish or Mormon, neither of whom seem to have a stigma attached to competing for Congress or national office), but when combined with “agnostic” and “nothing in particular”, amounts to 22%, a rise of 6% from 2007, along with a decline in those calling themselves Christian, from 78% to 70%. Many religions with relatively small percentages of adherents have, at least taken together, increased.

              So it may be that faith and individual belief systems about existential questions (which cannot be resolved by empirical methods), will continue to be less of a factor in choosing our public servants. We may, for example, have a Jewish president before long, or multiple credible Muslim candidates for state legislatures, or gubernatorial candidates whose atheism or frank agnosticism is not a major factor pro or con in their electability, just as JFK broke through the barrier for Catholics in 1960.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Ah, but I WOULD vote for that atheist who was 100 percent UnParty, if such a person can be found.

                But if someone else did NOT, based solely on the atheism, I would not term that person “bigoted.”

              2. Bryan Caskey

                “But what if a candidate who acknowledged that he/she was an atheist…agreed with you 100% on foreign policy and virtually 100% with your views on domestic issues.”

                Easy. I would vote for them. I’m voting for my representative in civil society, not my faith leader, drinking buddy, or best friend.

                While I’m sure that people vote for some candidates based primarily on religion, (Huckabee and Santorum come to mind), I would say that’s pretty rare. But people vote for candidates for all sorts of reasons. I’m sure some people vote for the most physically attractive candidate.

                Why wouldn’t I vote for an atheist who supports my positions? I wouldn’t elect him as an Elder of my church, but public office? Sure.

              3. Brad Warthen

                If a candidate were an atheist, and made a big point about it — let’s say, as a Christopher Hitchens might — then it would give me pause. I’d have to think hard about whether I wanted to trust a person who looked at things so differently to represent me as I would wish.

                But if this person is UnParty down the line, that means this person agrees with me about far more things than ANY real-life candidate I’ve ever encountered. So that would outweigh my concerns over the atheist thing.

                But the concern would BE there. And that does not make me a bigot.

              4. Brad Warthen

                To play with the old cliche, some of my best friends are atheists. That’s been the case my whole adult life.

                That doesn’t mean that I don’t seriously question their thinking on the matter. And the matter is so fundamental that’s it’s not unreasonable to question their thinking in general.

              5. Brad Warthen Post author

                This is related to my thought process as a voter. As you know, I tend not to pick candidates based on stated positions on issues X, Y and Z. Oh, their positions may help or hurt their chances of getting my vote.

                But I operate on the assumption that it’s impossible to know exactly what sorts of situations a candidate will face once in office, much less what will be the wise way to vote on those situations.

                So I prefer candidates whom I trust to make good decisions in those situations. Someone who will engage in debate in good faith, listening to all views, and making up his or her mind without some off-the-shelf ideology determining which way he or she will vote.

                So I look for good judgment. I look for open-mindedness. I look for someone who can respect others who disagree at least enough to listen to them, and preferably to work with them to seek common ground.

                So, the WAY a person approaches questions — from the existence of God to the latest tax bill — is an important consideration for me. And I can see how it would be to others. So I would take it into account.

                That said, I probably insist on others thinking just as I do far less than most people you know. Because my experience with debating every issue under the sun, day in and day out, has persuaded me how absurd it is to expect anyone to agree with me on everything, or even most things.

                And THIS, friends, lies at the core of my objection to parties — or at least, the way partisan politics has manifested itself over the last few decades. I see all these people, on both sides, accepting the notion that there are just two ways of looking at any issue (that people like ME always think THIS way, and I can never agree with THOSE people who think that OTHER way).

                And anyone who DOES buy into these prefab sets of ideas simply isn’t thinking, because it is impossible to think about each issue and come to the same conclusion as a large group of other people do on ALL issues.

                And we have an obligation as citizens to THINK, rather than to merely run with a crowd…

  3. Mark Stewart

    Where’s the crisis facing our nation? I’m confused by that.

    Haley is ramping up her campaigning I see. Is she going to run against Mark Sanford or Tim Scott?

  4. bud

    I guess when you print “In God we Trust” on our money that pretty much rules out a wall. I’d rather we not print that on the money but it’s something I can live with. Where I get really upset is when some government entity wants to indoctrinate my children by including a teacher led prayer or invocation.

    1. clark surratt

      Bud I’d rather my child’s teacher read a prayer the child does not have to listen to rather than being forced to subsidize the property taxes on top dollar land in downtown Columbia.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        Teachers are so important to students, especially young ones. I think prayers in public schools are seriously wrong, as are tax exemptions for religious property—(although “the power to tax is the power to destroy”–Chief Justice John Marshall, for the Court, McCulloch v. Maryland)

        1. Barry

          Few teachers are “praying” in public schools in front of students. There are a few that will try – but these days it’s rare. Policies are policies and few schools in the country ignore such issues.

          I went to school in small town South Carolina- my kids do now – and I eat lunch with them at their school on a regular basis. Never heard a teacher pray in class. Saw many pray over their meal on their own.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Of course, I remember prayer in public schools. And I don’t remember it being a big deal one way or the other.

          In fact, I remember only one detail about those prayers — just another part of the start of the school day, along with the Pledge of Allegiance — and it was this:

          One day, a kid in my class reported another kid for having had his eyes open during the prayer. The teacher asked, “How would you know?” There was laughter, and we moved on…

        3. Brad Warthen Post author

          I saw it all — the pledge, the prayer, obeying the teachers and principal — as a matter of general respect for the institutions underpinning society. I guess I was kind of a communitarian even then.

          Here’s an embarrassing story about me: I’m pretty sure that I had no clear idea that church and state were in any way separate realms until I was in junior high. I remember a teacher noting how ironic it was that we used language in talking about our civil life — in the national anthem, in the Pledge, and so forth — that seemed to echo the language of prayer. I saw what he meant, but I thought it an odd observation: Of COURSE we used similar language, since God and Country were similar things — things larger than ourselves, deserving of our respect and yes, reverence.

          That was the first moment I started contemplating that there was a difference between the civil and the sacred. Now, before my friends who believe in a “wall” think this anecdote demonstrates why I don’t believe in one, I assure you I did get to the “wall” concept later, and embraced it, but then later moved beyond it. It’s far too simplistic. It’s absurd to suggest that the holy has no place in public discourse. Everything has its place in public discourse. It’s just that with this, there are limits, and we know where the limits are — we are to have no established church, and we are not to abridge anyone’s freedom of conscience with regard to faith or lack thereof.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I don’t know if I can explain this clearly, but I’ll give it a stab…

            I think one reason I had a vague notion of God and country as similar things is that I had such a heterodox upbringing in both areas.

            I didn’t have a clear religious identity growing up, beyond being Christian and Protestant. Moving around all the time, I often attended military chapels (with their ecumenical services), but I also went to services and/or youth group meetings at both Baptist and Methodist churches, and some others that were nondenominational. For instance: I lived in Guayaquil, Ecuador, longer than anywhere else growing up, and we attended ecumenical services that were held at my school, Colegio Americano. They were in English, attended by ex-patriates of various stripes.

            I never did know what denomination the pastor was, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask. I did learn later that he worked for the CIA. (See what I mean about the sameness of church and state?)

            I heard adults make anti-Catholic remarks sometimes, but beyond some vague idea of Popish superstition mixed in with it, it always seemed to me that church was church. They were Christians, too. And Jews (Jesus’ people) and Muslims worshiped the same God. I was a little less clear on non-monotheistic religions. I suppose I still am. Despite all the temples we visited in Thailand, and piously kneeling with our hostess at one place (the farm of our daughter’s adoptive Thai “grandparents”) while she prayed for a safe trips for us, don’t ask me to explain exactly what Buddhism is. All the monks I saw seemed really holy and all, but I can’t say I grok it.

            Similarly, I had a sort of ecumenical upbringing in the civil sense. Moving around as much as I did, I formed an understanding of myself as an American, but I didn’t identify much with any city or state, beyond thinking of Bennettsville as my hometown (even though most people there don’t know me).

            So… for me as a kid, God and Country were both these grand, guiding abstractions above and beyond any kind of parochial or geographic specificity. I was as much an American whether I was in Washington, D.C., or Ecuador. I was as much as believer wherever I might be as well. I respected other people’s specific traditions, which I expected to be different in different places — people celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans, bowing before their home shrines in Thailand, crossing themselves as they pass a church in Latin America.

            Which is why it’s really hard for me to understand people getting bent out of shape if, in school or elsewhere, there is a prayer recited that does not reflect their own faith or traditions. I see such experiences as educational, broadening.

            I’m not advocating prayer in public schools, by the way. But if we had them, I would not see them as harmful… I have too much of a laissez faire attitude toward such things…

            1. Brad Warthen

              Just realized I wrote three relatively long replies in a row on a seven-month-old post, thinking it was current. This happens when you have too many tabs going on your browser…

              Let’s do the time warp again!

      2. Barry

        Are you talking about the Salvation Army headquarters?
        Oliver Gospel Mission?
        Ronald McDonald House?
        Harvest Hope?
        Special Olympics?
        Boys and Girls Club location?

        Or do you prefer to single out church properties?

        1. clark surratt

          Good question, Barry. If you are referring to my posts here, then all these organizations would pay property tax. There would be no exemptions. This is simply a cost of doing business. If every single property was taxed at market value, overall tax level could be smaller, and residents and businesses would benefit. In that same regard, I would alter Ms. Fenner’s quote of Justice Marshall to say that “the power to exempt from taxes is the power to give great advantage” (my words, of course)

          1. Bryan Caskey


            Would you agree that each of the organizations listed above do good work that we (as a community) should encourage because the work benefits our community?

            1. Mark Stewart

              I may be wrong, but I don’t think most people who support taxing non-profits would want to tax them out of their service roles. All other user categories are taxed at different rates – for instance municipalities hammer utilities because they can just pass it along to their ratepayers, so its just a backdoor tax on businesses and residents that is less clearly seen by those groups. Retail, office and multi-family are also taxed at high rates to “subsidize” single-family voters.

              It would be good public policy to tax all exempt private landowners (this would include all higher education institutions). Taxing non-profits and churches, etc. probably should be at a rate less than that charged to single-family owner-occupied houses. It could even be way lower, but it should be something other than zero. For lots of reasons.

              1. Bob Amundson

                Local governments asking various non-profits (Universities, Churches, NPOs, NGOs) for Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs) is a big issue in many States. I haven’t heard of any movement in that direction in South Carolina.

              2. clark surratt

                Bryan, the organizations you mentioned are among the best and I’m sure that’s why you chose them for this discussion. They deserve all the support they can get. The big problem with me is at the margins. Where is the cutoff and how do e churches and tax-exempts get approved?. That is a IRS and/or county tax authority decision and there-in lies the issue. Suppose I form a wiccan coven and we buy a storefront in Columbia for my pagan worship each week. Do we get tax exempt for my “church? “

                1. Bryan Caskey

                  I didn’t pick them; I think Barry did. But that’s irrelevant. My point is that at every level of government we use the tax laws to encourage things we think we want more of, and conversely, we use our tax laws to try and discourage things we want less of.

                  For instance, we tax cigarettes and alcohol more than milk and bread, because we’re trying to limit drinking and smoking.
                  We give preferential tax treatment to retirement contributions because we we’re trying to encourage people to save for retirement.
                  We give preferential tax treatment to charitable giving because we want to encourage charitable giving.
                  We give preferential tax treatment to primary residences as opposed to second homes, because we want to encourage home ownership.

                  These are all just policy choices that we’ve made, and we’re using the tax code to try and tweak the basic playing field in favor of certain things and against other things. We’ve decided that these organizations are something we want to encourage via the tax code.

                  As to your hypothetical about forming a wiccan coven and seeking a tax break: Sure, if you meet the requirements under the tax laws, go for it. I have no problem with it. More power to you and your coven to perform witchcraft or start your own version of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, or do whatever it is that y’all do. Hopefully, you’ll do some charitable good like the other organizations, but I wouldn’t guess that’s a requirement.

              3. Kathryn Fenner

                I believe there are all sorts of decision methods for determining whether or not one is a religion. Wicca is a real religion, and even Scientology finally won that battle. The question for me is not so much covens or Reading Rooms, but mega-church amenities like gyms..

          2. Barry

            Then some of those charities won’t exist – or they won’t locate in places like cities- they will move far outside the cities – far away from people that need them the most

            but if that is your goal- then that’s fine with me. Those that do support churches and other organizations will have to try to do our best.

            Some people don’t like charitable organizations.

            1. Barry

              BTW – the large churches will be fine. They’ll pay their property taxes.

              The American Cancer Society- they’ll pay their taxes.

              The groups that will close- or move far outside the areas where they serve will be your smaller groups and churches- your Oliver Gospel Missions- your Salvation Armies. Those will be hurt badly- or have to close.

    2. Norm Ivey

      If we are talking about public schools in the Midlands, a teacher leading a prayer with students present has got to be an isolated incident instigated by an individual. Teachers have to participate in an annual training presentation on the separation of church and state. Such behavior by teachers is prohibited.

      The other side of this issue is often stated as something like Why can’t my kids pray or read their bible in school? They can pray anytime they want, and may read their bible when not engaged in instructional activities.

      1. Barry

        Correct- I pray every time I eat with my children at their public school- which is often.

        We don’t do it to make a statement- we do it because we pray before we eat. It’s never been an issue.

        My older son prays at school often. Again, not an issue.

  5. Harry Harris

    Gee, some of this is hard. Deciding on the role of religion in the public sphere in a nation whose constitution forbids establishment, therefore promotion by government of any or all religion isn’t a small proposition. School or other government-led or promoted religious activity is in my view an offense against both the religious and the non-religious. We just need to do the hard work of ensuring that religious belief may influence culture but not shape public policy without compelling non-religious grounding. Whose prayer shall be pronounced or promoted? It’s as offensive to many a Jehovah’s witness to pray to some nameless god (or God) as it is to a fundamentalist Christian to invoke Allah’s blessing. Let Christians pray for God’s guidance for all who make public policy, and let them do it as a part of public discourse, but I think it should never be initiated or promoted using public resources, office, or title.
    I’ve often heard religious people decry the “wall” not allowing teaching the Bible in some non-sectarian, literature-oriented course in high school. Can you imagine the uproar (and career threat) in Columbia if a teacher used the term “creation myth” or described the fable or allegory characteristics of parts of Genesis and Job or called Sampson’s exploits “legend.” Sometimes religion can best be involved in politics by effectively developing the character of its adherents, and politics can best serve religion by preserving its independence from government.
    I would also personally counsel politicians who use religious labels to gain votes or support for a position to be mindful of the command to not use the Lord’s name in vain. Using the moniker or implying His endorsement can very well involve invoking His name for a vain or selfish purpose. It’s not my place to judge their motives or theological validity – but it is an issue that is worth their own examination.

  6. Barry

    Mr. Jones is often wrong on a lot things – but it “feels” correct to him.

    I suspect Governor Haley lost little sleep over Mr. (I refuse to call him a reverend of any kind) Jones not feeling invited.

    I wouldn’t want him there either. So in this case, good for the Governor.

      1. Barry

        Not surprised.

        and I don’t agree with Mr. Jones.

        and I am sure the Governor pays him no attention anyway- so he is actually doing her a favor.

    1. Mark Stewart

      What’s with all the harshness? The UU’s may be a little different than most dogmatic religions but there isn’t any questioning that they are a spiritual, thoughtful organization.

      If you are of a mind to refuse to call a UU minister a reverend, then I would hope you would refrain from using that term to describe those who run charismatic mega churches for their own personal enrichment above all else. Come to think of it, there is no shortage of Christians who manipulate and deceive behind the veil of Jesus saves.

      1. Barry

        Not harsh at all. Only reality.

        I wouldn’t call a UU a rev

        and I wouldn’t call a prosperity gospel leader a rev either.

  7. clark surratt

    Bryan. You’ve given a good example of my point. School of Witchcraft might get a tax exemption, and I would be even more upset than the one First Baptist gets. I oppose all. Thanks for helping me expand Brad’s larger point here: there is not wall between church and state, even though I believe there should be. .

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Ok, so I guess I’m confused, then. Why are you opposed to the tax exemption?

      Surely, you wouldn’t argue that a property tax discount that applies equally to all religious organizations is the government’s establishment of a religion.

      1. clark surratt

        Maybe I”m being hard headed here, Bryan. Yes, I’m opposed to tax exemptions for all religions. What is a religion? What is a church? Suppose I open Gamecock Bar and Grill and say we meet here to worship the football gods? Tax exemption Why not? Who is your god? Who is my god? If my god is grapes, can I get a property tax exemption if my group meets under the arbor to worship?
        Property tax exemption of course, is not “establishment of religion.” It is subsidy of religion, whatever religion is. That’s my issue.

        1. Bryan Caskey

          (No, you’re not being hard-headed). I think I see what you’re getting at.

          Is your point that it’s difficult to determine religious sincerity when faced with a religious claim? And being that it’s difficult to say whether a religious belief is sincerely claimed or not, we (as the government) should be getting into the business of determining what are (and are not) sincere religious beliefs?

          1. clark surratt

            That pretty much sums it up, Bryan, and thanks for your patience. And Kathryn, yes, I am most taken about at millions of dollars in property tax exemptions for mega church cathedrals, halls, gyms etc.

            1. Barry

              if they meet the IRS definitions and rules- they are exempt.

              It’s really pretty simple.

              Sounds like you just want more people paying property taxes to local governments.

              1. clark surratt

                You are certainly correct, Barry. I want all property owners, especially churches, to share in payment of property taxes so that other tax-paying citizens do no subsidize religions.

        2. Kathryn Fenner

          Like I said, there are lots of standards for what constitutes a religion, and worshipping football, so far, does not meet those standards.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            So… all of those years that we in the newsroom referred to Williams-Brice as “the Grid Temple,” we were off-base?

            Dave Moniz, who I believe coined the term, misled us!

  8. Phillip

    Further research on The Response: It’s actually paid for by an organization called the American Renewal Project, led by its founder, David Lane, who has some pretty extreme views. They’ve actually already conducted a “Response” day in Louisiana in January. There’s nothing particularly spiritual about this “day of prayer”—it’s strictly an effort to mobilize a political “army” to borrow Mr. Lane’s term, and about clarifying “us” and “them.”

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      and we know Nikki Haley is all about clarifying “us” and “them”—and Neal Jones is sooooo “them”….

    1. Margaret Pridgen (Maggie)

      Thanks for these links, Phillip. You have provided the background to help us evaluate Gov. Haley’s credibility when she says on the video: “This is a time of faith … this is a time of prayer. This is a time to come together and not to do anything with government, not to do anything with politics, but go back to our core convictions.”

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