Professor Emeritus Charles W. Hendrick of Missouri State University has posted an opinion piece at the Springfield News-Leader in which he describes his views on the relationship of religion and government. Mr. Hendrick makes several errors in his opinion, the primary of which–the idea that U. S. Constitution explicitly provides for a policy of “separation of Church and State,” has been discussed at some length in the comments.
Of course, the First Amendment actually prohibits the Congress from favoring any specific religion, but the perennially-liberal Supreme Court has consistently legislated in favor of a policy which prohibits all contact between religion and government–particularly if that religion is Christianity. Mr. Hendrick cites the case of a circuit clerk in Springfield, MO who displayed a religious poster in his office. Mr. Hendrick takes great exception to this–despite the fact that the text of the First Amendment not only does not forbid the executive branch from engaging in religion, but that by calling the display of personal religious belief illegal, we would, in fact, have affected a law (the function of Congress) regarding the establishment of a specific religion.
Mr. Hendrick further goes on to state that posing religious emblems in a government office–or patriotic emblems in a religious setting–“confuses the loyalties” of religion and patriotism, leading to idea that “religious people are patriotic and patriotic people are religious,” and further, that “nothing is further from the truth.” In fact, most (although not all) people who are strongly religious are patriotic, and most people who are strongly patriotic are religious. In the case of state-established religions–which Mr. Hendrick himself references–patriotism and piety are completely identical. Attempting to buttress his argument for the difference between patriotism and piety, Mr. Hendrick further states, “There are times when the institutional church must protest particular governmental policies, like certain of the Hebrew prophets who pronounced destruction on their nation in God’s name.” You will note first the distinction between “protesting policy” and “calling for the destruction of (a) nation.” You will notice also that religious bodies protesting government policy is NOT unpatriotic, as provided by the actual text and intent of the First Amendment, without legislating anti-religious policy.
Next, Mr. Hendrick states that the Ten Commandments have been made into a “religious icon” by “some Christians,” but that it does not fit well with our “constitutionally (sic) pluralistic society.” Note that there is a difference between a religious icon and a legal code–the Crucifix is the accepted religious icon of all of Christianity, but nowhere are Christians lobbying for a return of crucifixion as a punishment for criminal behavior. Note also that we are a Constitutionally free society, not a Constitutionally plural society. If anything, reference to other symbols of the Founders indicate an opposition to pluralism–“E Pluribus Unum,” not “E Pluribus Plurum.”
Finally, Mr. Hendrick goes on to state that “The Christian dedication is clearly a sectarian sentiment, one that is not even shared by all Christians, either in the present or the past.” This sentence itself is nonsense. If it refers to a general sense of dedication to Christianity, then obviously anyone self-identifying as Christian shares it. If it refers to a specific dedication, then it would have to refer not to the Jewish Decalogue to which Mr. Hendrick’s previous paragraph was dedicated, but to the Nicene Creed, which is the official statement of faith of the Church. Note also that this more specific definition limits the population of Christianity–one may self-identify as Christian but in fact be a heretic.
In the final analysis, Mr. Hendrick displays not only an ignorance of religion deplorable for a man described as a “distinguished professor emeritus of religious studies,” he also displays the typical liberal disdain for the founding principles of our nation. His objection to religious reference in the U. S. government is both fallacious and completely foolish, given the existence of religious reference in various Oaths of Office , in the National Anthem, in the custom of opening Congressional sessions with prayer and in Federal icons down to the very currency of the state.