Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Indiana Pastors Alliance Open Letter in Support of RFRA: My Response

By now, I’m sure that most of you have seen the open letter from the Indiana Pastors Alliance to Gov. Pence and the Indiana General Assembly that was published in The Indianapolis Star late last month. I’m still working on my (lengthy) deep dive into the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the so-called “fix”, but in the meantime, I wanted to address some of the statements and claims in that open letter. Taking the time to write this post has given me a bit of a needed breather while I work on that post.

A few preliminary points: First, this is not the first time that The Indianapolis Star has given Pastor Ron Johnson (the author of the letter) a prominent spot in the paper to espouse his intolerant views. In January 2014, as debate raged about amending the Indiana Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage, Pastor Johnson was featured in a front page article. I examined the views that he expressed in that article (and in an accompanying video) in my January 21, 2014 post “A Closer Examination of The Indianapolis Star’s ‘Gay Marriage Ban: The Case Against’”.

Second, this was the first time that I’ve heard of the Indiana Pastors Alliance (IPA). As you’ll see, in the letter, Pastor Johnson claims that the IPA represents “millions of Christians”. I was curious to know which churches and denominations were members of the IPA. So I Googled and found the home page of the Indiana Pastors Alliance. Based on the archive of posts, it appears that the group only came into existence in February 2015. However, a Facebook page for the group appears to have been created back in 2012. Oddly, though, for a group that claims to represent “millions” and which has had a Facebook page for 3 years or so, they have a paltry 470 likes (as of yesterday). Hmm. By comparison, the Facebook page for the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council, which claims to represent tens of thousands (rather than millions) of Hoosiers has 422 likes. Oh, well. (And I can’t help but mention that on May 5, 2014, the IPA Facebook page posted a video with a “powerful, prophetic word for America” featuring a so-called Messianic Jewish Rabbi; in other words, a Jew who has rejected Judaism in favor of Christianity.)

More importantly, the website for the IPA claims that “The Indiana Pastor’s Alliance is a network of clergy, churches and Christian organizations who have come together to advance and defend the cause of faith, family and freedom throughout our great State.” However, nowhere on the website is there any mention of who any of these clergy, churches, or Christian organizations are. In fact, there is no identifying information of any sort other than Pastor Johnson. IPA’s “About” page says more about Pastor Johnson than about the group itself. And color me surprised when I noticed that every single post on the the IPA’s website was written by Pastor Johnson. Look, I don’t know if IPA is just Pastor Johnson or if there are thousands of other clergy, churches, and organizations who actually are members. But before news organizations simply accept the claim that the Indiana Pastors Alliance does, indeed, represent “millions of Christians” and gives Pastor Johnson attention and an opportunity to express his views, it would be nice to see a little, you know, journalism. Yeah, probably asking too much…

Oh, and two more things that I found interesting when I looked at the IPA website. First, they talk about their supporters and co-sponsors (I’ve added links for the referenced groups):

Events and programs of the Indiana Pastors Alliance are often co-sponsored or supported by the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and the Alliance Defense Fund.

(Interestingly, the Alliance Defense Fund changed its name to the Alliance Defending Freedom way back in 2012, yet the IPA doesn’t seem to have noticed…) And then in its mission statement, the IPA strikes what can only be described as a militant posture (emphasis added):

We are convinced that pastors are the key to seeing a revolution of righteousness take place across America. The fuel for the fires of the first American Revolution came from biblically saturated pastors who stood boldly in their pulpits and courageously proclaimed God’s principles for liberty. They willingly took their posts as “watchmen on the wall” and became prophetic voices of both encouragement and warning. As a result of their firm, passionate leadership, the people turned to their pastors and clergy for moral strength, guidance, and direction.

We believe the time is NOW to form an alliance of like-minded pastors and clergy who are committed to seeing spiritual awakening in our State and our Nation. The Old Testament nation of Israel provides a great model for our alliance. While there were twelve tribes, each with their own unique tribal distinctions, they came together for two purposes: to worship & to war. Yearly celebrations were established for the purpose of prayer and worship. And when their adversaries attacked, each of the tribes came together under one banner with one strategy to defeat the enemy.

This is our vision for the Indiana Pastors Alliance. What would the Lord do if we came together at strategic times for encouragement, equipping and prayer? What could happen if we took the time to build relationships with other Christian leaders who were praying and working together for spiritual awakening? What if we had a unified strategy and a single voice when confronting issues like the attack on traditional marriage, hate crime legislation, pornography, rampant sexual permissiveness, the undermining of a biblical worldview in our public schools, abortion, the attack on religious liberty and speech and a host of other evils that seek to destroy the core teachings of our Christian faith?

So, with that background in mind (and I’m not going to spend any time dissecting it…), let’s see what Pastor Johnson has to say on behalf of the “millions of Christians” that he claims to represent.The original letter is presented indented and in green with my commentary un-indented and in black.

Dear Governor Pence and the State Legislature of Indiana:

Not exactly a great start given that the “State Legislature of Indiana” is actually called the “Indiana General Assembly”. Ah, but why quibble.

We are writing on behalf of the Indiana Pastors Alliance and the millions of Christians we represent across this state who feel deeply betrayed by your leadership. As pastors, we recognize the recent legislative debacle surrounding the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is not the sole responsibility of any one individual. We recognize that when political activity occurs there can be a variety of culprits and innocents in what has turned out to be one of the worst legislative decisions in recent history. That being the case, it does not absolve your actions nor does it remove your responsibility in the final legislative outcome.

Again, I’d really like to know who the “we” really is or how Pastor Johnson calculates that they represent “millions of Christians”. It’s worth noting that Indiana’s population is only about 6.5 million. So, if the IPA represents “millions” (i.e., at least 2 million), then they claim to represent no less than one-third of the population of the State. Sorry, but color me at least a bit skeptical.

Pastor Johnson and the IPA claim that they feel “betrayed” by Gov. Pence’s “leadership”. My question here is just what “leadership” they are referring to? I’m not sure that I’ve really seen Gov. Pence do much leading. But that’s a discussion for another day, I suppose…

I’d like to think that when Pastor Johnson refers to the “legislative debacle surrounding” RFRA he meant the backlash against the law; alas, as we’ll soon see, I think that the word “debacle” in his mind was the decision to craft and pass a “fix” for the law. Similarly, when he refers to “one of the worst legislative decisions in recent history,” I don’t think he means passage of RFRA in the first place, but rather the decision to “fix” it. But his choice of the words “culprits and innocents” is … well … interesting. Apparently, as I think we’ll see, those who opposed RFRA or sought to “fix” it are the culprits in this act while those who did nothing more than seek government sanction to discriminate against people are the “innocents”. Noted.

We are acquainted with, and tired of, the increasingly used excuses that compare the ugliness of legislation with “sausage-making”. We are aware of the “back-room deals” that make finding culpability nearly impossible as blame is shifted from person to person or simply allowed to taint the whole legislature. But one thing remains clear, this “fixed” RFRA legislation has opened the door to a trampling of our liberties, and we are deeply concerned. We longed to see our leaders demonstrate moral courage in protecting the religious liberty of all Hoosiers and they capitulated, despite all well-crafted protestations to the contrary. There are few ways this could be interpreted besides betrayal. We are grieved more than you could possibly know.

So next Pastor Johnson launches into what can only really be seen as an attack on the basic functioning of the democratic legislative process. You see, the phrase “sausage-making” as used to describe the legislative process usually refers to the need to find consensus via compromise. Not everyone gets what they want but legislators work together to craft something that has sufficient support for passage (at least that’s how it is supposed to work; but in a legislature where one side has supermajorities in both houses, the sausage-making analogy may be a bit thin).

And then Pastor Johnson finally gets to the meat of his argument: the “fixed” RFRA “has opened the door to a trampling of our liberties”. Really? Let’s remember just what that “fix” really entailed (and I’ll dive into this in much greater detail in my expansive RFRA post):

This chapter does not:

(1) authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service;

(2) establish a defense to a civil action or criminal prosecution for refusal by a provider to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service; or

(3) negate any rights available under the Constitution of the State of Indiana.

That’s it. That’s the so-called “fix” that Pastor Johnson claims will trample liberties. It’s worth noting that the definition of “provider” that was also a part of the “fix” specifically excludes churches, nonprofit religious organizations (including schools), and clergy. So just how does the “fix” open the door to a trampling of liberties? The only way to make sense of this argument is to recognize that what Pastor Johnson and others like him are saying is that, in their view, liberty is trampled if discrimination is prohibited. But note that the “fix” only means that you can’t use RFRA to discriminate; however, because sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t protected classes in most of Indiana, people remain free — or have the “liberty” — to discriminate against others on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity throughout most of the State.

And ask yourself this: Who, other than members of the LGBT community do Pastor Johnson and his flock want to discriminate against? Or are we to believe that religious liberty is only about “the gays”?

Pastor Johnson has the gall (I was going to say chutzpah, but … no) to claim that legislators failed to “demonstrate moral courage in protecting the religious liberty of all Hoosiers”. Um, wow. Really? You see, Pastor Johnson, some of us would argue that true moral courage comes not from capitulating to the will of the majority and its fear-mongering, but rather in standing up for the unpopular, mistreated, aggrieved minority. It’s easy to say, “my constituents don’t like gays, so I’m going to vote to allow them to discriminate against gays”; it’s much, much harder to say, “even though my constituents don’t like gays, I’m going to support gay rights because protecting the minority is a core principal of our democracy.” But I suspect that Pastor Johnson is less than enamored with democracy and the democratic process and would prefer a theocratic system (so long as people with the “right” beliefs are in charge). What? You think that’s an overstatement? Keep reading.

And I’m sorry, but I don’t care how often you repeat it, I simply do not accept the claim that being allowed to discriminate is a principle of religious liberty. The right to own slaves wasn’t a religious liberty; the right to turn people away because of skin color isn’t a religious liberty; and the right to treat members of the LGBT community in a discriminatory manner isn’t a religious liberty.

Governor Pence, we are hurt and disappointed. As the Chief Executive of the state of Indiana, you were the “face” of this RFRA legislation and someone we trusted as a friend and defender of religious liberty. Your desk was the final stop for the bill that purportedly “fixed” this piece of legislation. You received godly counsel from strong and knowledgeable leaders from across our nation who encouraged you to stand strong and to veto this legislation. You failed. In doing so, you betrayed the trust of millions of Hoosiers who elected you to protect the liberties we hold dear.

Poor Pastor Johnson is “hurt”. Aw. Don’t you feel sorry for him? I mean now he’s going to have to … um … er … well, he’s not going to have to do anything. But businesses owned by his flock, in some parts of Indiana, won’t be able to turn away gays. Now, compare that “hurt” to the feelings of those in the LGBT community who can be turned away from a business, who can be denied housing, who can be fired or denied employment, just because they are gay. So, Pastor Johnson, please take that “hurt” of yours and … well … I’ll try to keep this more civil than that. But it makes you wonder if Pastor Johnson has ever taken the time to really learn about the issues and concerns facing the LGBT community or if he would just prefer to denigrate them from afar.

Now Pastor Johnson is certainly correct in noting that Gov. Pence became of the “face” of RFRA. You probably saw Gov. Pence’s face on TV making a fool of himself as he tried to explain the law with half-truths and platitudes (or worse). As a result of the “face” of the legislation, Indiana is now spending millions to try to clean up and resuscitate the State’s public relations.

I note that Pastor Johnson focuses on the “godly counsel” that Gov. Pence received. I’m curious to know whether Pastor Johnson would argue that the counsel from religious leaders who hold a different view (say, for example, most Jewish clergy, or clergy for the Disciples of Christ) was somehow “ungodly”? And I note that Pastor Johnson sort of glosses by citing the precise chapter and verses in The New Testament when Jesus says, “thou shalt not provide flowers to a gay wedding” or “gays are damned and must therefore be denied pizza”. Maybe it’s in one of those little-noticed footnotes?

Pastor Johnson is also angry that Gov. Pence “betrayed the trust of millions of Hoosiers”. Hmm. I wonder whether it crossed Pastor Johnson’s mind that Gov. Pence upheld the trust of people who think that the role of a governor is to protect all of his or her citizens and not sign legislation that harms one group for the benefit of another. Oh, and let’s not forget that Gov. Pence did not receive a majority in the 2012 election. He just got more than the other candidates did. But the presumption that all but a loud few hold beliefs similar to Pastor Johnson is hard to shake … at least by those holding those beliefs.

Representative Bosma and Senator Long, it is clear that your actions were the driving force behind this cowardly capitulation. During your press conference, you continued to repeat a narrative that is both deceptive and dangerous. You state that you are committed to an Indiana where religious rights and individual rights coexist in harmony. While this sounds wonderful, we all know that the demands of the LGBT lobby make this untenable with those who profess faith in Christ and faithfulness to the Scriptures. It was clear from the press conference that the next “discussion” will involve the creation of sexual orientation and gender identity as a special protected class in Indiana. Leadership from the gay community told all who were listening that this will become a reality in Indiana.

I’ve met both Sen. Long and Speaker Bosma. We don’t always agree, but I think that we have very cordial relationships. Somehow, I doubt either of them will take particularly kindly to being called “cowardly”. And from what I’ve learned about politics, attacking legislators on your side of the aisle with attacks like this is not the proverbial way to make friends.

The language that you really need to focus on, though, is what Pastor Johnson says next (emphasis added):

[Y]ou continued to repeat a narrative that is both deceptive and dangerous. You state that you are committed to an Indiana where religious rights and individual rights coexist in harmony. While this sounds wonderful, we all know that the demands of the LGBT lobby make this untenable with those who profess faith in Christ and faithfulness to the Scriptures.

Wow. Just … wow. I want to talk about this some more, but in order to do so, it’s worth noting how Pastor Johnson begins his very next paragraph, especially when read in light of the emphasized material I’ve just quoted: “As Christians, we have no problem demonstrating tolerance for others.” Compare that with the statement that the “demands” of the “LGBT lobby” make coexistence between individual and religious rights “untenable”. (Oh, and ask yourself what the difference is between “religious rights” and “individual rights”. Do religions themselves have rights separate from or different than the individuals who express belief in or consider themselves members of those religions? Does Christianity have rights in addition to or different than the rights afforded to Christians?)

Think about what Pastor Johnson is really saying here. In his myopic worldview, Christian religious liberty cannot live in harmony with equal rights for gays. Either the Christian view of the world “wins” and gays remain an unprotected minority class or equality expands but at the expense of “those who profess faith in Christ and faithfulness to the Scriptures”. There is, apparently, no middle ground, no possibility for compromise. Either Christianity wins or the LGBT lobby wins; a zero sum game with no possibility of cooperation or compromise.

And I know that I’m beating the proverbial dead horse, but why is it that Pastor Johnson’s understanding of Scripture is correct while others are, by definition, wrong? Why does Pastor Johnson get to choose which passages from Scripture must be followed and which can be ignored? I haven’t seen Pastor Johnson or his flock protesting Colts games (pigskin), Red Lobster, cheeseburgers, or cotton-polyester blends. I haven’t seen him advocating that gays to be stoned (hey, if he’s going to follow Scripture that says homosexuality is bad, then shouldn’t he follow the whole pronouncement and also call for gay men to be put to death?). And I’d be curious to know if his children have ever talked back to him and, if they have, whether he stoned them. You know, like the Bible commands.

I also find it interesting to note that Pastor Johnson points to the leadership of the LGBT community who claim that they will seek to make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes. First, so? Is that bad? (I think that part of the problem here is the oft-repeated notion that protected classes are granted more rights; that isn’t the case at all. Instead, a protected class is simply a status that cannot be used for the basis of discrimination. And protected class covers the spectrum; thus, the protected class of race protects blacks and whites; the protected class of religion protects Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and the protected class of sexual orientation would protect homosexuals and heterosexuals.) More importantly, I find it interesting that we are supposed to take seriously what the LGBT community says it wants to do, but we were supposed to ignore the claims of RFRA supporters that the bill would indeed allow for discrimination.

As Christians, we have no problem demonstrating tolerance for others. Tolerance exists and is valued because of our Christian values, not in spite of them. But the LGBT community is anything but tolerant. They are not content to practice tolerance, demanding instead that people of faith celebrate a lifestyle which is expressly forbidden by God in the Scriptures. When Christian business owners refuse to participate in homosexual weddings, something most Christians consider to be a mockery of the sacred institution of marriage, they are not extended tolerance. To the contrary, they are vilified, threatened, attacked, and fined into submission by a sympathetic state that has foolishly exchanged our God-given, First Amendment rights for sexual license.

Read that first statement again: “As Christians, we have no problem demonstrating tolerance for others.” Ok. Done laughing yet? Look, I don’t mean to suggest that all Christians are intolerant; far from it. But the whole point of Pastor Johnson’s diatribe is that he and those like him demand that they be protected when they choose to be intolerant. He points to his Christian values but he doesn’t quite seem to connect the dots and show how he has been tolerant at all. Sorry, but saying, “Gee, I’ll let you live, but I need the right to discriminate against you, to retain the ability to fire you or refuse to give you housing, and to prohibit you from marrying the one you love, and you better not even think of asking to be treated fairly” doesn’t really sound very tolerant or Christian.

Then Pastor Johnson goes on, trying to justify his intolerance and bigotry. When has the LGBT community “demanded” that “people of faith celebrate a lifestyle … expressly forbidden by God”? First, I’ll note that the Biblical commandments say nothing about female homosexual relationships, just male. So I supposed that Pastor Johnson draws a line between homosexual male weddings and lesbian weddings? Moreover, as I’ve just mentioned, there are all sorts of Biblical commandments and prohibitions (nice haircut, Pastor Johnson!) that we don’t enshrine into law. Take for example that whole “no other gods” prohibition. That doesn’t seem to square very well with the First Amendment, yet we certainly “celebrate” the religious freedoms offered by the First Amendment, don’t we. Does Pastor Johnson believe that Christian businesses should also be able to refuse to provide flowers, photographs, or cake for a Jewish wedding or for the wedding of someone who was previously divorced or who has a child out of wedlock? Does Pastor Johnson believe that Christian businesses should also be able to refuse to provide flowers, photographs, or cake for an interracial wedding? Let’s not forget that religion and “Biblical” teaching was one of the reasons that interracial weddings were prohibited in many states:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

Judge Leon Bazile in Caroline County Court, 1958. Does Pastor Johnson believe that Christian businesses should have the right to refuse to participate only in same-sex marriages or does that right to refuse extend to any marriage or other activity with which the Christian business disagrees? If the former, why? Why does Pastor Johnson draw his line at same-sex marriages while “permitting” participation in other, probably more egregious “anti-Biblical” behavior? If the latter, does he understand what this would mean for our society? In Pastor Johnson’s world, we’d likely have a society segregated on religious belief; businesses for Christians and businesses for Muslims; businesses for straight people and businesses for gays; businesses for religious believers and businesses for atheists. Does that sound like what America is supposed to be like?

Furthermore, there is a huge difference between “celebrating” or “participating” in something and “entering into a business transaction” related to that something. When someone participates, you don’t pay them. The exchange of money distinguishes participation from a business transaction. A celebration is a happy event that someone chooses to be a part of. A business arrangement is not a celebration for the person paid to provide a service. But follow Pastor Johnson’s line of argument to its logical conclusion: Wouldn’t baking a cake for the birthday party of a three year old born out of wedlock be participating in a celebration of single parenthood and promiscuity? Wouldn’t attending the wedding of a previously divorced person be a celebration of the right to divorce? Wouldn’t paying a salary to someone who uses that salary to pay for an abortion be tantamount to participating in that abortion?

Next, Pastor Johnson offers one of the most Orwellian talking points to come from the anti-LGBT community: Christians who exercise their religious beliefs are “vilified, threatened, attacked, and fined into submission” by those who have “foolishly” allowed “sexual license”. Pastor Johnson wants us to feel bad for the poor, mistreated Christian business that is just trying to operate according to religious doctrine and who suffers at the hands of the militant State that has given … gasp … First Amendment rights to those who believe differently. But here’s the thing. That Christian business isn’t just keeping to itself; nope. It is open for business to everyone except those that it disfavors. More importantly, in exercising those religious beliefs it is both demonizing and harming others.

Pastor Johnson bemoans those businesses that have suffered because of their refusal to participate in same-sex marriages. But he omits one important little detail: In the cases in which a business has been fined for refusing to participate in a same-sex marriage, the fine comes as a result of the violation of a law or ordinance that treats sexual orientation or gender identity in the same way that race, national origin, gender, disability, and religion are treated for purposes of non-discrimination. Does Pastor Johnson believe that a Christian business should be free to discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, disability, gender, or religion? Does he believe that a Christian business should be able to refuse to provide services for a Muslim, Jew, Catholic, or Christian who belongs to a non-evangelical church?

Or, let’s frame it as it really is: Pastor Johnson is angry that tolerance is not shown to those who expressly choose to be intolerant. Resorting to the rule of law to punish illegal conduct is intolerant when the illegal conduct is a form of intolerance. Or am I missing something?

Pastor Johnson also tells us that “most Christians consider” same-sex marriage “to be a mockery of the sacred institution of marriage”. Really? I note that Pastor Johnson provides no evidence for this claim. Perhaps Pastor Johnson should have reviewed Changing Attitudes on Gay Marriage published by Pew Research Center in September 2014:

image

Note that according to that poll, both White mainline Protestants and Catholics favor same-sex marriage. Black Protestants don’t support, but the margin is relatively close. Only White evangelical Protestants, you know, like Pastor Johnson, are overwhelmingly opposed to same-sex marriage. Thus, I’d have to call “bullshit!” on his claim that “most Christians consider” same-sex marriage “to be a mockery of the sacred institution of marriage”.

Oh, and just what exactly is this so-called “sacred institution of marriage” of which Pastor Johnson speaks? Was Britney Spears’ 55-hour marriage part of that sacred institution? Does that make a mockery of the institution? If not, why not? If so, why isn’t Pastor Johnson seeking to be sure that Indiana doesn’t recognize that sort of marriage performed in another state? Why is it only same-sex marriages that make a mockery of the institution? And I know that I’ve shared this video explanation of “traditional marriage” before, but it’s still relevant (and hysterical):

A quick query for Pastor Johnson and his flock: Can you point me to the provision in either the Bible or the Constitution where G-d gave us First Amendment rights? I don’t seem to recall that in the Bible (lots of smiting of those who worshipped other gods and lots of stoning for those who spoke unflatteringly of G-d, but free speech, freedom of religion, freedom from state-sponsored religion, freedom of the press, and freedom to assemble seem to be prominent themes in the Bible). And last time I read the Constitution, neither the words “God” nor “Jesus” were mentioned. Maybe Pastor Johnson is reading a different Constitution and a different First Amendment because the Constitution that I’m familiar with takes a neutral stand toward any particular religion and protects minorities from the so-called tyranny of the majority.

As to the whole complaint about sexual license, perhaps Pastor Johnson should familiarize himself with parts of the Bible that don’t necessarily support his view. Maybe he should read, with a slightly more open mind, the Song of Solomon, part of which seems to specifically permit or even encourage both oral and anal sex.

He shall lie all night between my breasts… His left hand under my head, and his right doth embrace me… Thy young breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies… Come, blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out… My beloved put his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him. Thy stature is like a palm tree, and thy breasts are clusters of grapes. I will go up the palm tree, and grasp the boughs. I am a wall, and my breasts are as towers.

And if you really want to talk about sexual license, we should look at Genesis 19:30-36 in which Lot’s daughters get him drunk, have sex with him (several times), and get pregnant, all without penalty or criticism. But gay sex? Gasp! Sexual license!

OK. OK. Moving on…

We need to be abundantly clear. The coming together of religious liberty and sexual license is not a peaceful coexistence, but a violent collision. For the Christian, God is the ultimate authority. This is why our forefathers acknowledged that the consciences of men were outside of the authority of human governments. God’s Word is very clear about the proper expression of human sexuality, and homosexuality is one of a variety of sexual behaviors God expressly condemns. For Christians, therefore, sexual sins can never be treated as civil rights. God’s view on marriage is equally clear. These beliefs are non-negotiable for Christians. So how can those with diametrically opposed worldviews live in the political utopia you have foolishly portrayed?

Wait, what? religious liberty and sexual license (whatever that means) can’t share peaceful coexistence and must, instead, face a “violent collision”? Think about that statement for a moment. To Pastor Johnson, what you do in your bedroom, if it’s anything other than plain vanilla sex with your (opposite sex) spouse for the purpose of procreation, cannot exist peacefully with the notion of religious liberty. The fact that you and your partner (whoever he or she may be) might be unmarried, might have sex for pleasure rather than procreation, or might enjoy a little kink or two apparently threatens the religious liberty of Pastor Johnson and his flock. Um, how? You see, here we really get back to what is at the core of so much of this: The notion that sex is bad, evil, of the devil, and so forth, unless the purpose is to make a baby (a good Christian baby, no doubt…). But you know what, Pastor Johnson? Not all of us agree. Suggesting that “sexual license” must be in violent collision with religious liberty is a bit like saying that your religious liberty is threatened because I don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus or that my religious liberty is threatened because you had a ham & cheese sandwich last night (double blasphemy!).

I understand Pastor Johnson’s assertion that to Christians, “God is the ultimate authority.” That’s fine. I presume that he will agree that to Muslims, “Allah is the ultimate authority” and that to Jews, “G-d is the ultimate authority”. But would he also agree that the prohibitions and obligations expressed by that “ultimate authority” differ depending on which version of “ultimate authority” you subscribe to? I wonder why Pastor Johnson is so cavalier in violating those dictates handed down by prophets of all those gods that he chooses not to follow and why he thinks it’s his role — his right — to demand that those who follow a different “ultimate authority” accept and respect his views?

Does God expressly condemn homosexuality? Yep. Male homosexuality. Lesbians get off easy (no pun intended; well, maybe just a little…). But so what? God expressly condemns lots of things and we don’t hear Pastor Johnson complaining about those things do we? And God expressly demands certain things, too. But I don’t see Pastor Johnson expressing a lot of anger at the fact that we are a State that tolerates a population in poverty without sufficient food or shelter. You tell me: Which did Jesus care more about? It’s also interesting to note that while Pastor Johnson wants to follow God’s dictates that homosexuality is condemned, he doesn’t seem to also feel obligated to enforce the penalty that God specifically sets forth for (male) homosexual sex: Death. Wait a minute. I thought God was the ultimate authority. If God decrees death for gay sex, then why isn’t Pastor Johnson demanding the death penalty for those caught engaging in gay sex? Who is he to not follow God’s demands?!

On the basis of all of this, Pastor Johnson then argues that “sexual sins can never be treated as civil rights”. Ok. Two questions: First, perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t see a whole lot of civil rights in the Bible (Old Testament or New). There are kings. There is slavery. There is smiting. But I’m not sure that the Bible talks much about the rights that people have. So why does Pastor Johnson limit his claim to “sexual sins”? Why do I have the right to worship any god I want (or not to worship any god at all) when G-d told me not to? It would seem to me that Pastor Johnson should be much more upset at the prospect of some people having the civil right to reject his form of religious belief or to worship Odin or Satan (or not to believe in the existence of any deity). Or maybe he doesn’t really care about God’s prohibitions at all; maybe he just finds gay sex to be icky.

As to the claim that “God’s view on marriage is equally clear” I’d first suggest watching the video I posted above (click the link if the video isn’t embedding properly). Then I’d query whether God’s view on marriage as expressed either to Mormons or to Muslims is somehow less clear (you know, the view that permits polygamy…)? I presume that Pastor Johnson will be on the front lines demanding that the Indiana General Assembly permit polygamy if a person’s religious belief permits or demands? Right?

I understand the concept that beliefs are non-negotiable. Fine. Pastor Johnson can continue to believe that people don’t have a right to worship other gods (and that doing so should be punishable by death), that women must be subservient to their husbands, that the Iraqis and Afghans that we defeated in battle should now be our slaves, that the Sun orbits around the Earth, that the Earth is 6,000 years old and evolution is a lie. Fine. But it seems odd, doesn’t it, that these non-negotiable beliefs aren’t universally followed or acted upon by every Christian and that even a good Christian like Pastor Johnson doesn’t follow every single commandment set forth by God (nice haircut!). In other words, God’s commandments are non-negotiable except when inconvenient. I mean, I understand why Christians eat bacon; it is delicious, even if G-d says it’s a no no.

Pastor Johnson rhetorically asks “how can those with diametrically opposed worldviews live in the political utopia you have foolishly portrayed?” Yeah, how can Jews and Christians live together? How can Atheists and Christians live together? How can the rich and poor, Republicans and Democrats, Yankee fans and Red Sox fans live together? Dammit, it’s time to start stoning those with worldviews diametrically opposed to our own. Um, what? Let’s remember the point of the American experiment and American democracy: To provide a haven for those with different worldviews and religious and political philosophies where ideas could be freely expressed and minority beliefs would be respected. Maybe somebody needs to send a memo to Pastor Johnson because he seems to be under the misapprehension that only one worldview (surprise: his!) can be protected or respected in these here Theocratic States of ’Merica!

But it is nice to know that evangelical pastors like Pastor Johnson believe that their worldview is diametrically opposed to a worldview that favors equality.

You speak of a state where discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated, yet you and the other legislators invest your lives in passing laws. Each law makes a discrimination. Laws tell us the right or legal way to behave and what is the wrong way to proceed. Every law is a reflection of someone’s morality. So it’s clear we all make discriminations. Concerning sexual behavior, most Hoosiers would agree that it is wrong to allow a sexual offender to run a daycare facility. We all draw moral lines of distinction somewhere. So living in a state that “does not tolerate discrimination of any kind” is yet another false, misleading narrative. We’d have to shut down our statehouse and our courts if we really believed that.

Let me see if I get this right. Pastor Johnson argues that because we have laws, the claim that Indiana does not tolerate discrimination is, by definition, “yet another false, misleading narrative”. Perhaps, in some sort of formal linguistics, hyper-technical understanding of those words, he just might be right. But really? Is that what he thinks we mean? Is that what he thinks anyone means? In reality, Pastor Johnson’s motivations and concerns are revealed by the example that he chooses. Do you think it’s mere coincidence that he uses the example of a sexual offender and children? Of course not. Because in the narrow worldview shared by Pastor Johnson and his flock, all gays are pedophiles who seek nothing more than to indoctrinate children into the homosexual lifestyle.

What Pastor Johnson seems not to understand (or wants to ignore) is that most (though not all) of the laws that he rails against as being discriminatory are designed to protect people who would be harmed by conduct. We prohibit the sexual offender from working in the daycare facility in order to protect the children. We prohibit certain people from driving cars, flying airplanes, or owning guns, in order to protect the public. We prohibit certain pesticides, drugs, and food ingredients in order to protect people from their effects. <Sarcasm> Perhaps we should limit who can be a pastor in order to protect people from the views that Pastor Johnson is keen to express? </sarcasm> Similarly, we have laws prohibiting discrimination to protect those who would be discriminated against.

And yes, laws are a reflection of morality, but not just “someone’s morality” and certainly not the morality of just a particular religious viewpoint, let alone a narrow view of a subset of that religion. Laws are enacted by popularly elected legislators and signed into law by popularly elected executives. Thus, I’d suggest that those laws reflect society’s morality, which is subject to change over time unlike many religious moralities which remain fixed in ancient texts. (And query whether we should really feel compelled to follow morality set forth in an age when the world was a far more different, far more brutal place in which the lessons of science had not yet taken hold.) Moreover, society’s morality is still subject to limitation on the basis of the constitutional protections afforded to minorities and minority views.

Your press conference to “fix” a piece of legislation which required no fix made it abundantly clear that you have sold out the religious liberties of Christians to momentarily quell the cries of special interest groups and alleviate the financial fears of big business. Conspicuously absent from the discussion were spiritual leaders from the Christian community. We will no longer sit passively and allow cowardly political leadership to remove religious liberties from the marketplace. If we do, it’s only a matter of time before these same liberties are removed from the Church. We are here to remind our leaders that our liberties come from God, not the state. When you fail to honor God, when you attempt to turn moral wrongs into civil rights, you forfeit your God-delegated privilege to rule and must be stridently resisted.

Boy, there’s a lot to unpack in that first sentence (before moving on to the threats and batshit crazy claims that follow). OK. So, no “fix” was necessary. Well, I think that we’ve established that Pastor Johnson indeed wanted businesses owned by his flock to be able to discriminate against gays (and others, perhaps?). But apparently signing legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is … um, wait. The RFRA “fix” doesn’t actually prohibit discrimination at all. Nope. All it does is say that RFRA can’t be used as the basis for discrimination. But in the large swaths of Indiana where there are no protections afforded on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, Pastor Johnson’s flock are free to discriminate against the LGBT community to their bigoted hearts’ content. Furthermore, the only “religious liberty” implicated by the “fix” is the right to discriminate on the basis of religion. That’s it. So now we see, quite clearly, that the religious liberty that Pastor Johnson truly seeks is the liberty to be intolerant and to turn away those he views with disfavor. That’s it. How Christian of him.

Pastor Johnson also complains of alleviating the “financial fears of big business”. First, I’d suggest that the opposition to RFRA was from businesses both large and small. But, as in politics in general, the opinions of those with the loudest voices (and, in the case of businesses, “loud” usually means willing to spend money) are heard most. But it was the small business who were putting up stickers saying “we don’t discriminate”. It was convention organizers saying “we won’t come to Indiana”. It was the current Republican Mayor of Indianapolis, together with the previous Democratic Mayor of Indianapolis and the three Republican Mayors of Indianapolis who preceded them, who were saying “no”. Similarly, mayors elsewhere across the State, both Republican and Democrat, spoke out against RFRA. And though I’m sure Pastor Johnson is loathe to admit it, there were other church groups who were speaking out against RFRA (such as the Disciples of Christ who canceled their convention in Indianapolis because of RFRA). But I guess those groups probably don’t count in Pastor Johnson’s worldview.

Pastor Johnson also rails against the “conspicuous absence” of Christian leaders from the discussion regarding the so-called “fix”. Hmm. It seems to me that all sorts of religious leaders were involved in that discussion, whether directly or indirectly. If nothing else, the airwaves and newspapers were full of people, including religious leaders, expressing their thoughts. And I’m sure that religious leaders made ample use of the telephone and email to contact their legislators. I think that Pastor Johnson has confused the meaning of “conspicuously absent” with “didn’t prevail”. Of course it’s also worth remembering that religious voices opposed to RFRA weren’t listened to prior to its passage; Pastor Johnson was included in the group of religious leaders who were invited to attend the Gov. Pence’s private signing ceremony for RFRA. Conspicuously absent from that event were the myriad religious leaders who opposed RFRA.

Does Pastor Johnson really then claim that he and his flock have been “sit[ting] passively”? Really? It seems to me that the evangelical Christian voice has been quite loud and quite involved in politics and the electoral system in recent years. After all, who was it that was pushing RFRA in the first place? Who was it that wanted a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage? Who was it that didn’t want “childcare ministries” to have to meet certain health standards? I could go on and on. No, I’d say that the evangelical community has been dominating our politics for a while and they are having a temper tantrum as they watch their influence begin to be challenged and perhaps, even, begin to wane.

Then, once again, just in case he hasn’t been clear so far, Pastor Johnson again makes it clear that his intent for RFRA was for Christian businesses to be allowed to discriminate against those who might be disfavored (the LGBT community, in particular) when he talks about removing religious liberties from the marketplace. What religious liberties have been removed from the marketplace (or are even being contemplated being removed from the marketplace)? Are businesses now prohibited by law from putting a cross on their window or wall? Are businesses prohibited by law from saying “have a blessed day” or “Merry Christmas”? Are businesses prohibited by law from closing for religious holidays or Sunday? Are businesses prohibited by law from selling the New Testament or the Left Behind series? Are businesses prohibited by law from selling books saying that Christianity is right and that other religions are frauds or a form of blasphemy? Obviously not. No, the only thing that is being contemplated is telling all businesses that are open to the public that they have to serve everyone and cannot discriminate on the basis of their religious beliefs. Or, said differently, that all businesses that are open to the public must follow generally applicable laws. Exceptions for individuals to exercise their own religious practices are one thing; exceptions to allow a business to exclude people because their religious dictates followed by the owners of the business is something else entirely.

Don’t forget that G-d didn’t create corporations; the legislature did. And don’t forget that there is a benefit in forming a corporation and operating a business through the corporation, namely the protection of the individual owners of that corporation from liability (the so-called “corporate shield” or “corporate veil”). Yet now individual business owners, who have chosen to utilize the benefits and protections afforded by forming a corporation, seek to ignore that corporate form in order use their own religious beliefs as a sword. If liability can’t flow through a corporation to its owners, why can the owners’ religious beliefs flow through the corporation to its customers or employees?

Next, Pastor Johnson launches into one of those slippery slope forms of fear-mongering that seem to play well with those who don’t take the 17 seconds necessary to think about the claim and recognize it for the absolute bullshit that it is: “[I]t’s only a matter of time before these same liberties are removed from the Church”. No, Pastor Johnson, it isn’t “only a matter of time” unless by “a matter of time” you mean never. The First Amendment absolutely protects churches from having their religious liberties removed. Note that Pastor Johnson doesn’t offer any examples of just how this might happen. No church will be forced to either perform or recognize same-sex marriages just as no church (or synagogue or mosque) has ever been forced to perform or recognize any marriage that it chooses not to. No pastor will be jailed for preaching that homosexuality is a sin just as no pastors have been jailed for preaching that interracial or interreligious marriages are a sin, preaching that Jews are Christ-killers, or railing against any of the innumerable perceived sins and transgressions that rain down from pulpits across this country. The pastor in Arizona who prayed for President Obama’s death is still preaching his spectacular form of hate. People, pastors, and churches remain free to believe and say what they want. That is what we mean by the free exercise of religion. But people who only listen to one side of these debates and who don’t really spend much time thinking about constitutional jurisprudence or the true meaning of the First Amendment are easily swayed by false claims that pastors will be jailed for preaching against homosexuality or that churches will be fined if they don’t perform same-sex marriages. The question I ask is whether Pastor Johnson really knows this but makes the claim to scare those who listen to him or if he really is so ignorant that he thinks that there is truth behind his fear.

Pastor Johnson then “reminds” the Governor and General Assembly that “our liberties come from God, not the state”. Um, wrong again, Pastor. You may believe your liberties come from God; that’s your right, protected by the First Amendment. But guess what? Others believe that their liberties come from different places, whether it be other gods or from nature itself (remember that the Declaration of Independence talks about the Creator and Nature’s God, not about G-d); and it’s worth noting that the Declaration of Independence is not the law.

It seems to me that Pastor Johnson’s claim that liberties come from God creates several paradoxes. First, if those liberties do, indeed, come from God, then shouldn’t everyone share them? But there are people all across the globe who don’t have the right to worship as they want, to speak freely, or to exercise any of the host of liberties we take for granted. So if those liberties are really God-given than God must just be doing a really shitty job of, you know, actually giving those liberties to everyone.

Or what about “God-given” liberties that seem to conflict among religious viewpoints? For example, most Jews believe that women have the liberty to have an abortion, a liberty derived from a religious understanding of the relationship between a fetus and a woman and of the moment that a fetus is imbued with a soul. Yet many Christians will argue against abortion rights on the basis of their own religious beliefs. Perhaps we need, oh, I don’t know, a few millennia of religious-based strife so that those with different beliefs can try to subdue those who hold the “wrong” belief into submission and into giving up on the particular religious liberty in which they believe.

I’d also be curious to know how Pastor Johnson explains my religious liberty not to believe in Jesus as the messiah and yet also believe that if I don’t come to his religious viewpoint, I’m going to Hell. If we try to piece Pastor Johnson’s worldview together, apparently G-d gave me the religious liberty to not believe but will then punish me for exercising that G-d-given liberty? Huh?

I wonder if someone can point me to the Biblical passages that expressly grant the liberties of which we are so proud and celebrate (or for which we continue to struggle) here in America. Which Biblical passage expressly talks about equality for women, either in the workplace or in the home (well, I guess we have a lot of work still to do on that one)? Which Biblical passage gives people the freedom to eat whatever food they want, to wear whatever fabric they want, or to wear their hair the way they want? Which Biblical passage tells people that they have a right to keep and bear AK-47 assault rifles? More importantly, Which Biblical passage recognizes the fundamental liberty to believe in a different god (or gods) or in no deity at all? Which Biblical passage expressly says that people shouldn’t be discriminated against on the basis of their skin color? Which Biblical passage gives people the fundamental liberty to choose their own government at the ballot box or to speak freely about their religious or political thoughts? Which Biblical passage says that people have a fundamental liberty not to be slaves?

Hmm. Perhaps the liberties that we take for granted aren’t really Biblically ordained.

Our liberties come from our existence as humans and the shared human experience and understanding of right and wrong.

Pastor Johnson is right that our liberties don’t come from the State; rather, it is the job of the State to protect those liberties that we, as a society and nation, have agreed deserve to be protected both from the State itself and from the rest of society.

Pastor Johnson concludes this paragraph with one of the most asinine statements I’ve seen in a long time: “When you fail to honor God, when you attempt to turn moral wrongs into civil rights, you forfeit your God-delegated privilege to rule”. Whoa. “God-delegated privilege to rule”? Um, what the fuck? I thought Divine Right was eliminated when we declared independence from Britain. Oh, and what about that whole “no religious test” provision in the Constitution? I think that Pastor Johnson, with this statement, demonstrates his fundamental disdain both for democracy in general and for a system that protects the rights (and liberty!) of minorities and those who hold minority views.

Think of it this way: Pastor Johnson is saying that if you don’t honor God and protect conduct that he views as immoral, then you are ineligible to be a democratically elected leader. Maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t that essentially the position of the Taliban and the Ayatollahs in Iran?

Moreover, by extension, isn’t Pastor Johnson really saying that only Christians (and Christians who share his narrow interpretation of what his particular version of Scripture demands or prohibits) are eligible to represent us in government? Oh, I suppose that he might think that a Jew or Catholic or Mormon would “honor God” but what about a Muslim (yes, I know that Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians, but I’m not so sure that everyone is willing to accept and recognize that fact…), Buddhist, Hindu, Native American, Pastafarian (look it up), or atheist? Do their core beliefs and worldviews, including somewhat (or vastly) different teachings on certain broad moral standards, expressly disqualify them from being elected to American legislative or executive office? Maybe I’m wrong, but it sure seems as if that is what Pastor Johnson is arguing.

I don’t know about you, but I’m actually frightened of what our democracy (former democracy?) might look like if Pastor Johnson and those with similar religious views were to gain more power in Indiana or America.

And then Pastor Johnson comes to his call to arms.

You’ll recall the mission statement of the Indiana Pastors Alliance and its militant language linking worship and war. And you’ll recall Pastor Johnson’s claim that religious liberty and sexual license must meet in a violent collision. Now look at this final words in this paragraph, his expression of what must be done when our elected officials have forfeited their “God-delegated privilege to rule”: They must be “stridently resisted”. Combine that with some of the previous statements and one could, I think, make the plausible statement that Pastor Johnson is calling for a violent resistance to the authority of the government and to the laws that the democratically elected legislature and executive have enacted.

Yeah, I am getting a little bit scared of Pastor Johnson. I mean, we’ve already seen people with views similar to Pastor Johnson’s blowing up abortion clinics and murdering doctors. We’ve seen them walking into Sikh temples and killing innocents. We’ve seen them blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City. And we’ve seen them attack gays and lesbians. What sort of “strident resistance” does Pastor Johnson seek? Remember, his words talked about a “violent collision” and the non-negotiability of his principles. When we combine “violent collisions” and “strident resistance” and mix in a little theocracy (“God-delegated privilege to rule”) then the peaceful America with its core of democratic governance via the marketplace of ideals begins to look like it could be in jeopardy.

American pastors have historically served as the moral and cultural conscience of the nation. When government forgets God and promotes policies in direct opposition to God’s Word, the Church has a God-given mandate to speak up. It is with this in mind that the Indiana Pastors’ Alliance feels compelled to bring to the Indiana Legislature an open, public rebuke. Psalm 105:14 reminds us that when God’s people are put in an oppressive place by civil authority, that authority is to be rebuked. Scripture goes on to say, “Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Proverbs 27:5-6)

Pastor Johnson uses the definite article “the” in the first sentence of this paragraph and, frankly, that ticks me off a bit. Yes, pastors have served as a moral conscience. Sometimes. But pastors have not been the only people to serve in that role. Moreover, while many, if not most, pastors have played a positive role, there are still many who have played a negative role and worked to further a very, very narrow and limited moral and cultural understanding. A pastor who advocates for racial segregation, who preaches supersessionism (replacement theology), or who shares a worldview that demeans or belittles those who have different theological (or atheological) views, isn’t acting as the moral or cultural conscience of the nation. And that is a major part of Pastor Johnson’s misunderstanding of his importance; he doesn’t seem to understand one very simple truth: Not everyone agrees with him and disagreement with him and his views is not, by definition, immoral.

“When government forgets God…” Um, isn’t Government really supposed to forget God? Isn’t that what the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is really all about? And as to the promotion of policies “in direct opposition to God’s Word”, I’d again point the the cherished right to worship freely (um, “religious freedom, anyone”?) found in the First Amendment. Our government certainly (and rightly) promotes and celebrates the right of all Americans to believe and worship as they choose, but doesn’t that directly contradict “God’s Word” (you, know, that whole “no other gods before me” thing…)? So is Pastor Johnson really claiming that our cherished Constitutional protection of the free exercise of religion is either wrong (because it contradicts “God’s Word”) or that it only applies to Christians?

You know what, though? This may surprise you (though it shouldn’t). I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with Pastor Johnson and the Indiana Pastors Alliance “rebuking” the General Assembly. That is their right as Hoosiers and it’s a right that I’ll fight to defend. I don’t have to agree with their message or the substance of their rebuke to defend their right to do so. I just wish that I knew that the Indiana Pastors Alliance shared that sort of view regarding the rights of others who may share different views of important life and cultural issues. If Indiana tried to force Pastor Johnson to perform a same-sex marriage or prevented him from preaching from his pulpit, I’d be there to defend him; but when Indiana tells a liberal Jewish rabbi that she can’t perform a same-sex marriage, is Pastor Johnson there to defend her?

I don’t really want to get into an argument with Pastor Johnson regarding Biblical verses; I’m far from an expert. But I would suggest that the his quotation of a Psalm that talks about G-d’s “rebuke” of an absolute monarch who had enslaved an entire people (Pharaoh) is vastly different from the opprobrium due to a democratically elected legislature that can be voted out of office or which may actually be representing the will of the electorate. I don’t think that the author of Psalm 105:14 contemplated democracy (which the Greeks wouldn’t get around to inventing for a few hundred [or more] years).

Note Pastor Johnson’s use of the phrase “oppressive place”. I almost think he tried to sort of slide that phrase by. But no matter how much he may try to argue the point, telling someone that they can’t discriminate against people in the public sphere is simply not a form of oppression. A state or country that is welcoming of diversity and strives for equality for all is just not an “oppressive place”. If Pastor Johnson wants to see a truly repressive place, perhaps he should look around the world and back through history at theocratic regimes.

Read that last line from Pastor Johnson: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful”. Now remember that he is advocating in favor of a right to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Then look at this photo of Pastor Johnson embracing a protestor from the LGBT community during the press conference that Pastor Johnson and the Indiana Pastors Alliance held at the Statehouse on April 27, 2015:

Pastor Johnson and Kim Saylor Embracing

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” I’m curious if those words apply to Pastor Johnson…

The state leadership of Indiana has not only been remiss in their duties, but they have opened a door of oppression upon the community of which many of them say they are a part. Our job as spiritual shepherds is to do our part in protecting the sheep from those who do such things. The Scripture plainly teaches us that we are to evaluate leaders based upon the fruit of their actions and not only the confession of their lips (Matthew 7:16-20). Politicians are not exempt. Your actions have demonstrated that when the heat is turned up, your “deeply held principles” become easily negotiable. If increased pressure changes one’s principles, then one could rightfully question the reality of those principles.

The Governor and members of the General Assembly have been “remiss in their duties”? Really? Is it their duty to codify a right to discriminate? Is it their duty to legislate solely in favor of one religious viewpoint? Is it their duty to enact legislation that makes Indiana a pariah? And if it is their duty to protect evangelical Christians from the scourge of homosexuality, then isn’t it also their duty to eliminate divorce, outlaw cheeseburgers and shrimp cocktail, reinstitute stoning of gays, and most importantly, amend our Constitution to prohibit freedom of religion for those who haven’t accepted Jesus as their savior?

But it’s Pastor’s Johnson’s next comment that … well, it almost makes me laugh when Pastor Johnson argues that the Governor and members of the General Assembly “have opened a door of oppression”. Yep. Now evangelical Christians will be denied jobs and housing, they’ll be turned away by businesses, they’ll be prevented from marrying the person they love or visiting that person in the hospital. Oh, wait. Ooops. My bad. That’s the sort of the thing the General Assembly has allowed to happen to the LGBT community, not Christians. Again, I don’t care how often Pastor Johnson repeats his mantra, telling a business that it can’t discriminate on the basis of religion, race, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity is not a form of oppression.

As to his whole diatribe against politicians who changed their minds, let me just suggest that there is a huge difference between holding a “deeply held” view in favor of “traditional marriage” (i.e., opposition to same-sex marriage) and the belief that it’s the job of the State of Indiana to condone and make statutory allowance for discrimination against religiously disfavored groups. But if Pastor Johnson and his flock want to question the principles of our elected officials or even challenge them at the polls, that is their right; that’s how democracy and free speech work. Of course, I’m allowed to question whether Pastor Johnson’s principles and his devotion to Biblical teaching is sincere, especially given that it appears that he is violating at least some Biblical prohibitions and commandments at the same time that he’s trying to get the government to enforce others. Perhaps an evangelical Christian pastor who spends time advocating against guys because homosexuality is a sin but who doesn’t spend time picketing his local Red Lobster, McDonald’s, barber shops, and footfall fields, isn’t really that sincere is in his own religious beliefs. I’d be curious to know if Pastor Johnson permits divorced members of his church or if he’ll officiate weddings where one spouse was previously divorced. Does he baptize children born out of wedlock and, if so, isn’t that really “celebrating” promiscuity and the single parent family. Maybe he’s only really sincere about, oh, I don’t know, maybe hating the gays?

In conclusion, we understand that in most politicians’ minds, moments like this will soon pass. The electorate, so we are told, has a short memory. No doubt that has been illustrated abundantly through the years. All we can say is that as pastors we will do our best to “mark those” who bring oppression and offense to our faith (Romans 16:17-18). It is with a profound sense of sorrow we issue this rebuke. Our hope is that those who have been entrusted with governmental authority will remember that they remain God’s ministers (Romans 13:4) and as such, will must redress this egregious attack on our God-given liberties.

So now Christians with beliefs like Pastor Johnson will be “marking” politicians with whom they disagree? First, haven’t they been doing that for years on issues like abortion and, yes, gay rights? Perhaps, though, this will give us the opportunity to put aside silly political labels like Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, left or right. Perhaps, instead, we can begin electing legislators based solely on their religious views and whether unelected clergy has “marked” a legislator for office or not. You know, we can have the evangelical Christian ticket of candidates, the Jewish ticket, the Muslim ticket, the Catholic ticket, the Mormon ticket, the Buddhist ticket, the Hindu ticket, the atheist ticket, and so on. Because I can’t think of anything that would be better for our democratic system than open religious strife the exercise of power by majority religions against minority or unpopular faiths. Won’t that be cool?

I hate to have to repeat myself, but Pastor Johnson’s Theocratic States of America and the State of (God’s) Indiana just don’t line up with reality. I’m sorry to have to break it to Pastor Johnson, but our elected officials are not “God’s ministers”. G-d didn’t elect them; G-d didn’t appoint them. In America, in Indiana, elected officials represent the people. Neither belief in the a god nor membership in any particular faith is required either of the people or the officials they elect. And it doesn’t really matter what somebody wrote in a letter to or about a dictatorial society 2,000 years ago.

With Great Respect for both the Office and the Officeholders,

Dr. Ron Johnson Jr.

Executive Director

Indiana Pastors Alliance

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the Indiana Pastors Alliance and are not intended to represent the views of other organizations who have spoken out on behalf of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“With Great Respect”? Really? Oh, and if you go back and re-read the first paragraph of Pastor Johnson’s letter, you’ll note that he phrases it in terms of “we”. Yet, at the end, there is no “we” signing the letter; just Pastor Johnson.

Whew. OK. I’m done. For now. I know that was a lot to digest, but Pastor Johnson’s letter really got me angry. As it says on the header way up above, the purpose of this blog was to give me an opportunity to vent. And this exercise … well, it gave me that sort of release and allowed me to clear my head from the detailed analysis that I was working on in my forthcoming RFRA deep dive post. Anyway, as an added benefit, I think working on this particular post may have rekindled my interest in blogging. Maybe.

I hope to follow this post (in the not too distant future) with my deep dive into the actual text and meaning of RFRA. Spoiler: It really was all about the right to discriminate.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My Remarks at the City of Carmel’s Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony (May 2, 2014)

As I was publishing my previous post with my remarks from the City of Carmel’s 2015 Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony, I realized that I never posted the remarks that I gave for the 2014 ceremony.

 

(Here is a link, in case there is a problem with the embedded video; my remarks begin at about 50:00.)


We gather here to commemorate the lives lost in the Holocaust. Six million Jews murdered along with millions of Roma & Sinti, disabled, homosexuals, and others. Millions murdered for the God they prayed to, the color of their skin, the person they loved, or the body they were born with. Millions murdered simply because of who they were.

We often hear the mantra “never again”. Yet we’ve seen, time and time again, in places like Rwanda, Bosnia, and Sudan, that “never” is a difficult task. But we must do what we can to be sure that never means never. And perhaps the best place to start is here, in our own neighborhoods and communities.

The Holocaust didn’t materialize out of nothing. Germans didn’t awake one day and say to themselves, “Let’s kill the Jews, let’s kill the Roma, let’s kill the gays.” No. Those actions were the result of years, decades, even centuries of mistrust and hate. Years of blaming “the other” when things went wrong. Years of categorizing people, not on the merit of their character, but on other, base characteristics.

So it becomes our obligation to be sure that those sorts of bigotries, hatreds, and even simple mistrusts aren’t allowed to take root in our communities. Rather than denigrating people for how they look or dress, how they worship, or the music they choose to listen to, we should celebrate the differences we find around us. We must use those differences to make us and our communities stronger. And isn’t that really the core that has made America great for all of these years, anyway? E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

But how do we accomplish those goals? That was, in part, the question posed in a discussion following one of these Yom Hashoah commemorations several years ago. And it was out of that conversation that Mayor Brainard established the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations. I stand here today as a proud member of that Commission.

We are a new organization. We’re still learning about the issues and challenges, still trying to develop a framework for what our Commission can and must do. But as a starting point, we’ve recognized the need to understand and then celebrate the diversity within Carmel. Though to an outsider, this community may look homogenous, it is far from being so. We have houses of worship for many, many faiths, not to mention residents of no faith or of a faith not represented by a church, mosque, or synagogue. We have members of a multitude of ethnic and national backgrounds and a wide assortment of languages spoken by our citizens. We have straight citizens and gay citizens. But what ties us all together is that we are all humans, all deserving of respect and inclusion within our society.

The Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations is looking for ways to have an impact on or City and our citizens. We’ve begun by asking members of different religious and ethnic groups to come talk to the Commission about the particular issues that face their respective communities. And we’ve offered ourselves as a clearing house to which concerns of discrimination can be brought and discussed.

We’re new. We don’t have all of the answers yet. But we are working to be sure that Carmel welcomes its diversity, even celebrates that diversity. The first step to “never again” is to be sure that prejudices and stereotypes aren’t allowed to fester into bigotry and hate. But a Mayor’s Commission can’t do that alone. We need each of you, each member of your family, each member of your neighborhood and our community at large, to help us achieve the goal of a community that respects people for who they are, helping people to “just get along”. For if we learn to respect one another then “never again” should never become a concern here in our City.

Thank you Mayor Brainard for having the foresight to establish this Commission and to recognize the importance of recognizing the diversity within the City of Carmel.

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The Reemergence of Anti-Semitism in America: My Remarks at the City of Carmel’s Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony (April 22, 2015)

Several people asked, so I’m posting the remarks that I just gave (on behalf of the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations) at the City of Carmel’s Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony. Thanks, once again, to Mayor Brainard for hosting this ceremony each year, to Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow for officiating, and to the other participants. I want to especially commend an old friend, Steven Frankovitz, who spoke about his father’s experiences in Auschwitz as one of the identical twins upon whom horrific experiments were conducted by Dr. Joseph Mengele.


The Reemergence of Anti-Semitism in America in 2015

Delivered at the City of Carmel’s Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony

April 22, 2015

In April 2014, a man walked up to a Jewish community center in Kansas City and opened fire killing 3 people. As he was led away, he was heard to say “Heil Hitler”.

In May 2014, 8th grade students at a Chicago school created a “Clash of Clans” group called “Jews Incinerator” and described themselves as “a friendly group of racists with one goal: put all Jews into an army camp until disposed of”.

In June 2014, swastikas were etched into San Francisco street signs. In Brooklyn, a Jewish boy was attacked when he left his home; his attacker yelling anti-Semitic slogans.

In July 2014, a banner was flown at New York area beaches proclaiming “peace plus swastika equals love”. Elsewhere in New York, gravestones were vandalized with swastikas and an inscription that said “you don’t belong here”. A playground in a Jewish neighborhood was defaced with swastikas and the phrase “kill Jews”. Other incidents of vandalism occurred in Massachusetts, Missouri, Tennessee, and Chicago.

August 2014 saw numerous incidents all across the country, including one in Los Angeles where a Jewish shopkeeper received leaflets bearing swastikas and threats.

In September 2014, in Baltimore, a man drove by a Jewish school on Rosh Hashanah and shot three people while shouting “Jews, Jews, Jews”. That same month, a rabbi was evicted from a Greek restaurant when the owner learned he was Jewish after asking if the rabbi wanted a full size salad or a Jewish sized salad, by which the owner said he meant “cheap and small”.

Leading up to the November 2014 election, candidates in New Hampshire and Kentucky ran on the slogan “with Jews we lose”. Thankfully, they lost.

And throughout the last year, swastikas have been painted or etched onto Jewish fraternities in Oregon, Nashville, Atlanta, and elsewhere. Just a few weeks ago, a synagogue on the east coast had swastikas spray painted on its walls.

In March and April of this year, we’ve seen situations at both UCLA and Stanford in which students seeking election or appointment to student leadership positions were challenged on their ability to serve in those positions because of their involvement in the Jewish community. In the case at Stanford, it was representatives of a minority student coalition that pressed the Jewish student on her ability to be impartial given her membership and involvement in her own minority community.

Need I go on? Or are these examples – and please recognize that I’ve barely scratched the surface – are these examples sufficient to demonstrate that anti-Semitism is alive and well in America?

In fact, according to the most recently published statistics from the FBI, the majority of religious-motivated hate crimes in America target Jews. To be sure, there are hate crimes directed at Muslims, atheists, and others, but Jews remain the primary target of religious-motivated hate.

Sometimes the anti-Semitism is overt, like a physical attack or the painting of a swastika. Sometimes it’s much more subtle. Not too long ago, a cousin posted on Facebook that he was stunned when a business associate used the phrase “Jew him down” and didn’t understand the problem with that phrase. Other times you’ll hear off-hand comments about Jews controlling the media or the government or the money supply. You know, if Jews really had the influence and control that people attribute to us, there would probably be a lot less anti-Semitism in the world as we’d have stamped it out on our own long ago.

A year or two ago, I found myself involved in an extended online discussion about the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Despite the overwhelming evidence that this book was a Czarist forgery (based on an earlier French work), people continue to point to it as depicting Jewish plans for world domination. Go look the book up on Amazon; read the reviews. You may feel a need to shower afterwards. And wait until you see the titles of some of the books that Amazon’s algorithms will suggest if you do look up that book (titles such as Conspiracy of the Six-Pointed Star or The Synagogue of Satan). When you hear people referring to The Protocols or the Rothschilds (often included with the Masons and Illuminati), you know that the speaker has fallen down the anti-Semitism conspiracy rabbit hole.

It’s important to recognize that we’re not immune here in Indiana. Just a few years ago swastikas were painted in the library and elsewhere at Indiana University. That’s the overt form of anti-Semitism. And I was involved with a situation at a middle school in a neighboring community that involved an 8th grade creative writing assignment to try to sell something unpopular. One of the examples was this:

For Sale: Auschwitz. Looking for a place that would make the perfect summer camp? Think about this concentration camp. Poland would like to take the bad reputation of Auschwitz and turn it around! Think of the possibilities! The barracks could be renovated to house thousands of people. We have ovens big enough to bake bread for thousands. The razor wire will prevent students from making a break for it. There is plenty of room for exercise, where role call used to be taken. Railroads can go right through camp, meaning supplies will be at your fingertips at all times.

But I’d also suggest that when state legislators offer legislation to require all public school students to recite a Christian prayer, that is a form of subtle anti-Semitism (and perhaps Islamophobia, too). When public events that would never be held on Christmas or Easter or even Good Friday are scheduled for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or Passover, I’d suggest that a subtle form of anti-Semitism is at work: In this case the form that says we simply don’t care to respect those who are different. When teachers schedule tests or give important lectures on those days, knowing that Jewish students will be absent, those teachers are telling their Jewish students that they aren’t as important as the other kids in the class. And, frankly, I’m not sure how to react to public school choir programs that are overtly religious with many songs requiring Jewish students to sing about the divinity of Jesus or include lyrics such as:

They've never heard the story of the Son of God.

And that made Alfie [the Christmas tree] pause.

Did that mean that they'd never know of peace on earth or the brotherhood of man?

Or know how to love, or know how to give?

If they can't, no one can.

You see, life is a very special kind of thing, not just for a chosen few.

That example comes from Carmel High School in December 2014. Nor do I know how to respond as the parent of a child who comes home complaining that the school showed a film that depicted Judaism in such a way that his friends came up to him after class to say “I’m glad I’m not Jewish.”

We thought anti-Semitism was dead and buried – or at least buried such that it wasn’t seen by many anymore. But with the rise of the Internet, we’ve seen a resurgence in anti-Semitism that has mirrored, or even pre-dated, the seeming resurgence in overt racism in all of its many forms. And the expression of anti-Semitism has, at least in some circles, gained a degree of respectability. There are whole online magazines and “news” sites devoted to the cause of anti-Semitism, blaming Jews for virtually every problem known to or experienced by mankind. 9/11? The Jews did it. The Boston Marathon bombing? Jews. Ebola? Jews. Financial meltdown? Jews. You name it, you can find an argument for why we should blame the Jews. And, unfortunately, some of the purveyors of that sort of filth are beginning to be mainstreamed or at least relied upon or cited by those in the mainstream.

And in the midst of all of this, Holocaust denial has become a cottage industry as has the new notion of blaming Jews for the slave trade.

And one of the sickest things that we’ve seen recently, and it’s growing and growing, is the notion that Jews are responsible for anti-Semitism. Usually, though not always, this perverted suggestion invokes Israel, as if Jews around the world are responsible for Israel’s actions. Do we blame individual Catholics for abusive priests? Do we blame individual Christians for those who bomb abortion clinics? Do we blame Cubans for the actions of Fidel and Raul Castro or Russians for the actions of Vladimir Putin? Do we blame any group of Americans for the actions of another country? Do we blame all Americans each time America does something that we disapprove of? Of course not. But Jews are blamed for anything that Israel is accused of doing just as Muslims are blamed for the acts of radical Islamists who claim to act in the name of Islam and African Americans are blamed for … well, all sorts of things. The only one to blame for anti-Semitism is the anti-Semite.

I don’t want this to be a discussion about Israel. Let me just say this: Criticism of Israel is fair. I’m a strong supporter of Israel – and I’m a frequent critic of Israeli policies. So too, at any given time, is about half of the Israeli population. That’s what you get in a vibrant democracy. But when criticism involves the delegitimization of Israel or of the right of Jews to a homeland, when Israel is held to a standard to which no other country is held, and when Israel is demonized, often with false comparisons to the Nazis (so-called “Holocaust inversion”), then most Jews will view those criticisms as a form of anti-Semitism. I’m not here to ask you to support Israel; but I am asking you to consider whether criticism of Israel is fair or if it is simply anti-Semitism disguised under a different moniker.

So what are we, here in Carmel, Indiana, to do about any of this? I doubt many of you who take time from your busy schedules to attend this Holocaust observance are anti-Semites or racists. But all of us need to be constantly vigilant for these sorts of behaviors and attitudes. Just as I hope that most of you would call out a colleague or acquaintance for using a racial slur to describe someone, I hope that you would also be critical of someone using a slur or stereotype to describe Jews.

The Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations has begun a series of informal educational sessions within the Commission to learn about the specific challenges facing minority communities here in Carmel. But in our homes and schools and businesses, we can do something similar just by talking to our family and friends and co-workers. If you’re a parent, think about the examples and lessons that you’re setting for your children and ask your children what they’ve learned about other kids who might be different from your own family. If you’re a student, think about the lessons from your teachers or the things that you hear from classmates. At work, listen to the things that your co-workers are saying. And in each of these cases, ask yourself if the ideas or thoughts being expressed are inclusive and welcoming or denigrating or perpetuating negative stereotypes. And if it’s the latter, don’t just sit by silently; though it may be difficult, stand up and say something.

When you meet someone who is different, whether Jewish or Muslim, African-American or Latino, gay or transgender, or from any other minority community, take the time to get to know that person as an individual. And then take the time to learn about the issues and concerns that person faces as a member of a minority community. If we can learn to understand each other, to have some degree of empathy, perhaps we can find ways to reduce the subtle forms of bigotry that we may unknowingly express through either stereotypes or ignorance.

We often hear the phrase “never again”. Last year I spoke about ongoing genocides around the world and whether that devalued the phrase “never again”. But we must also consider the phrase “never again” within our own communities and the way we deal with those with whom we live, work, and play. We must diligently work to be sure that there is a respect for diversity and tolerance for those who are different from us.

We’re seeing far too many examples of racism and bigotry in our country, whether it’s anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or similar hatred or mistrust directed at someone due to their skin color, accent, or any of a host of other traits. I don’t mean to suggest that anti-Semitism is worse than any of these other expressions of hate. But anti-Semitism has been with us, been documented, literally for millennia. And we’ve seen time after time how expressions of anti-Semitism, when left unchecked, develop into things far uglier than words or graffiti. This ancient form of hate may be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Let’s commit ourselves, our families, our community to stamp out anti-Semitism and all other forms of bigotry. Let’s tell people and organizations when their words or actions are unacceptable. Let’s make sure that everyone is and feels welcome – and safe – within our communities. We may not be able to completely eliminate anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred, but perhaps we can drive them back underground so that the expressions of those sorts of views lose any degree of respectability or credibility. Let’s be sure that when our kids go off to college they aren’t swayed by voices of hate. Let’s be sure that the CNN news vans are never parked in front of a school or synagogue or church in Carmel while a reporter talks about the most recent example of a hate crime.

We can’t do much to influence the world, the country, or even the broader state around us. But we can strive to influence our community so that diversity and tolerance triumph and “never again” has real meaning. Anti-Semitism is re-emerging as a respectable form of bigotry. But we don’t have to be complicit. We can be sure that those sorts of views are never acceptable here in Carmel.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Compiling Some of My Previous Posts on “Religious Freedom”

Yesterday, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). For my part, I’m ashamed that my state has passed this sort of license to discriminate. If it’s any sort of consolation (not much…), over the last day or two, I’ve heard quite a few people who are otherwise quite conservative in their politics and worldview express anger and disappointment at the passage of this law.

I hope to take some time in the next week or so to really dive into the text of RFRA, both to address some of the confusion and to discuss why I’m so opposed to the bill. Alas, time doesn’t permit me to write that post now. Nevertheless, for those interested, I thought I’d compile links to some of the posts that I’ve written in recent years on the subject of “religious freedom” and proposed laws similar to RFRA.

Using the Claim of “Religious Freedom” as a Weapon Without Considering What it Really Means

Thought Exercise on the Uses of the Cudgel of “Religious Freedom”

Paul Ryan and the Birth Control Brouhaha

Slippery Slope or Religious Freedom? Mutually Exclusive Arguments

The Birth Control Brouhaha

More on the Birth Control Brouhaha

I’m sure that I’ve addressed the issue one way or another in any of a host of other posts. But that should be a decent sampler.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The “War on Christmas” Returns to Indiana

I hadn’t intended to write another post about the faux (or is that Fox?) “War on Christmas” but two articles about an Indiana state senator who plans to introduce another so-called “Merry Christmas bill” caught my attention … and got my blood boiling. Again.

First, there was yesterday’s front page article in The Indianapolis Star‘Merry Christmas’ bill is back — and bigger than ever” and then last night’s story from local Fox affiliate WXIN (no I didn’t watch the news story; I saw a link to it on Twitter this morning) “Lawmaker’s ‘Merry Christmas bill’ would protect Christmas displays on government property”. Go read them if you want (or, you can even watch video!). Essentially, the bill to be introduced by Sen. Jim Smith (R-Charlestown) would permit municipalities and schools to erect overtly religious holiday displays so long as a display recognizing another holiday is also included. Back in February 2014, I wrote in detail about a similar bill introduced in the Indiana General Assembly: The ‘Merry Christmas’ Bill: Indiana Inches Ever-Closer to Becoming a Theocracy”. That bill actually passed the Senate but the House never took a vote.

Let me first call your attention to some of the things that Sen. Smith said to explain why he apparently believes this sort of legislation is needed:

  • “The Christmas season encompasses so many meaningful traditions, but many times these traditions and the people who participate in them are threatened… This bill is a step toward defending a sacred holiday that is otherwise being stolen from our children and our culture…”
  • “The tactics are certainly threats and intimidation to silence people…”
  • “We are as a nation allowing this to continue… We are certainly stealing Christmas from our children and from our culture.”
  • “We are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles, and Christmas is a national or a federal and state holiday… So if they don’t like the holiday, they should probably lobby members of the General Assembly and those in Congress to remove Christmas as being a federal and state holiday.”

I think those four quotes should give you an idea of the intellectual powerhouse that we’re dealing with in Sen. Smith. I mean, really? Christmas traditions are being threatened? The people who participate in Christmas traditions are being threatened? Really? Um, how? Is Sen. Smith worried that the Atheist police will raid his home, business, or church and stop he and his family from celebrating Christmas? Is he worried that an alliance of local Jewish and Muslim groups will prevent Christians from eating their Christmas ham because it isn’t kosher or halal? Is he worried that Buddhists will try to stop Christians from erecting Christmas trees in their homes or decorating their property with lights? Is he worried that … oh, hell, I don’t know who … is going to try to stop stores from having Christmas sales or advertising all sorts of doodads and widgets to be sure that Christians make the most of the commercialization of their holiday? Because certainly Jesus would have wanted people to save 15% on the cost of a new set of tires!

And does he really think Christmas is “being stolen from our children and our culture”? Really? You know, it was just yesterday that I saw a bunch of Satan worshippers dragging a Santa out of a shopping mall as a horde of children screamed in terror. This weekend, I tried to shop for a last minute Chanukah gift at Toys-R-Us, but before I could buy the gift I had to prove that it wasn’t a Christmas gift because the toy manufacturers are no longer allowing Christian children to receive Christmas presents. And I have it on good authority that pastors who try to hold Christmas worship celebrations on December 25 will be arrested and sent to Glenn Beck’s FEMA reeducation camps. What? None of that is true? But Sen. Smith said that Christmas is being “stolen” from our children!

Just for fun, here is what I wrote on the same subject earlier this year in regard to the prior incarnation of Sen. Smith’s proposed bill:

The “War on Christmas” is once again being fought here in Indiana. After last year’s stunning defeats in which all Christian houses of worship were banned in the State of Indiana and Hoosier children were required to convert to Islam, some Hoosier lawmakers are trying to fight back. Um, what? Christian churches weren’t banned last year? Hoosier children can still invoke the name of Jesus in their prayers? Christmas trees are still permitted on front lawns and in family rooms? The shopping malls still have Santa Claus? Are you sure? Hmm. Oh, I see now. A greeter at Walmart said “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas and an elementary school teacher didn’t do enough to proselytize to the students in her class.

But I’m sure that Sen. Smith has no trouble whatsoever with Jewish or other non-Christian school children being compelled to sing about the divinity of Jesus in public schools. So query whether Christmas is being “stolen” from children or whether it is being forced down the throats of those who have different beliefs. And query how Sen. Smith would feel if his children were compelled to attend a school function at which Allah was praised, Christian belief belittled, or colanders handed out to help students honor the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Perhaps the tradition that Sen. Smith is really concerned with, the one that has him proposing this legislation, has nothing to do with actually celebrating Christmas or other Christian holidays; rather, it seems that the tradition he is really worried about is the tradition of proselytizing and trying to convert non-Christians. Isn’t that what he’s really worried about? That he can’t convert enough heathens himself, so he needs the local, state, and federal government to help him? The “threats” and “intimidation” that he is concerned with aren’t the threats to minorities within our society but rather that some minority communities — damn them! — would have the gall to suggest that the majority, you know, follow the law as set forth in the Constitution. That some minorities might want to stand up for the themselves or the protections afforded them by the law and ask people like Sen. Smith to stop trying to use the government as a weapon to shove a particular religious viewpoint upon others. As I’m fond of doing, let me again quote Article 1 Section 4 of Indiana’s Constitution: “No preference shall be given, by law, to any creed, religious society, or mode of worship; and no person shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support, any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent.” I wonder how many of our state legislators have ever read that provision. Next time you talk to a state legislator, ask them to tell you what Indiana’s Constitution says about religion. I dare you.

Finally, and I don’t want to take too much time on this point as I could go on and on and on and on, but despite the “history” lesson that Sen. Smith probably received from Fox News, Glenn Beck, and David Barton, he is simply wrong: The United States is not a Christian nation and it was not founded on Christian principles. Again, to repeat things I’ve previously written, for those interested in learning how to respond to the repeated arguments that the United States is a Christian nation and the attendant “facts” that many, primarily on the evangelical right, like to toss off as “proof”, then I highly recommend Chris Rodda’s Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History. Chris has also posted a series of video takedowns of the right’s favorite “historian” David Barton who never quite manages to let facts get in his way. Oh, and perhaps someone should send Sen. Smith a copy of the Treaty of Tripoli, signed by Founding Father (and President) John Adams and unanimously ratified by the United States Senate in 1797 (you known, when lots of Founding Fathers were still involved in the new United States government), which proclaimed: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…”. That’s right. Just a few years after the adoption of the Constitution and the First Amendment, the Senate unanimously ratified a treaty that specifically stated that the United States was not “founded on the Christian religion”. But, hey, I’m sure that in 2014, Sen. Smith knows better than those Founding Fathers, right? Right?

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