Religious Freedom and Equal Rights

Elementary Classroom and Religious Freedom
The US Constitution guarantees religious freedom. At the same time, there have been constant attempts from a variety of sources to muzzle Christians and persecute those who openly profess their faith. Over and over we see Christians prevented from doing things that other religious groups or anti-religious groups are free to do. This can create a tendency for us to over-react when a problem arises.

The school board in Bartlett, Tennessee, shut down a Bible Club because of threats by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Bible Club was for first and second graders, and the stated purpose was to read the Bible and pray. When I was teaching at Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, we had a Gospel Chorus made up of students that met in the school outside of class time. I was part of a before-school program where I presented my lectures to students who wished to hear them and discuss the content. When I taught at Jackson High School in South Bend, we had mini-courses where for a week during homeroom, students could choose from a variety of activities. They could listen to my presentations in Christian apologetics, go swimming in the school pool, attend a class on ballroom dancing, play basketball, or attend a variety of other classes including a class on Islam taught by a Muslim cleric.

So what is the difference between all of these cases and what was going on in Bartlett? The chorus, the mini-courses, and the before school classes were all initiated by the students. Attendance was their choice, and their parents could come and sit in on what was taking place. In the Bartlett situation, the classes were set up and taught by adults. Students did not elect to participate in the Bible reading. The teacher decided that. Adults also would lead the prayer and decide its content. At Jackson High, the students could choose whether to participate. In Bartlett, pressure on children to participate was an inevitable consequence of the program. One wonders as to who was reading the Bible, what translation they were using, and who chose what part of the Bible to study.

Christians should stand up for our religious freedom, but that does not mean we have the right to force the Bible on first and second graders in the public schools. We need to be careful not to deny the rights of others in the process of standing up for our own rights.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

More on Climate Change

Climate Change Climate change is a fact, as we have noted before. However, we have also noted before, that climate change has taken place in the past, and that humans are not the sole cause. Much of the media hype has been based on reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The problem is that the general public has no way of checking the alarmist claims of that group. Some of the dire predictions of what climate change would bring seem to be unjustified. The problem has been that because of limited data or no access to unbiased information most people had no choice but to believe what they were told.

Some scientists have formed an organization called the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate (NIPC). This group maintains that the reports of what climate change will bring are grossly exaggerated and based on bad data and shoddy science. They have released a book titled Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming.

This is not a biblical authority issue, but the design of the Earth and its capacity to withstand environmental challenges is important to all of us. We believe that God designed the Earth with us in mind and we have a duty to take care of it. If you are interested in further reading, you can find the book and other information on the website www.heartland.org.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Mike Pence and Moral Values

Vice-President Mike Pence
Vice-President Mike Pence

Mike Pence is Vice-President of the United States. Before being elected to that job, he was governor of the state of Indiana. Being from Indiana, we have followed him rather closely. President Trump’s dismal record with the press and his relationship with women are well-known. What has not gotten much attention until recently is the fact that Mike Pence has always been extremely careful in his relationships with women. He will not put himself in a compromising position with his women co-workers in politics. Pence has always refused to dine alone with a woman other than his wife. He never works late with a female aide. He never attends any party where alcohol is being served unless his wife is with him. His basis for these careful controls of his personal life with female co-workers is that he is a Christian and he takes his Christian faith seriously.

The press has been extremely hostile toward Pence’s lifestyle. The Washington Post claims Pence is helpless in the face of female temptation. Slate.com calls Pence a radical retrograde and claims that Pence sees women as sexual temptations rather than as peers whose ideas might be worth discussing. Cosmopolitan claims that Pence’s Christian values put the women who work with him and a huge disadvantage and allow men to keep running the show.

National Review calls all of this anti-Christian bigotry and accuses liberals of loathing America’s traditional culture. Understanding the Bible’s teachings about avoiding sin and destructive behaviors is far from the mainstream media’s values. They just cannot understand Pence’s morality. When alcohol and social events are the way our government works, one has to wonder how the United States has survived into the twenty-first century. Leviticus 18 might be good reading for those who challenge the moral values of our vice-president.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

More Church-State Issues

Church and StateOne of the delicate areas in our culture today is the issue of the separation of church and state. It might appear on the surface that this is a no-brainer, but like most things, it isn’t that simple. Romans 13:6-7 instructs Christians to pay taxes and obey civil authority, and in Luke 20:25 Jesus tells us “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” The Constitution of the United States is clear about the government not sponsoring a religion but also guarantees religious freedom. Every nation with a state religion has had enormous problems with what evolved from that endorsement. It is biblical and logical to keep the state and religion separate.

The current crisis which appears to be headed for the Supreme Court is the situation where a church is handling an issue too big for the state and needs money that the state has available to meet the need. In 2012 Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia, Missouri, needed to replace the gravel that was under their playground with safer and cleaner material made from recycled tires. This material was available from the state by simply applying for a grant to get the material. The state denied the grant to the church saying that public funds cannot be given to religious organizations according to the Missouri state constitution. The case went to an appeals court which had a tie vote.

It would seem logical that the state should not fund a theology major’s education in religion, but protecting children from physical damage would seem to be a different kind of issue. When Trinity was evaluated by the state on its physical facilities and its program, which does not include religious instruction, it placed fifth among 44 applicants for the state funds. The “slippery slope” issue becomes a part of this, because if Trinity is given money for its playground, what comes next? Isn’t saving the church money freeing up their funds for religious purposes? If the church accepts money from the government isn’t it potentially allowing the government to make rules that it will have to follow? It will be interesting to see if and when the Supreme Court decides.
Data from USA Today, April 19, 2017, page 3A.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Church-State Problem

Religious Separation
Religious Separation

The polarization that has taken place in America in the past 25 years is appalling. That statement is true on many levels with the political situation being the one that gets the most attention in the media. The relationship between the Church and the State has strong advocates that have very different agendas.

On one side of the issue are groups who advocate freedom FROM religion. They don’t want religious people to take a public stand on moral issues. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is an example of such a group. They say: “We envision an America where everyone can freely choose a faith and support it voluntarily, or follow no religious or spiritual path at all, and where the government does not promote religion over non-religion or favor one faith over another.” That sounds good, but the problem with groups like this is that they do not want any attempt on the part of religious people to evangelize or to promote moral agendas. You can go to church if you wish, but don’t say or do anything outside of the church walls that demonstrates your faith. Any religious group opposing gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, legalizing marijuana, or any other moral issue is considered to be violating the separation of Church and State. Also when a church congregation helps families with food shortages they cannot let the families know that they are doing so because of their religious convictions or invite them to any church events if they use any government commodities, even if the church purchases those commodities. A Christian can be fined or jailed in America for publicly living out their faith in opposition to gay marriage or other moral issues.

On the other side are groups advocating freedom OF religion. An example is Alliance Defending Freedom who strongly oppose any government interference with individual expressions of religious belief. Groups like this are fighting in courts for the right of religious people to live out their faith in the public arena. The problem is that some fringe religious groups hold to something that clashes with the safety and well-being of innocent people. An example is those who oppose medical treatment for disease. We had a case in Indiana in which a child was an insulin-dependent diabetic, and the parents refused to allow the child to have insulin shots on religious grounds.

These are tough questions. The lesson of history is that when a religion gains control of the government, the result is always a disaster. It is also a lesson from history that when a government embraces atheism and enforces it, the result is anarchy and chaos. America has become more and more antagonistic to religious belief and expression, and the result is chaos and conflict tearing at the very fabric of our existence as a nation. The founding fathers had no desire to make America an atheist state. Some people today want to allow any kind of dissent as long as God is not mentioned or involved in any way. Rendering to “Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” should not be that difficult, but vested interests are making it difficult for religious freedom to exist. Romans 13:1-7 spells out the solution. Whether America will officially adopt the atheist religion or turn back to the ideal of our founding fathers remains to be seen.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

License Plate Storm Brewing

Indiana License Plate
Indiana License Plate

Here in Indiana, there has been a battle going for many years about what you can put on a license plate. Personalized plates are legal here, but they must meet three criteria:

*They cannot carry a connotation offensive to good taste or decency.
*They cannot be misleading.
*The BMV (Bureau of Motor Vehicles) cannot consider it improper.

In 2013 when the BMV refused to allow a motorist to have a plate that just had “OINK” written on it, the ACLU sued. Almost any religious message has been considered offensive and improper, so “Jesus Saves” has been rejected and having the name of a church has been rejected. These cases have been local because no one wanted to go to court until this February when Chris Bontrager of Goshen was told he couldn’t put “ATHEIST” on a plate. The ACLU got involved again, and on March 20 Bontrager got his plate.

The question now becomes why an atheist should be allowed to put his belief system on the plate when no one else has been given the same privilege. The answer may simply be that no one asked, but you can be sure there will be people jumping on the wagon at this point, and all kinds of messages will be suggested.

Part of the problem here is the question of religious pluralism. If “CHRISTIAN” can’t be put on the plate because it is offensive to Hindus, Muslims, or Atheists, why can’t the same logic apply to “ATHEIST.” Stay tuned.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Global Warming Nonsense

Global Warming Thermometer
The “hot button topic” for a wide variety of people today is the issue of global warming. It is easy to understand why political figures want to use this issue to manipulate their followers, but followers of Jesus Christ seem to be getting swept up in the paranoia also. Jesus said, “Take care that no one misleads you. For many will come claiming my name and saying, ‘I am the Messiah’; and many will be misled by them. The time is coming when you will hear the noise of battle near at hand and the news of battles far away; see that you are not alarmed. Such things are bound to happen; but the end is still to come. For nation will make war upon nation, kingdom upon kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes in many places. With all these things the birth-pangs of the new age begin” (Matthew 24:5-8 NEB). We need to be informed, but global warming is not of eternal significance. Some people try to make a religion of climate change. We can get involved scientifically or politically if we so choose, but let us not get involved religiously.

So what are the facts?
#1. Climate change is happening. Anyone can look at climate data worldwide and see the changes on a global scale. This is global–not local. We just had the warmest winter here in Michigan that I can remember, and I have lived here almost 60 years, but that is not directly due to global warming.

#2. This is not the first time. The Earth’s rocks show periods of warming and cooling. Natural processes cause changes in the Sun which affect the Earth. Geologic events such as volcanic eruptions can affect climate for long periods of time.

#3. Humans have altered the planet. This isn’t even worth commenting on, and what we have done has effects that are still unknown. God told us to “take care of the garden” (Genesis 2:15), and as custodians of the planet, we need to take care of it. Releasing greenhouse gasses indiscriminately would seem to be failing to do that.

#4. There are consequences to what we do and what we don’t do. As an example, cancer is mostly caused by human actions. The list of diseases human actions have caused or catalyzed is enormous. Not managing Earth’s resources well has cost us dearly in the past, and it will do so in the future.

Jesus said not to let these things disturb our minds. As Christians, we need to keep our eye on the cross and on our journey to an eternal home free of global warming, war, and all the other things that concern people about the physical world in which we live. The physical is important, but the spiritual is far more significant.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Setting Standards

Thomas Jefferson by Charles Willson Peale 1791
Thomas Jefferson by Charles Willson Peale 1791

One of the more convincing evidences that the Bible is inspired and not the work of human minds is the fact that it gives a proven, workable, testable, logical standard of conduct that improves the condition of all humans and brings real meaning to life. Skeptics and atheists do not like to hear that, and they will argue vociferously against it. In modern times, we have had a parade of philosophers from Ayn Rand to the secular humanists of the American Humanist Association that have suggested alternatives, all based on the “virtuous nature of humankind.” It is easy to show from a historical standpoint that such standards are doomed to failure.

Thomas Jefferson founded The University of Virginia in 1819. Jefferson dreamed of a public college which would have no regulations nor rules. Students of “good report” would be admitted and expected to practice “good will and judgment” that would respect the rights and property of others. Jefferson called it the “Grand Experiment” in which democracy and public education were brought together. It is important to note that it had a faculty and student body composed of the “cream of the crop.” There were no religious values imposed on the students and no rules concocted by previous generations that could be construed as an attempt by elders to manipulate, control, or restrict the younger generation. The University of Virginia offered an opportunity to see where highly educated, intelligent people would go with a lack of external rules and regulations.

The University of Virginia experiment of the 1820s was a total failure. Students did not go to class, drinking became a major problem, all kinds of offensive sexual conduct was carried on, and violence escalated. One night, 14 students high on alcohol went on a rampage assaulting professors with bricks and canes. The trustees of the University held a special meeting with the 82-year-old Jefferson in attendance. In his speech, Jefferson called the grand experiment “the most painful event of his life” and sat down with tears of grief unable to finish his speech. The board of trustees then enacted a series of rules and regulations along with a code of conduct that was rigidly enforced.

One might argue that a total lack of rules and regulations is unworkable, but that the Christian system is only one of hundreds of systems which will work equally well. To see the fallacy of that argument, look at what other systems have done. Look at what communism, as practiced in Russia, China, or North Korea, has produced. See what monarchies over the millennia have done to and for their subjects. Consider how women have been treated in Muslim cultures or how science and technology have fared in animalistic ancestor-worship cultures. While it’s true that some horrible things have been done in the name of Christianity, those atrocities were done in diametric contradiction to Christ and his teachings.

The Christian standard calls for serving others and putting them first. The Christian system rewards love, service, generosity, gentleness, and self-sacrifice. Other systems emphasize loving material things and using other people to get those things. The contrast between the teachings of Christ and all human systems is dramatic. We are surrounded by a culture trying every standard for successful living except real Christianity. The superiority of Christ’s example and teaching is always there for us to see.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

How Close Are We to a Nuclear Holocaust?

Nuclear Explosion
One thing that seems to never go away is the incredible stupidity of human beings. Every day we see people do things that not only don’t make sense but in many cases are clearly wrong. Scientific American (March 2017, page 10) has some data that shows just how close the world has come to annihilation due to the failures of humans to manage nuclear resources wisely.

The article states that both the United States and Russia have about 900 nukes ready to launch. In 1983 the Russian detection system said the U.S. missiles were on their way. A Russian military officer had a gut feeling that it was a false alarm, and didn’t push the button that would have plunged the world into a nuclear war. It turned out he was right. In 1979 a similar situation developed in the United States which activated ballistic missiles and nuclear bomber crews. Satellites could not verify the alert, so the retaliation was not ordered. It turned out that training software which had a simulation built in had found its way into the alert system. In 1974 during his impeachment proceedings, President Nixon said to reporters: “I can go into my office and pick up the telephone, and in 25 minutes 70 million people will be dead.” There were those who were worried that he would do just that.

The point of all this is that humans continue to allow materialism, nationalism, and personal power struggles to dominate the future of the planet. Albert Einstein is reported to have said, “If world war three is fought with nuclear weapons, world war four will be fought with clubs.” Given this, the importance of getting people to see the wisdom of Christ and His teachings of peace cannot be over-emphasized, In Matthew 24 Jesus predicted that future generations would do stupid things, “You will learn of wars and rumors of wars … famines, bogus religions” etc. Rather than be panicked by all this and what is happening to the world, we need to be encouraged to look to the time when God will put an end to all of the stupidity, and all of God’s children will be at peace with one another and with God. Matthew 24 describes that in some detail, and it is worth reading again in our age of foolish talk.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Illegal Prayers

Hands Of Praying
Let me give you a hypothetical situation. In Irving, Texas my daughter lived near a housing development that was bought, built, and developed by a Muslim businessman. He did not allow any non-Muslim to purchase property or build a house within the development. This man even built a mosque on the property for the use of the residents. The development is run by a group of Muslim commissioners who manage the finances and make decisions about maintenance and new construction. This group meets once a month and opens each meeting with a prayer which is led by one of the commissioners.

So far this discussion is factual, but now let us suggest the hypothetical part. Let’s suppose that one of the owners within the development converted to Christianity. He goes to a development board meeting which is opened by a Muslim who leads a Muslim prayer. The Christian is offended because it was not a Christian prayer, and so he sues, claiming that allowing the Muslim prayer is preferring one religion over another.

Now back to the factual. In an Associated Press headline dated February 16, 2017, we read “Court Says County Prayers are Illegal.” The board of commissioners of Jackson County, Michigan, begins each meeting with prayer led by one of the commissioners. All of the commissioners are Christians. One man who has been attending the meetings was offended by the prayers and filed a lawsuit. The man lost in U.S. District Court, so the case was appealed. What the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled is that “prayer invocations can be legal” but the Jackson County Board of Commissioners couldn’t just have Christian prayers. Suggesting that board members who are of one faith should lead a prayer of a different faith not only is somewhat ludicrous but would be offensive to most religions. If a Muslim ran for the board of commissioners and was elected, that person could lead a Muslim prayer. The offended man was described in one news story as a “pagan.” How would he not be offended by any prayer? Requiring that no invocation could be given would be tantamount to the government endorsing atheism. The founding fathers gave us the blessing of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, but they never intended to turn America into an atheist state.
–John N. Clayton © 2017