A Lemon of a Law
by Curt Wikstrom
The latest decisions by the US Supreme Court prohibiting the display of the ten commandments in certain public places moves the Court and the country deeper into an abyss created by an unreasonable and indefensible rule. By permitting only one worldview, and excluding all others from the public square, the Court has established a religion in America.
In Abington v. Schempp (1963), Justice Clark said “It is true that religion has been closely identified with our history and government”. “In addition, it might be well said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization”. Despite this, Clark created a rule to prohibit Bible reading in public schools.
The Court noted that many opposed having their children taught doctrines to which they disagreed. As Justice Brennan stated “There are persons in every community--often deeply devout--to whom any version of the Judaeo-Christian Bible is offensive. There are others whose reverence for the Holy Scriptures demands private study or reflection and to whom public reading or recitation is sacrilegious.”
But as Justice Stewart said in his dissent in Abington “ . . . If religious exercises are held to be an impermissible activity in schools, religion is placed in an artificial and state-created disadvantage. . . . And a refusal to permit religious exercises thus is seen, not as the realization of state neutrality, but rather as the establishment of a religion of secularism, or at least, as governmental support of the beliefs of those who think that religious exercises should be conducted only in private.”
In 1971 Chief Justice Burger stated the Court’s test in Lemon v. Kurtzman:
First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster "an excessive government entanglement with religion."
It is logically and practically impossible for Government to "neither advance nor inhibit religion" and operate a school. It is impossible to teach anything without some set of pre-suppositions, and without some values, whether they are "good" or "bad". By controlling education, Government can advance one worldview and inhibit all of the rest. It can advance all worldviews and inhibit none. But it cannot inhibit all, and it cannot advance none. To prevent even the word God from being used or explored in either science, society, or morals, is to establish a religion that rejects the concept and being of God. But it goes beyond that. It establishes a "Religion" that is unwilling to define itself, or to prove itself. One cannot prove a scientific theory without discounting the alternatives to that theory and challenges to the elements of the theory. And one cannot prove or justify the validity of a "Religion" without overcoming the challenges to the doctrines of that Religion.
The Court failed to balance the interests of the various parties to freedom of religion and to the free exercise of religion. Many parents believed that reading the Bible was an essential part of an education, that saying grace before meals was not only a right but a duty, that an invocation and benediction were appropriate at important public ceremonies? What about their rights to the “free exercise” of religion?
If the Court really believed in the Lemon test, and in neutrality with respect to religion, it should have banned government controlled school monopolies. After all, the power of the state to indoctrinate all of its citizens with its chosen worldview, especially an a-theistic worldview, was exactly what the first amendment was designed to prevent. Schools should not be run by politics, politicians, and judges. They tend to dictate what is taught, destroying freedom of thought and expression.
But there were other alternatives to banning government run schools. The court could have required the schools to accommodate the various religious faiths of those who attended the government schools. The schools would have evolved in a way where freedoms of expression and religion were preserved. Bible reading would be an elective, as would the documents of other religions. Elective classes in religious studies would be offered. Prayer before meals and at ceremonies would rotate among various religions, denominations, and sects, just as happens now at the major political parties and in Congress. Participation would be voluntary, but children and adults would learn to tolerate those of different beliefs and give them their turn, and their opportunity to be heard. Students would be permitted to discuss and debate the various ideas about our origins, our purpose, and our meaning. They would have an opportunity to express their views about human dignity, the source and basis for law and morality. Parents would be put on notice as to what was offered, and would have the right to direct their children in selecting electives, and whether or not they would participate in various options offered to the children.
By banning theistic worldviews from the public school and the public square, the Court necessarily establishing an a-theistic worldview, or religion. No person or organization can function without some approach to interpreting and explaining the world around us, or a worldview. It is impossible to be without some sort of worldview, unless one is insane. The worldview that was held by those who wrote our Constitution was theistic. In other words, they believed that we were created by a higher being, and we are accountable to that higher being. We have inalienable rights that transcend human legislation. There is an order to the universe that we can discover and take advantage of. We were made with a built in logic so that we can discover the order to the universe, natural law, and moral truth.
The basis for law and moral order in the Christian religion is love. St Augustine went so far as to say “love and do as you will”. There is no more important thing for us to learn in life than to love God, to love others, and to be loved. No personal or social problems can be solved without learning this. Because this love is the operating principle of the Christian faith, it is considered “religious” and therefore prohibited in our public schools and in the public square. Our religion is in one sense our worldview, the presuppositions that we use to interpret the world. For Christians, religion is in another sense love, the operating principle of our lives. Pastors, priests, and missionaries help us with our human condition, by demonstrating love, teaching us about it, and showing us how to live virtuous and purposeful lives. However, except for the military and Congress, they have been excluded from the public schools and the public square.
The secularist (a-theist) worldview asserts that we evolved from “billions and billions” of years of accidents, and all of those accidents resulted eventually into an extremely complex biological structure. The operating principle of life is time and chance. We do not have free will, but are controlled by cause and effect. There is essentially no such thing as justice, morality, human dignity or love. They are all human constructs. Psychiatrists and psychologists are the priesthood of non-theism, and they help our human condition by giving us drugs to calm us down, teaching us that everything is relative, and that we should have self esteem. Being part of the established religion, they are permitted in the public schools, and in the public square.
The Supreme Court began its assault on religious freedom and freedom of conscience in the 1960’s, more than 170 years after the adoption of our Constitution. The ensuing battle for religious freedom in America is a result of the rulings of the Court that have deprived the American people of their religious freedom. The issues that face us today are not about religious extremists trying to impose their views on us. They are about reclaiming basic freedoms of religion, expression, thought, and association. They are to bring balance back to the public square, and re-establish the principle that the government can not impose one worldview, the a-theistic worldview, on all of its citizens.