Wednesday, April 23, 2014
David’s second-grade class at a Maine school was given the assignment to bring in their favorite Easter story and they would take turns reading them to the class. When it was David’s turn, he brought his children’s story Bible with the Easter story marked. When the teacher realized what she was holding she told this precious little boy that he would have to bring in a different book.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Tinker v. the Iowa Independent School District, the continual assault on students and teachers to silence all references to one’s faith continues even when it’s on their personal time during the day. The majority opinion in Tinker was clear: “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the school house gate.”
At the federal level, the previous case, and many others, prompted the House of Representatives and the Senate to approve, nearly unanimously, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which then-President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993. One would think that would have at least mitigated the ingrained religio-phobia inundating our culture when it comes to even the most reasonable exercise of one’s faith.
Still, this hasn’t stopped the incessant challenges coming at predictable times of the year. School graduations seem to be a reliable season of contention. Every pre-game prayer huddle on field or in a locker room is scrutinized, and the greetings, music and scenery of religious holidays incessantly foment needless assaults on the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment. Even religious organizations have fallen prey to the nonsense of a growing hostility toward people who simply want to live out their faith honorably.
When a regional food bank was contacted to place a church-operated, central Maine homeless shelter on their distribution run, they refused when they discovered the shelter required its guests to attend regular sessions of practical life instruction, which includes some faith-based wisdom as well. Apparently such expectation was too much for the administrators of the food bank, fearing if they included this shelter they would lose part of their funding that came from government sources.
The irony of this is poignant considering the mission statement of the food bank includes doing the work of Jesus. Stating the obvious, one religious organization would not deliver food to another religious organization precisely because it was acting religiously.
People of diverse faiths all see the need for “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom,” or L.D. 1428, now in front of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. At the public hearing last week, those speaking in support of the bill included evangelicals, Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Mormons, and Native Americans.
Others, of course, were not enthusiastic. Maine’s attorney general spoke in opposition to L.D. 1428, expressing dire fears that if this bill passed it would open the flood gates to all manner of bizarre, not to mention illegal, behavior occurring under the rubric of religious freedom.
The AG said: “Under this bill … if I believe that it is part of my religious faith, that I should be able to butcher and sacrifice a dog every Saturday morning in the town square and offer up its remains to the supreme being, no police officer or state official could stop me under this law.”
The attorney general alluded to other equally strained, if not silly, hypotheticals, which is perplexing. There are decades of case law clarifying the meaning and application of “compelling interest” and “least restrictive means,” precisely concerning when and how governing authorities may and may not respond to the more difficult cases that may arise.
In light of it, the attorney general’s stated fears strain credulity.
Whatever your personal thoughts are regarding L.D. 1428, time is of the essence. The Judiciary Committee will vote today. If this bill is important to you, please contact the committee members and your representative before this date to let them know your desires.William Cripe is the senior pastor at Faith Evangelical Free Church in Waterville.