Saturday, September 26, 2015

Celebrating a Life

Patrol cars lining up outside the funeral home
in preparation for the procession.
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:17-27).

As a police officer, part of my job is to sometimes attend civic functions. We are sent to Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Fourth of July parades. A nearby town has a Pet Parade to which we always send at least one patrol car. In Hodgkins, we have a summer festival the Second weekend of September and the police spend a lot of public relations time there. I usually spend the day driving children around in our parade car, a 1929 Ford Model A Phaeton.

Then, of course, there are the things that are not as much fun to attend.

Officers assembling at the church for the
honor guard detail.
We attend a lot of funerals. This month, there were two funerals for officers who have been killed. I had the privilege of attending the funeral for Steven Smith, the Chicago Ridge police officer who was killed in a DUI car crash on I-294 on September 13. I got to be part of the funeral procession, which included dozens of squad cars from I don't know how many police agencies. I participated in the police honor guard detail at the funeral home, and at the church. We stood at attention on the street in front of Our Lady of the Ridge Roman Catholic Church, along with a detail of flawlessly dressed (and immaculately choreographed) Marines, as the Emerald Society paraded in front of the hearse playing pipes and drums. It was a moving scene, and the police officers with whom I spoke were all, without exception, moved and gratified to see the entire town of Chicago Ridge honoring officer Steven Smith. Hundreds of people lined the streets as the funeral procession passed by. They waved American flags, and blue ribbons were tied to trees and lampposts along the way. There wasn't an empty seat in the church for Mass.

As a civic ceremony, this funeral for a man who had a positive impact on the community in which he grew up and lived will remain in my memory for a long time. It was the perfect way for a community to collectively express gratitude toward one of its sons and loyal civil servants. The religious ceremony, however, disturbed me.

The Emerald Society preparing to play.
Wakes and funerals are curious things, especially the way they are done in America. Rather than being a means to help grieving friends and relatives cope with the death of a loved one, wakes and funerals oftentimes become a celebration of the very thing that took their loved one away – death. They end up, rather than comforting people, reminding them of all the good things they have lost to death. Funerals and wakes, generally and without meaning to, put on display all that the deceased was in this life. It usually happens in the form of photographs, bulletin boards, flowers and personal mementos scattered throughout the funeral parlor. All these things, in effect, tell the living who have gathered to mourn, “Look what you have lost and will never again experience”. The most heinous part of the entire wake experience is, quite possibly, the corpse itself.

The body of a deceased loved one painted and dressed; face plastered with makeup and frozen in an almost-but-not-quite serene expression, made to appear as if asleep. In the hands of the wrong funeral director, a corpse becomes morbid marionette that serves only to focus attention on the “star” of the hour – death. At a wake, what a victory death seems to have won. And, no more awkward a question has ever been asked than, “Boy, doesn’t he/she look good?”

No, they don’t look good. No one looks good lying in a casket.

The priest, in his homily, referred several times to this funeral mass as being a "celebration of life." He eulogized the officer, recounting all sorts of incidents and anecdotes from his life, talking about what a wonderful person he was to those around him. The point he made at the end was, in recalling these things and sharing them with others, we keep him alive, just as we keep Jesus alive when we recall what Jesus has done, and imitate his love for his fellow man.

This made me cringe. It almost sounded as though the priest was denying an afterlife, let alone the resurrection, and saying that the dead - including Christ - are kept alive only in spirit, through collective memory. This emphasis was confusing, particularly since he read from John 11:25:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;

He did say that Christ was the only way to access God. But there was no mention of sin, or its forgiveness through the atoning sacrifice of Christ's death on the cross. With a casket in the center of the church, the saccharin words about celebrating life rang somewhat hollow, and you could see it on the face of Officer Smith’s mother.

The second thing that stuck out to me was the celebration of mass. I don’t intend to get into an in-depth comparative study of the Roman and Lutheran liturgies here, or to debate transubstantiation, consubstantiation, and the Real Presence. I have attended other masses in the past, and am familiar with what goes on. I have previously watched the presentation of the gifts, the bread and the wine, and heard the priest call on God to sanctify these offerings, that they may become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have seen priests re-present this unbloody sacrifice and offer it, “in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead and to obtain spiritual or temporal benefits from God” many times in the past (Roman Catholic Church 1994). These works were performed at this funeral Mass as well. Again, when there is a casket containing the body of one of those faithful departed for whose repose the congregation is praying, it gives one a bit more perspective on what is taking place.

During all this my eye was drawn to the family of the deceased. Quite understandably, their faces were the picture of anguish and despair. The only hope which was being offered to them, however, was in the work of performing the Mass, and in praying that their son’s soul would rest in peace. Even the little bit of Gospel given to them earlier in the service during the readings was taken away during the celebration of the Mass, by the lack of certainty that he would “rest in peace.”

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:1-11).

Being the obstinate and hateful Confessional Lutheran that I am, I was one of only two police officers who did not participate in the Eucharist that day. With the words of the Augsburg Confession in my head, there I sat, I could do nothing else, God help me! Amen!

Scripture teaches that we are justified before God, through faith in Christ, when we believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. Now if the Mass takes away the sins of the living and the dead simply by performing it[1], justification comes by doing Masses, and not by faith. Scripture does not allow this (AC XXIV 28-29)[2].

Because of our disobedient first parents, we have to deal with sin and death. Sin, after the fall, became a part of the human nature. And, while it is true that everyone must die, death does not have the same meaning for those who trust in Christ. This is what all those gathered to “celebrate the life” of Officer Smith desperately needed to hear. This is what I wanted Officer Smith’s parents to hear about their son, a baptized child of God.

St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians the following, my favorite passage of Scripture:

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).

For those who do not know Jesus Christ, who do not believe and trust in him as their redeemer, the prospect is grim. Death, for these people, remains the victor. Scripture says that they will experience eternal death. In the shadow of this prospect, the wake room and funeral service becomes an extremely cold, dark and dismal place.

...He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." (Revelation 21:7-8).

The Christian, however, can look death in the eye unafraid. To the Christian, death is more than a consequence of original sin and a fallen creation; more than the cessation of life. It is the portal to life everlasting and a relationship with the Creator as such a relationship was intended to be. No suffering, no pain; only eternal joy with God and all the saints forever.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true" (Revelation 21:3-5).

For the unbeliever, the traditional wake is appropriate. An entire life summed up by a bulletin board full of old photographs and a coffee room filled with sad, frightened people discussing everything but that which is in the parlor. For the Christian, it is inappropriate, as they have, in their baptism, passed from death to life. By their physical death, the deceased Christian has passed from this life to life eternal. The Christian wake and funeral, though an outlet for grief and mourning is, and rightly should be, also a celebration of Christ’s victory over death and the grave by his resurrection - the anticipation that those who trust in him as the atonement for their sins will live forever as well. The Christian funeral can be called a celebration of life. It is a celebration of the life Christ has won for us on the cross, without any merit or worthiness in us.

Death is not good. God, however, has taken what is evil and turned it to our benefit, by the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of the body and life everlasting are sure and certain to those who trust in him; to those who remain faithful unto death. Therefore, for the Christian, especially when confronting death, the words of St. Paul should provide us strength, consolation and comfort:

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Works Cited

Concordia Publishing House. Luther's Small Catechism. Translated by Concordia Publishing House. Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1991.

McCain, Paul Timothy, Robert Cleveland Baker, Gene Edward Veith, and Edward Andrew Engelbrecht, . Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Translated by William Hermann Theodore Dau and Gerhard Friedrich Bente. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.

Roman Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Rome: Urbi et Orbi Communications, 1994. 

End Notes

[1] Ex opere operato – by the outward act. Scripture certainly teaches that the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace and that the chief blessing of it is the forgiveness of sins, which Christ’s body and blood have won for us on the cross. Forgiveness of sin, life and salvation are certainly not given simply by the eating and drinking (the outward act), but by believing in the words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” along with the eating and drinking. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: “forgiveness of sins” (Concordia Publishing House 1991).

[2] McCain, Paul Timothy, Robert Cleveland Baker, Gene Edward Veith, and Edward Andrew Engelbrecht, . Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Translated by William Hermann Theodore Dau and Gerhard Friedrich Bente. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Donald Trump, Nazism, and the Immigration Debate

I heard a fantastic interview listening to Issues Etc on-demand the other day. Pastor Wilken spoke with Dr. Richard Weikart regarding the Darwinist roots of the Nazi worldview. You can hear the segment HERE. At approximately 31:00 minutes into the program, the discussion turned to the Nazi deportation of the Jews. Dr. Weikart seemed to imply that the Nazi’s began with the strategy of simply deporting the Jews and wound up approximately a decade later at the bottom of the slippery slope in the valley of genocide. Even though they were discussing Nazism, the topic was really current events, as it almost always is with these types of discussions. I sent the following comments to the Issues Etc comment line:

In your discussion with Dr. Richard Weikart on 08/28/15 regarding eugenics and Nazism, you asked the question, "How does it get from that [deportation of the genetically inferior] to, ‘let’s exterminate them'?" Dr. Weikart went on to discuss how the Nazis progressed from a strategy of deporting the Jews, to mass extermination. The implication seems to be that "deportation of undesirables" is the top of a slippery slope which leads to holocaust.  
Is Dr. Weikart saying that the Nazis developed their plans of mass murder as they slid down the slope from their relatively innocuous initial plans for deportation? If so, history seems to indicate otherwise. Hitler started with the intention of eradicating the inferior races from existence as too many historical sources to enumerate here indicate, including Mein Kampf. He simply hid his end goal of murder, which he knew the public would not accept if he were brutally honest at the time, by calling for deportation. 
This is also an argument used by some opponents of those who advocate stricter enforcement of existing immigration law. Activist journalists such as Jorge Ramos like to set up the straw man argument that it would be impossible to deport X number of millions of undocumented immigrants. Also, no person is "illegal." Do you see the Nazi deportation of Jews as equivalent to the call for stricter enforcement of immigration law, and the deportation of illegal aliens from the U.S.? I do not see them as equal. The former is discrimination based on race/creed/color etc; the latter is government faithfully fulfilling its God-given role according to Holy Scripture.

They flirted around the areas I covered in my comments, and I don’t believe they mentioned Donald Trump by name, but it was certainly clear what Dr. Weikart’s view of The Donald was. 

I personally think Donald Trump is a populist, probably with a leftist bend, who will say anything he thinks is profitable in order to achieve his ends. One look at his past will show you he’s not a Republican. His comments about taxes, and buying politicians to “get things done” tells me he certainly isn’t a conservative, and his stance on SCOTUS’ 2005 Kelo decision and the concept of eminent domain makes me question whether or not he has ever heard of the U.S. Constitution. The thing which seems to have Donald Trump’s critics the most upset, though, is immigration. I don’t say his immigration policy, because he hasn’t outlined one. I don’t say, “what he thinks about immigration,” because I don’t trust him to say what he really believes. All of that is beside the point, however, as one only needs to mention “immigration” to merit an attack from both the left and the right. 

I felt compelled to put the proverbial pen to paper because of another piece involving the Nazis which is making the Facebook rounds. Someone took the 1920 Nazi Party platform and edited it to replace the word “German” with “American.” He did this in order to show how racist what Donald Trump is saying in his campaign regarding immigration is. This is what the creator had to say about his project:

So I have had a little fun. I've taken the 1920 Nazi Party platform [I used this translation:…/Holoca…/naziprog.html ] and edited it to replace "German" with "American" as well as making a few other minor changes that mask its identity but keep its spirit. I reprint the edited version below. What strikes me is that I bet if you showed it to Trump supporters, they would love it. What I worry about is that when you told them what it was, they wouldn't care. [And yes, as Phil says in the comments, it really does read like a Trump/Sanders ticket, with the nationalism and the socialism.] Feel free to copy and paste and use as you wish.

The piece is certainly interesting, and I suppose that it could be a useful thought experiment. I couldn’t help but feel a little insulted though, as I am one of those Libertarians who believes in border security. Consider these examples from the piece which deal with immigration and citizenship. Remember, these things were taken from the Nazi Party platform of 1920:

3. Only Americans can be Citizens of the State. Only persons of American blood can be Citizens, regardless of birthplace. No one who is not the child of an American can therefore be an American Citizen. 
4. Any person who is not a Citizen will be able to live in America only as a guest and must be subject to legislation for Aliens. 
5. Only Americans are entitled to decide the leadership and laws of the State. We therefore demand that only Americans may hold public office, regardless of whether it is a national, state or local office. 
6. We demand that the State make it its duty to provide opportunities of employment first of all for its own Citizens. If it is not possible to maintain the entire population of the State, then foreign nationals (non-Citizens) are to be expelled from America. 
7. Any further immigration of non-Americans is to be prevented. We demand that all non-Americans who entered America after August 2, 2014, be forced to leave America without delay.

There is a debate about immigration going on between two sides in this country, and it is frustrating. It’s frustrating because the two sides are ignoring quite a large middle. On one side, advocates of open borders lobby for unrestricted immigration with few, if any, controls or expectations of assimilation for the immigrant. On the other, xenophobic rednecks want all brown people to be rounded up and shipped back to their country of origin, while simultaneously constructing a 400 foot wall along the length of the southern border, without doors or gates. Those are the choices presented to the American people by the media, and by Democrat and Republican establishment politicians. In reality, we suspect strongly that things will remain status quo. 

There is a third option, however, which politicians and social activists either ignore or mischaracterize to suit their need. This option can be summed up in the phrase, “Big fence, wide gate.” Americans wish to see their government attempt, in earnest, to stop the entry of millions of illegal aliens per year into the country. Not wanting to unduly deny any person a reasonable shot at the American dream, a majority of them also wish to make the process of immigrating to the United States easier, 1) so that people do not attempt to come here illegally, 2) we maintain the integrity of our nation’s borders, 3) we know who is coming to our country and can better judge whether they mean us good or ill, 4) and we can admit the best, most talented immigrants more quickly.

I do not understand why this is a difficult concept for people to grasp. Americans who wish for the immigration laws of the United States to be enforced and for the immigration system, in general, to be reworked to be more efficient in the interest of national security are not National Socialists. I am not a Donald Trump supporter. I do, however support the enforcement of immigration law and the reworking of America’s immigration system. Certainly any honest person will admit that there is a middle ground between advocating for either open borders or a locked-down, xenophobic police state. But, since both Donald Trump and I used the words immigration, I am the same ignorant xenophobe he is supposed to be.

I couldn’t tell you what is inside the mind of The Donald. I do know that it is not unreasonable for Americans to want their Federal government to stop millions of people from violating their nation’s border every year. Many of these illegal aliens become an added drain on the federal Treasury, and they cause the cost of government at federal, state, and local levels to increase. Moreover, illegal aliens who enter the country without any controls go through no process of assimilation to American culture. You can make jokes about American “culture” all day long by pointing to McDonalds and American Idol, and the point is well taken. That is not the culture to which I am referring. True American culture is not what is broadcast on television, but rather the ideals enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and our other founding documents. The U. S. Constitution protects the rights of man from an oppressive government. It establishes that the government of the United States is one which respects the rule of law rather than the rule of men. It is not unreasonable to require that those who would immigrate to the United States be familiar with those ideals, be positively disposed toward them, and agree to uphold them. 

I don’t really give a crap what kind of weird traditional head scarf someone wears when they move here. I don’t care if they look like me, speak a different language, or have different social or religious traditions than I have. What I do care about, is whether or not that new immigrant with the crazy hat “…holds these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

Among the people crossing the borders illegally may be America’s next James Madison or Thomas Jefferson; there may also be the next Osama bin Laden or Che Guevara. No one could possibly know, though, because “no person is illegal,” and to demand that the federal government insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare by securing the border is somehow racist. 

There are those who wish to stop all immigration, legal and illegal. I believe these people are misguided. My now ex-crush, Ann Coulter, is one of these people. She does, however, understand the basic problems that illegal immigration presents to a country, and makes a compelling case that America’s current immigration policy, which was adopted in 1965, was specifically designed to change the demographics of America, and thus, the culture. 

As Democratic consultant Patrick Reddy wrote for the Roper Center in 1998, “The 1965 Immigration Reform Act promoted by President Kennedy, drafted by Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and pushed through the Senate by Ted Kennedy, has resulted in a wave of immigration from the third world which should shift the nation in a more liberal direction within a generation. It will go down as the Kennedy family’s greatest gift to the Democratic party” (Coulter 2015).

Reddy also wrote:

The immigration reform of the 1960s has produced a whole new generation of Democrats. What more could Democrats ask for? (Reddy 1998)


She also makes another good point which I have heard echoed by people whom I know to be reasonable and caring. The immigration “problem” cannot be fixed until something is done to stop the massive amounts of people entering the country illegally, or illegally overstaying their visas. To quote Ann:

As Reagan’s amnesty proves, it’s pointless to talk about what to do with illegal aliens already here, until we’ve secured the border. When the bathtub is overflowing, the very first thing you do is turn off the water. You don’t debate whether to use a rag or a mop to clean up the water, whether to get a bucket or put a hose out the window, whether to use towels or sponges. The number one priority is: Shut off the water (Coulter 2015).

After that happens, I am – along with a large chunk of the rest of the country, I suspect – willing to discuss every option, from amnesty to deportation, to best deal with the people who have come here illegally, and to fix our immigration system…but not a moment before. As long as those Establishment big-wigs on the right (read Chamber of Commerce) think that they can import near-slave labor from Mexico, and those leftist elites (read rich Democrat politicians) need voters and inexpensive housekeepers, however, nothing will change.

This is why the average person is frustrated with the so-called immigration debate, and why so many are being seduced by the populist rhetoric of Donald Trump. He is, in his brash-but-media-savvy way, not so much saying what people want to hear, as he is saying something different than the establishment politicians are saying. What’s more, he is saying his nonsense in a way in which they want to hear it said – loudly and without apology. Calling people who cherish and wish to protect America’s Constitution and way of life, and are frustrated with politicians of both major parties, modern day Nazis is not the way to win them from his camp. Boldly advocating for the kind of reasonable immigration enforcement and reform they desperately wish to see become government policy is.


Coulter, Ann. Adios, America. Washington DC: Regnery Publishing, 2015.

Reddy, Patrick. "Immigration: The Real Kennedy Legacy." The Public Perspective. October/November 1998.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Freedom of Worship?

"Freedom of Worship" by Norman Rockwell
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus (Acts 5:27-42).

The Daily Signal reported on April 30, 2015 that a Republican senator was up in arms over how the Obama Administration was misrepresenting American’s freedom of religion. Senator James Lankford (R-OK) was upset with the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to use the phrase “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion” on the test immigrants take to become naturalized US citizens (Harkness 2015).

Senator Lankford isn’t alone in his concern over what he perceives to be the redefining of the First Amendment. Christian leaders are becoming increasingly concerned that those who oppose them are attempting to redefine the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause from an individual protection to an institutional one. Statements such as those from Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz are cited as evidence.

In an interview with CBN News, Wasserman-Schultz said that “legitimate religious institutions” shouldn’t be forced to conduct same-sex marriages, but religious business owners should not be legally protected under the Free Exercise Clause for “turn[ing] people away based on who they are” (Howerton 2015).

“You shouldn’t be able to turn people away based on who they are. It’s important that no matter who you are, who you love, what the color of your skin is, what your national origin is, we’re a nation of laws. Yes, the marriage equality decision is settled. Love is love and now everyone in America enjoys the protection of the United States Constitution when it comes to who they choose to marry legally,” Wasserman Schultz said. “That doesn’t mean that churches and religious institutions have to conduct same sex marriages and it doesn’t mean that religious institutions aren’t able to practice their own values…But, in this country, we do not allow people to discriminate and that’s [sic] I think is where the important distinction needs to be drawn” (Howerton 2015).

In the past opponents of religion on the Left have attacked the institutional public exercise of religion, such as the erecting of nativity scenes placed on public property, by citing the “separation of church and state.” Now it appears that the tactics have changed. Some of the more smug enemies of religion, Christianity in particular, would cite Bible passages such as Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your father who sees in secret will reward you,” as did one Facebook friend, attempting to provoke an argument. Far from proving their point, however, this passage from the Sermon on the Mount Jesus was making the point to his disciples that, if the motivation for worshiping God is to be recognized as pious by men, then there is no benefit. Jesus calls us to hide our good works, not to flaunt them for recognition. Quite to the contrary, Christians are called to be faithful witnesses to the world and to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). But, I digress…

What Wasserman-Schultz seems to be saying is, sure, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod doesn’t have to perform same-sex marriages. They are a legitimate religious institution protected by the First Amendment. But you, the individual parishioner, you may not live out your faith in the public square. Consequently, if your conscience will not allow you to be the wedding cake baker for a same-sex wedding celebration, too bad. Evidentially the individual is only free to exercise their religion within the walls of their house of worship. 

The US Constitution does not limit the free exercise of religion to the inside of the church building for an hour on Sunday morning. Christians, along with their fellow citizens of other faiths, have the God-given and constitutionally protected right to live out their faith in the world, conducting themselves in public as their consciences dictate, subject only to infringement under special circumstances or where the State can demonstrate a compelling interest.

Much is made of the fact that there is a “separation of church and state” built into the U.S. Constitution. This is not exactly true, at least not in the way left-wing activists believe it to be. The phrase “separation of church and state” appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution, and this wall is certainly not one which was intended to bar individuals who practice a religious faith from entering the public square. The term is an offshoot of the phrase, "wall of separation between church and state," written by Thomas Jefferson in a now famous letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. The original text of President Jefferson’s letter reads, in part: 

"... I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State” (Jefferson 1802). 

The Danbury Baptist Association wrote to Jefferson of their concerns regarding the lack of explicit protection of religious liberty in their own state constitution, and against a government establishment of religion (The Heritage Foundation n.d.). As a religious minority in Connecticut, the Danbury Baptists were concerned that a religious majority might establish a state religion at the cost of the liberties of religious minorities. Jefferson assured them that the U.S. Constitution would in no way permit such an establishment, and that “…religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions…” (Jefferson 1802). This separation of church and state, as understood by Thomas Jefferson at least, had nothing whatsoever to do with public expressions of religion. To Jefferson and the Danbury Baptists, separation of church and state had everything to do with the establishment of a national/state religious body, and avoiding the national/state oppression of religious minorities.

It wasn’t until 1947 that the Supreme Court, albeit nebulously, defined just how the “wall of separation” was to be built. As a result of Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township, 330 U.S. 1 (1947)[1], state or local government can not: 1) set up a church, 2) pass laws that aid one religion, all religions, or favor one religion over another, 3) force a person to attend or stay away from church, or believe in any religion, 4) punish a person for holding or professing religious beliefs, 5) levy a tax, in any amount, to support any religious activities or institutions, 6) openly or secretly participate in the affairs of any religious organization, or vice-versa (Everson v. Board of Education 2015). 

Another test established by the Supreme Court, known as The Lemon Test, is based on the case Lemon v. Kurtzman 403 U.S. 602 (1971)[2]. The test consists of three parts: 1) whether the law or conduct has a secular purpose, 2) whether the law or conduct has as its primary or principle effect advancing or inhibiting religion, and 3) whether it fosters an excessive entanglement of government with religion (Lemon v. Kurtzman 2015). 

Additionally, the Court has ruled that public displays of religious symbols, such as the Christian nativity scene or the Jewish menorah, do not constitute a breach of the Establishment Clause when they are all displayed together, and along with secular holiday symbols, in celebration of the national holiday of Christmas[3]. A good example of this is the Christkindlemarkt (Christ child market) which is set up in Daley Plaza every year in Chicago. The clearly Christian event, complete with nativity scene, is set up each year without incident. Alongside the nativity scene each year is a large Jewish menorah. Any citizen or group who wishes to exercise their freedom of religious expression in this public space may do so, and the event is not in breach of the Establishment Clause. Should any religious or secular group be prohibited by government from exercising that freedom of expression at the Christkindlemarkt, it would then violate the Establishment Clause. 

To say that there is no place in American society for public displays of religion or religious symbols, strictly because they are by nature religious, is simply not justified by the U.S. Constitution, or by case law. Justice Antonin Scalia, in his dissenting opinion to the McCreary County, Kentucky, ET. Al. Petitioners v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky ET. Al. case, observed that the same week Congress submitted the Establishment Clause as part of the Bill of Rights for ratification by the States, it enacted legislation providing for paid chaplains in the House and Senate. Justice Scalia goes on to remind his fellow justices that, “The same Congress also reenacted the Northwest Territory Ordinance of 1787, 1 Stat. 50, Article II of which provided: ‘Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged’” (Scalia 2005). 

And, it should not be overlooked that the First Amendment itself accords religion – and no other manner of belief – special constitutional protection. I am sure that our friends on the Left would not agree that these early actions of Congress are equally valid today, since they generally consider the U.S. Constitution to be a “living, breathing document”, meaning that its interpretation changes as American society changes, and that moral values simply evolve along with society and culture and are therefore not absolute. 

The views of American citizens, however, have not changed significantly where this issue of public expression of religion is concerned. Justice Scalia rightly points out that our Presidents continue to conclude their oath of office with the words, “So help me God.” The Congress opens each session with a prayer; those prayers are lead by official congressional chaplains. The Supreme Court opens its sessions with the prayer “God save the United States and this Honorable Court”. We have the phrase “In God We Trust” on our currency. When we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States we corporately acknowledge that we are one nation, under God. Justice Scalia finishes his thought thusly:

“As one of our Supreme Court opinions rightly observed, ‘We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.’ Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 313 (1952), repeated with approval in Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 675 (1984); Marsh, 463 U.S., at 792; Abington Township, supra, at 213” (Scalia 2005).

That is all well and good for the church as an institution, but what about individual people? Traditionally, without a “compelling interest,” the free exercise of religion by individuals could not be infringed, and the Supreme Court has ruled accordingly in the past.

In, Sherbert v. Verner (1963) the Court held that states must have a "compelling interest" to refuse to accommodate religiously motivated conduct (United States Supreme Court 1963). In this case Adele Sherbert was denied unemployment benefits by South Carolina because she refused to work on Saturdays, something forbidden by her Seventh-day Adventist faith. The Court ruled that the denial of Sherbert’s unemployment benefits was an unconstitutional burden on the free exercise of her religion in a 7-2 decision. This decision resulted in what came to be known as the Sherbert Test. 

The Sherbert Test basically says that, if the government has burdened an individual’s free exercise of religion, it must have done so by confronting that person with a choice which pressures him/her to forego a religious practice by imposing a penalty or withholding a benefit etc. The State, however, may be justified in their infringement of the person’s free exercise if they can show 1) a compelling state interest that justifies the infringement, and 2) no other form of regulation can avoid the infringement and still achieve the State’s ends. The Sherbert Test has been limited and modified in recent years but is still applicable in federal statutes and certain other circumstances (Sherbert v. Verner 2015). 

Since the founding of the country, the Court has understood the free exercise of religion – like the other rights protected in the Bill of Rights – to apply to individuals. People, as individuals, do not simply have a “freedom of worship” in the cloister of their religious buildings or homes. Individuals have the right under the US Constitution to bring their religious beliefs with them into the public square as they live out their everyday lives. As Christians, however, we must be prepared to live according to our consciences even if our government ceases to protect that right, and be joyful to be counted worthy to suffer in the name of Jesus.

Works Cited

"Everson v. Board of Education." Wikipedia. January 30, 2015. (accessed August 14, 2015).

Harkness, Kelsey. "US Immigration Exam Replaces 'Freedom of Religion' With 'Freedom of Worship'."

The Daily Signal. April 30, 2015. (accessed August 14, 2015).

Howerton, Jason. "DNC Chair Says This 'Important Distinction' Needs to Be Drawn When It Comes to Religious Freedom." The Blaze. July 8, 2015. (accessed August 14, 2015).

Jefferson, Thomas. "Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists." The Heritage Foundation. January 1, 1802. (accessed August 14, 2015).

"Lemon v. Kurtzman." Wikipedia. July 31, 2015. (accessed August 14, 2015).

Scalia, Justice Antonin. "MCCREARY COUNTY V. AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIESUNION OF KY. (03-1693) 545 U.S. 844 (2005) ." Cornell University Law School. June 27, 2005. (accessed August 14, 2015).

"Sherbert v. Verner." Wikipedia. August 6, 2015. (accessed August 14, 2015).

Supreme Court of the United States. "Everson v. Board of Education." Oyez. (accessed August 14, 2015).

The Heritage Foundation. "Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists." The Heritage Foundation. (accessed August 2015, 2015).

The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. "Lynch v. Donnelly." Oyez. August 9, 2015. (accessed August 14, 2015).

United States Supreme Court. "Sherbert v. Werner." FindLaw. June 17, 1963. (accessed August 14, 2015).

End Notes

[1] Supreme Court of the United States. “Everson v. Board of Education.” Oyez. (accessed August 14, 2015).

[2] Supreme Court of the United States. “Lemon v. Kurtzman.” Oyez.

[3] “The city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, annually erected a Christmas display located in the city's shopping district. The display included such objects as a Santa Claus house, a Christmas tree, a banner reading ‘Seasons Greetings,’ and a nativity scene. The creche had been included in the display for over 40 years. Daniel Donnelly objected to the display and took action against Dennis Lynch, the Mayor of Pawtucket…In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held that notwithstanding the religious significance of the creche, the city had not violated the Establishment Clause. The Court found that the display, viewed in the context of the holiday season, was not a purposeful or surreptitious effort to advocate a particular religious message. The Court found that the display merely depicted the historical origins of the Holiday and had ‘legitimate secular purposes.’ The Court held that the symbols posed no danger of establishing a state church and that it was ‘far too late in the day to impose a crabbed reading of the [Establishment] Clause on the country’" (The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law 2015).