Enemies, not guardians of religious freedom

By David Limbaugh

I like to keep readers of this column apprised of the various acts of discrimination against Christians and Christian symbols in our society that come to my attention. I’ve got a new one for you.

The Central Baptist Church in Sanford, Fla., organized a memorial service to honor the victims of last year’s Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The church invited local school-board members and other community leaders, as well as the public at large.

The church asked the Seminole High School Gospel Choir to perform at the event, to be held at the church. When school officials got wind of it, they barred the choir from participating. They also made clear that participation by choir members on their own would be forbidden as subversive of school policy.

You know, it’s the old “separation of church and state” theme. According to the gods of the slippery slope, if a local school choir were allowed to sing at a local church, the United States would become a theocracy in no time.

Apparently, wanting to make sure there was no ambiguity in the future, the school district announced that it was adopting a new policy that would forbid any school choir from taking part in an event sponsored by or located in a church. Reportedly, the school district is even looking into banning the gospel choir entirely.

The gospel choir has been in existence for 12 years, having been organized as a result of a community demand for this type of music. The choir is one of four in the school district – the other three are secular. Like the other three, the gospel choir is highly sought after and has received many trophies in competition.

No student is arbitrarily assigned to the gospel choir. All of its 85 members belong on a purely voluntary basis – they choose which of the four choirs they want to join.

I suppose the school district’s action could have been anticipated, given recent directives of school officials. Not long ago, the school prohibited choir members from praying among themselves before their practices. After receiving that order, the choir asked school authorities whether they could, in lieu of praying together, have a moment of silence. Again, the answer was an emphatic no.

But not everyone agrees with the school district’s bizarre view of the church-state issue. Mathew Staver, president and general counsel for Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit civil-liberties education and legal-defense organization, was the keynote speaker for the ceremony. He was incredulous upon learning of the school-district’s decision.

“I was shocked by the situation – not only because I believe it’s blatantly unconstitutional, but it’s also unbelievable that it would come on the day that they were going to celebrate those who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and honor them in a patriotic celebration and a memorial service as well,” said Staver.

Staver has requested the school “to back off its position” and will consider instituting legal action if it does not. He believes the school district’s policy is part of a nationwide trend seeking to eliminate all indicia of religion – at least Christianity – from the public schools.

It is shameful that those who purport to be committed to constitutional principles are trashing one of the First Amendment religion clauses in the name of the other. The impetus behind the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause was to preserve religious freedom by prohibiting a national religion. Religious freedom was also (obviously) the impetus behind the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. Yet lost in all this phony “separation of church and state” zealotry is our Founders’ commitment to freedom of religion.

The school district’s banning of voluntary prayer and silent time by school choir members – as well as their performance on church property – is a far greater threat to our religious freedom than their participation at the 9-11 ceremony would have been.

Could these fanatical advocates of a complete ban on state and church interaction have become so myopic that they can’t see they are damaging the very freedoms they claim to be upholding? Or is something other than constitutional principles – like hostility to the Christian religion – motivating them?