googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: The Bizarro First Amendment

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Bizarro First Amendment

Now, this happened a while ago so excuse me that it’s not timely. I wasn’t blogging then but the issue is still relevant so I’m still talking about it.

In May, 2007, I was fortunate enough to visit Answers in Genesis’s new Creation Museum the week that it opened. For those who might not be familiar with it, AIG has built a new museum that presents the Biblical history of the world rather than the evolutionary theory. It’s a great museum that rivals any secular museum I’ve been in. It was built entirely with private donations and is overtly religious in nature.

Anyway, about the time the museum opened, there was this tiny, wanna-be-grass-roots group called DefCon who was circulating a petition protesting the museum. DefCon is an abbreviation for “Defense of the Constitution” - you’ll see in a moment how ironic that is. Now, DefCon has the right to protest anything they want. They can picket, circulate petitions, tell lies (actually they shouldn’t tell lies but they still do), and try to discourage support for the museum in any way they see fit. However, everything was not as it seemed.

There were actually 2 petitions being circulated - one for educators to sign and the other for everyone else. The wording in each was nearly identical except the first began, “As educators..."; So, the people who signed this petition were specifically evoking their positions as educators when they signed it.

I first became alarmed when I read a little blurb about a DefCon board member, Sam Schloemer, who happens to be an elected school board official. The article referred to him by his elected title of Representative. In his quotes, he openly condemned the museum and encouraged teachers to do the same. Of course, many of these teachers who signed the petition were PUBLIC school teachers - i.e. representatives of the state.

So let’s see here, we have an elected official encouraging other public officials to condemn a private, religious organization. Then we have public employees, acting within their capacity “as educators” actually doing it. Doesn’t anyone see a problem with this? It would be akin to a group of history teacher banding together and signing a petition saying, “As educators, we condemn the outrageous belief that Jesus was an historical person.”

Now, being the concerned, Christian voter that I am, and (at that time) a resident of OH where Rep. Schloemer serves, I wrote letters to the Governor, Rep. Schloemer, the state’s Secretary of Education. I also engaged in much online debate about the blatant infringement on the First Amendment that was occurring. The silence from the elected officials was deafening. In all fairness, the Governor’s office replied with a non-committing response but he mistakenly seemed to think the museum was in OH. The Secretary of Education said that there is no official position of the DOE but did not comment on the teachers’ actions. I never heard back from Rep. Schloemer.

The response from cyberspace was confusing. I was constantly told, over and over, that these educators had the right to sign the petition because, even though they were teachers and elected officials, they were also private citizens and had their First Amendment right free speech. They also said that AIG is trying to effect public school curriculum by telling kids God created us so it was AIG who was violating the first amendment. If these people had their way, there would be a padlock on the museum right now.

OK, let’s get this straight: A private, religious organization exercising its belief is violating the first amendment. And ELECTED officials and PUBLIC employees openly condemning a religious institution and petitioning against it is free speech? It’s Bizzaro world.

There are a few people out there who believe the first amendment says something like, “there will be a separation of church and state.” Well, the amendment does not use the word “separation” or “church” or “state” so it’s about a bad a summary as one could make. For those who are confused, let me point out what the first amendment actually says:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. "

Here’s a little reading exercise. In the above quote, who is being bound or restricted by this amendment? Is it the religious person? No!! It’s CONGRESS (i.e. the state)! Religious people have the right to say, do, or believe anything they want. They can speak out and proselytize to their hearts content. They can publish newsletters and blog about how bad they think the government is. They can even build a museum and peacefully assemble there. They can do all these things and the STATE can do nothing about it. The state should do NOTHING to infringe upon the rights of Christians to exercise their faith, which includes signing a petition against them.

Perhaps there are a few teachers who signed the petition not realizing their actions were a violation of the free exercise clause. If you care to rescind your petition then you are forgiven. For all the rest - shame on you.

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