There was a time when 10 Commandment displays sat untouched in government halls and schools, when Nativity scenes were placed in parks and in front of government buildings, and when children sang traditional Christmas songs at holiday concerts. I remember my elementary school calendar, which read, “Christmas Vacation” marking a week or so off for the Christmas season.
Slowly and methodically, it’s all disappearing thanks primarily to two organizations that are on a mission to eradicate any vestige of God – particularly Jesus Christ – from the public square.
The Madison, Wisconsin based Freedom From Religion Foundation, (FFRF) and American Atheists, based in Cranford, New Jersey, are the leaders in filing frivolous and outrageous lawsuits aimed at eradicating any Christian signs, symbols, and words or prayers from the landscape.
American Atheists, founded in 1963 by the late Madalyn Murray O’Hair – once known as the most hated woman in America – will be celebrating its 50th year next year. A famous lawsuit by the group in the '60s put an end to Bible reading in schools and this was to be the beginning of the end of a form of religious freedom for Christians.
Sometimes quietly, but oftentimes not, the groups are filing lawsuits at lightning speed anywhere they claim to see a “violation of the Establishment Clause.”
Their modus operandi is similar to a search and destroy mission. Seek out Christian symbols and banish them. Both FFRF and American Atheists encourage their members to report “violations of the Establishment Clause,” also know as “separation of church and state” violations; this could be a 10 Commandments display, a Nativity scene, a statue of Jesus, it doesn’t matter; it just has to be a Christian symbol.
The “violator” is sent a letter from one of the organizations, which in effect threatens a lawsuit if the offending item is not removed. The mere mention of a lawsuit strikes fear in the hearts of school districts, towns and villages.
Since FFRF and American Atheists have won many of their cases over the years, towns, villages and schools recognize it could be a very costly and time consuming lawsuit that they simply cannot afford a to take on. So, they give in to the bullies by removing said offensive item(s).
The origin of “Separation of Church and State” - Thomas Jefferson and a phrase that became wrongly interpreted
The problem is this: the term “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution. What anti-Christian activists are referring to is this portion of the First Amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Back in 1801, The Danbury Baptists Association had written to President Thomas Jefferson concerned that the government, particularly their state, would interfere with their religious beliefs. They weren’t concerned that say, Islam or Buddhism would be the established religion; they were worried a particular denomination of Christianity would be established.
In 1802 Thomas Jefferson replied to their letter and in part it states:
“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 & State.”
What Jefferson was saying is that the government could not interfere with their right to worship freely, that the First Amendment guaranteed their religious freedom. His statement had absolutely nothing to do with Christian displays of any kind, public prayers or any kind of public faith expressed.
1947 Everson v. Board of Education
Fast forward to 1947: in the case Everson v. Board of Education, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black ruled on a case brought by a New Jersey resident. The resident claimed it was unconstitutional to provide reimbursements to parents who paid for their children to take a public school bus to a Christian school.
While it was upheld, in his opinion, Justice Black wrote these infamous words, introducing a new legal principle, which would be a guideline and shape the future of lawsuits and their outcomes by atheist groups:
“The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.”
Suddenly “separation of church and state” took on a new meaning. It no longer referred to the federal government establishing a religion; it now meant that government could have nothing to do with religion at all, because by doing so, it would be “establishing” a religion. This new interpretation became a great gift to atheists.
Under the new definition, “separation of church and state” now meant government would be endorsing, favoring and forcing Christianity by allowing the very presence of a Christian sign, cross or symbol on public property. Therefore, these symbols must be banished.
Sadly, the outcome of this new interpretation is the government violating the rights of Christians, by prohibiting their free exercise of religion. Remember, the First Amendment protects our right to freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Big difference. The founding fathers would be turning in their graves if they could see what has become of the First Amendment.
To say this is what Thomas Jefferson intended in his letter or what the founding fathers meant is nothing but a big, fat lie. A lie that has been told and retold so many times that millions believe it, without knowing the facts. Activist judges have bought the lie and that’s why Christian symbols are disappearing.
Look at what else Justice Black wrote concerning religion in that same case:
"The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance.”
The Federal Government cannot pass laws favoring any religious group. OK, I can agree with that. And, the government cannot establish a religion be it Christianity, Buddhism, Wicca, Islam, or whatever. Great. So then, how is a religious symbol establishing a church? It doesn’t!
The establishment clause, by Justice Black’s own words in the above paragraph, does not say that public schools cannot have bibles or government properties can not have a 10 Commandments or other type of Christian display. Displays do not force anyone to practice Christianity.
In fact, reading further in the statement, the good Justice says, “…no person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs…” It seems to me like Christians are very much being punished by denying our right to have Christian symbols in the public square.
Lawsuits, Lawsuits and more Lawsuits by Atheist Groups
American Atheist, FFRF and other secularist, humanist groups are on a mission. Eradicate every symbol and vestige of Christianity in the country. Nativity sets must go, prayer before football games, 10 Commandments displays, statues of Jesus; it’s all being wiped off our landscape thanks to the faulty and bizarrely reinterpreted “separation of church and state.” Let’s take a look at some of the lawsuits filed by atheist groups:
Steubenville - City Logo Threatened with Lawsuit
In Steubenville, Ohio, FFRF threatened a lawsuit if the city did not remove a cross from the city logo. The cross represents a replica of the chapel at Franciscan University. On behalf of the University, Michael Hernon, Vice President of Advancement said this:
“For more than 65 years, Franciscan University of Steubenville has proudly served as an integral part of this community and we are honored to have our chapel included in the new city of Steubenville logo.
“We find it particularly troubling that an out of town and out of touch group targeted the university for removal from the logo solely because of our religious identity.”
But Co-President of FFRF Annie Laurie Gaylor said, “Crosses do not belong on the logos of American cities. We are not a ‘Christian nation’ or a theocracy, but were first among nations to adopt a secular constitution wisely separating religion from government.”
There’s that phrase again: separating religion from government. How could one depict a Catholic University without a cross? Should the University be left off the logo completely because it is a religious institution? Maybe the University should move somewhere else, after all, it is in public sight; it may offend someone.
At first, the city backed down, and temporarily changed the logo, but several organizations have come forward offering legal help to defend the city, which has clearly irritated the folks at FFRF.
“Do not be duped by offers from religious right legal groups,” wrote FFRF staff attorney Patrick Elliot, in a letter to the organization. “They may volunteer their time pro bono but they never pick up the plaintiffs’ tab.”
So, threatening that the taxpayers will be forced to pay is yet another way of bullying the city to cave to their demands to remove the cross from the logo.
Pennsylvania – Two 10 Commandments Monuments Threatened
Two Pennsylvania schools, in Connellsville and New Kensington, are in the midst of lawsuits by FFRF. 10 Commandments Monuments, donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in the 1950s, have been outside the schools for some 50 years. The lawsuits were filed within two weeks of each other, keeping the folks at FFRF busy.
According to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the monuments are an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause and a government endorsement of religion. The attorneys for the Connellsville school wrote in part:
“…the longstanding Eagles‘ Ten Commandments monument in this case makes passive and permissible use of the text to acknowledge, in part, the role of religion in our Nation‘s heritage.
“As the Supreme Court recognized, similar references to and representations of the Ten Commandments on government property are replete throughout our country.”
Absolutely right. Religion played a roll in making laws in this country and there is no denying that.
In the case of the Connellsville display, it’s not even good enough for FFRF if the monument is moved to a nearby church, because students can still see it. I suppose by viewing it they are in danger of turning to stone, like the statue itself.
Rallies and protests have been staged at each of the sites by outraged residents and each started Facebook pages; Save Connellsville 10 Commandments, and Keep the 10 Commandments at Valley High School. Residents are also fighting back with displays on their lawns.
Some, but not all, lawsuits have been successful in removing 10 Commandments displays.
9/11 Cross and the Memorial Museum Targeted
Perhaps the most offensive and well-known lawsuit is one filed by American Atheists. A twisted steel beam in the shape of a cross was found at the site of the devastation at the World Trade Center and is included in 9/11 Memorial Museum. American Atheists jumped on this, claiming its being there made them ill and caused other such calamities.
In an article by the Christian Post, David Silverman, president of American Atheists, defends their lawsuit, which seeks to remove the cross from the New York City museum:
"We're talking about public lands, we're talking about public funds, we're talking about congressionally ordered public funds. We're talking about an 18-foot memorial, this is grossly inappropriate," Silverman said. "We feel very strongly that this is an attempt to Christianize 9/11, to make it about Christians, even though it's not about Christians at all.”
As a Christian, I completely disagree with his statement that we are trying to Christianize 9/11. People of many faiths and probably no faith equally died horribly. But the cross is an artifact found in the wreckage; something that has great meaning to many people who died, the survivors, and relatives and friends of the deceased. This item being in the museum is by no means a violation of the separation of church and state. Keeping it out of the museum, though, is a violation of rights.
Edwin Kagin, legal director of American Atheists, said the display represents "a violation of both federal and New York law in that public funds will be used to establish the Christian religion on public land." Excuse me, but how does a cross in a museum establish the Christian religion? If the government came along and said, “You must practice Christianity,” that would be establishing a religion.
The museum has filed court papers to have the suit thrown out, and the case is still pending as of this writing. It called the cross an "important and essential artifact" that "belongs at the World Trade Center site as it comprises a key component of the re-telling of the story of 9/11."
Hawaii - Fund Raising Christmas Concert Stopped Hours Before Showtime
The Hawaii Reporter recently published a story about a high school concert that has for the past six years raised money that goes to a charity in Africa. American doctors provide service to poor villagers, those who, without the charity, would never see a doctor.
The students, who have performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City, have raised over $200K for the charity, had practiced for months and looked forward to performing – until that was, atheist activist Mitch Kahle came along and voiced a very sour note. Writing a letter to the Department of Education, on FFRF stationary, citing church/state violation, he demanded the concert be stopped. Officials cowered to him and the concert was cancelled. It has since been rescheduled to a different location.
California – 60-Year Tradition of Nativity Display Halted
In Santa Monica, Ca., Palisades Park was home to a Christmastime Nativity scene since 1953. A bitter battle ensued when atheists began putting up anti-Christian displays in the park. Many of the anti-religious displays were vandalized and the city council eventually banned all displays. The case was taken to court by Nativity Scenes organizers but the court ruled the City Council could ban the displays; ending six decades of its presence. The Nativity scene has now been relocated.
Rhode Island – Prayer Banner Removed after 49 Years
Earlier this year in Cranston, Rhode Island, 16-year-old high school student and atheist Jessica Ahlquist sued her school to remove a prayer banner, which hung on the wall in her school’s gym for 49 years. With the encouragement and assistance of atheist organizations she won the lawsuit and the banner was removed. The lawsuit paid off for her in a big way; she was awarded a $63,000 scholarship from the American Humanist Association.
Also in Rhode Island, the city of Woonsocket is currently facing a lawsuit, which seeks to remove a War Memorial on city property. Located in the parking lot of the fire department, it is unlawful says FFRF because it has a cross atop it. The memorial has stood unchallenged since 1921.
No End in Sight
These are but a few recent lawsuits but there have been many, many more. The good news is, FFRF and American Atheists have not won all their lawsuits and their funding is limited.
But, cities and towns across America are being targeted one by one. This minority of non-believers, who feel so threatened by a God they don’t believe exists, are on a mission. Like arrogant anti-God Caped Crusaders, sweeping into towns across America, they are bent on destroying our Christian heritage and our right to express our religion in public places.
Standing on the faulty version of “separation of church and state,” they have been empowered by wins, and their ultimate goal is to remove every single sign, monument and prayer from the public square.
Forget about a “War on Christmas,” it’s an all out War on Christianity. These lawsuits and the individuals and groups behind them are not going to stop. It is time for Christians to fight back, get involved with their communities that are under siege by these groups, and join in the fight with their finances, their voices and their prayers.
More details on the aforementioned lawsuits:
Steubenville - City logo debate continues
Ten Commandments monuments at Connellsville, New Kensington-Arnold are sign of different times
Christmas Grinch? Atheist Gets Hawaii DOE to Halt Winter Charity Concert Just Hours Before the Show
9/11 Memorial Museum Lawsuit
Santa Monica's 60-Year-Old Nativity Scenes Tradition Moves to Private Property
Rhode Island - Judge orders Prayer Banner Removed