What Is Left? by Annie Laurie Gaylor (June/July 1995)

If a state institution can be forced to give outright subsidy to fund the messages of proselytizing Christian groups, then what is the meaning of “state/church separation”?

We are reaping the harm of more than 15 years of “accommodationist” reasoning by the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court, for example, “secularized” religious symbols in the disastrous Lynch decision permitting a city to own and display a nativity scene. That and the following confusion, in which the Court blessed the public display of a lighted menorah by a Christmas tree, led directly to the outrageous 7-2 decision this June forcing the Ohio State Capitol to play host to an unattended cross erected by the Ku Klux Klan over Christmas. The Christian KKK placed the cross to protest the presence of the Jewish menorah. The lesson is clear: there is no end to the acrimony and religious divisiveness that begins once religion is permitted to merge with state.

Likewise, the U.S. Supreme Court last year issued a shocking unanimous decision in the Lamb’s Chapel case, in which it ruled that if a public school district permits secular groups to rent from it, it must permit religious groups to do likewise.

The ruinous Rosenberger v. University of Virginia case is predicated almost entirely on last year’s thoughtless decision, and it will now open the door to every possible manner of public subsidy of religion, including “vouchers” (parochiaid). The only silver lining in the Virginia case is that the court was sharply divided.

Already the Christian wolves are at the door, demanding their “Religious Equality Amendment,” a title which would have been admired by George Orwell for its doublespeak.

Justice Souter, in his dissent in the Virginia case, points out the incontestable Christian purpose and content of Wide Awake, the Christian publication the public university must now support. Typical, he writes, is this passage:

“When you get to the final gate, the Lord will be handing out boarding passes, and He will examine your ticket. If, in your lifetime, you did not request a seat on His Friendly Skies Flyer by trusting Him and asking Him to be your pilot, then you will not be on His list of reserved seats (and the Lord will know you not). You will not be able to buy a ticket then; no amount of money or desire will do the trick. You will be met by your chosen pilot and flown straight to Hell on an express jet (without air conditioning or toilets, of course).”

The political powers that be are decrying any public money being spent on what the Preamble of the Constitution calls “promoting the general welfare” of the people. How outrageous, under the circmstances, that the Court would now decree that public money must be spent by the university founded by Thomas Jefferson in order to publish such religious drivel! The Religious Right is determined to “privatize” everything that has been public (such as schools), and to publicly subsidize something that was once deemed private (religion).

It is frightening to contemplate how quickly the wall of separation between church and state is crumbling in our country. With the courts stacked for years with nonthinkers by the Religious Right, the system of “checks and balances” is no longer working.

Government institutions seeking to avoid the subsidy of religion are left with the option, still available at the moment, of closing their doors to any type of public forum. We will be urging the University of Virginia to cease funding any student groups, so that it can avoid subsidizing the avalanche of religious beggars, and likewise will urge the Ohio State Capitol to close its so-called “public forum” (menorahs never belonged there anyway). That will be the only possible recourse until the courts recognize once more that the First Amendment makes a clear and necessary distinction between religious and secular speech.

Thomas Jefferson, where are you when we need you the most?

Freedom From Religion Foundation