It is easy to see that both political parties in the United States, are very concerned about who is going to be appointed as judges, especially on the Supreme Court. A president serves a four-year term, but the impact of a judge can be felt for generations. Many people voted for President Trump purely to keep liberal judges off the court. The legacy of Democratic presidents has always included their choices for judges.
As an example of the concern, a major battle revolves around U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb who has consistently ruled against issues of faith. Crabb ruled that “The National Day of Prayer” was unconstitutional. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned her decision.
Judge Crabb has twice sided with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) on questions of taxes. Three years ago Crabb declared that the clergy housing allowance violated the First Amendment. The Freedom From Religion Foundation had filed the suit. The Justice Department argued that the FFRF wasn’t harmed because they could claim the benefit for themselves. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed judge Crabb’s decision and restored the housing allowance.
The leaders of the FFRF applied for the benefit and were denied by the Internal Revenue Service. This fall the FFRF sued again saying that religious leaders had a preference over secular employees. Crabb has again ruled in favor of their complaint. The case will probably be appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
The important point here is the intent of the benefit. Ministers provide needed services to the community. Because their pay is rather poor, the government was trying to help them with a basic expense. Secular workers are generally better paid and in most cases are not providing low cost or free services to the community. Also, the housing allowance is justified by the fact that ministers are required to live in the communities they serve.
A judge who seems to have a bias against religion can cause a hardship on many people who need the services that ministers provide. The impact of a judge, even a single judge, can affect the lives of many people with one decision.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
A new question has come up about who is fit to serve as a judge in American courts. The Senate Judiciary Committee has been screening candidates for judicial positions and some members of the committee seem to be establishing a religious test for judges. The indication is that faithful Christians should not be allowed to serve on the bench.
One of the candidates is Amy Coney Barrett who is a practicing Roman Catholic. The committee challenged Barrett’s fitness to serve as a judge because, in the words of Senator Dianne Feinstein, “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Barrett has said that “faith informs her views.” However, she has also said that she is obligated to interpret and apply the Constitution and the laws, not her own beliefs. She was a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who was also a faithful Catholic. Senator Dick Durbin asked Barrett, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” What the senators seem to be forgetting is that the United States Constitution strictly prohibits a religious test for judges. That question should not even be asked of a judicial candidate.
This anti-Christian bias in judicial appointments reminds us that the U.S. Supreme Court is set to make a decision that will affect the religious freedom of Americans. The judges serving on the lower courts are usually the ones that are later appointed to the Supreme Court. It seems that atheism is the only faith that some of the senators would accept as valid for being a judge. David Harsanyi of the National Review said that in the view of some senators “the only acceptable religion for public officials is ‘orthodox liberalism.’”
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Sometimes when atheists attack churches and people who believe in God, their arguments border nonsense. In an earlier post, we told about a state program for child safety in Missouri that was denied to a church solely because it was a church. A Supreme Court decision finally settled the matter.
The state had instituted a grant program which allowed owners of playgrounds to make them safer by purchasing rubberized playground surface material made from recycled tires. In 2012 Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia, Missouri, needed to replace the gravel on their playground with the safer material. The state denied their grant application saying that public funds cannot be given to religious organizations according to the Missouri state constitution. The case went to an appeals court where it ended in a tie vote. It was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 26, 2017, the court decided in favor of the church.
This case may sound frivolous, but it is an important issue. Churches run food banks, women’s shelters, street kitchens, relief agencies, counseling centers, and many other programs to help people. Churches provide those services more efficiently at less cost than government programs. The services that churches provide relieves the burden from taxpayers while providing more help for more people in need. If the government penalizes the work of the churches simply because they are “religious,” everyone suffers. Atheists provide none of those services to any great extent, if at all. We see foolish cases like this one increasing because of blind hatred for God.
The Alliance Defending Freedom represented Trinity Lutheran in this case, and they argued that Missouri’s “…religious exclusion sends a message that Trinity’s children are less worthy of protection simply because they play on a playground owned by a church.” The ADF also stated that “People of faith shouldn’t be treated like second-class citizens–every child’s safety matters. The government shouldn’t make children in religious preschools less safe on playgrounds than other children.”
You will find the details of the ruling on the SCOTUS Blog. The complete text of the Supreme Court decision is posted on the court opinions page as Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. vs. Comer.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
One of the delicate areas in our culture today is the issue of the separation of church and state. It might appear on the surface that this is a no-brainer, but like most things, it isn’t that simple. Romans 13:6-7 instructs Christians to pay taxes and obey civil authority, and in Luke 20:25 Jesus tells us “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” The Constitution of the United States is clear about the government not sponsoring a religion but also guarantees religious freedom. Every nation with a state religion has had enormous problems with what evolved from that endorsement. It is biblical and logical to keep the state and religion separate.
The current crisis which appears to be headed for the Supreme Court is the situation where a church is handling an issue too big for the state and needs money that the state has available to meet the need. In 2012 Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia, Missouri, needed to replace the gravel that was under their playground with safer and cleaner material made from recycled tires. This material was available from the state by simply applying for a grant to get the material. The state denied the grant to the church saying that public funds cannot be given to religious organizations according to the Missouri state constitution. The case went to an appeals court which had a tie vote.
It would seem logical that the state should not fund a theology major’s education in religion, but protecting children from physical damage would seem to be a different kind of issue. When Trinity was evaluated by the state on its physical facilities and its program, which does not include religious instruction, it placed fifth among 44 applicants for the state funds. The “slippery slope” issue becomes a part of this, because if Trinity is given money for its playground, what comes next? Isn’t saving the church money freeing up their funds for religious purposes? If the church accepts money from the government isn’t it potentially allowing the government to make rules that it will have to follow? It will be interesting to see if and when the Supreme Court decides.
Data from USA Today, April 19, 2017, page 3A.
–John N. Clayton © 2017