Reading, Riting, and Religion

I just returned from a two week research trip in Germany. While I was there the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France ruled that crucifixes are OK in Italian public school classrooms. An atheist had brought the lawsuit, challenging the display of the Catholic symbol in secular public schools. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the Vatican argued that crucifixes are “an expression of the cultural and religious identity of traditionally Christian countries,” not a form of indoctrination.

As uncomfortable as I may be taking the same side as atheists, I disagree with the court ruling. What the majority sees as an expression of cultural or religious identity, the minority have to endure as a visible reminder of cultural and religious domination. While I don’t believe that public spaces must be religion-free zones, secular governments should not be allowed to favor one religion over others.

Imagine what might happen in our country if those in the majority were allowed to write the rules for everyone. Public schools in Utah would ban caffeinated beverages. In Dearborn, MI schools might provide kufis and prayer rugs to those who want to pray toward Mecca. In predominately Baptist towns might prohibit dancing at school sponsored events. Brooklyn schools could say no to pork and shellfish.

A supporter of the court’s ruling might point out that unlike some of my examples above the Italian schools aren’t forcing or forbidding anything; they’re merely displaying a symbol. But symbols communicate power, whether it’s a crucifix or a confederate flag, and they’re constant reminders of who’s in control.

Religious freedom doesn’t mean freedom from religion, but it also doesn’t mean favoring one religion over others.



Filed under issues

6 responses to “Reading, Riting, and Religion

  1. Glenn Bratcher

    Hello Travis,
    Another thought-provoking blog. I tend to side with Christians, not the atheist, regarding the display of symbols. Almost everything you look at is a “symbol” of some sort. And isn’t it just as wrong for the minority to write the rules for everyone as it is for the majority to do so? People give meaning to symbols…as they choose. If a person sees a “cross”…he/she should not be offended. To a non-Christian, it should have no meaning and they should just ignore it. “Indoctrination” takes place ONLY if the person wants it to. It has meaning only if the person wants it to have a meaning! The way some people dress in public is the same as displaying a religlious symbol, right? You certainly know what religion they are! Wasn’t the fish a “religious symbol” during the persecution of Christians…soon after Jesus was crucified…and Christianity spread? The symbol was to show that the bearer is/was a practicing Christian. So, I do not think we need to remove all symbols of Christianity from the secular public …e.g.buildings, coins, etc. I do believe in FREEDOM…and it should be equal to/for everyone…the Christian as well as the atheist! I am not ashamed of the Gospel…or whatever symbol it is represented by. I expect others to respect my beliefs as I respect theirs. I believe God blesses those people (nations) who keep His commandments. (There, I have said it!)

  2. Glenn,
    Thank you for your comments. In a secular society (e.g., US, Italy), the government cannot privilege one religion over others, even if it is the majority religion. (Besides, even though a majority of Italians identify Catholicism as their religion, only a minority, about a third, actually practice their faith. It seems that a majority of Italians practice no organized religion.) The rights of religious (or irreligious) minorities must be accommodated. I don’t believe Jesus would want us to use legal and political force to advance his kingdom. Didn’t he say, “My kingdom is not of this world”? Jesus’ path was the path of gentleness, meekness, and love; ours should be too. As long as we are trying to do God’s work through political and legal power plays, we are not following a Christlike way.

  3. Glenn Bratcher

    Thanks Travis…I do see your point, however are you saying we should remove ALL references to God from our language, buildings, coins, etc., and hide them from the public eye. Then worship only in our homes or secret places? And, no public prayers, only “in our closets.” One could say the references to God (buildings/coins) IS the use of power and not “Christlike.” Where do you draw the line?

  4. Glenn,
    I believe I addressed this issue in my original post where I wrote, “While I don’t believe that public spaces must be religion-free zones, secular governments should not be allowed to favor one religion over others.”

    I do NOT advocate removing all religious symbols, words, documents, expressions, etc. from public spaces; however, I believe that government-funded and/or sponsored expressions of religion must be non-sectarian, meaning if we’re going to display a Christian cross in a public building we should have symbols from other religious traditions as well. If the federal government is going to employ Christian chaplains in the military, VA, Congress, etc. (which it does), then at least some of them should be non-Christian. If we Christians try to dominate the public sphere while being intolerant of other faith traditions, we risk having our own freedoms diminished and we would present a rather poor testimony of Christ’s love.

  5. Glenn Bratcher

    Thanks, it is my understanding that there are non-Christian chaplains already employed by the government.

    No problem with your other comments….

  6. Yes, there certainly are non-Christian chaplains employed by the federal government: Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, to name a few. I have had very good relationships with some rabbis in the Navy chaplain corps over the years. Travis

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