By Simon Brown
Americans United has had its share of church-state separation issues in Texas, so it’s good to see that a judge there recently had a religious display removed from outside the Lubbock County Courthouse even if it wasn’t for all the right reasons.
The display, which was left anonymously, was meant to serve as an act of protest against church-state separation. It contained a cross, a baby Jesus in a crib and a handwritten sign that read: “Reunite the church and state, and separation of church and state is not just wrong, the ‘63 ruling of the Supreme Court is unconstitutional.”
Lubbock County Judge Tom Head acted swiftly to remove the display, albeit on the grounds that it had not been approved by county commissioners. Head said he actually agreed with the message of the display, according to Fox News.
“If I were to call our attorneys," Head said, "they would say take that stuff down, so I don’t have to call them. I know how they think.”
Several locals, whose names were not reported by Fox, also expressed support for the display.
“It doesn’t bother me that it would be out there; it is the reason for the season, it is Jesus’ birthday,” said one.
“Christmas is definitely about Christ," said another, "so I don’t have a problem with it.”
Said a third, “That is what is wrong with our society is they are taking Jesus out of everything.”
Despite what the anti-separation protestor may think, the Founding Fathers never intended to unite religion and government in the United States. In fact, the Constitution forbids government involvement with matters of faith, which means that a sectarian display like the one in Texas has no place outside any courthouse. Americans are free to celebrate any religious tradition they wish, or they are free to refrain from religion entirely. That choice is up to the individual, not the government.
As for the reference to “the ’63 ruling,” Abington School District v. Schemppsimply held that public schools may not require students to participate in religious exercises in the classroom. Such coercion, the Supreme Court ruled, violates the 1st and 14th Amendments. Contrary to the Texas sign, the decision is constitutional until the justices change their minds. So far they haven't, and they are quite unlikely to do so in the future.
Sometimes people do the right thing for the wrong reasons, or at least not the best of reasons, which seemed to be the case when Judge Head had the sectarian display taken down. It’s a shame that Head doesn’t understand the importance of church-state separation. Maybe he should spend some time reviewing the sound reasoning behind “the ‘63 ruling” rather than simply dismissing it as “unconstitutional.”
In the meantime, we’ll continue to keep our eye on Texas – and every other state – when church-state separation is not taken seriously.