Mayor Should Learn Law about Church and State

For today's second letter to the editor about Jacksonville's “Day of Faith”, I am reverting to my usual style because my comments are fewer as I agree with its basic position. This letter by Harry B. Parrott, Jr., president of the Clay County chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was published today under the heading, “Day of Faith: Taxpayers carry burden.”

I respectfully urge Mayor John Peyton and his legal staff to take a basic course in matters regarding separation of church and state. The taxpayers of Jacksonville might well have saved $106,000 just in the last six months.

The event under scrutiny was clearly a Christian event. Indeed, the designation "Day of Faith" should have read "Day of Christian Faith." Preacher after preacher focused on Jesus as the answer to the terrible problem of street violence. Gospel choirs provided the background. Yes, there was one Jewish and one Muslim speaker, but Jesus was center stage.

In many ways, it was a powerful occasion. I certainly hope it was helpful and effective in its aim of curbing violence. But the bottom line remains: Taxpayers should not be paying for this Christian evangelistic event. It was a flagrant constitutional violation just waiting to be challenged, and it was. So, now the taxpayers are out an additional $5,000, and Peyton must admit that both he and his legal staff were asleep at the wheel.

Absolutely basic to the principle of church and state separation is the understanding that government should not be promoting or funding sectarian religion. It's a principle clearly understood by millions of Americans. It is a principle that has served our nation well since our founding. I urge Peyton and his legal staff to get back to these basics.
While the particular religion promoted is irrelevant to the legality of the event, the heavy focus on Christianity does bring the issue into stronger contrast. Fundamentalist Christians are not known for being especially tolerant of other religions such as Judaism or Islam, but they certainly show their adherents more respect than they show to atheists whom, as we saw yesterday, they may castigate as liars without any consequences. Casting it as favoring Christianity in a special manner will find a more sympathetic audience.

For those outside of the area, Clay County is a neighboring county of Jacksonville, so the letter writer probably does not pay property taxes in the city. Many Clay County residents, however, including me, work and shop in Jacksonville and pay a fair amount of sales tax there. In fact, all Americans should be concerned about the erosion of the wall of separation of church and state in our country.


No comments: