Category Archives: church and state

Today In Church And State


As of Saturday, June 28, the McKnight campaign signs are gone, but the stuff on the church sign is still there.


Just saw this on my way home from the grocery store this morning:

Nice Tax-Exempt Status You've Got There. Shame If Anything Happened To It

Nice Tax-Exempt Status You’ve Got There. Shame If Anything Happened To It

Amendment One is an anti-abortion measure. I had to Google this McKnight fellow, but he’s a big-time right-to-lifer.

This church isn’t too far from my house. I’ve always referred to it as the Wingnut Bible Church because their signs are always advertising some wingnutty seminar or program: “End-Times Prophecy,” “Justice Sunday” and crap like that. Every July Fourth they put about a dozen or so ginormous American flags on their property, because Jesus was an American and a Founder and Christian Nation and Shut Up. But I’ve never seen them outright politick like this before.

I’m not a lawyer, definitely not a Constitutional one, but I’m pretty sure the IRS frowns on these kinds of outright political endorsements from tax-exempt churches. Don’t they?


Filed under abortion, church and state, Nashville, religion, religious fundamentalism, Tennessee

Today In Church v State

So, this caught my eye: three days after a plaque proclaiming “In God We Trust” was placed over the doors to the Anderson County, TN courthouse (not the 10 Commandments? Give them points for creativity), a Native American criminal defendant has filed a motion to have all charges against him dismissed. His grounds? The courthouse is now a “temple of fundamentalist Christianity.”

Well, well, nobody saw that coming! /sarcasm

Here’s the low-down:

The day after Tuesday’s dedication of the placement of the motto over one doorway that featured remarks by Baptist pastors, a criminal defendant filed a motion in Anderson County Criminal Court seeking to have his attempted first-degree murder charge dismissed.

Kenneth Darrin Fisher argues that the dedication ceremony effectively converted the courthouse into a “temple of fundamentalist Christianity.” He contends his constitutional right to freedom of worship has been violated, and the government has endorsed a “fundamentalist view of Christianity.”

Fisher is of Cherokee descent and follows the “Red Road” path of American Indian spirituality, according to the motion.

Shortly before the dedication ceremony, Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager warned in a memo to commissioners that any dedication event that offered only Christian prayers could “produce unwarranted legal challenges at the expense of our taxpayers.”

Woopsies, someone forgot to be “interfaith”! Looks like it was on purpose, too.

Now, I kind of remember this story from back in the spring, and at the time I found it strange that they chose “In God We Trust” not the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments have passed judicial muster, as long as other religious beliefs are allowed, too. I know that sticks in the Fundies’ craw, seeing as how they don’t recognize any other religion — even other Christian religions — as having validity. And then there’s that courthouse down in Florida which had to accept a monument to atheism.

Quelle horreur!

So yes, of course this was a way of getting around having to “share,” and then I remembered this 2011 vote in the House of Representatives reaffirming the national motto and encouraging its public display.

So, y’know, don’t ever say House Republicans haven’t accomplished anything. They got you this neat plaque that says “In God We Trust” over the county courthouse door, y’all! While that might not make up for the gridlock on every other issue of national importance, you can get the warm fuzzies when you go to your bankruptcy hearing. Of course, you could have just pulled a nickel out of your pocket and read the motto there, but maybe you don’t have one of those — nickel, not pocket, I mean.

What’s funny is the “I told you so’s” coming from certain quarters on the commission who had said the In God We Trust thing was just asking for lawsuits they can’t really afford to tackle.

And yes, it seems pretty clear this was all about religion:

Creasey said he backed a compromise to put the national motto over one courthouse doorway and other familiar sayings over the other three entrances.

Iwanski suggested that bid to find a middle ground by placing the state’s motto, “Agriculture and Commerce,” along with “E pluribus unum” (Out of Many, One), and “Liberty and Justice for All” over the other three doorways.

Iwanski’s compromise suggestion was defeated in March in an 8-7 vote. A nine-vote majority was needed for passage.

See, they just really really do not want to share. (Um, Jesus wasn’t into sharing?) I mean, my goodness: what the hell are you people afraid of? That someone will see “Agriculture and Commerce” and decide they don’t need this religion stuff, they’re gonna be pagan farmers or something? So, so stupid.

This is the kind of stuff which is driving people away from fundiegelical religion. These battles have nothing to do with the message of Jesus or Christianity. They have everything to do with certain groups’ deep-seated insecurity and weak faith. If they had any faith at all they wouldn’t be so intimidated by other ideas. But, change is scary. Instead of relying on the faith they profess to have, they try to cling to the past. That, too, is not what Jesus was about. But, whatever.

Anyway, this case might be worth watching. I find it interesting that the guy complaining is of Cherokee heritage, which kind of chucks all of those “this nation was founded on Christian principles” stuff out the window. The Cherokee were here long before the Christians arrived.


Filed under Christian Right, church and state, Tennessee

>Petulant Pastors Seeking Headlines

>This Sunday seven Tennessee pastors will take their marching orders from the Alliance Defense Fund–a Fundiegelical answer to the ACLU based in Scottsdale, AZ–and “bait” the IRS with pulpit politicking:

“For governor, I’m going to encourage people to vote for Bill Haslam,” said David Shelley, pastor of Smith Springs Baptist, one of seven Tennessee religious leaders who plan to take part in the pulpit protest. He also will throw his support behind Republican congressional candidate David Hall and Republican statehouse candidate Jim Gotto and urge his congregation to skip the spot on the ballot where state Sen. Thelma Harper, a Democrat, is running unopposed.

“My support for these candidates has nothing to do with their party or their skin color or any other non-biblically related issue,” he said.

This is absolutely hilarious, since Shelley is perfectly free to tell everyone who to vote for any time he wishes, save the one hour Sunday morning that he’s speaking from the pulpit in his capacity as pastor of a tax-exempt religious organization.

So you know, fine. More power to you. And be prepared to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s for your trouble. Hey Pastor Shelley: I just quoted the Bible at you. You do know that, right?


This is all about meaningless grandstanding and nothing about religion. Let’s face it, pretty much anyone who attends Smith Springs Baptist Church is probably planning to vote Republican. So basically you’re hoping to open a legal can of worms just because some out of state right wingers are trying to make a name for themselves by keeping the culture wars alive.

Sadly, no one appears to be paying attention. Whaah! Yes, it appears Shelley and the rest of these Petulant Pastors pulled this stunt last year too. The IRS still hasn’t taken the bait:

Participants in the ADF’s pulpit protest send audio or videotape of their sermons to the IRS, but so far the agency has ignored them. The agency declined to comment on the issue, other than to share a copy of its regulations for tax-exempt religious organizations.

I’m torn between gloating over the fact that their pathetic screaming for attention has been ignored and wishing they did get their tax-exempt status yanked just because they are violating law and I thought we had these laws for a reason. Someone point me to that place in the Bible where Jesus says to give your money to lawyers to fight a battle over the First Amendment instead of caring for the poor? Must be in the Gospel According To Wingnuts.

Anyway, I’ve written about this before (notably here) but what idiots like David Shelley don’t get is that separation of church and state protects the church from state interference, not the other way around. And as I’ve written before, one needs look no further than those evul abortion-loving homosexual-embracing morally bankrupt socialisticky Scandinavian countries, which until very recently (2008 in Norway’s case) had state religions. As I wrote in 2009:

Yes, that’s right, up until last year, every person born in “secular, liberal” Norway was automatically born a Lutheran. If you wanted to raise your kids Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Baptist or atheist, you had to petition the government. Can you believe that?

The Norwegian government still finances the Lutheran Church, and until last year appointed church bishops. In other words, the government had authority over the church. Can you imagine? Can you imagine your tax dollars funding church salaries?

Secular, liberal, socialisticky Sweden had a state religion until 2009. The constitution of Denmark still lists the Evangelical Lutheran Church as the country’s official state religion and they receive government subsidies.

I wonder if David Shelley really understands what this means. I’m thinking not. Let’s have President Obama pick the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention and appoint the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. How would you like that? That is what it means to have a state religion, assholes.

The wall of separation you try so hard to pretend does not exist protects the church from government influence. It’s what allows the Southern Baptists to discriminate against gays in their hiring — except in those programs they take government money to perform. Because then you are acting on behalf of all of us, not just Southern Baptists, and we don’t all believe what you believe. I know you think you are right but some of us disagree. I really don’t get why this is so hard for some people to understand.

This wall of separation is also what allows Pastor Shelley to opt out of paying Social Security tax on his personal salary. It allows Smith Springs Baptist to not pay property tax on its rather substantial acreage off of Nolensville Road. It allows the church to not be taxed on its income. You enjoy these benefits because We The People have decided you benefit the community in other ways, such as caring for the poor and elderly and the sick.

So look, people. This stuff isn’t hard. There is a huge benefit to being a religious institution in this country. You are free to preach that “Negroes are not equal with other races” (actual 1966 LDS doctrine!) and the government will not interfere. You can be as mean and hateful towards gays, Muslims, or anyone else you want and call it God’s Word, no matter how abominable some folks may find it. That is your right. You get a free ride and the government can’t say squat to you. You can even host candidates’ forums like the one Church of Christ-affiliated David Lipscomb University just held here in Nashville. Or the Southern Baptist-affiliated Belmont University’s presidential debate in 2008. Heck, my own church had the candidates for Nashville Mayor appear in our Fellowship Hall every Sunday to speak to us about their vision for the city. It was very informative.

But autonomy from the government is a two-way street. If you want the government to leave you alone no matter how heinous you want to be, even if your beliefs are far outside the mainstream, then you have to stay out of politics. You can talk morals and beliefs and current events and issues all you want but you can’t tell people who to vote for in your sermon. That’s the one line you can’t cross, and it’s the line that allows you to enjoy all of those other benefits.

But people like David Shelley don’t get that. They want to have their cake and eat it too.


Filed under church and state, Nashville, religious right, Tennessee

>Who Will Rid Me Of This Troublesome Priest?

>I find the media free-for-all unleashed on Rev. Jeremiah Wright alarming, to say the least. Liberals have long maintained that separation of church and state protects both government and church. And I think the attacks on Rev. Wright are a perfect example of why this is so important.

Wright is being attacked for his sermons. Not for things he said on Meet The Press or a column he wrote in the New York Times, or a book he recently published–not even for his appearances at a political event, a la “Justice Sunday” or “Renew America.” No, clips of Rev. Wright’s sermons have been removed from their religious, social and cultural context and trotted out for public critique by people with a political agenda.

I have a big problem with this; I think all people of faith should.

Preachers deliver sermons based on what they discern God has placed in their hearts to say. That such messages sometimes challenge the political and cultural establishment is as old as religion itself. Anyone remember a famous Jewish rabbi who was hung from a cross for defying the establishment of his day?

But this was inevitable, once we put a chink in that wall of separation between church and state. Recent decades have seen religious leaders engage in the business of government and politics at unprecedented levels. Religious leaders now freely endorse political candidates. They have access to the seats of power via weekly conference calls with the White House. Some even use the pulpit to push one political party over another. Religious groups get government funding, religious organizations perform social functions that government once did.

Religion has become a political tool used by the powerful and the want-to-be-powerful. And all was very well and good, as long as religious leaders supported the government and its agenda.

But now we have a pastor speaking out against the government. He has called on his congregation to question those actions the government has taken in their name. And all hell breaks loose. An election could be changed. A candidate must denounce his pastor’s words. And religious leaders all across the country are no doubt wondering if their words will be picked apart in the same way. Will there be consequences for speaking out about an injustice they see?

As a churchgoer I wonder: will we get to a place where pastors only preach the “safe” message? Will the integrity of the pulpit be breached?

This is what happens when you make religion a political pawn. We’ve entered a treacherous place in American politics, people. America: tread gently. We are about to cross a line, and we may not like where it takes us.

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Filed under church and state, religion, Rev. Jeremiah Wright