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Church, as Stated By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, October 27, 1999


KWANZAA SOON WILL BE HERE, along with the less politically correct religious days of Christmas and Hanukkah. Soon ACLU lawyers will make their annual demand that crèches and menorahs be banned from all public property to maintain "separation of church and state."

This "wall of separation" language does not come from the First Amendment's prohibition of a state establishment of religion. It is from a private letter by Thomas Jefferson, author of America's Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom (two of the only three achievements he ordered inscribed on his tombstone, the third being his founding of the University of Virginia down the hill from his grave at Monticello).

Why is it, I often ask liberals, that they uphold these few words from Jefferson as holy writ but ignore almost everything else he wrote? Jefferson certainly wanted separation of church and state, but he also wanted the state to remain very, very small and occupy only a tiny corner of a large public square filled with private institutions and citizens virtually untouched by taxation and government regulation.

Liberals nowadays reason using a far different logic. In their syllogism, church and state must be separate. The state must own or control everything. Therefore, the church must retreat to near nothingness. This is not the America Thomas Jefferson wanted. This is what he declared independence against.

Let's ponder a few aspects of religion in America today. Halloween is upon us. Druid priests in ancient Gaul and the British Isles called it "Summer's end," Samhain (pronounced SAH-win). On this night, ghosts and spirits came out to play tricks and hurt people, the Druids believed. They had to be given gifts, treats, or other offerings as bribes to stave off such mischief. In public schools, these pagan beliefs and symbols are celebrated with decorations and festivities. Trick-or-treating and frightening costumes are encouraged.

Oddly, ACLU lawyers do not object to these pagan religion practices on public property or with public money. Nor were the civil-liberties lawyers opposing a Christmas crèche in San Jose, California, two years ago, concerned that taxpayer money had been spent to create a statue of the pagan Aztec god Quetzalcoatl to be installed permanently in the same public square. Fear of litigation persuaded the school board of Roswell, New Mexico—home of the purported UFO crash—in September, 1999, to affirm the right of students to wear the five-pointed star pentangle symbol of their pagan wiccan or witchcraft religion in classrooms. The Mayor of Ashville, North Carolina, proclaimed the week of October 25, 1999, as "Earth Religions Awareness Week" and praised the cultural contributions of "pagan" and "Earth-centered" beliefs. But Mayor Leni Sitnick, as of this writing, has not embraced a local minister's request that she proclaim a "Lordship of Jesus Christ Week."

Personally, I share Jefferson's desire to keep religion separate from a very tiny state. Once upon a time, England and its American colonies had official state churches. In New England, e.g., the Congregational church received government funds taxed away from Jews, Baptists, Quakers, and citizens of every other faith. As Jefferson wrote in his 1779 Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical." (I remember these words every time I encounter socialist propaganda being broadcast with my tax dollars on the Public Broadcasting Service or National Public Radio.)

But do we have separation of church and state today? No, because the government entity called the Internal Revenue Service asserts the power to decide which is a true religion and which is false. True religions and their ministers are granted important tax exemptions. To preserve religious liberty, such exemptions are necessary. Former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall recognized that "the power to tax involves the power to kill." If government can tax a religion, it can kill it. Thus it has come to pass that along the central California coastline a 440-acre golf course goes untaxed because it belongs to the Japan-based Church of Perfect Liberty, one of whose articles of faith is that God gave us golf as a way of communing with the divine.

As you can image, a certain arbitrary judgment and whim is inevitable in IRS decisions about who is and isn't a tax-exempt church. Pure religious freedom would let anybody create a church. But if tomorrow everybody formed their own personal "Church of the Immaculate Carrot" tax-exempt religion, the government would go broke.

Part of the "deal" through which the IRS lets a church separate itself from state taxes is that the church agrees to separate itself from state politics. This, too, in practice is a standard that bends far to the left but is unbending to the right.

In 1992, the Church at Pierce Creek in Vestal, New York (a city named after the pagan Roman goddess of the hearth Vesta and her priestess virgins), took out newspaper ads. "Bill Clinton," read one, "is promoting policies that are in rebellion to God's laws." Another ad warned: "Christian Beware. Do not put the economy ahead of the Ten Commandments." Because of these "political" ads that held up a religious and moral yardstick to measure Mr. Clinton, the IRS in 1995 revoked the church's tax-exempt status. In May 1999, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman upheld the IRS action. The Clinton Administration IRS has likewise taken steps to revoke the tax-exempt status of the Christian Coalition. A cynic could see in these actions an effort to stifle, defund, and intimidate religious conservatives.

Like many liberal Democrats, Bill Clinton and Al Gore have routinely given political speeches from the pulpits of black churches. Democrats have even been known to pass around these churches' collection plates to gather donations during such speeches. Has the IRS ever, for such naked politicking, revoked the tax exemption of any black church? Is the Southern California Buddhist Temple where Al Gore stuffed his pockets with $5,000 campaign contributions from nuns who'd taken a vow of poverty still tax-exempt?

Machiavelli wrote that "the Prince must appear to be religious." Prince Albert Gore of late has been trying hard to keep up such appearances. Not long ago in a speech he told an audience that his favorite Bible passage is "John 16:3." He likely intended to say John 3:16, but God revealed the truth with Gore's own tongue. John 16:3 reads, in Jesus' words: "And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me."

In his biography of Prince Albert, Gore: A Political Life, veteran ABC reporter Bob Zelnick writes: "On a visit to San Francisco in the early 1980s, he [Gore] told Diane Kefauver Rubin that God sometimes talked to him. 'That frightens me in a political person,' she said."

Some enterprising reporter should ask Vice President Gore, who wants to have his finger atop the nuclear button: "What did God tell you? Which god or goddess was it? Do you believe you are on a mission from this god or goddess? Would you follow a command that this god gave you? Is this deity that talks with you Gaia, the ancient Greek pagan Earth Mother goddess of environmentalists like yourself?" Gore (who was briefly a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville following his months of intense marijuana use while, as a Senator's son, he was stationed far away from combat in Vietnam) might find such religious questions animating, and the reporter might find the inner Al Gore animistic.

Church is supposed to be separated from state, but politicians nowadays do not separate themselves from religious issues. George W. Bush and Steve Forbes are two candidates who have called for posting the Ten Commandments in public-school classrooms, and both have struggled with questions about which version or translation of God's law they would designate by man's law.

Theologian Michael Novak recently proposed having a government-appointed committee select 200 or so prayers of different faiths and denominations, "one for each day of the school year," to be recited in class as each school day began. Dr. Novak did not tell New York Times readers whether this official prayer book would include prayers from Scientologists, Satanists, Shamans, Moslems, Mormons, Moonies, Wiccans, UFO Channelers, Perfect Liberty golfers, and Latter-Day Druids. Somebody would have to be left out, because America is home to far, far more than 200 different faiths, sects, and wide-eyed people claiming divine revelation.

Live and let live, pray and let pray, toleration of the beliefs of others has helped America avoid the religious wars of other lands for more than 200 years. But now a simmering culture war threatens to undermine this truce that made the United States the most religiously diverse—and churchgoing—nation on Earth.

The establishment media might lead you to believe that this culture war is the fault of the "religious right." In truth it is a tug of war from both right and left to pull the nation's values and children one way or the other.

The Right side you probably know, with its efforts to restore values and inject ideas such as "Creationism" into public-school classrooms where religion has been excluded. Recently Kansas, Kentucky, and Illinois have moved to remove the word "evolution" from teaching materials.

The Left under the Clinton Administration has wielded the IRS, been a bully in the Bully Pulpit, and engaged in a range of anti-religious efforts large and small. Two years ago the Clinton-controlled U.S. Postal Service tried to end the traditional issuance of a Madonna and Child Christmas stamp, an effort reversed by the outcry generated through those of us on talk radio..

The Clinton Administration has also prompted the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to prohibit and punish a new category of crime, "religious harassment" in workplaces public and private. Strictly enforced, this could have meant that the manager who keeps a Bible on his desk, the boss who counts her rosary beads, or the section chief who wears a yarmulke in accord with his faith could be charged with harassment for even the tiniest mention of a religious topic around a subordinate of a different faith. The vague accusation of "religious harassment," like that of sexual harassment, could also be used by an underling to wreck the career of a religious person a rung above him on the promotion ladder. It could become one more way of stifling, punishing, and purging those who live by and set good examples with their faith. The EEOC reportedly now regards religious-based discrimination claims against employers the third-fastest-growing claim, behind only disability and sexual harassment.

But the broader Clinton attempt to make active faith in the workplace a crime was thwarted, again in part because of the outcry from talk radio.

The workplace, despite Clinton Administration efforts, has become fertile ground for spiritual practice. As Michelle Conlin reports in the November 1, 1999, issue of Business Week, "Companies such as Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and subsidiaries of Wal-Mart Stores are hiring Army-style chaplains who come in any religious flavor requested." (Under President Clinton, the U.S. military now provides Wiccan or witchcraft chaplains for our pagans in uniform.) One Taco Bell group franchisee credits these corporate chaplains with reducing employee turnover by more than half. At Xerox Corp., 300 employees have participated in Native American-like "vision quests," one result of which is their hottest-selling new copier. More than 10,000 Bible and prayer groups now exist within American companies. And according to Business Week reporter Amey Stone, writing in its October 22 issue, one of the hottest trends is niche mutual funds that invest in accord with the values and beliefs of specific religions, among them Roman Catholicism, Islam, and Lutheranism.

The religious renewal underway may not restore the faith of our fathers. Much of what is emerging is polyglot piety, mix-and-match religion with elements of that old-time religion and new-age exploration. Perhaps as a culture we are growing beyond mere toleration of one another's faiths. Many now seem willing and eager to find personal belief by incorporating elements from several religions.

The result may be neither traditional nor fashionably agnostic. But it does represent people moving away from the pagan religious fanaticism that poisoned much of our world for the past 100 years. As a scholar put it deftly a decade ago, "By the year 2010 there will only be two True Believing Marxists left on planet Earth, and they will be two nuns in Brazil."

Marxism was embraced by many intellectuals as a pseudo-scientific mythology, a substitute religion and true believer dogma for those who deemed themselves too sophisticated to accept Christianity or Judaism or other ancient faiths. I call it "the credulity of the infidel," the old slogan of Leftists like Texan Jim Hightower that "if you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything." The megalomaniacal hallucination of Marx and Lenin, Mao, and Stalin, was a jealous, savage pagan deity to which more than 100 million human lives were offered as blood sacrifices and billions more were enslaved. Marxism's horrors dwarf past nightmares such as Aztec sacrifices or the burning of a mere million or so people accused of witchcraft. Now, as this hypnotic opiate of the intellectuals dissipates, the yearning of the heart to know a deeper reality is reawakening. It's morning again for humankind.


Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.


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