Local church, state clashes stir emotions

Augusta State lawsuit, letters on prayers reignite old debate

  • Follow Metro

Church and state clashes are common. Solutions that satisfy are not.

Jennifer Keeton  Special
Special
Jennifer Keeton

Several recent local conflicts have tested the relationship between church and state and challenged those involved to defend or disparage the role of religion in public life.

An organization of atheists and agnostics asked the Aiken City Council to end the prayers that traditionally open its meetings. A week later, a letter to Augusta's government followed.

Last week, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Christian student at Augusta State University who contends she would be required to change her beliefs in order to graduate.

People of faith can find comfort in the fact that "the system is meant to work this way," said Michael Broyde, a professor of law at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta.

"It's a tension that comes from two competing values. We have an anti- establishment clause which mandates the federal government never pick one religion over another. We also have another, which says anyone is free to worship as they choose," he said. "Very few countries have both provisions."

In the eyes of the church, it's more than a clash of values. It's a collision of world views.

The Rev. David McKinley highlighted the ASU conflict from the pulpit of Warren Baptist Church last Sunday. He played a clip of 24-year-old Jennifer Keeton describing her convictions in a video for the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed the suit.

McKinley thanked God for a young lady who is unwilling to violate the authority of God in her life.

"She has been confronted with what I would call a form of academic bias and coercion. And that coercion has ultimately led to this basic premise: The practice of the Christian faith disqualifies a person from a credible practice of counseling. That is the foundation of this debate," he said. "There is a Greek word for that, spelled B-A-L-O-N-E-Y."

Her lawsuit, he said, is part of a larger cultural debate between the authority of God and the voice of culture.

"While our culture has clearly become more secular, you cannot take an eraser to history," McKinley said.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit, sent letters to Aiken and Augusta this month, asking that the cities no longer pray before meetings. They are two of more than 200 letters the group will send to municipalities across the country this year. Some letters are ignored; others are resolved; and still others become lawsuits.

Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor helped found the organization more than 30 years ago because she and her mother, Anne Nicol Gaylor, felt the First Amendment was being degraded.

"Our respect for our secular way of life is at stake," she said. "You have people talking about the nation's founding in faith. It's not true. They're going to win if no one stops them. We have a hostile Supreme Court. It's more important than ever to speak out."

The group celebrated a landmark success in April, when a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the foundation, which had filed suit claiming the National Day of Prayer, held in May every year since 1952, was unconstitutional.

A media firestorm resulted, drawing attention to the group's other causes.

"I have to tell you, the best way to end a violation is to go public, go to the media," Gaylor said. "We realized that if we let the public weigh in, sometimes it might not be in our favor, but these things work out."

IT'S TROUBLING TO THINK important matters are left to sways of popular opinion, said South Carolina Rep. J. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, who is an ordained pastor in the Pentecostal Holiness church.

"There's such a thing as truth. Too few people believe that these days," Smith said. "There are warring factions in the U.S. There's an attempt to drive God out of the public sphere, which is ludicrous considering this nation was founded for the freedom to worship."

He said freedom of religion isn't the same as freedom from religion.

"We open the day up with a prayer and the pledge. We open up our assembly with a prayer and the pledge. We have our caucus meetings on Tuesday mornings, and those start with devotions," he said. "People don't have to participate, but you have to realize, these things are ingrained into public life. I resent being told I can't pray."

When conflict arises, courts should be a last resort, Smith said.

"The problem is the folks on the other side aren't willing to compromise their beliefs against religion but can't understand that we aren't willing to compromise our beliefs in that religion," he said.

The ASU case in particular rings of hypocrisy, said Dr. John Hill, the director of the Center for Care and Counseling for the CSRA, a nonprofit supported by churches to provide discounted mental health care and counseling.

In her suit, Keeton alleges that she is required to complete a remediation plan to alter her views against homosexuality if she wants to remain in the college's school counseling program.

"They want her to respect other views but won't respect her own," Hill said.

Keeton has said professors felt her Bible-based views in opposition to homosexuality are incompatible with the prevailing views in the counseling profession.

Yet, Hill said, it's common for counselors to work with clients they disagree with.

"There are lots of counselors who treat people with views very different than their own," he said.

Hill said the situation amounts to a clear case of discrimination against Christians.

"There is such a clash of world views, and people who have a traditional Christian view are being persecuted," he said. "There are nurses who are fired for not participating in abortions."

Christian pharmacists have also been fired for refusing to dispense birth control.

Broyde, the Emory professor, said such outcomes are to be expected: "I have the right to believe what I want to believe. I don't have the right to have a job with the same protections as my belief."

He says, for instance, that he could choose to be racist, but becoming a police officer and acting in accordance with racist beliefs would not be protected under the First Amendment.

"Just because an idea is protected doesn't mean my job is protected," Broyde said.

IT'S TROUBLING to call such conflicts "persecution," said John Macaulay, who teaches church history at Erskine College, a Christian school in Due West, S.C.

"There's a feeling that the church and Christians are under attack. Is it the persecution of the church in China or Pakistan? No, but in the U.S. it doesn't have to be because there are so many other examples degrading the church's authority," he said. "Historically, the church is at a point that it's never been before."

Since the Roman Empire, the church has gained power and influence and only recently experienced significant decline in authority, Macaulay said.

"I am concerned about the trend. It's not militant persecution, but it's in a form that seeks to take away power that Christians once had," he said.

Warren pastor McKinley hopes and expects a more vocal church body emerges from these conflicts. On Sunday, he reminded the congregation that their tax dollars support the school and they are not without a voice.

"There has always been a conflict with those who come under and receive God's authority in their lives and those who rebuff that," he said. "We're living in a day where the conflict of world views is the most vivid it's ever been. ... What is sufficient and authoritative for life? That is the debate. We won't accept anything less than the word of God."

Comments (155) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
momster59
0
Points
momster59 08/01/10 - 10:38 am
0
0
freeradical - I know this is

freeradical - I know this is off topic, but why do you double space like that? Is it to take up more space and make your posts stand out, or because you feel it makes your posts easier to read? It makes it harder for me to follow your post - harder to read. Just trying to help out.

JusticeForEva
0
Points
JusticeForEva 08/01/10 - 10:39 am
0
0
Just My Opinion...how have

Just My Opinion...how have Christians be oppressed by anyone? You guys are 80% of the population. You hold more political offices then people of any other faith. You've denied gay people the right to marry all because some book of thousand year old fairy tales told you it was bad. However countries like ICELAND and ARGENTINA allow gay marriage. However the United States...the country the PRIDES itself on freedom for EVERYONE....hasn't because you religious zealots go crazy at the thought of girls kissing girls or men kissing men. So tell me how have YOU been oppressed???

Cassandrablake
0
Points
Cassandrablake 08/01/10 - 11:05 am
0
0
"But, Mom, Argentina and

"But, Mom, Argentina and Iceland let their kids do it! You are so mean!" LOL What a great reason for the US to change our laws, because some other countries do it that way. But, that is not the topic here...

JusticeForEva
0
Points
JusticeForEva 08/01/10 - 11:16 am
0
0
Cassandra I was using it as a

Cassandra I was using it as a example. We have a long way to go before we are truly "The Land of the Free".

JusticeForEva
0
Points
JusticeForEva 08/01/10 - 11:32 am
0
0
I think Bill Maher said it

I think Bill Maher said it best on Christians and their persecution complex:

People who run everything can't complain that they're underdogs. To whit, this week, there was a highly-attended conference in Washington called "The War on Christians." Because nothing quite says "I'm oppressed," like the opulent Regency Ballroom of the Omni Shoreham Hotel.

Ah, yes, whatever happened to that plucky little cult, Christianity? Oh, that's right, they're 80% of the American people, and have taken over all three branches of government, country music, public schools, the bestseller list, and until recently, Katie Holmes. You know, Christians, I don't mind that you're part of a dress-up cult that hates sex and worships magic but the paranoia, that does scare me.

Did you know that the Missouri legislature recently felt the need to propose a resolution declaring Christianity Missouri's majority religion. No kidding. Really, you mean people aren't saying, "Gosh, I'd like to go to Missouri, but...too Jewish." In Savannah, recently, a children's book about a baby penguin who is raised by two male penguins - ahh! - was removed from the library for its homosexual overtones. Because you know penguins, in those tuxedos, with the dreamy eyes. Huge fags!

The Christian right are now officially the party of paranoia. Secularists are attacking Christmas! Gays are attacking marriage! Liberals are attacking values! White girls are being abducted at an alarming rate! You know, if you're going to be that paranoid all the time, just get high.

And the worst part is, the people bitching loudest about being persecuted for their Christianity aren't Christians at all. They're demagogues and conmen and scolds. And the only thing they worship is power. If you believe Jesus ever had a good word for war or torture or tax cuts for the rich, or raping the earth, or refusing water to dying migrants, then you might as well believe bunnies lay painted eggs.

And Jesus - and Jesus never said a word about gay marriage. He was much too busy hanging out with 12 guys. Now - now I know George Bush says Jesus Christ changed his heart. But believe me, Dick Cheney changed it back. The only thing Bush has in common with Jesus is they both went into their father's business and got crucified for it.

Thomas Jefferson called the type of Christian who trumpets his own belief in the divinity of Jesus rather than the morality of Jesus "pseudo-Christians." And that's who's running our country today. And since they thrive so much on turning water into "whining"—and get off on their endless pretend persecution, this Easter season, let's give them what they want. Let's go to the zoo, get some lions, and feed them Tom DeLay.

So crates
0
Points
So crates 08/01/10 - 11:40 am
0
0
I just like to keep in

I just like to keep in people's mind that the nation was not founded on or for religious freedom alone: that was only one of the principles we fought to liberate ourselves from, and it was not even of the foremost importance. While it may have been foremost in the minds of the many immigrants who came here it was, nonetheless, not the sole foundational principle that established the United States of America. We cannot permit this myth to be perpetuated so sublty in rational debate or it will become the prevailing truth. This is a perfect example of how religious myths happen.

I, too, resent the notion that people could not choose to pray in a public forum. I think prayer serves many functions that can potentially be healthy even if those engaged in it are not fully cognizant of what they are actually doing (yeah, I'm a non-theist). I think the solution is not to outlaw prayer and not to codify it, but rather to codify the request to those assembled in a public meeting if they wish to pray. I know. This has never been acceptable to either side, but it remains a solution that offers each side a reasonable solution. If you're atheist and afraid your constituents may find out then you must not be that firm in your beliefs. And if atheism is really important to you, then you should be willing to stand up for your beliefs. Vice versa for the other side.

The only thing I want the more extreme christians to understand is that the standard they set today will work for America tomorrow. If you want us to be a religious state, remember that the diversity of America is expanding. One day we might not be a predominantly Christian country. Christians only enjoy that bounty today because they got here first. But the world has steadily been coming to America since then. Do we really want to set our children up to become like Iran?

baronvonreich
1
Points
baronvonreich 08/01/10 - 12:00 pm
0
0
sconservativeSunday, Aug. 1

sconservativeSunday, Aug. 1 10:41 AM If ASU denies Keeton the freedom to practice her religion, then they are following bad case law - not the Constitution
------------------------------
How have you deduced from any documentation that ASU is denying Ms. Keeton the freedom to practice her religion?

jiclemens
0
Points
jiclemens 08/01/10 - 12:15 pm
0
0
justice for eva: You really

justice for eva: You really should do standup. That was fabulous! Really!
Thanks!

JusticeForEva
0
Points
JusticeForEva 08/01/10 - 12:18 pm
0
0
Actually that was from Bill

Actually that was from Bill Maher's New Rule segmant from his show Real Time ;-)

baronvonreich
1
Points
baronvonreich 08/01/10 - 12:26 pm
0
0
Well said so crates.

Well said so crates. Christians won't be the majority in U.S. in the future but instead of insisting on the freedoms provided by the Constitution and the limits it places on government endorsement of their chosen religion, they will fight to the death (as that bloodthirsty cult has always done) and cut off their nose to spite their face in the coming decades.

freeradical
1176
Points
freeradical 08/01/10 - 12:30 pm
0
0
Justiceforeva, You may want

Justiceforeva,

You may want to update Bill Maher that if christians were running the

show there would have been considerably less than 50 million babies

sacrificed in the name of liberalism at this point.

You talk about many institutions, with the exception of the one in

question ASU.

Lets try to make real application shall we?

What do you think the chances are that your not so original, double-

entendre concerning Jesus "hanging out with 12 men" has been

presented by a teacher to a class at ASU in an effort to bait and draw

forward those who might feel this is not quite "positive affirmation"

of specific beliefs?

If you don't care to discuss it, or

If discussing such specific examples of the institution,which is after all the

subject matter here presents an insermountable quandry for you, please

feel free to go silent on that basis as well.

sjgraci
2
Points
sjgraci 08/01/10 - 12:40 pm
0
0
Brad- This topic has

Brad- This topic has officially jumped the shark now that you have brought Nazis into the discussion. But since you have, it should be a reminder to all why religion has no business in government and public institutions.

freeradical
1176
Points
freeradical 08/01/10 - 01:01 pm
0
0
Anyone? Anyone?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?,

If you were to bet, would you bet that the not so original double

entendre about Jesus "hanging out with twelve guys" given to us care of

the now suddenly very quite justiceforeve, (I hope she is ok), has been

spoken to a class by an ASU teacher ?

Come on people, its alright, remember, "THEY WERE ONLY KIDDING".

JusticeForEva
0
Points
JusticeForEva 08/01/10 - 01:03 pm
0
0
I'm here Radical I just

I'm here Radical I just refuse to have a battle of wits with an obviously unarmed person ;-)

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 08/01/10 - 01:15 pm
0
0
Though I also do not condone

Though I also do not condone homosexuality, but I accept the person, as long as this student is not trying to push her beliefs off onto clients or students she would be teaching, she should be able to have her opinions and express them. I had an ASU professor give me a lower grade than deserved because she was a feminist and my paper didn't agree with her beliefs. How can you dock an opinionated assignment for not agreeing with you opinion? Are they next going to start not allowing medical students to become doctors if they think marijuana or other drugs may have benefits in the medical field but the people giving the degrees dont? Does it make them any less of an exceptional heart surgeon? Do they think the doctors or counselors can not do their job without violating professional or ethics policies if they believe different? I know many cops who dont think that marijuana is that bad of a drug and wouldnt arrest for it if they didnt have to, but its their job and they do it every day. If someone over hears them saying I think pot should be decriminalized or legalized does that mean he can never be a cop again? Unless they refuse to arrest for it, whats the big deal? If the cop hates fords because hes a chevy person, can he not drive that car or do his job? I mean really where does it end? Can a vegetarian not have a waitressing job serving steak and burgers because they dont think they should be eaten? She cant mention it to coworkers? Unless they are saying that to customers, what business is it of any one elses? Can someone who refuses to wear clothes that are not name brand not be allowed to work at walmart? I mean really. This isn't the first time this school and its professors try to force students to change their beliefs. Wait until there are complaints against her as a professional then take the degree back, bar her or whatever they call it, if warranted. I mean not all counselors can treat all kinds of patients, that should just be one of the things she doesnt counsel and should refer them elsewhere. You don't have to agree with everyones opinion on subjective issues, just know how to keep it out of your job!! How many of us do not agree with policies at our work or laws of this land but abide by them anyway to keep our jobs and freedom????? Doesnt mean all the coworkers dont talk about it and a few may think the rules are good, but it doesnt mean the ones who disagree cant do thier jobs professionally.

momster59
0
Points
momster59 08/01/10 - 01:17 pm
0
0
JusticeForEva - thanks,

JusticeForEva - thanks, that's the hardest I've laughed all day.

scoopdedoop64
2508
Points
scoopdedoop64 08/01/10 - 02:00 pm
0
0
To the old rugged cross I

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.

Go King Jesus!!!!

DaveMustaineRules
0
Points
DaveMustaineRules 08/01/10 - 02:09 pm
0
0
The problem with this issue

The problem with this issue (which has evolved far beyond the suit to reveal problems and prejudices with and in our society) is so many want to force everyone else to conform to their vision of "the old rugged cross."

Violent and radical fundamentalism seems to be in direct contradiction to what Jesus taught. However, we have individuals quoted in the article who want their interpretations of the word of God to have dominion over all. How is this any different from the desire of radical muslisms to have Sharia law in effect in all nations?

So crates
0
Points
So crates 08/01/10 - 02:13 pm
0
0
One of the funny anectdotal

One of the funny anectdotal things you always hear in discussion like this are stories of those horridly liberal professors who gave the good guy a bad grade. I was one of those students, and to this day I tell the story for that very same dramatic effect. Its a good story.

However, the truth of the matter is different. While I did stubbornly wait an entire extra year to earn my undergraduate degree because a professor insisted I rewrite a final paper or fail, when I finally completed the paper and asked him directly how his opinion was better than mine the answer was revealing. No, he did not like my take on the novel, but it was my poor reasoning that he objected to the most. And he made his point in detail for the next hour. Nowadays, I always laugh when I hear tales of the wicked professor because they either reveal a good storyteller or a moron who never learned the lesson to begin with.

DaveMustaineRules
0
Points
DaveMustaineRules 08/01/10 - 02:15 pm
0
0
For an example, this comment

For an example, this comment is extremely disturbing, "What is sufficient and authoritative for life? That is the debate. We won't accept anything less than the word of God."

The tone is combative and suggests the speaker believes any action will justify the expressed desired outcome. Where does someone who makes statements like this draw the line? How can someone with such views be a law abiding member of a democratic society? Having this belief for yourself is fine and protected by the Constitution. Taken in context with the entire article, this statement is nearly a call for jihad against any who disagree with it.

corgimom
38704
Points
corgimom 08/01/10 - 02:32 pm
0
0
If there has been 50 million

If there has been 50 million abortions in the US, then you'd better believe that most of them are being done on Christian women.

I know that is hard for some people to face, but that's the truth.

When poll after poll after poll says Americans don't want to outlaw abortion, then you must believe that Christians are not anti-abortion-despite what some on here believe.

Of course, that also follows under "freedom of religion", which many translate as "I will believe what I want to believe, and if you don't believe it too, then you aren't Christian"- which is neither Christian or Constitutional, but they don't bother with minor details like that.

DaveMustaineRules
0
Points
DaveMustaineRules 08/01/10 - 02:37 pm
0
0
I don't know about the

I don't know about the abortion issue. In my mind, a fetus has rights and abortion is tantamount to murder. Having an abortion, in most cases, seems to be the easy way out for someone who does not want to take responsibility for personal actions.

scoopdedoop64
2508
Points
scoopdedoop64 08/01/10 - 02:44 pm
0
0
Dear Davemustainrules, since

Dear Davemustainrules, since you refered to the song I quoted then I must say that I don't insist that anyone conform to anything. Its their own choice but I do say this: to ignore that Christians are being persecuted for their faith and right on this very forum is to deny reality. I am not here to force people to do anything but don't force me to deny my very reason for living.

momster59
0
Points
momster59 08/01/10 - 02:47 pm
0
0
DaveMustaineRules - I am torn

DaveMustaineRules - I am torn on the abortion issue also. For a woman who chooses to use this as a means of birth control, I'm absolutely opposed, adopting out the baby is her best option. However, what about the child (it happens more than people want to know) who is pregnant due to incest? How can you force a woman to carry a baby that is the product of rape? What about risk of the mother's life? These are situations for which I have no easy solution.

montega12
0
Points
montega12 08/01/10 - 02:49 pm
0
0
well its simple if you havent

well its simple if you havent been to a college in the last three decades you shouldnt really comment because you have no idea how bad these self righteous follow my doctrine professors really are...ever heard those that can do those that cant teach.....and most importantly if you never attended asu you really have no room to comment at all..been there done that they grade on opinions there and if you dont share theirs you arent gonna have a very happy time at the school thank god i got the hell outta there and finished at USC COLUMBIA

DaveMustaineRules
0
Points
DaveMustaineRules 08/01/10 - 02:55 pm
0
0
scoopdepoop - you and I are

scoopdepoop - you and I are of the same mind then. I was alluding to your post to point out the problem is with mean spitited, hateful, and bigoted individuals such as Ms. Keeton and many (but not all) of her supporters.

momster59
0
Points
momster59 08/01/10 - 02:57 pm
0
0
Thanks to a deep, heartfelt

Thanks to a deep, heartfelt discussion with a Christian friend, I think I understand why some christians believe that when someone disagrees with them they are being "persecuted". Jesus warns that many will be persecuted for their belief. Because these christians have the belief that the bible is absolutely 100% literally true and the absolute word of God, they actually believe they must be persecuted if they are true believers. This is akin to certain sects who suffer self mutilations because he said they would suffer and to emulate his suffering. To them this is a reality. I feel very saddened that they live their lives with a feeling of paranoia that they are under attack at every discussion that does not support their view.

scoopdedoop64
2508
Points
scoopdedoop64 08/01/10 - 03:01 pm
0
0
Thanks Dave

Thanks Dave

Fiat_Lux
16445
Points
Fiat_Lux 08/01/10 - 03:21 pm
0
0
So crates, you and I probably

So crates, you and I probably couldn't be more different in terms of what we believe about God, but I find you to be one of the two or three best commenters on any forum, and I'm not including myself in that group. I don't agree with your reasoning often enough, but it is a pleasure to have you share it, even if your conclusions are not the same as mine.

kamsmom
0
Points
kamsmom 08/01/10 - 03:59 pm
0
0
There always seems to be a

There always seems to be a debate as to why Christians are not more tolerant of "non-Christians" or "other religions". My question is why are the "non-Christians" and "other religions" not tolerant of Christians. It seems that there is always someone trying to take religion out of somewhere. What does a group based out of Wisconsin has to do with demanding anything from somewhere other than Wisconsin. What do they have to do with Aiken or Augusta. What we are doing here does not affect them in the least. I think it seems to just bother them that there are any Christians in the world at all.
As for the young lady at ASU. She has a RIGHT to keep her Christians beliefs and to go throught the training program for counseling without being asked to change her beliefs, attend a gay pride parade or anything like there. There are all types of counselors out there. There are some people, maybe only Christians, I don't know, that prefer to go to a Christian counselor vs a "secular" counselor. That is our preferance. Should insurance companies no longer pay towards counseling if someone goes to a Christian counselor? I don't think so.
As for the praying before meetings. There again is nothing wrong with asking guidance in the decisions you are about to make. If someone in the meeting is not a Christian or does not want to participate in the prayer, that may be a good time to get water or to plan ahead to come into the meeting 5 or 10 minutes late. No one is forcing them to pray or even to participate. Even if there was not a minute long prayer before and the prayer was done in the room 15 minutes before the meeting for those who want to participate, there would still be the same problem because they would be shouting that it was done in a tax payer funded building.
The problem is that there are people who don't believe as Christians do and think that is a false and silly and whatever else they believe about Christianity. That is what they have to deal with in their lives. What I have to deal with in mine is whether I continue to do what God would want me to do and how He would have me to act. He said that we are not to be ashamed of Him, that good deads would not get us to Heaven but only through accepting Him into your life would you get to Heaven-I have to stand up for my beliefs the same as others stand up for theirs. So don't expect me to lay down and allow anyone to take God away from me. You might succeed in stopping a prayer here and there but you won't stop God and, in case you haven't heard, He does win!
All I can do is pray for those who need prayer, help those who need help and let God handle what needs to be handled.

Back to Top
loading...
Top headlines

Christmas Eve rains to dry up

If Wednesday seemed particularly wet and dreary, you would be right. The day broke the record for the wettest Christmas Eve that Augusta has ever had.
Search Augusta jobs