Local church, state clashes stir emotions

Augusta State lawsuit, letters on prayers reignite old debate

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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."

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momster59
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momster59 08/01/10 - 02:31 am
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"There is a Greek word for

"There is a Greek word for that, spelled B-A-L-O-N-E-Y." Nice to find the description of this article within it's own content.

"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."
Oh, this is what the article is REALLY about, Christians finding out how nonchristians have been treated in this country and actually have to be fair.

AS for the Keeton problem, I don't see it as religious, but failure to abide by the rules she agreed to when she entered the program. Done.

As to the public prayer, I still remember the outrage when my father gave a public prayer to open a Boy Scout meeting, complete with prayer drum. I'm sure the christians are still screaming. OUTRAGE! This man's not a christian! I'm serious, letters to the editor, someone egged our house, had to keep the dog in the house because they were even going after the poor dog.

One thing I don't understand is the Christian fascination with big, fancy, public prayers. Jesus tells his people that when they pray, they are not to pray in public and put on a show, but to quietly go into a closet and pray humbly where not one even knows but the father.

So, if this is what Jesus tells you to do, why don't you just pray quietly to yourselves? Does God hear you better when you put on a public show, especially after Jesus has specifically told you not to?

sjgraci
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sjgraci 08/01/10 - 03:04 am
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"Since the Roman Empire, the

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

Good! The only authority and power you have a right to in the United States of America is in your church.

Promote your religion in the public square and I'll be the first to stop you. However, when government tries to take away your right to practice your religion amongst yourselves, I'll be the first to defend you.

RAINBOW
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RAINBOW 08/01/10 - 03:47 am
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prayer at a meeting is not

prayer at a meeting is not out in public,its inside a building,Jesus condemend those for praying on street corners

disssman
6
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disssman 08/01/10 - 07:10 am
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Rainbow what would you

Rainbow what would you characterize Smiths meetings as, public or private? I also wonder what Smith would do if a staff member didn't want to pray? Remember SC is a right to fire state for basically any trumped up charge.

Brad Owens
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Brad Owens 08/01/10 - 07:20 am
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I don't know if the lady is

I don't know if the lady is wrong or right in her lawsuit, but something sure doesn't seem right to me about the way she has been treated.

It just seems wrong to me,

Brad

Brad Owens
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Brad Owens 08/01/10 - 07:54 am
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I guess we will see more

I guess we will see more coments after chruch lets out?

InChristLove
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InChristLove 08/01/10 - 08:05 am
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The scripture about praying

The scripture about praying in a closet which the first poster referred to is taken out of context. Jesus prayed in public many times with his disciples and in large groups. What Jesus was referring to was not to pray in public for show, for attention and to be boastful. I'll agree we have some who love to pray in public and can be rather longwinded and to me only God knows their heart but it appears to others as being prideful. I see nothing wrong with praying in public so long as you give God the glory and it's from the heart.

I guess next, families or individuals won't be able to prayer over our food in restaurants.

Dixieman
10356
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Dixieman 08/01/10 - 08:19 am
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Pray for the conversion and

Pray for the conversion and enlightenment of the ACLU and its members. It just might work, and even if it doesn't, it will irritate them to distraction!

scoopdedoop64
2235
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scoopdedoop64 08/01/10 - 08:51 am
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Wow, what a great article.

Wow, what a great article. It was very balanced and gave several points of view and it also gave something for each side to think about. I believe this is as much a spiritual battle as a battle of rights.

annw
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annw 08/01/10 - 10:05 am
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This article, like the ones

This article, like the ones before it on this issue, was very one-sided, devoting much more space to the views of a few conservative religious leaders than those who see things much differently and offer different perspectives. It seems that it is always about the conservative Christians who are upset when they don't get their way. The CSRA is just as religiously diverse as any other part of the country. The beauty of the first amendment is that everyone's rights to practice their religion as they see fit, as well as keeping government out of religion, are protected. The objection to specific sectarian prayer in public meetings is a legitimate one. Why should one set of beliefs be celebrated to the exclusion of all others? If the tables were turned, and a Hindu or Buddhist were offering prayer, I know that the outcry would be tremendous. If there has to be some sort of invocation at the beginning of a public or political meeting, then it should be non-sectarian and non-denominational. That's not hard to do. The invocation can be a prayer for discernment and wisdom for the decision makers and nothing more. No specific deity or belief system has to be invoked.
As far as the student at ASU, she knew at the beginning of the program that she would be required to abide by the professional standards of the program. If her values are in such deep conflict, then it is her responsibility to find another program that aligns with her views. She has to understand that it is her ethical and professional responsibility to accept each client for who and where they are in life and help them work to a solution that is right for them and not impose her views or beliefs on them as they make that journey. I would not want her to be the first counselor that a 15 year old student who is questioning his sexual orientation would see. If she were not dispassionate and impartial, she could lead a this child to commit suicide if she imposed her religious view on him and in any way implied that she condemned him or his struggle.
It's time to turn down the volume on these issues and get back to basic principles of equality, respect and fairness for all whether you agree or not. To each his own.

Brad Owens
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Brad Owens 08/01/10 - 10:24 am
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annw, You consider this a

annw,

You consider this a onesided article?

And just WHO would you want to counsel a "15 year old student who is questioning his sexual orientation?"

I mean would it make you feel better if it was a pro-homosexual advisor? I mean if you all feel homosexuality is a born trait would it make any difference in who or what was said in the end?

I am not a member of the God Squad (as they will tell you on here) but something is wrong about not allowing this lady into a program because of her personal views on homosexuality.

Also, anyone who suggests that she take a class about it, or attend a gay pride parade is WAAAAY off base.

That is like saying to a Jewish student, "You just don't understand Nazis, you must read Mein Kampf and attend a Nazi parade so you can better understand where they are coming from..."

Oh yeah?

Brad

baronvonreich
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baronvonreich 08/01/10 - 10:27 am
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InChristLoveSunday, Aug. 1

InChristLoveSunday, Aug. 1 8:05 AM
I guess next, families or individuals won't be able to prayer over our food in restaurants.
----------------------------
Those restaurants are privately owned businesses and can conduct their business however they choose. Taxpayers of all religions are not forced to fund them as they are with publicly funded institutions. What is so difficult about this general concept for some of you to understand?

Christians are trying their best to prevent Muslims from building mosques all around this country on privately owned land but think they should be granted the right to have Chrisitanity in government meetings, schools, and displayed in all government buildings.

And they talk about freedom of religion. lol. Smell it yet? Oh yeah that is some wretched hypocrisy.

whatmistake
100
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whatmistake 08/01/10 - 10:27 am
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How comforting to read the

How comforting to read the viewpoint of the gentleman from Emory University. If there's a school where the administration and faculty are more left-leaning and politically correct than that swamp in Atlanta, I'd like to know about it. May God have mercy on us for allowing the college and university campuses to become the ethical and moral wastelands they are today. Especially those supported by hard-earned taxpayer dollars.

nofrills
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nofrills 08/01/10 - 10:29 am
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In the end God will win so

In the end God will win so don't act surprised!

ispy4u
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ispy4u 08/01/10 - 10:31 am
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Where are the " Vocal"

Where are the " Vocal" parties that cries out when certain Churches voices their opinions during elections? I guess it is okay for certain Churches to remind its members that "their tax dollars support this school".

momster59
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momster59 08/01/10 - 10:33 am
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I have noticed over the years

I have noticed over the years that many people get mad when God wins and it isn't the way they wanted him to win.

baronvonreich
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baronvonreich 08/01/10 - 10:35 am
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For the reverend of Warren

For the reverend of Warren Baptist to even bring up the topic of taxes is downright laughable. When churches decide they want to pay their taxes like every other property owner and reverends decide to stop hiding in their income tax shelters then maybe they would have some credence. Until then, on the topic of taxes, churches and anybody associated with them are hypocrites of the purest form.

baronvonreich
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baronvonreich 08/01/10 - 10:38 am
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whatmistakeSunday, Aug. 1

whatmistakeSunday, Aug. 1 10:27 May God have mercy on us for allowing the college and university campuses to become the ethical and moral wastelands they are today. Especially those supported by hard-earned taxpayer dollars.
-----------------------------------
Yet when ASU tries to enforce the ethics of counseling in its counseling program the Christians get all bent out of shape. It would seem that you and Christians want "christian morals" and "christian ethics" in these same institutions that are funded by taxpayers of every religion and non-religion.

I'm starting to smell it.....oh the hypocrisy!

sconservative
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sconservative 08/01/10 - 10:41 am
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SCOTUS Justice Black, a

SCOTUS Justice Black, a former KKK member because of his hatred of Catholics, decided the "separation of church and state" case in the 1940s. The Constitutions of the US and SC restrict only the Congress and General Assembly respectively. If ASU denies Keeton the freedom to practice her religion, then they are following bad case law - not the Constitutions. Keeton could go to another college, but that would not solve taxpayers' problem of having to support ASU.

Frankie-B
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Frankie-B 08/01/10 - 10:57 am
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I'm wondering how a secular

I'm wondering how a secular counselor would administer to a devout Christen who was questioning their faith? Since they are non-believers, does their curriculum include attending Easter service?

Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 08/01/10 - 10:58 am
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annw said "It seems that it

annw said "It seems that it is always about the conservative Christians who are upset when they don't get their way.". Well, we do get upset ann, but one of the biggest reasons is because, for years, we DIDN'T get our way, but everyone else seemed to get their way. Christians are tired of it and, thankfully, are becoming more vocal about the disparity. But, not surprisingly, when Christians do become vocal, then the non-Christian groups are affronted and can't understand why we won't submit to their agenda. See, all these years, the fight waged for rights AGAINST religion are actually being turned around to provide rights FOR religion.

scoopdedoop64
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scoopdedoop64 08/01/10 - 11:00 am
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Baron, this all boils down to

Baron, this all boils down to where people's spiritual orientation is at. For you even do the same. Because you do not believe in God or His role in America it seems that Churches should not be tax free and you have a problem with Christians having rights that differ in any way from the rest of the world. And that is fine because personally as a leader in the church myself I would be more than happy to give up my tax status because I don't think the government can actually break God. Yet when you attack the minister of Warren for having his personal beliefs that mirror the majority of Christians in this community then I think you leave the area of personal opinion to just down right bigotry.

To annw, did we read the same article. I felt it was very balanced and though I did not count every letter of the article for both sides it seems that both were presented without any bias to me.

Just My Opinion
4663
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Just My Opinion 08/01/10 - 11:00 am
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Frankie-B, THAT is an

Frankie-B, THAT is an excellent question, sir.

DaveMustaineRules
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DaveMustaineRules 08/01/10 - 11:15 am
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Uhh, the views expressed by

Uhh, the views expressed by some of the individuals in this article are frightening and disgusting. Since when is "the church" (I thought there were many churches and religion in the US, but apparently McKinley believes there is just "one" correct church) supposed to have power in and/or over society. I guess he believes in state funded stake burning of all who disagree with his view of Christianity. Hey bud, the Taliban is hiring. How about accepting a one way ticket to Afghanistan, free of charge.

All humor aside (well sort of, I believe he would have to fly to Pakistan and then cross the border into Afghanistan rather than take a direct flight) Pastor McKinley is free to accept the "word of God" as the voice of authority in his life, but his comments suggest he wants to impose the "word of God" on all. Perhaps he needs to return to divinity school and devote additional time to studying the concept of "free will." God wants individuals to choose their path in life rather than have religious views forced upon them through social and political pressure. Pastor McKinley seems to want to move beyond social and political pressure by establishing his version of Christianity as the law of the land. His views and attitude are more in keeping with radical Islam than Christianity. People such as McKinley are threats to our freedom and the American way of life. His is the same mentality which led to McCarthyism and the Red Scare. I believe Warren Baptist Church has a large congregation, and the fact this individual has influence over so many people is dangerous and frightening. His comments in this article constitute an open declaration of war against the United States and, ironically, Christianity. However, he has the right to speak this way within his Church (other than when he crosses the line for a tax exempt entity) and within his home. If he wants to become a school counselor and speak this way to every kid who walks through the door - then no go.

ispy4u makes a good point, and someone should contact the IRS regarding the tax exempt status of Warren Baptist Church.

The more I read about this situation, the more I realize Jennifer Keeton has completely over reacted. No one told her to change her beliefs and no one told her she could not be a Christian and be a counselor. She seem to lack the understanding that trying to force her religous views on clients would be unethical. If she was interested in having a private practice or working for a practice which disclosed her religious leaning and took a religous approach to counseling, that would be fine. However, she wants to work in the public schools, where she would have access to a captive audience, and forcing your religous views on underage children is completely wrong.

momster59
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momster59 08/01/10 - 11:11 am
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DaveMustaineRules "God wants

DaveMustaineRules "God wants individuals to choose their path in life rather than have religious views forced upon them through social and political pressure"

It's absolutely maddening that so many do not understand this truth. Thank you.

grouse
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grouse 08/01/10 - 11:14 am
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Again, I take issue with the

Unpublished

Again, I take issue with the Christian apologists and their ignoring of Christ's words. He was very specific about how and where to pray. He used the example of those making a scene, saying they have their reward, but he said exactly how and what one should pray. These public prayers are not only contrary to keeping religion out of the public business, but un-Christian, as well.

RTFLAIR
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RTFLAIR 08/01/10 - 11:15 am
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The young lady is capable of

The young lady is capable of understanding and caring for homosexuals and others who do not agree with her viewpoints WITHOUT going through "a remediation plan to alter her views." What about her freedom to hold to her beliefs? Why does ASU discriminate against her? They need to go through a remediation plan to make them sensitive to the beliefs and practices of Christians.

DaveMustaineRules
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DaveMustaineRules 08/01/10 - 11:18 am
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momster 59 - so many seem to

momster 59 - so many seem to not understand Christ was a peaceful person and did not take an "in your face" approach to spreading his word. Too many modern churches seem to take a MLM/Amway approach of forcefully "selling" religion. I'm glad to see others in this community see how many churches are ignoring a fundamental aspect of Christianity.

commonsense09
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commonsense09 08/01/10 - 11:18 am
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It is my opinion that we have

It is my opinion that we have a lot bigger problems in our country than fussing over whether we can pray at the beginning of public meetings or whether one student out of 250 who has gone through ASU's counseling program has an issue with their standards. What's more important is the actual BUSINESS of city councils and what's going on in the big picture of children's lives. If you're a Christian, ask yourself 'do my council members represent Christ in all their public dealings' not 'are they praying before meetings?' Ask yourself about the challenges facing young people in schools and maybe spend more time with your own kids or help other young people instead of spending your energy on the Keeton Case. If the Alliance Defense Fund spend their time, money and energy on feeding God's sheep instead of stirring the pot with lawsuits, wouldn't we be better off? In an area like the CSRA where so many people claim to be Christians, why doesn't it look more like the Kingdom of God? The very few 'anti-Chrisitans' or 'atheists' around aren't fouling our nest--we are! The speeder who cuts you off in traffic with the 'fish' on the back of their car, the drunk driver who kills your child--statistically more likely to be a 'Christian' than not. The husband/father who beats his wife and kids, the parents who let their kids run wild, pay no attention to them, let them play violent video games and don't know what their kids are doing when they leave home, the rapist, the robber, the tax cheat--if so many people around here are 'Christians' aren't those people more than likely 'Christians?' Hiding behind the idea that the trouble is all caused by 'anti-Christians' is just fooling ourselves.

freeradical
824
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freeradical 08/01/10 - 12:04 pm
0
0

They may think they are

They may think they are intelligent, but they can never lay claim to

being honest.

Typical liberalisim,the rules apply to everyone but themselves.

If you read the "standards" it is just as wrong for teachers to mock,

ridicule, provide a personally negative view of christianity.

Can I get a show of hands from everyone slow-witted, or dishonest

enough to say that does not take places on a regular basis?

....................................................................I thought so.

I attended ASU, anyone who says that does not take place on a regular

basis has either never attended it, is just not that smart, demonstrated

in feeble attempts to mollify the circumstances as repeatedly being

forced to say " THEY WERE ONLY KIDDING".

Christians are targeted and the student body in general is continually

baited in order that any christian with the gumption might self- identify

themselves for further individualized targeting.

I have seen this happen concerning anyone who dares to ask questions

concerning the "THEORY" of evolution in science studies.

Questions that do not even broach the subject of faith but simply,

question the, voids, gaps, hollow areas, from a scientific posture.

At the point the instructor becomes self-conscious concering the lack

of reasonable scientific answers available, ( about 10 seconds into it), it

is the TEACHER,not the student, who then brings

religion into the fray. Hoping to deflect away from the pure scientific

question being asked. Baitng,and hoping to change the scientific line of

questioning taking place, to one of religion.
They are dishonest frauds and snake oil salesman.

I have seen greater honesty among telemarketers

I have also had a minority of teachers who are quite honest and do not

engage in such vile disrespectful tactics, but they are in the minority and

they know their place, and how to avoid the plantation masters scour.

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