A Sheriff and a Bishop Both Leap Across the Church/State Dividing Line

BlogHer Original Post

If it's not one astonishing imposition of religion, it's another. From a bishop to a sheriff -- this past month has brought news a-plenty that the forces wanting to mingle religion and the political world are alive and proclaiming.

First we have the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office. Note, this is Milwaukee -- not some tiny, never-heard-of-it, Bible belt burg. The sheriff , David A. Clarke Jr., invited the Fellowship of the Christian Centurions, a right-wing Christian evangelizing group, to do presentations about conversion at meetings that the deputy sheriffs were required to attend. A federal court of appeals upheld a lower court verdict this week, saying that this violated the separation of church and state.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal said: [ed.note: underlines/bold are mine.]

"Clarke invited the then newly formed Fellowship of the Christian Centurions to address deputies at 16 roll call meetings in May of 2006, after the group also spoke to the Sheriff's Department leadership conference. The group offered peer support for law enforcement and discussed how officers could "impact others for Christ," according to the ruling from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. One of the Centurion speakers quoted the Bible in a talk to deputies, saying that God "established government and that people in authority are ministers of God assigned to promote good and punish evil."

Further, according Americans United: "During one meeting in Spring of 2006, Clarke announced that he would soon make promotions to the rank of captain and distributed a flyer stating that leaders often look for “people of faith” in their inner circles."

It seems odd that the Sheriff did not think this was out of line.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal goes on to say this about Clarke's response to the hearing:

When the suit was filed, Clarke said no one's rights were violated by the presentations. The Centurion presentations were not a prayer meeting, Clarke said at the time."Unfortunately, we live in an era where some people will make even God the enemy," Clarke said at the time.

There it is, the manoeuvrings seen so often -- the twist to obscure the perpetrator and turn him/her into a victim..."some people will make even God the enemy." This sort of double-talk is common among the religious right wingers of every stripe. They would have you believe that anything done in God's name is God doing it/inspiring it -- as long as the religious right are the ones executing it.

And that is where the religious right is wrong. Gluing a God-label to a slice of baloney doesn't make it anything more than an even less appetizing slice of baloney with glue on it.

And, I suppose if the Sheriff worked for a Hindu boss, and had to listen to SIXTEEN talks about why Shiva is involved in law enforcement, he would split his shoe leathers running to the closest attorney. The right wing faithful would have us believe that they can be right or they can be wronged.

But they cannot be wrong.

But on to a stranger bedfellow, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin. The bishop informed Patrick Kennedy -- the son of Ted Kennedy, that he should henceforth stop receiving communion as he has supported pro-choice legislation in Congress. While he claims not to have notified priests in his diocese to not commune Patrick, he went on record saying that he would have "a little conversation" with any of his priests who gave Kennedy communion. (Rhode Island is his area.)

The bishop told Kennedy that in 2007, and it recently came to light as part of a very public argument between them about the role that the church should play in politics. That argument came as many Catholic Bishops attempted to limit health care reform to comply with Catholic teachings.

Communion in the Catholic Church is a BIG thing. Being denied it is being denied that which will ensure heaven (in a rough summary of a complex theology.) In prior years, John Kerry was similarly told by the church that as long as he supported policies that the church did not, that he should not receive communion.

There were also any number of conservative Catholics who thought burying Edward Kennedy with a full Catholic mass was not appropriate because he had supported issues like gay marriage and choice.

A church can take what position is chooses. That is their freedom in this country. But at what point does it leap its limits? The Sheriff was clearly over the line. But what of the bishop? I don't like what he did, but was it illegal or unConstitutional?

Seems to me that if one says that one is a Catholic, then one can be held accountable to that -- politician or not. If you are a member of an organization with rules, then you agree to live by them. Violate them and there will be consequences. If you say you are part of a church that believes that X is wrong, and you publicly support X, then the church should have something to say to you.

But, it must be done fairly, and that church must also hold itself accountable. If a church absolutely upholds the commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill" -- then why is it not a peace church, like the Mennonites or Quakers? If Kennedy is told not to commune, who else is told? Does his visibility make him more a target?

The lines are not as immaculate as one might hope, once it gets into acts by religious groups. Some, like the Sheriff, are pretty clear. Others are not.

If it is wrong for a church to deny communion to a politician because that violates church and state separation, then is it also wrong for churches to publicly advocate gay marriage legislation? Both are attempts to influence. But at what point to these attempts really violate the reason for the separation clause -- the prevention of a state religion?

But it makes one wonder. Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported :
"The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn't change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care. "

The article goes on to say that " Under the bill, headed for a D.C. Council vote next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians. Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city."

Should church groups pay for what they do not believe in? Their point is eloquently stated by the Archdiocese of Washington here.

On the other hand, every time I pay another dollar to support political actions or policies that I oppose, I still pay, and do not feel that I have a right to withhold taxes because the government is not doing everything I want -- or because it does some things I do not support -- even if my objection is religious. I support gay marriage, yet I paid taxes in states where it was not allowed.

How is that different from a church organization that has partnered with a local government to provide social services, having to live up to local law?

What do you think? Where is the line drawn? Where do you draw it?

RELATED BLOGS:

Blogger Carole Joffe says "But that was then. Now, those who support reproductive justice are a crucial part of the Democratic base. Moreover, Catholic voters make use of contraceptive and abortion services at about the same rate as other Americans. Democratic leaders will be doing both the right thing, as well as the politically strategic one, if they keep religion out of public policy. "

Marguerite points out the controversy around allowing a Catholic funeral mass for Ted Kennedy and cites boston.com's quotation from Boston's Cardinal O'Malley, who has opposed denying communion politicians who support legislation at variance with the Catholic church's positions: “...Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the church, for our proclamation of the truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other...’

Kathy reminds us:


Ideally, I think our leaders should heed JFK's words:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote. . . . That is the kind of America in which I believe. . . . Whatever issue may come before me as president - on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject - I will make my decision in accordance with . . . what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.


As for me -- I like what JFK said. What do you think?

~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also blogs until her soul shakes at Time's Fool

Recent Posts by Mata H

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