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In Defense of the First Amendment

The circus that has taken place at the state judicial building in Alabama has brought attention to Judge Moore, to Alabama, to the Ten Commandments and to the courts’ ruling on the separation of church and state. Whether this attention is positive or negative depends upon whom you ask.

<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Moore has stated that the issue is “about the acknowledgment of the God upon which this nation and our laws are founded.” Few Christians would argue with Moore that many of our laws have a basis in God’s moral code. However, not every law passed by Congress or by state and local governments is just. Not every law which Judge Moore is sworn to uphold is based on God’s moral code. History testifies how easily we can pass unjust laws, which we believe are moral.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Moore’s defiance of the court ruling to remove the monument overlapped the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This is significant because this era represents a time when Bible-believing white Christians felt justified in their continued discrimination against blacks. After all, they had the law on their side.
 
In that speech, King said he had “a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,'” quoting from the Declaration of Independence.
 
Have you ever stopped to think that when these great words were signed in 1776, people in both the North and the South owned slaves? Many people used the Bible and their religion to defend their rights to own slaves. They owned them lawfully but not morally.
 
A full century after slaves won their freedom, King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to challenge the lawmakers of our land to finally live up to the words of the Declaration of Independence. Though free, King’s people were still not considered equal by law.
 
It was King’s religious convictions that led him to challenge the law which treated black citizens as less than equal. Laws should reflect the morality of our religion and our religion should continue to influence the laws that are made. But should the two ever be wed, how can one ever hold the other in check? Objectivity is lost and freedom is compromised.
 
Many Christians bemoan that the Bible has been taken out of the schools, that teachers are not free to start class with prayer and that monuments like the one Judge Moore has erected in public buildings must be removed. Some point out that we need to return to the days when these religious expressions went unchallenged. “We lived in a better day,” some say.
 
Christians need to realize that when the laws of the land are wed with a specific religion of the land, people are not moved any closer to the Creator, nor are people more likely to live moral lives.
 
History has shown that during the rule of Constantine in the fourth century A.D. and during the crusades of the 13th and 14th centuries great injustices were be done to people in the name of God. Our own American history testifies to the struggles of African Americans to be treated as equals under our laws, suffering from injustices that many Christians defended as biblical.
 
I’m sure that Christians would be appalled and rise up in great numbers to protest should a Buddhist judge display The Four Noble Truths–or if a Christian Scientist judge chose to display Mary Baker Eddy’s words from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, or should a Mormon judge choose to display Joseph Smith’s words from The Pearl of Great Price–in an area owned by the public. The First Amendment is designed with freedom and fairness in mind. We are free to express our religious views, but the government must maintain a neutral stance toward religion in order to be fair to everyone.
 
Christians should seek to use our freedom as individuals to share with nonbelievers the love of Jesus, while upholding their rights as citizens not to have our religion or any religion forced upon them by the government.
 
Christians need to remember that our nation will be won to the Lord by the love of Christians through loving deeds and by the verbal sharing of the gospel, which emphasizes the grace of God, not the laws of God. It will not happen by using a bully pulpit to force certain parts of the Christian faith upon the masses.
 
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. A version of this column appeared in The Moultrie Observer.