Friday, June 20, 2008

Honk If You Love the Constitution

I have a blue bumpersticker on my car, with yellow lettering and the message: “Be Guided By Your Faith, Not Your Fear.” Others prefer their own tailgate theologies, like “Honk If You Love Jesus” or “Born Again Pagan.” America’s vehicles reflect the buzzing variety of our nation’s religious landscape.

But now at least one state wants to replace this healthy diversity with a boring uniformity. South Carolina plans to issue official license plates bearing the image of a cross, superimposed over a stained glass window and bearing the legend, “I Believe.” The legislature authorized the plates in the closing days of its session, and Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer has offered to put up $4,000 of his own money to get the plates into production.

Naturally, the state is being challenged in court (as they should be). While the “no-establishment” clause of the First Amendment has to be balanced with the “free exercise” clause, this case at least seems to cross the line.

In response to the lawsuit, Bauer complained to a reporter from the Washington Post that "people who support Judeo-Christian values are ever under fire now." But how many Jews in that “Judeo-Christian” heritage want their state-issued license plates bearing the image of a crucifix? It’s not Judeo-Christian values that are under attack, but a militant evangelical theology that wants to make its literalistic, legalistic reading of the Bible the law of the land.

After all, no one is preventing Lt. Gov. Bauer from printing up personal bumperstickers to paste on the back of his pick-up. If he likes, he can let fellow motorists know to take caution: “This Vehicle Driverless In Case of Rapture.” Or if he happens to be Wiccan, he can confess that “My Other Car Is A Broom.” But the state of South Carolina shouldn’t be endorsing Mr. Bauer’s religious views. Free exercise belongs in the private sphere.

That was James Madison’s opinion. As he made clear in a memorandum from 1817, the Father of the Constitution opposed any intermingling of church and state—even the appointment of chaplains to the U.S. Congress. To legislators who felt the need to pray, he suggested, “If Religion consist in voluntary acts of individuals, singly, or voluntarily associated, and it be proper that public functionaries, as well as their Constituents should discharge their religious duties, let them like their Constituents, do so at their own expence.”

It seems like sensible advice for people like Mr. Bauer and the legislature of South Carolina. Put whatever gospel you want on your rear end. Honk if you love Jesus, or honk if you’re not sure. But do so at your own expense.


Robin Edgar said...

Honk. . .

Robin Edgar said...

Well it would appear that you deserve an affirmative "honk" for seeing fit to allow my honk for the Constitution to see the light of day on your blog Rev. Kowalski. Thank-you for not suppressing my comment. For reasons that I don't understand I seem to be something of an "invisible man" in that the links to my Blogger profile and my honk are not visible against the brown background, Still, people need only click their mouse on the empty spaces to see what I have to say.