Sunday, March 05, 2006

OCCJ presentation lacked strict separationist viewpoint

I attended the third session of the OCCJ Trialogue series today. Also attending from HAT were Marilyn Clarke and Brian Hill. The theme of this year’s Trialogue was “Jefferson’s Wall: The American Separation of Church and State.” It was disappointing that none of the three presenters was a strong supporter of church/state separation.

In the question and answer session which followed the presentations, written questions from the audience were addressed by the speakers. My question was chosen as the first one to be addressed. I asked: Do you expect to see further erosion in the wall separating church and state? The gist of the responses was: What erosion?

Daniel G. Gibbons, Professor of Law Emeritus at OU, who continues to teach a Church-State Relations Seminar, responded by saying he thinks the wall metaphor, while it may have been useful when it was first employed 200 years ago, is now out of date and no longer useful. Presenter Deron Spoo, pastor of Tulsa’s First Baptist Church, who otherwise struck me as a progressive sort, said things are fine and sees no disturbing trends regarding church/state relations. I don’t remember exactly how Msgr. Gaalaas of St. Benedict Catholic Church responded (I was still stunned by the responses from the first two), but it was along the lines of the first two.

It would have been nice if the OCCJ would have invited a strict separationist to be among the presenters today. The OCCJ’s motto is “We open minds.” I didn’t find anything mind opening in today’s presenters’ (accommodationists all) hostility to church/state separation.

1 comment:

Dan Nerren said...

Harold Hill made the following comments about the OCCJ presentation of 3/5/06.

Note, Dan, that the panelists included no professional academician with the exception of the retired Law professor. A political scientist would have been better, in my opinion. Asking a clergyperson to participate is like asking a plumber to discuss hydraulic engineering.
The OCCJ is trying so hard to keep peace among the religion communities, that its product is often fuzzy and limp.

I think your analysis is probably (I wasn't there) right on target.

I gave up going to the trialogues a long time ago because of the inexpertise of the panelists I heard.

One of the problems, of course, is that Christian churches and other religious organizations, e.g., Jewish congregations and Muslim mosques are beneficiaries of tax exemptions on their properties. Such exemptions are clearly a violation of the church-state separation stated in the First Amendment.

By the way, I have no problem with the programs the purpose of which is the solving of social problems (soup kitchens, day and night care centers, blood-bank sponsorship, the improvement of housing, etc.) but that part of the religious organizations assets which are used exclusively or prinicipally for religious activities should not go untaxed.

If a large church property such as that owned by the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Tulsa wants to rent out its parking lot during the work week, fine! But, they should be paying taxes on that property whether or not they rent it out.

Clergy, including me, are given substantial income-tax exemptions. In my case, I am not even conducting services in any church, but, unlike some of my clergy acquaintances, when I am paid a fee for a lecture or sermon, I declare it on my tax return (even though I could get away with--as some of them do). Establishment of religion? You bet! And, by the way, church-owned business records are allowed a privacy not given secular business

I don't need to add to this note other than to suggest: public vocal prayer in tax-supported places like public schools, legislatures (including city councils), legislature chaplains, military chaplains, inscriptions on governmental issue currency, and the courtroom tactic of swearing oaths on the Bible or adding "so help me God". All violate the First Amendment.

Several times over the years I have served as an "expert witness" in civil and criminal courts. The very first time, I refused the Bible (to me its blasphemous--and ridiculous; blasphemy is usual ridiculous--to make God my co-signer) and simply said, "I subject myself to charges of perfjury should I be found lying during my testimony". The judge looked a bit startled but he was learned enough to know that the Supreme Court had found for the Quaker-plaintiffs--by ruling that affirmation was adequate in making an oath in court.

I also, by the way, am opposed to American flags and pictures of Washington and Lincoln in school classrooms. Schools are educational institutions and should not be the secular equivalent of "Sunday School" or devoted at all to propaganda.