Our Constitution, Part 3: Our Police, the Establishment Clause and Religious Freedom

Psalm 107:2 “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy.”

“In August of 2015, policemen in Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Missouri, Texas, Florida, and several other states attempted to combat negativity about law enforcement by placing ‘In God We Trust’ bumper stickers on their police vehicles. This drew the attention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Even though the government has put ‘In God We Trust’ on currency since the 19th century, FFRF contended it represented an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. However, law enforcement refused to back down. Florida’s Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen said, ‘I’m not hiding from the fact that it’s religious, and I’m not trying to make an excuse for the fact that it’s religious.’ At his agency, he explained, ‘We still pray. We pray before we go to a horrible situation where we think someone could get hurt or killed.’ Texas’s Lieutenant Governor Dan Paxton also released a formal opinion: ‘There is an unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789. A law enforcement department’s decision to display the national motto on its vehicles is consistent with that history. Thus, a court is likely to conclude that a law enforcement department’s display of ‘In God We Trust’ on its patrol vehicles is permissible under the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.’”

What is the “Establishment Clause”? It’s the first part of the Constitution’s First Amendment. It says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”. It means that no government-sanctioned religion will ever be allowed in the United States. It does not say that government’s job is to ensure America is free from religion. Policemen putting ‘In God We Trust’ on their patrol cars is not government-sponsored religion. Their states don’t mandate trusting in God as a law to be followed.

As Sheriff McKeithen explained, he and his policeman pray before any incident where someone is in danger. They see this as a God-given freedom to express their faith that God would be with them as they courageously put their lives on the line in protecting others. Our verse this week is one of many in the Bible that confirms this. It’s one of King David’s Psalms where he praises God for delivering him out of harm’s way. And it encourages us today to not only follow Sheriff McKeithen’s lead in praying for the safety of his team and those they serve, but also to trust in God as the Protector of those who call on Him. In fact, in the 43 verses in Psalm 107, David repeats three times his experience that when “They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, He saved them out of their distress.” Why would David believe that praying to God in times of distress would move God to act on his behalf? He tells us in the last verse of Psalm 107: “Whoever is wise will observe these things, and they will understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.”

Why would the Freedom from Religion Foundation want to file a lawsuit against police officers who publicly desire display their faith in God as they serve the community? They claim that those offended by these policemen say their bumper sticker ‘In God We Trust’ is insensitive and a display of discrimination against anyone who does not agree with their beliefs. Welcome to the new age of intolerance in American culture.

As Christian author Michael Patton once said, “Our cultural has moved from a world of absolutes and objectivity, to one of relativism, subjectivism, and tolerance. The greatest commandment in this society is ‘thou shalt tolerate one another’. But what do they mean by ‘tolerate’? Do they mean the same as defined in the American Heritage Dictionary: ‘To allow without prohibiting or opposing; to permit’? Do they simply mean that if I have a neighbor who adheres to a belief system other than mine, I am supposed to live at peace with him, not prohibiting or oppressing him? If this is the case, I agree. But this is not what is meant when they cry for “tolerance.” They do not want people to simply tolerate and get along with the opposing belief. They want people to compromise their beliefs. They want me to concede that my neighbor’s beliefs are just as true as mine, to forfeit my notion of objectivity, and to surrender my view of exclusivism.”

The above incident was taken from Family Research Council’s June 2017 publication “Hostility to Religion: The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty in the United States”. Here’s part of the opening statement: “When the first edition of this report was released in July 2014, religious freedom violations across the US were already significantly high. The first edition contained 90 incidents. 69 new incidents have been added since the last report. That is a 76 percent increase in just under three years.” The report says our Founders put religious liberty first in the Bill of Rights because without it, all other freedoms are impossible. They knew allegiance to God comes before allegiance to the state, and our rights come from God, not the government. We must become acutely aware of efforts to destroy these truths. Maintaining our freedom is hard work.

“The Evidence of Faith’s Substance”, Article #251

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