Common Sense and Religious Hostility
Religion & Liberty Online

Common Sense and Religious Hostility

There is a saying that going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than standing in a garage makes you a car. Apparently, the good folks of Freedom From Religion Foundation and the 7th US District Court aren’t clear on this…and they are making a federal case of it.

According to Robert P. George in The Washington Times, the Freedom From Religion Foundation can’t bear the thought of a public high school graduation being held in a church, even though the only reason it’s being held there is for convenience sake:

The case began in 2009, when a secularist organization sued the Elmbrook School District in Wisconsin for its decade long practice of renting a church auditorium for graduation. The district chose the church auditorium at the request of its students, who complained that the prior venue the school gymnasium was cramped and uncomfortable, and lacked adequate parking, air conditioning and seating. It is undisputed that the district selected the auditorium for purely secular reasons namely, the convenient location, ample seating, free parking, air conditioning and low cost and that the graduation events were devoid of prayer or any other religious references.

The district court said the use of the church space was unconstitutional, citing “religiosity of space” gave the impression of an endorsement of Christianity.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is on alert for this type of trampling over the separation of church and state. Their website features the contesting of a mayor’s prayer breakfast in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, opposing federal storm aid to houses of worship, and an anti-National Day of Prayer video. They don’t even want Americans using houses of worship to vote; the mere atmosphere ‘might influence voters’ and therefore should be eliminated.”

As George says:

All of this calls for a deep breath and a dose of common sense. The Supreme Court has long held that the Constitution permits the government to be neutral toward religion meaning that the government can treat religious entities on the same terms as nonreligious entities. That was just what the school district did here: It examined all available venues and chose the best facility for the price. The fact that the best facility happened to be a church did not make a neutral, common-sense decision unconstitutional.

Any other result would require the government to be overtly hostile to religion.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation misunderstands – and is hostile to – a fundamental aspect of faith: it’s not about the building. Just as standing in a garage won’t turn one into a 1965 Mustang hardtop, sitting in a pew won’t turn you into anything you are not. That’s just common sense.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.