© 2016 By Bob Litton
NOTE TO READERS: In my January 7 post, I related the beginning of a local controversy involving the placement of religion-oriented decals on the windows of county vehicles driven by our sheriff’s deputies. In concert with similar episodes in this state and other states, this incident has swelled into a debate about the “wall between church and state”. Actually, though, such events have peppered our nation’s history almost ever since the U.S. Constitution, together with its first ten amendments, was ratified by the legislatures of the thirteen original states between 1787 and 1791.
My homeland is now agitated by disagreements over a few parts of the Constitution. Some citizens, known generally as “strict constructionists” or “originalists”, are in verbal conflict with other citizens loosely describable as “believers in a living, evolving constitution”, over a few sections of the Constitution, particularly those concerning immigration, women’s rights, appointments of judges, and the right to bear arms. The First Amendment issue of separation of church and state is not currently the subject of a national quarrel, but it does pop up occasionally in pockets around the country.
The decal debate here apparently is of interest only to a few vocal citizens, including myself; however, the Texas governor has weighed in; and so has the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the latter of which announcing that they would enter the legal fray if any local citizen would file suit in court. Like me, however, most of the people here are not financially able to pursue a lengthy court battle with an undeterminable outcome. And I prefer to fight my battles in the newspaper.
Which brings me up to the present. This past week, one of my letters-to-the editor was published in one of the local weeklies. (I did not submit it to the other paper because the publisher/editor there has a bad habit of excising sentences from my letters.) For those of you who were interested in that first letter I re-published on this blog, you might find this one just as entertaining.
The brown-and-blue cross decals on sheriff’s deputies’ vehicles here in Brewster County have reportedly attracted the attention of state politicians. Gov. Gregg Abbott, in a “brief” to State Attorney General Ken Paxton, is quoted as saying that ‘the cross has a long history in America and elsewhere as a symbol of service and sacrifice’. I suppose he is referring to the historical practice of burning crosses on the lawns of colored folks, and to those red plus-signs on the sides of Red Cross medical vans. He did acknowledge that the cross does have “its religious significance”.
Now, Abbott’s message is what I call a capital case of sophistical demagoguery. A Republican politician who is trying to establish his position early as a religious conservative in preparation for the next gubernatorial campaign, Abbott is diving into an issue that he apparently hopes will give him an advantage with the evangelicals in this state.
Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson said at the beginning of this cross decal controversy that he views the sticker as a symbol of the cross that Jesus died on and of the religion that evolved from that incident but that he would allow any Jewish deputy (if he had one) to apply a Star of David decal, or any Muslim deputy (if he had one) to apply a Crescent-and-Star decal. He said he sees the decals as a way of invoking God’s protection for his officers. Therefore, the religious significance of this decal is the primary accent to be interpreted, and as such it amounts to an intrusion of religion into what is supposed to be a non-sectarian government.
Now, I am not opposed to the deputies sticking those decals on their own, private vehicles, i.e., those vehicles not purchased with funds derived from taxes. But when the decals are stuck on the windows of official government vehicles, then they constitute a violation of the First Amendment principle of prohibiting any law respecting the establishment of religion. (Jews and Hindus have helped pay for those vehicles.)
The religious conservative crowd wants to involve their personal religion into every governmental activity they can. They do not realize what such an approach can lead to. But a bunch of them in Phoenix, Arizona, got a jolt recently when the local Satanist church petitioned to have their turn at giving the invocation at a city council meeting. The nonplussed council members — faced with the dilemma that any officially recognized religious organization must have its opportunity to share in invocation presentations and yet unwilling to allow the Satanists their chance — discontinued prayers at council meetings altogether.
I am not an atheist and definitely not a Satanist, but oh, how I wish we had a Satanist church in Alpine! That would be a hilarious scene to watch! And it might benefit us defenders of the doctrine of separation of church and state (Everson vs. Board of Education .