Public Officials

In the current climate of intolerance toward Christian expression, there is a growing sentiment among many in our culture that religion is a private matter. This is a modern misperception. As author Steve Farrell stated, "Christianity is by nature-public. Prohibiting public religious speech under the guise of 'protecting one's private religious rights,' ignores the very public, evangelical nature of religion-especially of Christianity. It is oxymoronic to tell a Christian, 'You're free, but shut up." Of course, Farrell is correct. Jesus commanded his disciples to "go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation," and the apostle Peter wrote, "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."

Nevertheless, societal forces pressure Christians, especially public officials, to keep their religious views to themselves, a practice that is utterly inconsistent with American history, the attitude of the colonists, the framers of the Constitution, and government officials into the modern era. While some strict "separationists" are surely sincere in their belief that the Constitution forbids overt religious expression by public officials, they are simply wrong. Others are doubtlessly motivated by hostility toward Christianity in the public arena. Regardless, their efforts create a chilling effect on Christian expression.

Congressman Tom DeLay has been outspoken about his Christian faith, frequently lacing his speeches with biblical references and Christian messages. DeLay came under criticism for his response to a question following his speeches at a Worldview Weekend conference in Houston, Texas. An audience member asked him what could be done about colleges in Texas that preclude the teaching of creation. DeLay answered that those concerned could call their state representatives and voice their objections. "They can change things," he said. "They can throw the PC out and bring God in." That would take some time, DeLay said, "but the immediate [remedy] is don't send your kids to Baylor-don't send your kids to A&M."

The Houston Chronicle editorial page was outraged. "DeLay's distaste for Baylor and Texas A&M is part and parcel of his rejection of distinguished scholarship and scientific inquiry and his fanatical desire to transform American government into a theocracy. House Republicans who value reason should reconsider their bizarre commitment to have DeLay replace retiring Rep. Dick Armey as Republican leader in the House." Irrespective of the merits of DeLay's comments-for which, by the way, he later apologized-what is noteworthy about this editorial is the attitude the editors displayed toward DeLay's Christian beliefs. It is one thing to question his comments about these two universities or his views on teaching creation. It is quite another to conclude that he rejects distinguished scholarship and scientific inquiry, as if belief that the cosmos is the creation of an intelligent being is incompatible with science.

This conclusion by the editors, along with their hysterical inference that DeLay favors a theocracy, reveals a certain kind of contempt toward the Christian worldview. More than that, it shows, as we've been demonstrating, that ridiculing and impugning Christians is fair game. While many demanded apologies from Congressman DeLay for his remarks, few, if any, criticized the Chronicle's editors for their outrageous and bigoted comments. Christian public officials should be permitted to proclaim their faith without fear of being falsely accused of advocating a theocracy. Nothing in the Constitution requires public officials to be silent or private about their religious beliefs.

Education Secretary Rod Paige incurred the wrath of the secularists when he expressed his admiration for Christian values in an interview with the Baptist Press. "All things equal," he said, "I would prefer to have a child in school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith In a religious environment the value system is set. That's not the case in a public school, where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values." These remarks caused the separationists and liberal editorial writers to come unglued. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State demanded that Paige either apologize and repudiate his comments or resign from his position. Paige's remarks, said Lynn, showed "an astonishing disrespect for both America's religious diversity and the public schools." Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said, "It is insulting for the secretary-who should be the advocate for the over fifty million children in our public schools-to say their diversity somehow compromises those schools."

Nowhere in the interview did Secretary Paige show disrespect for America's religious diversity or imply that diversity is damaging to schools, nor did he demonstrate religious bigotry. As his press secretary, Dan Lengan, noted, "Secretary Paige's deep faith has helped him to overcome adversity, to find clarity, and has sustained him throughout his life. He has dedicated his entire career to promoting diversity and making sure children from all races, ethnic groups, and faiths share access to the best possible education." Paige was saying that he, personally, would rather have his child in a college-he wasn't even talking about K- 12-that emphasizes Christian values. He said nothing offensive or disrespectful about other religions, nor did he recommend that public schools teach Christian values.

Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Church suspected that Paige's comments were not what upset his critics.

Land told Brendan Miniter, assistant editor of Opinionjournal.corn, (in Miniter's words) that Paige's critics "hate him because he's effective and because he was a Baptist minister back in Texas. They hate him because he openly acknowledges his faith. They hate him because he sees leaving even one child behind in a failing school as a sin. But mostly they hate him because they have a fanatical view that anything having to do with God belongs outside the hallowed halls of a public school."

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