Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Wednesday, December 03, 2008

    Atheist Kentucky Homeland Security Lawsuit

    The following quotes are from Atheists Want God Out of Kentucky Homeland Security

    A group of atheists filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to remove part of a state anti-terrorism law that requires Kentucky's Office of Homeland Security to acknowledge it can't keep the state safe without God's help.

    This will be an interesting case and one important not only to the framework but the fabric of future law and life in the United States. It would not surprise me to not only see a united front by Christians behind this issue, but a joining of other theists in the battle of how national and state constitutions are interpreted as either theistic or secular documents... and even moreso whether these documents forbid references to God, or even by their own example provide for the legality of doing so (this being the better and more decisive issue the present case must address). In this light, this case should be seen by theists as a LANDMARK and WATERSHED CASE, and therefore one not to be taken lightly, but one in which FULL support (i.e., prayer, encouragment, finances, mobilization, etc.) is put behind those leading the charge. Beyond this, the example in Kentucky illustrates the good that can come from lawmakers using the wording found in constitutional documents and more broadly applying them to other areas of life and legislation in honoring the divine being. Similar to the methodology of ID propenents, theist supporters of the constitution should see this as the foremost battle, and the question of accompanying Bible verses a separate issue.

    It is one of the most egregiously and breathtakingly unconstitutional actions by a state legislature that I've ever seen," said Edwin F. Kagin, national legal director of Parsippany, N.J.-based American Atheists Inc.

    While one might question whether the best place to start was by quoting a Bible verse on the plaque, the issue of whether acknowledging "God" is unconstitutional is a separate issue, and one that I believe if properly defended can stand the test. May the officials in Kentucky be encouraged to stay the fight and do so wisely.

    "I'm not aware of any other state or commonwealth that is attempting to dump their clear responsibility for protecting their citizens onto God or any other mythological creature," Buckner said.

    1. This is no more than the logical fallacy of "an appeal to common practice".
    2. It should be noted that every state does have some acknowledgement of the divine in their constitutions.
    3. The reference to "mythological" is unproven and requires "burden of proof".

    11 comments:

    skeptimal said...

    This is a clear attempt by the state of Kentucky to endorse a religion and use taxpayer funds to promote a religion. Others have said on this site that they don't support the idea of state religions; why, then, would you not have a problem with this?

    "Of particular concern is a 2006 clause requiring the Office of Homeland Security to post a plaque that says the safety and security of the state "cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon almighty God" and to stress that fact through training and educational materials.

    The plaque, posted at the Kentucky Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort, includes the Bible verse: "Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.""

    swordbearer said...

    There's a difference between acknowledging a divine being and endorsing a religion. Does not even the founding documents and state constitutions do so?

    [Note also the distinction in my post between the issues of referencing God and that of using Bible verses.]

    skeptimal said...

    "There's a difference between acknowledging a divine being and endorsing a religion. Does not even the founding documents and state constitutions do so?"

    Please don't misunderstand me. An individual should be free to acknowledge their faith as publicly as they want. I would rigorously defend the right of anyone to tell me I'm going to hell. It becomes a problem when the government treats people differently based on their faith or free thought.

    Candidly, I don't know about the state constitutions, but it would be news to me if the majority of them specifically mention gods (much less all of them). I know the U.S. Constitution does not mention gods and specifically says there will be no establishment of religion. The lead author of that document clarified the intent by referring to a wall of separation between church and state, not to eliminate religion from the public sphere, but to protect all Americans and not just those of the majority religion.

    This law is different than just mentioning a god, however. It requires DHS to actively *promote* a specific interpretation of the nature of a god. Somehow or other, we've passed hundreds of national security laws in our history without requiring the promotion of religion as part of them. I don't think it's paranoid to assume they passed this law as an expression of contempt for the non-religious.

    swordbearer said...

    skeptimalstated: "It becomes a problem when the government treats people differently based on their faith or free thought."

    Response: So I suppose you have a problem with our founding documents.

    Skeptimal stated: "Candidly, I don't know about the state constitutions, but it would be news to me if the majority of them specifically mention gods (much less all of them)."

    Response: Take a look at http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/g/god-constitutions.htm (Note: I've not verified the source or information, but it appears trustworthy)

    Skeptimal stated: "I know the U.S. Constitution does not mention gods and specifically says there will be no establishment of religion."

    Response: Surely, you are not suggesting by this that they meant we are not to meake reference to the divine (creator, nature's God, divine providence, Lord, etc.).

    Skeptimal stated: "This law is different than just mentioning a god, however. It requires DHS to actively *promote* a specific interpretation of the nature of a god."

    Response: What nature are you referring to other than that he has being, is transcendent, and lords over providence? (That's a far cry from establishing any particular, or "state" religion). Did not the framers of the Declaration of Independence asknowledge these things? Certainly, by the establishment clause they were censoring themselves.

    Skeptimal stated: "Somehow or other, we've passed hundreds of national security laws in our history without requiring the promotion of religion as part of them."

    Response: This does not equate to it being "unlawful" for it to be done.

    Skeptimal stated: "I don't think it's paranoid to assume they passed this law as an expression of contempt for the non-religious."

    Response: Believe it or not, believers give more thought to recognizing and living in light of the lessons of history (i.e., consider the numerous examples in Scripture where eventually it does not go well for those who fail to honor God) than we do in trying to show contempt for unbelievers.


    ... all this being said,
    1. The fact that you have no valid arguments (short of the use of the Bible verse) given the founding documents against government using and applying the same (or similar) terminology that the founding fathers used, and is used in state documents, this gives me and should give those in Kentucky great reason to anticipate positive results coming out of this lawsuit. I could be wrong, but at this point it looks pretty good given the information I've seen. Besides this, it should give theists greater ambition, confidence, and boldness in applying this same vocabulary in other areas.

    2. The Christian Church and the Christian truth does not depend on the Constitution, or upon the ability of any government to express these truths. Even if the U.S. falls as many empires before have (which failed to honor God), the kingdom of Christ will contiune to triumph.

    skeptimal said...

    "Believe it or not, believers give more thought to recognizing and living in light of the lessons of history (i.e., consider the numerous examples in Scripture where eventually it does not go well for those who fail to honor God)than we do in trying to show contempt for unbelievers."

    No god worth any respect would be honored by this kind of pharasaical posturing from legislators. If the Kentucky Legislature were majority freethinkers and they inserted a skeptical literature requirement into a DHS bill, I would angrily accuse them of being petty and antagonistic.

    "this gives me and should give those in Kentucky great reason to anticipate positive results coming out of this lawsuit"

    I disagree that I haven't given good reason why this bill is unconstitutional, but I agree that it's likely to be supported. The Bush appointees are more loyal to the Bible than the constitution. You think that's a good thing. I don't.

    "The Christian Church and the Christian truth does not depend on the Constitution, or upon the ability of any government to express these truths."

    I agree. If it's true, it doesn't depend on governments to maintain its truthfulness. The action by the Kentucky legislature appears to say the opposite.

    swordbearer said...

    Skeptical stated: "No god worth any respect would be honored by this kind of pharasaical posturing from legislators."

    Response: Your response errs in that you mistake the motivation of their actions to be out of a mindset of works righteousness (as if to pander to God or to place God under obligation in order to "merit" blessing/reward) rather than out of desire not only for that which is right and honoring God with all their lives, but in looking in faith to the promises of God that God "graciously" honors those who honor him, not because he must, but because it pleases him to do so.

    Consider the Scriptures: "Who has ever given to God that God should repay him?"

    Skeptical stated: "If the Kentucky Legislature were majority freethinkers and they inserted a skeptical literature requirement into a DHS bill, I would angrily accuse them of being petty and antagonistic."

    Response: You're changing the argument. "Skeptical (references and) literature" is not found in the founding documents, but references to the divine are. Whether the constitution is right or wrong, my argument is based on the legality of actions consistent with the present rule of law.

    Skeptical stated: (to "this gives me and should give those in Kentucky great reason to anticipate positive results coming out of this lawsuit") I disagree that I haven't given good reason why this bill is unconstitutional,..."

    Response: If the framers of the original documents referred to God (and the establishment clause obviously did not prohibit it), then why should present legislators not be able to (if the founding fathers who framed the constitution/declaration of independence not only did so, but thereby show that prohibiting such was NOT the intent of their documents)?

    The point is this: You may argue for a replacement to the rule and example set forth by the founding documents, but I set forth you have a hard time showing a theistic reference to "God" (without seeking to establish a specific religion) is unconstitutional.

    Skeptical stated: "but I agree that it's likely to be supported."

    Response: Good. I hope the courts see it this way!

    Skeptical stated: "The Bush appointees are more loyal to the Bible than the constitution. You think that's a good thing. I don't."

    Response: Spiritually, yes. Politically, no. (Note: this was to the principle you state, without addressing the accusation).

    Skeptical stated: "I agree. If it's true, it doesn't depend on governments to maintain its truthfulness. The action by the Kentucky legislature appears to say the opposite."

    Response: Not so. One must distinguish between the promise and certainty of the church from the welfare of the nation, which the legislation deals with.

    skeptimal said...

    You misunderstand me swordbearer. I imagine the god that you describe. He is all-powerful, benevolent, omniscient, and loving. His consciousness is so far beyond our own that we might as well be infants. He has witnessed every event occurring at every point in space for every instant in billions of years of this universe. If you are right, he existed an infinity before this universe even began and he brought this universe into existence.

    Is it really going to honor that kind of person if a group of self-important hypocrites treat his very being as a plank in a political party’s platform? Is that really how you think such a being would want to be represented? By petty, manipulative hypocrites more interested in scoring political points than fulfilling their responsibility to protect the people they serve?

    Don’t tell me this act of political gamesmanship was inspired by reverent awe for an omnipotent being. If the Kentucky legislature really felt that kind of awe, they wouldn’t use their benevolent king of kings like just another pawn.

    swordbearer said...

    Skeptical stated: "... god... He is all-powerful, benevolent, omniscient, and loving. His consciousness is so far beyond our own that we might as well be infants. He has witnessed every event occurring at every point in space for every instant in billions of years of this universe. If you are right, he existed an infinity before this universe even began and he brought this universe into existence."

    Response: Right on target.

    Skeptical stated: "Is it really going to honor that kind of person if a group of self-important hypocrites treat his very being as a plank in a political party’s platform? Is that really how you think such a being would want to be represented? By petty, manipulative hypocrites more interested in scoring political points than fulfilling their responsibility to protect the people they serve?"

    Response: You neglect to take into his account his "holiness", "righteousness, and love of good. IF God is the God you have stated above (and he IS!) then it is only RIGHT that man should give to God the honor he deserves and look to him for the blessings he promises. To do otherwise, would deny his own holiness and love for righteousness by being apathetic, indifferent, or uncaring about what is right, and denying his own nature is something God does not do. Note: 1) God does not depend on or have to have us honor him for his glory, for he was full of glory before he even created us. 2) Since God promises to honor those who honor his name, it's not just a matter of scoring political points but of acting and exercising faith through dependence on the promises, guided by the evidence of the scriptural and historical past, and 3) This is consistent with protection of the people they serve (just as the Amalekites, or the Romans, or those of Sodom and Gomorrah, etc., or any other kingdom that has been in existence before but now is not.)

    Skeptical stated: "Don’t tell me this act of political gamesmanship was inspired by reverent awe for an omnipotent being."

    Response: I don't know their motives, but given the originator is a former Baptist minister, it tells me it should not be surprising for "convictions" to be a core ingredient.

    Skeptical stated: "If the Kentucky legislature really felt that kind of awe, they wouldn’t use their benevolent king of kings like just another pawn."

    Response: Quite the contrary, they are looking to him for protection of a nation, something human governments cannot guarantee.

    swordbearer said...

    A friend sent this to me this morning. It's from Spurgeon. I thought it was fitting.

    He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. (Psalm 91:4)

    A condescending simile indeed! Just as a hen protects her brood and allows them to nestle under her wings, so will the Lord defend His people and permit them to hide away in Him. Have we not seen the little chicks peeping out from under the mother's feathers? Have we not heard their little cry of contented joy? In this way let us shelter ourselves in our God and feel overflowing peace in knowing that He is guarding us.

    While the Lord covers us, we trust. It would be strange if we did not. How can we distrust when Jehovah Himself becomes house and home, refuge and rest to us?

    This done, we go out to war in His name and enjoy the same guardian care. We need shield and buckler, and when we implicitly trust God, even as the chick trusts the hen, we find His truth arming us from head to foot. The Lord cannot lie; He must be faithful to His people; His promise must stand. This sure truth is all the shield we need. Behind it we defy the fiery darts of the enemy.

    Come, my soul, hide under those great wings, lose thyself among those soft feathers! How happy thou art!

    skeptimal said...

    Sword,

    The sincerity in your last post is evident; it's good to be reminded from time to time that Christian activism is at least partially :-)motivated by that kind of selfless jubilance.

    For the many reasons evident in these posts, we aren't going to agree on these issues, but I don't mind telling you I enjoyed this exchange.

    swordbearer said...

    Same here skeptimal.

    And let me add that while I haven't said it enough, your participation here, the logic you apply (though we differ on the foundation and in the orientation), and tact you use is appreciated and reminds me (and I'm sure others) than humanity is blessed in many ways and the need for us to relate and treat one another with due respect, even looking for that which is noteworthy and admirable in the other.