Catholic Charities and the Victim Card

I’ve briefly commented on Catholic charities in previous blog posts, but would like to focus the discussion in this post on charities that ‘play the victim card’ and distort issues relating to ‘forced closings.’ For example, Catholic charities within the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington D.C. bill that was proposed. Catholics, in this incident and many others, claim that the government violates their religious freedoms and insist that religious exemptions be appropriated. When governments fail to meet the Catholics’ demands, charities close their doors, claim that they wanted to continue services, and blame the government for the closing. All of this, of course, is a giant smokescreen. Read More

Times Leader Interview 11/25/10

A holiday from controversy

Luzerne County’s diverse lawn display apparently satisfies religious and secular people alike.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes jandes@timesleader.com
Luzerne County Reporter

A seasonal display has returned to the Luzerne County Courthouse lawn, with the traditional Nativity mixed in with Santa,
a Menorah and candy canes.
AIMEE DILGER/THE TIMES LEADER
A seasonal display that includes a Nativity has returned to the Luzerne County Courthouse lawn, and King’s College senior Justin Vacula said he’s fine with it.
Vacula was the target of backlash last year when he initiated a complaint about the display that led to its removal.
After legal research, county officials set up a more diverse display that is being repeated this year.
According to a resolution recently adopted by commissioners, the display must now include a menorah, Santa Claus, snowman, snowflake, Christmas tree with a Kwanzaa symbol ornament and a sign that reads, “Luzerne County celebrates its cultural heritage this holiday season.”
Courthouse workers say finishing touches to the display will be made early next week.
Vacula said he has no problem with this arrangement, as opposed to last year’s initial display that isolated and illuminated the Nativity.
“This seems to be the way to go. Now everything is together as a unified display,” said the 22-year-old Exeter native.
His decision to turn to the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State last year turned him into somewhat of an outcast.
Vacula said he was inundated with hate mail, paper and electronic, and one local radio station described him as the third most hated local person after former county judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella, who were implicated in the federal corruption probe. People called for him to be expelled from King’s College, he said.
There were also demonstrations outside the courthouse before the Nativity was returned to the courthouse lawn, and a page was set up on the Facebook social networking website to criticize Vacula, he said.
“I received a lot of after-death threats. People said I’d be tormented for eternity, and that they wanted to watch it happen. People said they hoped I’d get shot and hit by a van and die,” Vacula said.
In retrospect, Vacula said people turned it into a religious debate, when he thought of it as a legal one.
“It was a legal issue. Whether you’re a believer or not, I think everyone should be in support of separation of church and state. People didn’t understand that,” Vacula said.
He said he doesn’t regret his stance, though he wishes he had been better prepared for the “hysteria.”
“I thought there would be a backlash, but I didn’t think it was going to be as big as it was,” he said.
Vacula, an atheist who posts his views at greenatheist.blogspot.com, said he accomplished his goal: ensuring that the county complied with the law.
He said many came forward to support him in that goal, though some didn’t openly show it.
“People said I was taking away Christmas. That’s impossible to do. People can put anything they want in their yards. They can meet with their family at Christmas and go to Mass,” he said.
Jennifer Learn-Andes, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 831-7333.

Religion and Government: Refuting Antonin Scalia


Religion, Government, and Antonin
* This article was published in the King’s College Crown newspaper today *

Justin Vacula

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently had an interview with a newspaper named Hamodia in which he said, “Whatever the Establishment Clause means, it certainly does not mean that government cannot accommodate religion, and indeed favor religion. My court has a series of opinions that say that the Constitution requires neutrality on the part of the government, not just between denominations, not just between Protestants, Jews and Catholics, but neutrality between religion and non-religion. I do not believe that. That is not the American tradition.”

This statement by Scalia, in my opinion, is very alarming. I believe that he is misrepresenting the Establishment Clause that states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This has been interpreted to mean that the government will not establish an official religion or favor a specific religion.

Scalia, in 2005, also made comments regarding the Ten Commandments on government property, “ I think the message it sends is that law is—and our institutions come from God. And if you don’t think it conveys that message, I just think you’re kidding yourself.” This is also more, if not equally alarming. Our government derives its authority from the people, not a religion or a deity.

Recent debacles have been occurring regularly in the news. Constant arguments regarding the legitimacy of the phrases, “In God We Trust” and the display of the Ten Commandments on government property will probably never end until they are, if ever, removed. We, as Americans, refer to the United States Constitution for political guidance… not religious symbols or beliefs like the Ten Commandments, the Wiccan Rede, or the Pillars of Islam.

Thomas Jefferson uttered this speech as a proclamation to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”

In her book titled Freedom Under Seige, Madalyn Murray O’Hair cited Thomas Paine, George Mason, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, John Quincy Adams and, of course, Thomas Jefferson, as early American Deists, people who believe that a non-specific deity created the universe but is no longer active in human affairs.. A key idea of the United States government is that we are not a nation that supports a particular religion.

John Adams, in article eleven in the Treaty of Tripoli stated the following, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

President Obama, in 2008 said the following… “Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation, at least not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, and a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of non-believers. […] Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concern into universal rather than religion specific values. […] It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason. […] To base our policy making on such [religious] commitments would be a dangerous thing.

I believe that Scalia ought to be careful with his remarks and stop misrepresenting the ideals and foundations of the United States. Similar to what President Obama said, we are a very diverse nation of diverse individuals. All United States citizens are free to worship whatever or whoever they would like: The Flying Spaghetti Monster, Thor, Poseidon, Jesus, Krishna, Allah, or nothing. Our freedoms from and of religion are very important and must be embraced in order to maintain our individual freedoms. If someone would like to follow precepts of a certain religion he/she may, but precepts or ideas ought not, in my opinion, be the basis of lawmaking decisions or be displayed on governmental property; there are private churches, private schools, and other private institutions for that. Religion has no place whatsoever in government. We would be enraged if any government official started to speak about The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and base policy decisions on this book; this is the way we should view the place of any religion in governmental affairs. Thomas Jefferson and our Founding Fathers were wonderful thinkers who were well ahead of their times.

According to The American Religious Identification of 2008, 15% of the American population do not identify with any religion, 76% identify as Christians, and the other 9% are comprised of other religious denominations. America may be, by population majority, a nation of Christians, but we are certainly not a “Christian Nation.” The government ought to continue its “neutrality policy” as Justice Scalia describes, but the government ought not be “One Nation Under the Beliefs of Scalia.”