The Common Good

The Supreme Court got it right on religion

Sojomail - June 29, 2005

Quote of the Week » MLK: 'A true revolution of values'
Batteries Not Included » David Batstone: The Supreme Court got it right on religion
Action Alert » Two weeks of action to end genocide in Darfur
Politically Connect » The pro-life movement and economic justice
Building a Movement » Help faith leaders end the Iraq war
Web Sitings » Urban daily | Store Wars | Virtual retreat
Boomerang » Readers write
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"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. A revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast between poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists in the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America only to take profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: 'This is not just.'"

- Martin Luther King Jr.

Source: The Trumpet of Conscience


The Supreme Court got it right on religion
by David Batstone

This week the Supreme Court issued two controversial judgments on the display of religious monuments in public places. The two 5-4 rulings allowed the Ten Commandments to remain as part of an exhibit of monuments on the grounds of the Texas statehouse but barred postings of the same biblical text in two Kentucky courthouses.

The Supreme Court baffles me at the moment. At least the unpredictability of its judgments makes for highly suspenseful drama. Regardless, the majority opinion got it right this week. I readily admit to my detractors that we are dealing in shades of gray here. What I would like to draw attention to is the intention behind each decision.

The justices clearly affirmed the valuable contribution that religion makes to civic life. The Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol is one of 17 monuments and 21 historical markers that adorn a public park that envelopes the Capitol. Symbolically, the exhibit celebrates that religion has shaped American history and merits a place smack-dab in the middle of the public square.

"Of course, the Ten Commandments are religious," Chief Justice Rehnquist noted in his comments bolstering the majority opinion. He then added the linchpin: "Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause."

Some secularists are bent on stripping the role of religion in public life, of course. But they are dead wrong when they take the "separation of church and state" to mean that people of faith should keep their religious sentiments hidden away in the privacy of a closet in their home.

No Christian, Jew, Muslim, or other person of faith should feel coerced to suppress their faith in the workplace, at the social security administration office, or at school. Get over it, secularists, "G--" has never been a taboo subject in American society and never will be. People are free to show up in public wearing their faith on their sleeves.

The Supreme Court ruling against the Kentucky monuments had a quite different intention. In Kentucky, monuments displaying the Ten Commandments were posted alone by orders of county governments. They added secular documents only after a suit was filed - evidence that the government's motivation was religious, the Court said.

The key question in each case hinged on whether the display of religious monuments violates the First Amendment's prohibition against an official "establishment" of religion. The state, in other words, cannot identify itself with a particular religion. American legal tradition thereby protects the integrity of citizens to pursue their own religious traditions without the interference of the state.

Many Christian conservatives interpreted the Kentucky decision as yet another expression of hostility to their faith, and a deviation from the intent of the Constitution's framers. They operate under the assumption that "America is a Christian nation." But they are as wrongheaded as the secularists. I, for one, don't want the government to start speaking for God or claiming God's blessing, even if it is my faith tradition being referenced. Why would any devout Christian or Jew want a county courthouse to equate its application of law to the deep moral justice that the Ten Commandments demands?

In sum, the intention of the Court's decision was to undergird the free expression of religion, yet prevent the association of the state with a sole religion. Lest we lose ourselves in the application of law to these two particular cases, can we at least come to agreement regarding the importance of this distinction for American civic life?

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Break the silence: Two weeks of action to end genocide in Darfur

People of faith are organizing around the country from Friday, July 8, through Thursday, July 21, to pray, bear political witness, and speak truth to power to end the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Our goal is to organize more than 500 cities, towns, and faith communities to take action to generate the political will to end the genocide in Darfur, and we need your help!

Why these two weeks? Here's what's going on around the country:

  • Sunday, July 10 - Sojourners will culminate our five weeks of prayer and action with a worship service in front of the White House. Join us in Washington, D.C., or in solidarity in your hometown by organizing a public vigil during this weekend, conducting a letter-writing campaign to President Bush, or by educating your house of worship about the atrocities in Darfur.
  • Friday, July 15 - Sunday, July 17 - Join the Save Darfur Coalition along with a bipartisan coalition of senators (led by Senator Brownback [R-KS] and Senator Corzine [D-NJ]) for a National Weekend of Prayer and Reflection for Darfur, Sudan. We hope to pray and build awareness to create the political will for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
  • Thursday, July 21 - This will be the one-year anniversary of when Congress unanimously declared Darfur a genocide. But words are empty when there is no action. Our partners at the Genocide Intervention Fund are calling for public vigils across the country to urge our leaders to put meaning behind the words "never again."

Though nearly 400,000 people have been killed and millions have been displaced, the genocide in Darfur continues with little attention from our media and politicians. With God working through us, we believe we can end this genocide. Will you join us?

+ Click here to organize an event or list an event taking place in your faith community.


Spiritual Activism Conference to Create a Network of Spiritual Progressives: July 20-23, 2005 (Berkeley, Ca.) and February 10-13, 2006 (Washington, D.C.)

Friends of the Sojourners community are invited to join Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun, and many other religious leaders, at the Spiritual Activism Conference. Jim Wallis will speak Wednesday evening, July 20, and Thursday morning, July 21, 2005. The goals of the Network of Spiritual Progressives are to challenge the misuse of God and religion by the Religious Right as well as the "religio-phobia" in some sections of progressive culture, and to replace the "bottom line" of money and power with a "new bottom line" of love, generosity, and wonder at the grandeur of creation. For schedule and registration: More info: or (510) 528-6250.


The pro-life movement and economic justice
by Glen Stassen

When I wrote an opinion editorial last October (2004) on abortion numbers for 2002, it was widely reprinted. I stated clearly that "federal reports go only to 2000, and many states do not report." So, I explained, I had to search for state departments of health that had reported their results for 2002. I found the data for 16 states: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Washington state, and Wisconsin. The total number of abortions in those states increased by a little over 6,000 in 2002, in comparison with the previous year.

Seven months later, with more data now in and with their extensive research staff, the Alan Guttmacher Institute has estimated - and they are clear it is an estimate - the number of abortions in the 43 states for which they have data.... They estimate that abortions in those 43 states probably declined slightly, but at a slower rate than previously - what I call a stall.

I gave several pieces of evidence that one very important factor in a women's decision to have an abortion was her belief that she could not afford to raise the baby. Another major factor was whether or not she had a reliable husband or mate. And when the unemployment rate is high, men tend not to marry. Countries such as Belgium and Holland, where the abortion ratio is only one-fourth as big as the United States, give mothers and babies strong economic support as well as health insurance. Other important factors include the mothers' own ethics, and support - or lack of it - from churches, schools, friends, and family.

Had my estimate that abortions in the 50 states probably increased as they did in the 16 states turned out to be right, it would have put significant pressure on the Bush administration to give more support to mothers and babies, and thus do much better in decreasing the abortion ratio. And it would have urged Democratic politicians to shift toward advocating policies that would decrease abortions. You would expect consistently pro-life advocates to be concerned if I was right, and thus increase the incentive and the pressure to reduce abortions.

+ Read the full article

+ Read Stassen's original October 2004 commentary

+ Read the response

+ Join a discussion on this topic


Go With Peace
by Kelly Guinan

An extraordinary new peace education book, this text takes the abstract concept of peacemaking and teaches with hands-on, concrete lessons. Engaging, enlightening, challenging, and fun! Perfect for schools, homes, community centers, places of worship, camps, shelters - anywhere children and their families can be found.

Wholistic in nature, teaching peacemaking builds skills in four focal areas: Peace for Me, Peace for Us, Peace for Everyone, and Peace for the Planet. Proceeds support a peace education, nonprofit organization.


Help faith leaders end the Iraq war

Our leaders have committed our nation to a long, expensive, and bloody war in Iraq. In preparation for Independence Day, you have a chance to join with thousands of others to call for our nation to say "no" to war and "yes" to life.

A large, diverse, and distinguished body of religious leaders representing nearly every major faith group in the United States recently joined hands to sign a moving and powerful statement calling our leaders to end the war in Iraq and return our nation to a standard that reflects the best of who we are.

After reading this important statement, you may add your name to the list of endorsers. Even if you choose not to sign, you may find this a thought-provoking and heartfelt statement for sharing, discussion, and reflection. The statement and signatures will be delivered to the president and Congress and released to the national media.

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Store Wars

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Readers write

Chris Bryan writes from Coatesville, Pennsylvania:

Although I agree with Shank's "I told you so" sentiments regarding the Iraq war, I am not convinced that a swift exit is the smartest or most loving course of action ["A bipartisan plan to end the war," SojoMail 6/23/2005]. Would it be better for Iraqis if U.S. troops left tomorrow? I don't think so. Though the job is being horribly done, we must commit to seeing it through to some kind of completion. Don't we owe Iraq that much, at least?


Peter Glynn writes from Houston, Texas:

Irrespective of past policy mistakes, the U.S. is now obliged to stay the course. We can only remove our troops when Iraq is either able to defend itself against domestic threats or we are asked to leave by the elected Iraqi government. I don't expect either of these things will happen immediately. Setting timetables is very bad policy. The U.S. should clearly enunciate the conditions under which withdrawal is possible, our intent to withdraw when those conditions are met, as well as a detailed plan outlining how those conditions will be achieved. We can't move forward by carping about the scenery in the rear-view mirror.

When we finally do leave Iraq, we should engage in a vigorous national debate to learn from our mistakes and make sure that we never find ourselves in a situation like this again.


Pamela Kelly writes from Long Beach, California:

Your October 2002 statement was prophetic - however too late. According to Michael Smith of the Sunday Times of London, the U.S. had already started bombing southern Iraq, hoping to provoke Saddam, in 2002. The U.S. dropped 10 tons a month between May and August and this was intensified to 54.6 tons in September, with these increased rates continuing into 2003. So, according to Smith, the war actually began at the end of August 2002 - six weeks before Congress approved military action against Iraq.


Stefa Shaler writes from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada:

Regarding "G8 approves debt cancellation" [SojoMail 6/23/2005]: This may not be good news at all. I agree with George Monbiot that the celebrities are bungling and bringing a whole new wave of problems onto the people of Africa and a wave of support to malicious governments and institutions. They should be supporting the African experts who know what they need and are working for justice.


Rundhi Gunapala writes from London, United Kingdom:

With the upcoming G8 summit in Edinburgh, Scotland, it is timely to think about crippling world poverty and solutions to it. If the rich countries, their greedy multinational corporations, and big business are exploiting the poor of the world and their resources for their selfish gains and refusing to change their ways, then unfortunately it is up to the poor countries themselves to get out of poverty.

In this context, it is interesting that in Venezuela there is a scheme for land redistribution to the poor masses ["Forty acres and a burro," SojoMail 6/15/2005]. This is timely since nothing would improve the lot of the world's poor, most of whom are farmers, than owning their own plot of land to cultivate. This is of course in addition to the provision of free health care, education, and clean water, etc. It is one way in which quite a number of poor countries could help the vast majority of their populations get out of poverty. This is a good model not only for Latin America but for Asia and Africa as well. Of course, environmental protection has to be taken into consideration and given paramount importance and there shouldn't be any land grabs, etc.

Good luck with all the good work you are doing. Although I am not a Christian, I wish there were more organizations like you in this world to give hope to the world.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.


by Charles Dickinson

If Christianity - without losing its soul - is yet to avoid losing touch with the world, it must constantly update itself by dialogue with all the intellectual currents of today. To this end, the author proposes a necessary two-way dialectic between theology and the world, an ongoing dialectic ultimately essential to both church and world. $25 hardcover. To order call (313) 624-9784. Dove Booksellers, 13904 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, Michigan, 48126.

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