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Apparently, to some in Missouri, Jesus Christ is as much an American symbol as our flag and Statue of Liberty.
The Springfield News-Leader reported that Greene County Circuit Clerk Steve Helms has proudly displayed a "patriotic" poster in the lobby of his government office -- with images of the American flag, the Statue of Liberty, the Ten Commandments and a dedication to "the one who gave it all for us, Jesus Christ."
Helms told the newspaper that the poster is merely a representation of the Judeo-Christian ethics the country was founded on.
I must have been absent that day in fifth grade when the class learned Mr. Helms' version of the founding principles of American history. In my history classes, I learned that our country was founded on ideals of freedom, which include religious liberty for persons of all faiths and none.
Helms, who has refused to take down the poster despite a request from a citizen who visited the office, also studied a different version of constitutional law. He told the News-Leader his "personal view of the separation of church and state is the state stays out of church. It's fundamentally wrong to try to drive everything out of the public sector that has anything to do with religion."
But Helms is missing the point. He's an agent of the state, and by putting up a religious poster, he's intruding into the affairs of the church. Under the First Amendment's separation of church and state, government officials are supposed to treat all religions equally, not give one faith favored treatment.
When Helms divulged his interesting, yet wrong, take on the First Amendment to the newspaper, the reporter could hear Christian music from a boom box in Helms' government office.
"I'm in charge of this office. I have no intention of taking it down," he told the newspaper.
What Helms seems to forget is that he may be "in charge," but he does not own the office. That space belongs to the American public, and all government officials must obey the Constitution. The public should not be subjected to Helms' personal religious beliefs and views.
If Helms wants to display the poster at his home, he should feel free to go ahead. But his office is a place for public business, and visitors conducting business there should never be made uncomfortable by being inundated with religious symbols.
I hope Helms consults at attorney and complies with the clear mandate of our Constitution.
Helms, who says he's a Baptist, might also heed the words of Jesus. I'm certainly no theologian, but didn't Jesus disapprove of ostentatious public displays of religion?
According to the Book of Matthew, Jesus said, "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men....When thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret...."