Religious Right groups regularly insist that all devout Americans, especially Christians, must be against the separation of church and state.
As usual, they’re completely off the mark. In fact, many people of faith are among the strongest supporters of church-state separation. And we have a new piece of evidence.
The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) has just filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opposing sectarian invocations at the Forsyth County (N.C.) Board of Commissioners’ meetings.
In the brief, the BJC asserts:
“[T]he legislative prayers in this case have the actual effect of affiliating the Forsyth County Board with the Christian faith and have resulted in the Board advancing Christianity above other belief systems. This marriage of a local government and the Christian faith is directly contrary to the fundamental principle of [church-state separation], the ‘belief that a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and to degrade religion.’ This Court should not permit such a union to stand.”
Another friend-of-the-court brief was filed by several minority religious groups, including the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, the Hindu American Foundation, the Blue Mountain Lotus Society (a Buddhist group) and two Sikh groups (the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation and the Sikh Council on Religion and Education).
Their brief argues that sectarian prayer divides communities and discourages members of minority faiths from participating in the political process or practicing their religion publicly.
The two briefs were filed in the Joyner v Forsyth County case, a lawsuit in which Americans United and the North Carolina ACLU are challenging the commission’s sectarian bias. For years, the Forsyth board invited local clergy to deliver Christian prayers at board meetings.
Despite receiving letters from AU and the ACLU demanding that the practice stop, board members refused to do so, leading to the litigation.
The district court struck down the board’s unfair and divisive policy in January.
But, represented by the Religious Right legal group, the Alliance Defense Fund, the board appealed the decision to the 4th Circuit in February.
Both these friend-of-the-court briefs are by people of faith who understand why church-state separation is so vital to our religious freedom. Forbidding government favoritism on religion doesn’t threaten religious liberty, it preserves it. And that’s what they have reminded the court.