Stone Simple: Texas Pastor Can’t Grasp The Basics Of Religious Liberty

Does your faith frown upon Pagan rituals? Don’t attend any.

Two months ago, I wrote a post about religious tolerance being on the upswing at the Air Force Academy. The Associated Press had reported that when Pagan cadets sought a place to worship, Academy officials worked with them to create an outdoor stone circle.

Some people are having a difficult time dealing with that.

Someone recently left a large wooden cross at the site of the circle, and now a Texas minister says the very presence of a nature-based religion at the Academy could bring God’s judgment down on us all.

I knew this was coming. One thing I’ve learned about the Religious Right over the years is when it comes to religious pluralism, many of its leaders are like a broken record. When a religion they don’t like is made welcome, they start screaming over and over about God’s judgment.

“What we label today as ‘pluralism,’ God called ‘idolatry,’” Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, wrote in a commentary published in the online edition of The Washington Post. “The first commandment from God was, ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’ To openly violate this most basic law is to invite God’s judgment upon our nation.”

Jeffress is one of these “my way or the highway” guys who’s absolutely certain that God shares every one of his opinions. He’s a zealot of the first rank.

In fact, Americans United has tangled with him before. Back in 1998, when Jeffress was pastoring a church in Wichita Falls, Texas, he got upset over the presence of some gay-themed book for children in the public library that a parishioner had brought him – so he confiscated the books and refused to return them. A member of his church later proposed a wide-ranging censorship plan for the library.

What is it with these guys? They just don’t get one of the fundamental features of America life: When it comes to religion, you get to make your own decisions, and you get to choose.

Does your religion teach that homosexuality is a sin? Then don’t check out books that portray homosexuality in a positive light from the library. Does your faith frown upon Pagan rituals? Don’t attend any. It couldn’t be any simpler.

But understand that you have no right to make personal decisions about religion for anyone else. And understand that your bigotry and intolerance stands in opposition to the values of our First Amendment.

Rev. Jeffress, I have a news flash for you: Americans have the right to choose whatever religion they want – or reject them all. They have the right to change their minds, too. They have the right to blend elements from several traditions into their own personal faith.

They also have the right to think you’re all wet.

I believe the right of religious liberty is one of the most important and valuable things about America. I’m sorry Jeffress doesn’t agree. Every time I read a column like Jeffress’ recent screed, I am reminded of why the work of Americans United is so important.