In the first, he challenges the parties to the decision to answer a set of thought questions designed to explore the boundaries of whether the State can honor God. In the second, he challenges the supposition that no state-favored display of religion is possible by pointing to the statue of Athena placed in a park.
I’ve always been irked at people who challenge Nativity displays or menorahs in parks, because I find that to be well within the tradition of ‘reverence’ I talk about above. Other, similarly celebratory expressions don’t bother me at all.
But to put it in the courthouse (or the legislative chamber) says to me that this law isn’t the law of the State, but the law of God, and at that point I start to itch pretty badly.
And that pretty neatly wraps my position; I think we should encourage public displays of reverence … of all kinds, including the occasional statue of Gautama and even Ganesha. Clearly there are some lines; I’d rather followers of the houdoun don’t slaughter goats in public parks, and believers in Bacchus hold their bacchanals on private property.
Now, in truth, some of these have become secularized through use over the years – Athena in most architectural art represents a generalized ‘wisdom symbol’, and there are no living worshippers at her temples as far as I know.
But displays tied to living religions must be carefully separated from the power of the state. I don’t want to walk into a courtroom and see a Torah, or a Gohonzon. Judges are certainly free to keep them in their chambers, or keep them on their person, but to display them as a part of the fabric of the building, or of the institution, is to imply that the fabric of the law is tightly bound with a religious – as opposed to cultural – doctrine. That is to me deeply offensive.
Believers and nonbelievers may come to the state capital and do business. Animists and Episcopalians alike may come to City Hall and get their zoning ordinances, and I think that anything that suggests otherwise needs to go.
So parks and public squares – sure! Courthouses, legislative chambers, city halls – nope. To me, there is a clear difference, in that there are many parks, which may embrace many historic or cultural or religious themes. I’m free to work to get my hero, god, or symbol incorporated into one.
But the instruments of state power cannot be escaped. And anything that suggests that they favor one religion or culture or group over another – that we are not all equal before the majesty of the law – is wrong.