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Religious Freedom

Today, Steve Helms, Greene County Circuit Clerk, removed the poster that has been the focus of some local controversy. Last week, Gary Wright and his wife, entered the Greene County office and found a small poster hanging on the wall that depicted the Ten Commandments as well as made mention of Jesus. Wright requested that the poster be taken down immediately and Helms refused. Wright threatened to contact the ACLU, write our local judges, and sue the county over the issue. The issue has drawn some heated debate on local blogs and forums. Helms stated today at a press interview that despite his personal views of the intent of The Constitution concerning the issue of church and state, he removed the poster for he couldn’t, in good conscience, cause the county to lose much needed funding over a lawsuit of this kind.

I respect Steve Helms’ decision as it is apparent that he is looking out for the county’s best interests. Our economy’s decline combined with our city leader’s mismanagement of funds in years past has brought our local government to making large scale cost cuts already. Taxpayers need not also be hit with the squandering of tax dollars to easily avoidable legal fees.

But, what about the fight? In the past decade, we’ve seen individuals pop up in many communities that demand changes be made to public places to better suit their lack of religious beliefs. Republic was eventually forced to remake their city’s flag in order to remove the fish symbol that it proudly displayed. Humansville was forced to pay $40,000 to a woman who complained about the hanging of the Ten Commandments in the school’s cafeteria. And now this?

It makes me angry because of the obvious contradictions of it all. These people quote The Constitution to say that it’s not right that these articles are placed in public places, but they forget that The Constitution itself mentions God many times. They say that it is their right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, but they forget that The Declaration of Independence that gives them this right states that these rights come from God. You cannot tell me that the intent of the writers of these two documents was to remove any mentioning of any religious aspect from any government property. If the writers intended government to be completely void of religion they wouldn’t have so clearly stated that these “unalienable rights” were given to us by “Our Creator.”

The entire foundation of this country was based on building a free society. In its documents it defines this free society. They wanted every citizen to enjoy the freedom OF religion, not the freedom FROM religion. It specifically mentions that a citizen can also choose not to have a religion. However, it never mentions that those that choose to live in the absence of religion will have the right to live a life completely void of its impact. Religious freedom is quite specifically the freedom to have and express your religious views without fear of government persecution. But, when the court judges decide that a fish symbol must be removed or a Ten Commandments plaque must be taken down against the will of the majority it is clearly more detrimental to religious freedom than the presence of these symbols were to the minority individuals who initially demanded their removal.

Let's flip the thing around, though. What if Steve Helms were a Wiccan? And he hung a poster of a witch and "the five commandments of Withcraft" in the Circuit Clerk office? What if Gary Wright were a Christian that complained about it and ordered it to be removed to Helm's refusal? Would a majority of Springfield be backing Wright in this scenario? Probably. So, just as Helms is forced to make his decision despite his views, I, too, must say that the public display of said articles in government-funded establishments should not be tolerated.

But wait. Could context have anything to do with the final decision? Some courts have the Ten Commandments displayed among other documents that the laws of the land were based off of. Isn't it appropriate for a court to display the origins of the laws that it enforces. I think so. I don't like following any rule without questioning its purpose and there's no better way to understanding purpose than to look back at its origins. So, it could be said that displaying the Ten Commandments in the office of the Greene County Circuit Clerk would be completely acceptable. Right?


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