We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, grateful to God for our liberties, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the preservation and perpetuation of the same. (The Preamble to the South Carolina Constitution)
I am an unapologetic follower of Jesus Christ. I recite the Creeds, pray the Lord’s Prayer and administer the Holy Sacraments. I put oil on the sick, counsel the wayward, and interpret to the Church the hopes, needs and concerns of the world. It’s not just what I do—it’s who I am: an ordained member of the Sacred Order of Deacons in Christ’s Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Then why am I so riled up that the South Carolina General Assembly has brought South Carolina the first “Christian” license tag in the nation? Why does my blood boil about the audacity of using their using the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer as part of government sponsored displays of “historical documents”?
I should be happy that the Lieutenant Governor has offered to put up $4000 of his own money so I can have a cross-emblazoned tag proclaiming my faith.
But I’m mad as hell.
You see, these things don’t belong to a government that has a constitutional mandate to keep its grimy hands off my religion. The South Carolina Constitution, in Article I, Section 2, says: “The General Assembly shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That means the General Assembly, the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor and any other official has no right to establish a particular religious expression at the expense of any other. Lawmakers and the Executive branch are barred from using their power to promote a particular religious view, even if it’s mine.
The Constitution says “No law.” That’s because when government mucks about in religion, it will inevitably take sides in religious disputes. There are two versions of the Ten Commandments, one Protestant, one Catholic. There are two versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the New Testament, Matthew’s and Luke’s, and while Matthew’s is generally recited in both Protestant and Catholic congregations, Catholics leave out the “doxology” (which was a later interpolation in the Matthean text).
If the Protestant version of either of these sacred texts is used in an official government document, then South Carolina has officially taken sides in an ancient (albeit esoteric) religious dispute. Catholics would rightly object to the establishment of the Protestant version as the official state Decalogue or Lord’s Prayer.
A license plate depicting a cross would be a doctrinal statement offensive to Plymouth Brethren, a Protestant group that objects to the use of crosses as idolatrous, and to Mormons, who believe that displaying a cross devalues the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus.
Because they don’t understand the role of either government of religion, the General Assembly, the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor have taken sides in Christian doctrinal disputes. That’s establishment of religion, no matter what the Attorney General says. And it does not even begin to take into account the thousands of South Carolinians who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or who don’t believe at all.
This is bad government and worse religion. Let’s hope that the one remaining branch of government will see this for what it is: unconstitutional pandering to sectarian religionists in the hope of gaining votes.
Barring that, we have to pray for fire and brimstone on the State House. At least that would finally bring down the Battle Flag of the Army of Virginia.