A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Jason Crosby: Don’t make God a schoolhouse bully — look deeper at meaning of religious liberty

Be cautious of those who insist on posting the phrase “In God We Trust” in schools or demand that everyone says “Merry Christmas” in December.

Take note that most of the time the figures we hear advocating for such measures are politicians seeking to gain and maintain power. A lot of people say a lot about which the Bible says very little (or nothing); while saying little about which the Bible says a whole lot.

State Representative and Christian evangelist Brandon Reed of Hodgenville recently pre-filed a bill that would require Kentucky public schools to post the phrase “In God We Trust.”

I do not know what God looks like in the heart and mind of Rep. Reed. I do know that those in our state and nation who feel compelled to advance the phrase “In God We Trust” typically understand God in a particularly narrow way.

Those who push “In God We Trust” are more often than not white, straight men who want to preserve white, straight male hegemony rather than follow the God found in Christ. Jesus was put to death not so much for his moral, ethical or theological teachings. He was killed because he challenged the systems of money and power of his time.

The voices heard in the Bible say a lot more about political and religious leaders who use and abuse that which is sacred for their own benefit than homosexuality and abortion combined. The God found in the Bible really does not like people using God for their own purposes.

The phrases “In God We Trust” and “Merry Christmas” have been identified as effective rallying cries by some politicians that can be trotted out to win votes.

The insistence that the phrase “In God We Trust” be displayed in public spaces was not something Jesus taught.

If actualized, this proposition would infringe upon the constitutionally protected civil liberties of Kentucky citizens. A large number of people – students, teachers, and parents – do not trust in any God, believe in a God who goes by another name than the one Rep. Reed praises, or believe in many Gods.

The outcome of this proposal would send a thinly veiled message that anyone who does not believe in the God that Rep. Reed envisions is subordinate and less than. This proposal would result in school bullying supported by the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

All of Kentucky’s children deserve the opportunity to go to school without being berated to believe in God as understood by Rep. Reed. Our public schools are committed to teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, not a narrow view of religion. Commonly held decency demands that we provide every student in Kentucky with this opportunity.

Followers of Jesus Christ in Kentucky should not only stand in opposition to this proposal due to Constitutional concerns, pragmatic concerns, and natural law grounds. Christians in Kentucky should stand in opposition to this proposal because they are disciples of Jesus.

Thomas Helwys was one of the founding fathers of the peculiar group of Protestants known as Baptists. In 1612, Helwys wrote, “For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Neither may the king be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever; it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.”

Why would an early Baptist advocate for religious liberty for nonbelievers and other religious adherents in addition to Christians over 400 years ago?

Helwys also wrote, “This is made evident to our lord the king by the scriptures.” Helwys’s interpretation of the Bible, particularly his understanding of the example set by Christ, compelled him to advocate for religious liberty for all.

After washing the feet of his disciples and just prior to his arrest, Jesus told his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”

First and foremost, Christians are called to love one another. You are not loving someone else if you demand that they conform to your way and perspective. That’s not love. That’s not placing your trust in God known as Jesus. That’s imposing your power on others. That’s bullying.

Jason Cosby is co-Pastor of Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville and a member of the board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union. He opposes any mandate to require public schools in Kentucky to post the phrase “In God We Trust.” He was raised in Villa Hills and graduated from Dixie. His father was pastor at Erlanger Baptist Church for many years.

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One Comment

  1. Gail Baptiste says:

    Hi Jason, lived across the street from you for many years. I agree with you completely and thankful for your work with the ACLU.

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