CONGRESSIONAL HEARING: HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE TAMPA, FLORIDA JUNE 23, 1995 REV. W, HENR

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CONGRESSIONAL HEARING: HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE TAMPA, FLORIDA JUNE 23, 1995 REV. W, HENRY GREEN I would like to thank the chairman and this committee for the opportunity to speak with you today on this subject that is so vital to the foundation of our free society. I am the parent of three children, two already in school. Matthew is going into middle school this year and Natalie will enter the first grade. They are both in public school and my wife, Irene, is a substitute teacher in the public schools of Pincllas County. My undergraduate degree is in secondary education and I taught for a brief time in Jacksonville after seminary, before entering the ministry on a full-time basis. As a family we are deeply involved in the lives of our children ant take seriously our responsibility as parents for the social, educational ant spiritual development of our children. As a Southern Baptist pastor, I am concerned that we maintain and protect the wall of separation between church and state that allows us to teach our children about God and prayer as we see fit, And that keeps the government out of that process. John Leland, the Baptist neighbor of James Madison, said, "The fondness of magistrates to foster Christianity has done it more harm than all the persecutions ever did." Leland was instrumental in helping Madison and Jefferson in their work to establish the first amendment guarantee of our religious liberty and the separation of church and state. It was Thomas Jefferson who wrote in a letter to Connecticut Baptists in 1802, "Believing with you that religion is a matter that lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith, his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "Make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,l thus building a wall of separation between church and state." Jefferson understood the importance of keeping religion and government separate. He understood the historic realities that led to wars over matters of religion. Thus, he - along with the other founding fathers had the wisdom to establish this wall that we must protect and defend today. I am appalled that once again we are having to debate an issue that should have been settled long ago. We do not need an amendment to the constitution. We do not need legislation promoting religion. What we need is education concerning already existing laws that protect American citizens from the tyranny of government and from the tyranny of religion. Yes, government and religion can do immense amounts of evil when they are tied together. In last Thursday's St. Pete Times there was a story about a couple in Cairo, Egypt who are being forced by the religious fundamentalists in that nation to get a divorce even though they are happily married. The religious law that governs marriage among Muslims in Egypt states that an apostate is not entitled to be married to a Muslim. According to the article, this case was brought by Islamic fundamentalists who attacked a professor of Arabic literature at the University of Cairo for his linguistic analysis of the Koran. They objected to his combination of a secular outlook with deep knowledge of the Koran and Islamic theology. In spite of the fact that this professor says that he is a good Muslim and that his writings were not meant to attack Islam, the fundamentalists in Egypt continue to push for the divorce. This is the evil that can be perpetrated on the lives of innocent people when religion and government are united. I was also appalled to read about Joshua Burton, the fourth grade student at Columbia Elementary school in Orange County, Florida. It is sad indeed if this story is true that his Bible was taken away from him and he was interrogated by the principal and other administrators in that school system. His freedom was violated, but again, the solution to the problem that Joshua and his family faces is not more legislation, but education. For example, in public schools, students have the right to pray individually or in groups or to discuss their religious views with their peers so long as they are not disruptive. Because the establishment clause does not apply to purely private speech, students have the right to read their Bibles or other scriptures, pray before meals and before math tests, and discuss religion with anyone willing to listen. As the pastor of a Baptist church, I have encouraged my youth to carry their Bibles to school if they so desire, because it is their right to do so. Many of our students have met at the flagpole to pray before school. Some have been involved in Bible studies after school hours. Yes, students do have these rights and they must be protected, but we do not need a constitutional amendment to do so. These rights already exist. I have participated in baccalaureate services over the years. School officials may not mandate or organize prayer at graduation, nor may they organize a religious baccalaureate ceremony. However, students may voluntarily participate in a baccalaureate ceremony separate from the graduation ceremony. The school may not and should not extend preferential treatment to any religious group at graduation. Students are free to have religion clubs and groups on campus. Teachers are free to teach and study about religion and its role in our history and our lives, as long as they do not endorse a particular religion. Students may wear T-shirts and other religious symbols without fear of reprisal. Our laws allow for these and many other freedoms, including the recognition of religious holidays. The equal access act recently passed protects all of these freedoms. We must educate the educators, not change the constitution. I do not understand the philosophical inconsistencies of those who say they want less government intrusion into our private lives regarding taxes, the environment, and issues related to welfare, and yet seem to want to add more government interference by imposing government-endorsed religion on our personal lives. Government should remain neutral in matters of religion. Our founding fathers got it right! Let's don't mess with a good thing. Leave religion to those in our society who are called to share the message of their religious persuasion. The proposal that is being set forth will do major damage to the constitution, and to our religious liberties, and will destroy the wall of separation between church and state. I do not want to see religion, and especially prayer, used as a tot by the state, or as a political football to achieve the political ends on the left or the right. We must learn the lessons of history and maintain this precious freedom, this fragile freedom, of church/state separation. True religion is trivialized when it is used for governmental ends. We must again go back to the words of Jefferson in 1777, when he wrote "that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, .. nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or beliefs; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument, to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities. " We do not need more legislation. We do not need an amendment to the constitution. What we need is education. Down here in Florida, we like to play golf. One of my favorite golf commercials is one that shows Fred Couples advertising Lynx irons. The scene has Fred standing in I he middle of the fairway hitting shots to the middle of the green. ln the next scene, a tank comes from out of the rough and fires at the green, destroying the green and sending the flag flying. The comparison that is given is that the Lynx irons are as powerful as the tank, but leave a slightly smaller ball mark on the green. What is being proposed in this current debate will be like the tank; it will destroy the green. What is at stake is the very foundation of our freedom. The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States does not need further amending. Don't destroy the Constitution. Don't destroy our way of life. Don't destroy our freedom. Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to testify at these hearings. W. Henry Green

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