Freedom of Religion, Except…

Sweetwater, TN has sued what seems a kindly grandfather, Paul Johnson, who was concerned that he needed to share his faith with others, and who chose to do that during the ‘celebration’ of the recent solar eclipse during that city’s Solar Eclipse Festival.  He stood on what sounds to be a public sidewalk and read from the Bible as people walked past him on their way to get into the Festival grounds.  He had also applied for a permit to do this but was denied since the city found this to be against its regulations concerning ‘demonstrations’.  Yes, he was apparently setting himself up to test the regulations imposed which he thought were improper.

An awkward moment?  Yes, I think most might agree with that description given the subject of personal faith that is seemingly often something about which we don’t wish to converse…at least not in public.  I consider myself a Christian and a follower of the Bible and Jesus Christ’s teachings, although woefully short on both counts.  I also would’ve found this a bit awkward but I certainly would not have thought this to be in violation of some local ordinance that went directly against at least one of the Articles of our Bill of Rights.  I might’ve found it made me a bit uncomfortable since I wasn’t the one reading that Bible or publicly demonstrating my faith.  I hope that wouldn’t be the case today but there was a time when I might have felt that way.

It takes things such as this to point up hypocrisies and even violations of basic rights, and it takes people such as Mr. Johnson who felt the need to expose this hypocrisy and to fight for his basic rights.  We may sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable in such situations, but we also should be able to realize that there is nothing illegal about such activities.  Groups engage in singing Christmas songs, carolers, and those typically have some religious overtones but I don’t recall the last time a caroler was arrested.  I engage in that activity with my church group every year at Christmastime.  There might be some grounds for arresting me for denigrating beautiful music with my shoddy renditions, but so far no one has seen fit to exercise their right to call the gendarmes.

Seriously, though, we have certain rights and those rights ought to be held inalienable without regard to human laws.  There is certainly a line of separation and we find courts trying to redefine those rights on occasion.  There is room for our individual faith and for the government’s requirements.  I am reading Antonin Scalia’s last book and find that among the basic tenants he held dear.  It might well be that the officials that day were not thinking about what he was reading as folks walked past but about some other municipal regulation, but the fact remains that he had the right to do what he was doing, as uncomfortable as that might have made some feel, and those rights were violated.

Those feeling uncomfortable might’ve been feeling that because his readings reminded them they had been remiss in their personal faith lives, as many of us are if we stop to think about that.  I’d like to think that I would’ve been receptive even though that might’ve seemed an untoward time for which to act as he acted…if there is such a time in such matters.

Awkward moments can be very effective teaching moments…sometimes the most effective teaching moments.  Thanks for the reminder Grandpa Johnson.


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