What is Christian Literacy?

refers to the ability to use a language - to know what words means, to be able to use grammar, sentence structure, to be able to converse in that language is to be literate.

Religious literacy
means having the ability to understand and speak about our faith intelligently. It’s the ability to communicate the basic tenets of our religion.

I'm very grateful to B.U. Professor Stephen Prothero for his excellent book, "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn't." This book, along with my desire to teach the faith, served as the inspiration for this effort.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The First Amendment

Here's what it says:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the  press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government  for a redress of grievances."

The First Amendment contains two clauses concerning the freedom of religion. The Establishment Clause states that the "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion." The Free Exercise Clause adds, "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This amendment rejected the European model of a state religion.

When the amendment was ratified in 1791 it applied only to the federal government and its laws. States were still free to do as they wished. In fact, Massachusetts was officially a Congregational state until 1833. One of the churches I served was built using tax payer dollars. In colonial days all the residents of the village were taxed to pay for a new Congregational church. Those were the good ole days!

Shortly after Thomas Jefferson was elected president, Baptists from Connecticut asked him to declare a national day of fasting in order to help the country heal from a bitterly fought presidential campaign. Jefferson disagreed, feeling that the First Amendment established a "wall of separation" between church and state. Others presidents, government officials and courts have seen it differently through the years (see below). A few days after September 11, 2001 President Bush called for Americans to assemble in their houses of worship for noontime prayer for the nation. Most churches were packed.

Question: what are the advantages of a wall of separation between church and state? What are the disadvantages?

Question: Was the First Amendment meant to keep the church out of the state or the state out of the church? Or both?

Prayer: Holy God, thank you for the freedom to worship you in many and various ways. Inspire us to be a nation of worshippers. In your Name. Amen.

Extra Credit: Teaching About Religion

Question: What is the difference between teaching religion confessionally vs teaching about religion objectively?

Answer: the former is unconstitutional. The latter is not.

On a number of occasions the United States Supreme Court has affirmed that it is constitutional to teach about religion in the public schools.

Justice Robert Jackson in McCollum v. Board of Education (1948) wrote, "Music without sacred music, architecture minus the cathedral, or painting without the scriptural themes would be eccentric and incomplete, even from a secular point of view . . . Certainly a course in English literature that omitted the Bible and other powerful uses of our mother tongue for religious ends would be pretty barren."

Justice Thomas Clark in Abington v. Schempp (1963) wrote: "It might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization."

Justice Lewis Powell in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) wrote, "Courses in comparative religion of course are customary and constitutionally appropriate."


(The information in the "Extra Credit" section comes from Stephen Prothero's Religious Literacy, pp. 128-129.)

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