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EDITORIAL: A line in the sand

The defense of religious liberty can begin on the beaches

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Presbyterian pastor on the Delaware coast is drawing a line in the sand on the beach this week in the vacation community of Lewes (pronounced "Lewis") to celebrate freedom, which was the original point of the Fourth of July.

The Rev. Robert Dekker of New Covenant Presbyterian Church sought permission from the neighboring city of Rehoboth Beach to hold a series of eight early Sunday morning church services on the beach during the summer tourist season. He application was denied. "I'm sorry to inform you," wrote Rehoboth's city manager, "that I can't grant your request to have church services on the public beach in Rehoboth. I cannot mix church and state. I trust you understand." The pastor didn't, and neither do we.

Mr. Dekker doesn't understand how the city could claim this expression as impermissible in a nation founded by men and women seeking to express their religious beliefs in their own way. The pastor does not intend to establish a church on the beach; his congregation worships in a substantial edifice miles away. He asks no municipal sanction on his reading of the Scripture, a few remarks of thanksgiving and the singing of a hymn or two. Now he plans an act of civil disobedience in an unapproved "peaceful worship service" on the beach "in defiance of tyranny."

The service will likely take place without incident; it's highly unlikely that the town of Rehoboth would be so foolish as to send the cops to break up an innocent religious service. The congregation is likely to leave the beach as clean as they find it. Cleaner, probably. The controversy is how a church service on public property has become the "mixing of church and state."

Daniel Dreisbach, a law professor at American University in Washington and author of "Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State," says the "wall" is a myth, originating not in 1789 but in 1947 with the Supreme Court ruling in Everson v. Board of Education. The high court was asked to interpret the First Amendment's prohibition on laws establishing a religion. The court took cues, or thought it did, from Jefferson's famous 1802 letter to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Conn., mentioning a "wall of separation," but his words were twisted out of context. Jefferson as president demonstrated that his views of religion and the state are nothing like the anti-church, pro-state mindset that 65 years of jurisprudence since Everson have given us.

We can understand how the city manager of Rehobeth Beach got his history and civics mixed up with current events. Visceral hostility to religion is the order of the day. The convictions of the millions are held hostage by governments intimidated by tantrums of the very few, who faint at the sound of a hymn to the faith of our fathers or a prayer for the ill and the bereaved. Military chaplains have been told to withhold the consolations of faith to troops en route to die for their country lest unbelievers suffer cramps of the soul. High school valedictorians are warned not to offer the benediction of "God bless you" because it might offend a scruffy atheist-in-training.

The First Amendment is intended to protect religious faith from the state, not the state from religious faith. A mild act of summertime rebellion by Mr. Dekker and those who want to worship God on the beach is wholly an appropriate way to celebrate the Fourth of July. Let the fireworks begin.

The Washington Times

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