Where to draw the line(s) between government and church actions got in the news again this week.1 As usual, I've got opinions. And a point of view.
Joseph Burges, who was in the habit of killing young couples. He also left Bible verses near his victims. Not all criminals are like Mr. Burgess. Neither, for that matter, are all religious people.
Some criminals simply let parking tickets pile up. And some religious people spent a significant portion of their lives in activities like helping folks at the low end of Calcutta's socioeconomic scale, or getting leprosy. And those cherry-picked examples don't begin to represent the range of folks covered by either category.
The point? "Criminals" aren't the bad guys from Batman stories, or elements of society which should be sterilized to improve the race, or disgusting lowlifes bereft of human qualities. They're people.
Some, in my opinion, should be permanently restrained so that they can do no further damage - but have a chance to repent. Others, again in my opinion, do not pose a great risk to folks who do pay parking fines in a timely manner.
Which doesn't mean that I think parking wherever one feels like it should be decriminalized.
Or, maybe it's 'obvious' that I'm one of those heartless conservatives with no feelings for the oppressed.
Actually, I'm a Catholic. I've discussed this before. A lot. (November 3, 2008, May 12, 2010, July 2, 2010, for starters)
Depending on your point of view, it's a dangerous sign of creeping faith or a common-sense move to make quite a few folks' lives easier and safer. Including the ones who are criminals.
First, the sinister threat of creeping faith and the religious menace. Terms that aren't used in The Star-Ledger article, by the way.
Interestingly, we haven't had a "King Henry" since then - and that's another topic.
The folks who wrote up this country's Constitution were familiar with state religions in Europe. Which is, I think, what's behind the "establishment clause." Of course, I'm one of those folks who have a 'narrow' mind. I don't get the sort of mystic crystal revelation that makes it possible to see things that aren't written in the first amendment. I discussed America's creative judiciary and Iowa on Wednesday. (November 3, 2010)
Remember: I don't think state-run religions are a good idea.
That's because I'm "religious" myself. At any rate, I'm a practicing Catholic. Yet another topic.
Make supporting some church a matter for the IRS, and it's bad news for that church. Really bad public relations at the very least. In my opinion.
My parents were sensible enough: but the area I grew up in was infested with folks who hated Catholics, commies, and other 'Satanic' influences. Rock music and women wearing slacks didn't go over too well with them, either.
That, together with a weird combination of numerology and 'Biblical' Christianity, encouraged me to take a long, hard look at what this Christianity thing really was. I came to the conclusion that it wasn't, as Freud is supposed to have assumed, a psychiatric disorder. (Yet again another topic.) I also became a Catholic. (Another story.)
Folks whose only contact with religion were those 'kill-a-commie-for-Christ' types? Yeah: I can see why they'd want as little to do with 'those religious people' as possible. Which isn't the same as thinking that they're right.
I do not believe that it'll reform the judicial system, end poverty, and cure acne. I do think that it seems to be providing a way for folks who have gotten themselves in trouble with the law a chance to start sorting out their differences with the system.
The reaction from folks like the Freedom From Religion Foundation representative strikes me as - understandable. I even agree, that there has to be a clear distinction between what government agents do in their capacity of representatives of their organization, and what people do as citizens.
I also think that a state religion is a bad idea.
But I'm at least close to being on the same page as the Baptist pastor, who said that his church was providing a "venue" for an event, and that the folks he knew were "volunteers." Bear in mind that I'm one of those people who think that volunteer work is a good idea.
And that not everything done in public has to be part of a stridently secular government agency's activities.
- "Almost Political: 'Independent Judiciary' and Responsibility"
(November 3, 2010)
- "The Catholic Church, Rules, and American Law"
(August 22, 2010)
- " 'Army of Oppression,' Unmentionables, and Being Catholic in America"
(August 17, 2010)
- "School District Celebrates Religious Freedom Day: By Banning Bibles"
(July 1, 2010)
- "Beach Killer Joseph Burgess: A Case of Horribly Warped Christianity"
(July 24, 2009)
" 'Safe Surrender' program in Somerset County attracts 1,400 fugitives by second day"
The Star-Ledger, via NJ.com (November 4, 2010)
"About 1,400 people wanted on non-violent warrants have already packed into the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset County this week to turn themselves in.
"That puts the state's third straight Fugitive Safe Surrender program on pace to be one of the biggest the U.S. has ever seen.
"The event is part of a national initiative, where fugitives wanted for such non-violent crimes as unpaid traffic tickets and minor drug charges can surrender peacefully and likely avoid jail time.
"Last year, 4,103 people surrendered at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark - currently the country's third-largest turnout since the U.S. Marshal Service started the effort in 2005.
"Only Cleveland and Detroit have drawn more, New Jersey parole board spokesman Neal Buccino said today."
"Safe-Surrender Initiative Raises Issue of Separation of Church and State"
Live Shots, FOXNews blog (November 5, 2010)
" 'Go... and sin no more.' That well-known biblical verse is not exactly what the judicial system renders when it reduces a scofflaw's fines from outstanding traffic tickets. But that's what Devon Peace felt was happening when she had the burden of $3,000 worth of traffic citations and bench warrants reduced to $900.
"The mother of four was one of thousands of people who showed up recently at a New Jersey megachurch where state and local law enforcement officials are operating the 'Fugitive Safe-Surrender,' a national initiative designed to allow people with outstanding warrants for non-violent offenses to surrender, work out payment schedules for their fines and possibly even have them reduced.
"The program has been held in more than 20 cities nationwide, and well over 25,000 people have turned themselves in. Most get a restructuring of their fines if they don't have the money to pay immediately; less than two percent of the people who surrender go to jail.
"The program has raised revenue from scofflaws who were avoiding making their payments, and it has brought peace of mind and a fresh start to people like Peace who feared being arrested.
"But it's also brought strong criticism from secular groups who say that having the scofflaws turn themselves in at a church blurs the line between church and state.
" 'Churches should not be treated as arms of our government,' says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. 'This is what you would expect in a theocracy, not a secular republic. This officially sanctioned program by Congress and the U.S. Marshal's Office gives the appearance of a direct affiliation between the U.S. government and the churches involved.'
"But Pastor DeForest B. Soaries, of First Baptist Church in Lincoln Gardens, N.J., where this week's 'surrenders' took place, defended the program. 'Our church is not proselytizing,' he said. 'We are not showing religious movies, we are not handing out Bibles. We are in that sense a venue and a set of volunteers.'..."
"...That argument was what helped convince Soaries to open the doors of his church to the program. 'This is both safe for the surrenderers and law enforcement officials,' he said. 'Anyone who has a warrant is not only running from the law but is also likely to be more dangerous than someone who's not running from the law.'
"Peace doesn't see herself as violent, but she says she lived in fear.
" 'It just basically started from parking tickets,' she said, recalling how she wound up owing thousands of dollars. 'Being careless about paying parking tickets on time, and it built up and built up and it eventually led to warrants.'
" 'It was very scary,' she said. 'I would get very nervous rolling past a police officer, any roadblocks I would try and deviate. Certain times of holidays I wouldn't even go out or be behind the wheel because I didn't want to get caught.'
"Ending the legal tangles was like being set free, she said."