Thursday, January 17, 2013

Jesus' Picture Debate Rages

Jesus Ppicture in question
My January 14 blog about an effort to remove a picture of Jesus from the wall of an Ohio high school apparently struck a chord with readers.  I received several e-mails in response.  I have replied personally to them, but want to share the comments, before explaining why I feel they are incorrect.

Here is what one of them wrote:

I would suggest, Mr. Lazarus, the very point you yourself brought up, and that is that this portrait can't be of Jesus. It is ethnically incorrect, not to mention we have no way of actually knowing what Jesus really looked like. So, my argument is, how can anyone be offended by a picture of someone they don't even know? And if the rest of us choose to let the picture represent someone special to us, again, why should anyone care?

And I would suggest the ACLU, and others, need to do a little more digging into the history of this once great nation. MY founding fathers were Christians and they in NO WAY intended for God to be removed from everything, as some would have us believe. It was only later that non-Christians began taking God out of everything. When I was young, there was no school violence, we had no fears for our safety, and we began our day with the Lord's Prayer. Now that God and prayer have been removed, we need only look at the moral decline and increase in such horrendous violence in this country to see the proof that you reap what you sow. Arguments of 'separation of church and state' don't hold water, as far as I'm concerned. The way that has been so misinterpreted was never our founder's intentions.  

Here is my response:

Yes, the portrait is not of Jesus.  It’s a stylized image of a man with flowing hair and an angelic appearance.  However, to the students, that is what Jesus looks like.  That’s all true for the administration and probably most Christians.  As such, it might as well be an exact likeness. 

To the viewer, it’s Jesus.  That’s why the ACLU and the Freedom from Religion Foundation have requested it be removed.

James Madison
Second, the Founding Fathers were largely deists, not Christian.  They believed in God, but not necessarily in the Christian view.  James Madison, the fourth president, led the fight for religious freedom after being appalled by the sight of Baptist ministers being forced to preach from their jail cell.  They had been arrested for not being Anglican.

The Founding Fathers demonstrated their decision to support freedom of religion in several ways:

1)      The Constitution itself divorced religion from the political equation: “No religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." (Art. 6, Sec. 3).

2)      The First Amendment of the Constitution forbids the creation of any laws “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."   The only oath spelled out in the Constitution, the presidential oath of office, contains no reference to God or the Bible. 

3)      In 1797, near the end of George Washington’s second term, he approved a treaty with Tripoli that declared "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."  John Adams shepherded the treaty through Congress without dissent over the wording.  Nor did the public object when the treaty was published.

Thomas Jefferson
4)      In a letter to a Baptist group in 1802, President Jefferson described "a wall of separation between church and state.”  That term has become commonplace in court decisions, reflecting the idea that religion has no place in government action. 

5)      Jefferson emphasized that government had no right to promote any religion or interfere with private belief.  He underlined that belief by responding to a question from visitors to the White House by saying why he should care what his neighbor believes.

6)      Even though the vast majority of Americans are Christian – about 78 percent at last count -- the Constitution guarantees that they cannot impose their religious beliefs on others.  The 14th Amendment also prevents states and cities from creating restrictions that would deprive minorities of their Constitutional rights.

7)      The government was not based on the Ten Commandments or any religious teachings.  Instead, our Founding Fathers drew on concepts developed by the Indians, their knowledge of European government and some original ideas. 

Many of those who believe this country is a Christian nation often cite Supreme Court Justice David Brewer who in an 1892 case, Holy Trinity Church vs. United States, wrote in a personal opinion that "this is a Christian nation."

Justice Brewer
He explained later: "But in what sense can [the United States] be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or the people are compelled in any manner to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.' Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or in name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within its borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all."

Third, despite the reader’s contention, God is not being removed from everything.  God is clearly evoked on our money and in our Pledge of Allegiance.  The difference is that people cannot be forced to believe in God or subjected to prayers and religious beliefs of others. 

Pray all you want in school, home or the street.  Just don’t impose your prayer requirement on anyone else.

Fourth, Prayer hardly is the panacea for any perceived problems.  Society is not in decay.  We actually live in a far better world than any previous generation.  There are fewer murders and fewer crimes.  We still have wars, but they do not compare to the massive destruction of World War I or World War II.

Besides, morality is an extraordinary flexible target.  Every generation bemoans the decline in morality.  That, however, assumes we all agree what is moral or immoral.  We do not.  I don’t personally like the increased use of profanity, but don’t see that as a moral issue.  Most English profanity derives from perfectly good Anglo-Saxon words condemned after the French conquered England in 1066. 

Not that long ago, society argued that racial intermarriage was immoral.  I certainly hope that’s not the case now.

Finally, blaming non-Christians for “taking God out of everything” is simply wrong.  The U.S. Supreme Court continually has upheld the concept of separation of Church and State.  For the first 180 years of this country’s history, all justices were Protestant Christians.  Most were Episcopalian or Presbyterian.

Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Justice
There have only been 14 Catholic justices, although the majority on the Court today is Catholic.

Just eight Justices have been Jewish.  Three are currently on the bench.

Since all decision to remove the 10 Commandments from courthouses or pictures from school walls ultimately come from the Supreme Court, I can see no evidence that only non-Christians made those decisions.

Nor is the Jesus picture part of a cultural issue, as another reader insists.  It involves the Christian culture, which, by law, automatically disqualifies it from the public arena.  American culture has no religion.  No one in this country, of any faith, can be forced to participate in the belief system of someone else.  That is the basic tenet of this country and the golden aspect that separates it from any other.

Even something as innocuous as a picture believed to be Jesus has to be removed to maintain that lofty standard.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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