An Open Letter to Wes Bryant

An open letter to Wes Bryant in response to the article, “Houston County School System Receives Complaint Regarding Graduation Prayer”.

Mr. Bryant,

First, thank you for your service to our country. Any man who willingly puts himself in harm’s way in order to defend my freedom as an American citizen is a man whom I respect. It would be my preference to correspond with you personally regarding the issues I will address in this letter because of the deep respect I have for your service in the military. However, since your complaint regarding recent graduation services in Houston County has become a subject of public debate I felt compelled to respond publicly. Additionally, it seems the intent of the filed compliant is for a public discourse on the subject, so, again, I will respond in that manner.  I fully admit that I am basing my response off just a few quotes from the local newspaper, so if in the following letter I assume too much or misstate your position I apologize and would gladly receive correction.

Let me first define your position as an atheist, as clarity on the position is imperative to a meaningful dialogue. Atheism is a belief in the absence of God. While atheism is a secular worldview, it is nonetheless a worldview that shapes the way people see the world around them. It is secular, but not a scientific discipline (while it may be informed by science like other worldviews and religions). Additionally, atheism defines itself in comparison to religion. The word “atheist” means “without God.” In this regard, atheism, though not holding to a religion, is a statement on religion. Again, if this is an unfair definition of your position, I would accept appropriate correction.

From this worldview, you are advocating an absence of the mention of God from the graduation services in our county. This is an understandable position for you to advocate, since it is consistent with your worldview, atheism. The absence of God (or mention of God) is the foundation for the way you see the world.  It could be argued that since atheism is a denial of God, it is also a statement concerning religion. Therefore, the absence of religious prayers and activities at a high school graduation is a statement or stance on religion, in a similar way to including them. To advocate for the absence of God from a ceremony that has traditionally included prayers, is to advocate for a particular stance on a religious issue.

And here is the rub, you are actually not campaigning for legality or fairness, but for your worldview to be the worldview of the Houston County Board of Education. In other words, you are fighting for your personal belief system to be the one supported and espoused above other possible worldviews or positions, religious or irreligious. The request seems to be for the school board to advocate an atheist position over any other belief system. Understandably, you may disagree with this point, so let me explain my understanding of the legal and Constitutional issue, which may help clarify this position as well.

The beauty of the Constitution is it does not prevent the influence of religion or promote the absence of religion in the public square or the private lives of American citizens. It does confine the state’s ability to restrict an individual’s right to hold whatever religious beliefs they choose. This means you may hear people talk about God, but you do not have to believe in that God. You may hear Tom Cruise discuss secretly revealed divine inner truth or, even, in the classroom, hear positions taught that have clear religious or worldview implications. The government does not, however, require its citizens to hold one certain religious position. Neither does it restrain civil liberties from those who reject a certain religious position.

In our case, religious affiliation does not determine whether a student may or may not graduate from high school. A belief in the Christian God is not necessary to be able to attend a school in Houston County. Participation in a public prayer directed toward the Christian God is not mandated, either. In school, like other arenas, students are not free from the influence of religion, neither are they free from the influence of secular humanism, or naturalism, but they do get to make their own choices about what they believe.

Additionally, the Constitution does not promise that American citizens will not be personally offended. In fact, it almost does the opposite. Allowing everyone the freedom of speech insures that during my life as an American citizen I will hear viewpoints that I disagree with and will find offensive. The difference is that in the United States I am guaranteed the freedom to personally reject any viewpoint, religious belief, or worldview. I believe you will want to agree with me on this point because the implications of denying this freedom are as grave for an atheist as they are for a theist. If, for example, an atheist student intended to include remarks about the moral relativism or the self reliance of enlightened free thinkers in a valedictorian address, they could  be censured for making statements concerning religion, namely the exclusion of God. As argued above, these are religious statements.

Finally, I would also like for you to help me understand the nature of the offense in this particular instance. A student prayed to God, which an atheist believes to be a mythical creature. I can understand your disagreement with the prayer, but not your anger. Someone talking to a non-existent creature has never offended me. I might think they are crazy or smoked too much pot in college, but I wouldn’t find it offensive or be angered by it. If the student had prayed to the Tooth Fairy or if Dr. Hines had encouraged students to maintain a strong faith in the Easter Bunny, would you have found it equally offensive? It would seem that the proper response of a consistent atheist to such a prayer would be sympathy or pity for the misguided, uninformed, and ignorant babbling of a theist high school student to his or her imaginary friend.

These three observations lead me to the following conclusion. Your appeal to the Constitution is a smoke screen for the true motivation, which is for your personal preference on religion to be advocated by our school board. I would also conclude that the organization you contacted to assist in your complaint, Freedom From Religion Foundation, has a similar intention. In fact, it is implied in their name, which changes the wording of the constitutional principle from “freedom of religion” to “freedom from religion,” telegraphing their agenda. The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” As a citizen of this county I feel very strongly that fairness and freedom should be upheld. However, I do not regard personal, politically motivated agendas as an appropriate basis for our local government making changes of this magnitude. Especially, when the true intent to such appeals are as evident as in this case. I would urge you to reconsider your position on this matter.

Looking forward to a further dialogue,

Brandon Nichols
Graduate of Houston County High School, Class of 1998

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91 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Wes Bryant

  1. So very well said. I am proud of the Godly man you have become, and VERY GLAD you are helping to lead the young people back home. May God bless you for taking a stand 🙂

    • Amen, Brandon! Thank you for speaking out. I am blessed to know a man of your character and beliefs have influenced many young children in healthy, Christian ways, including my daughter, Libby. May God continue his spiritual work through you for the good.

  2. I can already fix something here-atheism is not the belief in the absence of god, but the absence of belief in a god (these are different things).

    • That seems like something you may want to take up with the Merriam-Webster dictionary then:
      athe·ist
      noun \ˈā-thē-ist\
      Definition of ATHEIST
      : one who believes that there is no deity

      • God (Yahweh) is not the only god in the pantheon of the world. Hence the idea that atheism is the belief that there is no deity. There is a big difference in the concept that there is no Yahweh and there is no god anywhere, at all, which is what atheism is.

      • Heather, this is a great clarification. My lack of precision on this definition reflects the context of the discussion (the complaint is specifically regarding a prayer to the Christian God) and, admittedly, my own personal belief in a personal and sovereign God. Please forgive me. I don’t think this changes the argument, though. I would love to know your thoughts.

  3. Such a Thoughtful and wise commentary on this widely discussed and controversial issue! It is foolish to think that you can live your life without being offended by ideas and beliefs held by others around you, unless you live in a bubble. And how boring life would be without the debate and discussion of ideas! You cannot seek to limit someone elses freedom of expression without jeopardizing your own! Brandon, I applaud your courageos and respectful discussion, and your willingness to stand up for the principles on which our country was founded — principles that protect even those whose agenda is to create a secular society, leaving all of us less free! Thank you!

  4. Thank you for such a well spoken letter! It’s wonderful to have a young man stand up for what he believes in. You said it much better than I could have.

  5. Dont get bogged down in minutia. The fact of the matter is that pressing an Athiest belief system is equivalent to pressing a Christian belief system. You dont have to believe it, there is something called free will.

  6. I applaud you for your words and truly hope that Mr Bryant gets to read them!!! I am so thankful for a school system that will not bow under the pressure of a man especially one that does not even live in our school system. Thank you for so beautifully and respectfully putting the words lots of us feel down.

  7. WOW – this has now become my position statement on the issue!! Hope you don’t mind if I borrow this, making sure of course to give you full credit! So very well said!

  8. The lack of official prayer does not equate to the advocacy of non-belief.

    My issue with this speaks not to offense, but to the inherent exclusion of prayer in such a setting as a public school graduation. Some individuals will always be excluded when prayers to a certain god or a particular religion are made in an official setting within an institution that contains people with diverse beliefs; these individuals may or may not be offended, but they are certainly excluded. If there is no prayer to any god then there is no belief (or non-belief) promoted and no one is excluded, though some may be offended. The difference is that offense is subjective while exclusion is objective.

    The argument here should be that non-exclusion is ethically superior to exclusion (even when the excluded individuals are a small minority). This is not the advocacy of non-belief, it is the advocacy of non-exclusion of all belief or non-belief.

    • You have worded this SO perfectly. This is exactly the point that many are not understanding. They know that this man is atheist so they automatically think he is pushing his views on them. Not the case though.

    • This is an even more ridiculous argument than it was when we all thought you were advocating non-belief. The idea that we should not allow any activity because we may be excluding certain people is ludicrous.

      If we are going to argue for the ethical superiority of non-exclusion in the public arena, then the only logical end is to extend that to every area of our lives that may exclude certain groups of people. So perhaps we should prohibit the Hershey Company from manufacturing any more candies, since these products clearly exclude the diabetics who cannot safely consume them. Or perhaps we should ban all competitive athletics, since these clearly exclude paraplegics and others with physical limitations. And while we are at it, perhaps I should never again take my wife on a vacation for two, since that would clearly exclude my three children.

      It seems to me that your exclusion/non-exclusion argument basically boils down to a plea for “fairness.” The simple fact of the matter is that we are all created with different abilities and we develop different likes and dislikes and differing beliefs. Because we live in a country where we are free to develop such differences, there will always be a natural exclusion to virtually anything we do. The fact that a student’s (or teacher’s or administrator’s) prayer, to a God they have chosen to believe in, excluded you is irrelevant. You are free to believe in that God or not and, should you ever be chosen to speak at a graduation, you are free to mention Him or not. But the fact that you have chosen not to believe in Him does not give you a right to restrict the speech of someone who has any more than my three year old has the right to demand that I not take mommy away for the weekend.

  9. Brandon
    A beautiful response!! I just returned from a graduation ceremony in Texas . I was floored that there was a disclaimer on the back of the program. From what I hear it is common at school events.

    Well, I now understand why….it’s to protect us from the “Mr. Bryant’s” out there!! Md

  10. Thank you for your words!!! So many of us feel the same way, but just keep quiet…proud of you for speaking out for our God! BJ Pope

  11. Thank you Brandon Nichol’s for your words of wisdom! Let us pray they don’t fall on deaf ears! Keep up your good works and may God bless your efforts!

  12. It is a well thought out response but I have issue with this:

    “To advocate for the absence of God from a ceremony that has traditionally included prayers, is to advocate for a particular stance on a religious issue.”

    “The request seems to be for the school board to advocate an atheist position over any other belief system.”

    This really isn’t true. He is advocating for there to be no mention of any gods in the ceremony. He isn’t saying the ceremony should include a statement against religion, merely that there shouldn’t be any statement on religion (positive or negative) mentioned in the speech or ceremony.

    • You are missing the point. Graduation in this country does traditionally include prayer. So to remove the prayer is to advocate that something is wrong with having the prayer. The Act is a negative statement in and of its self.

    • Who is he or anyone outside of Houston County to say WE shouldn’t have any statements mentioning religion (positive or negative) at OUR ceremonies or speeches.

      That should be left up to those of us who pay taxes and have children who attend HC schools. We’ve not had a problem in the past with public prayers so why should WE have to change b/c 1 person who doesn’t live in OUR county didn’t like it!! I don’t hear the parents of that student complaining!!

      • I agree with Michelle, too. First, it makes me mad that an outsiders voice is getting so much attention. Plus, I think Brandon explained how MANY of us feel. The seperation of church and state is and was so different that what MOST people think.

    • I agree with Michelle.
      Regardless of the matter. Why should an entire county, city, or state change their traditions for one or few people? This is a country that is based on “In God We Trust.” I pray Wes Bryant and anyone else with his beliefs gets a clue and on the right track before their judgement day, because then you WILL believe in God whether you wanted to or not..

  13. Very well said my friend! It is not a right to have any one religion or view pressed on others, but rather for each of us to believe as we see fit. Forcing one view on all of us would limit the freedoms of everyone involved.

    • Wes, He is advocating for the atheist viewpoint over any other if he is advocating for the school board to disallow any mention of religion. By definition, that is advocating for his viewpoint.

      Josh, How, exactly, are you any less free if I make mention of a God that I have chosen to serve in a public speech during which you are a member of the audience?

      • Not what I was saying Brian! In fact the opposite was meant. I was saying that if the school board were to accept only one viewpoint and refuse all others it would limit the freedoms of all involved.

        It would do so because no one could express any other view than the one accepted by the board. The Athiest may lose freedoms he doesn’t necessarily care about, but he lost them nonetheless.

        I am a follower of Christ and would not agree with the statements made about religion by an Athiest, but that does not mean he does not have the right to speak. It is up to each individual to choose to accept or reject the words spoken by their peers, not some group of people on a board to mandate the form of such a decision.

        Sorry if this was unclear.

    • My initial statements were made toward Brandon Nichols, not Wes. I grew up down the street from Brandon and know him well. I understand where the confusion came from now Brian. Posted to the wrong spot. Lol….

      • Josh,

        Not a problem. I apologize for misunderstanding your initial comments. By the time I got to your comments, it was about 1AM and, to be honest, I was very frustrated with some of the comments on here. By the ime I got to your comments I was ready to defend Brandon’s points against anybody. And I don’t even know him.:) Anyway, I truly apologize for the confusion. Thanks for supporting Brandon and his cause.

  14. While I do see why both sides would get upset over the situation, I do not believe I can side with Mr.Nichols. I agree that atheism is a statement on religion, however, it does not hold any repercussions with the surrounding world. A non-believer that attends a ceremony where there are overt religious messages will feel uncomfortable, while if a believer attended a ceremony that left out religious messages, well I believe that person will be unchanged. They will go about their own business, and when its appropriate, they will have their time for prayer, outside of a public (should be secular) ceremony. By leaving out prayer, the system is not advocating atheism. it is simply allowing for the freedom of will. To appease most people, I think ceremonies such as the one mentioned should be secular, and if need be, allow for a moment of silence, a moment where any belief is welcome. Leaving out Christian prayer does not mean taking on an atheistic view, the two are not opposite of each other as you say they are. If the ceremony went on without the prayer, I don’t think there would be arguments for its inclusion after-the-fact, and that’s where I see the problem. Believers would go on with their life, continuing to say grace at dinner or attending services that Sunday. While I think biting your tongue and respecting other peoples beliefs is the grown up thing to do, I honestly don’t think Christians would be huffing and puffing after if they didn’t include a prayer, they would probably not notice because I think we all innately expect public ceremonies to be secular.To make everyone happy, just leave any trace of religion out of these things, so arguments don’t even have to start.

    • If you do not think that atheism holds any repercussions then you do not understand what it means to be a believer. A believer wants and needs God to be in their entire life. It is not something that they turn off and on. Now if someone is truelly an atheist then why would an overt religious message make them feel uncomfortable. It seems to me that they are the ones who would be unchanged. After all they believe there is no God. Also Graduation has traditionally included prayer of some type. So to remove it now would cause a problem. After all we would not be having this discuion otherwise. Our founders(who wrote the Constitution) did not expect public cerimonies to be secular. God was included in almost all ceremonies. From the swearing in of our elected officials to the signing of the Decaration of Indepenance. Alot of these men were not even Christian either they where deist.

    • Olivia, I appreciate your attempt a civility. However, I must take issue with several of the points you make.

      First, I do believe you are correct that most Christians would not be offended if they attended a speach and the speaker chose not to mention God. However, there is a huge difference between a speaker making that choice and a school board (or any other government entity) disallowing any such mention. Any speaker at such a forum should be allowed to make reference to their God, or Allah, or whatever, or no mention at all. The fact that people may be excluded or offended is irrelevent. No one is trying to convert anyone here. But to publically thank a God one has chosen to serve should never be disallowed.

      Second, on what evidence are you basing the assumption that most people will be appeased if all public ceremonies are secular by rule. Is it not at least possible that the majority of people would prefer for speakers to be allowed to thank their God? Similarly, what makes you believe that everyone will be happy if all traces of religion are left out of such ceremonies or that all people “inately expect public ceremonies to be secular?” On this I simply reject the premise.

      Finally, Mr Nichols does not claim that leaving out a Christian prayer is paramount to advocating Atheism. He does contend, as I have, that disallowing any such reference to religion, Christian or not, is the same as advocating an atheistic worldview. I know that is somewhat nuanced, but leaving something out and disallowing it altogether are to very different things.

  15. Don’t you think it’s a little ironic that a member of a majority view (Christianity) which has for centuries held a monopoly over American legislative interpretation until recently, is accusing a minority opinion (secular/atheist) of trying to have its worldview adopted/advocated by the government? I’m not saying which is ultimately right or wrong in every circumstance, but one holds a history of oppression and discrimination in many (but not all) cases throughout U.S. history, and the other is some kind of call, no matter how bitter or well-crafted the argument, for an equal playing field. The writer of this letter has a good point from his perspective, but is ignoring the power dynamic that his religious status immutably holds in the U.S. In case anyone doubts that, just think of how many openly atheist or secular politicians get elected to public office. Almost none, and certainly no presidents. The stigma against secularists is so strong that the American majority doesn’t trust them with governance, despite what the First Amendment attempts to say.

    • Christianity is the “norm” in America because that is the belief system that the country was founded on. Do you expect Christians to not stand up for their belief? That would be asking someone to not stand up for who they are. It’s the same in both cases. People stand up for what they believe whether or not it is the majority belief. They stand up for it because they believe it is true. Your argument really does not hold any significance in it. Plus, that is not what Brandon is hitting on at all in this letter.

      To hit on the accusation that American’s do not trust the secular candidates in government, Christians have morals that most secularist do not and I as an American citizen want my government to hold to those basic and good morals as they run the country I am a part of. Interesting points though!

      • Incorrect; this country was NOT founded on Christianity. In fact, in the Treaty of Tripoli it is expressly stated that this is NOT a Christian nation. Our founding fathers were mostly agnostic, deist, or what counted for atheist in their time. There were one or two who could be considered “religious.”

        This country was founded on the ideals of both religious freedom and the separation of church and state. I explain more in my reply to this letter below.

      • As an addition, addressing the comment about morals you brought up, “Christian” morals vs “atheist” morals is a completely irrelevant debate. With a little research, or just some plain observation, it’s easy to see that morals do not come from any holy book but rather are innately within us. It has nothing to do with religious views, or lack thereof.

        If we went strictly by “Christian morals,” people would still be stoned to death for wearing fabrics containing two different materials, planting two different crops in a field, for disobeying parents, etc. And the argument that these don’t count because they’re Old Testament is irrelevant too for two reasons: 1) the basis for discriminating against homosexuals is taken from the Old Testament and 2) how did people decide that these “morals” were bad, and the ones in the New Testament were “good?”

        How do we decide which bible stories are “true” and which are “allegorical?” How do we decide which “morals” to believe and which “don’t apply anymore?”

        The Christian morals that secularists do not have include bigotry and murder for holding different beliefs. If you don’t believe that, feel free to read your Bible. Both secularists and most religious people believe that it is generally good to treat others kindly, to help others, to not kill others, and to not steal from others. These are things that help us as a society to grow and prosper. These are moral beliefs that are innate not only to humanity but also to animals. For the same reasons that animals group in packs, humans group in societies.

      • “With a little research, or just some plain observation, it’s easy to see that morals do not come from any holy book but rather are innately within us.”

        Christina,
        The Bible actually agrees with you regarding this statement. Romans 2:15 says, “…the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness…” The idea is that God created us in His image with the ability to discern right and wrong. Morality is innate because God has written it on our hearts.

        In a worldview that does not believe in God, where does an innate morality come from? Who or what wrote an understanding of right and wrong on our hearts?

      • The first statement in this response is false. PLEASE do your research on the founding fathers.. I am so tired of people using this misconception as a fall back argument. During the enlightenment period, most educated people were DEIST and despised organized religion!

      • Brandon,

        This is the first time in my life I’ve ever heard a religious person agree that morals do not come directly from the Bible. As far as where they come from, I touched on that in my reply to you below. Behaviours that we as humans see as morally correct have been observed in animals and can be shown to be a part of natural selection. Altruism has been observed in certain bird species as a mating mechanism; the birds who can afford to give their food to others, or who will put themselves in danger as the lookout for predators while others eat, show themselves as better possibilities for mates. They show themselves as stronger and more able to gather food and protect themselves and their mates, and therefore are seen as better mates. Reciprocal altruism has been observed, as one example, in the case of small fish feeding off the organisms that attach to larger fish. The smaller fish is fed, and the larger fish gets rid of these parasites. The instinct to protect one’s family and offspring can be seen in lions, if I remember correctly, and can also be seen in animals that run in packs. An animal preserving its family preserves its genes and helps to guarantee the genes will be passed on, and an animal preserving its pack preserves genes that they have accepted as good and helps to guarantee they will be passed on. Stealing and murder in the animal kingdom are just as generally unacceptable as in human society, as thievery makes it more difficult for the victim to continue to thrive (especially in the case of the theft of food) and murder puts an end to an individual therefore disallowing their genes to be passed on.

        More information on observed development of what we see as moral behaviour can be read in chapter 6 (The Roots of Morality: Why are we Good?) of Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. While you may not agree with his overall position, it is definitely a good read. There is also a discussion of morality’s origins as non-religious here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnXmDaI8IEo

        The book chapter is a quick read – just under 20 pages – and the video is just under an hour, but these men can explain my arguments much more clearly.

      • Christina,
        Let me further clarify the Biblical position on this issue. Obviously, you might personally disagree with the following statements, but please remember I’m simply trying to articulate a Biblical worldview. The Bible teaches that God reveals himself to people in two distinct ways, general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is the truth that God reveals to all people in all places. Creation is a form of general revelation. The ordered, consistent, and purposeful design of the world, the Bible teaches, points to an ordered, consistent, purposeful designer or Creator. Observation of the physical world displays the beauty, wonder, majesty, and power of a Creator. This would include the teleological argument (design reflects a designer) and the cosmological argument (causality, or first cause) for the existence of God.

        Conscience would be another form of general revelation. While the specifics of morality might vary from culture to culture, people do have a sense of right and wrong, justice, fairness, and love. For instance, not all cultures agree on the particulars of sexual ethics, but most would agree that you can not have sex with whoever you want to, whether its someone else’s wife, children, or animals. Another example, is taking the life of another person, while there may be some nuances involving self defense or war or, even, sport, in general cultures have rules protecting lives. This sense of morality, the Bible teaches, is innate because it is God given and, therefore, our own hearts testify to us that there is some sort of rule or standard giver. C.S. Lewis calls this argument the Natural Moral Law and does a fantastic job outlining it in “Mere Christianity.”

        Special revelation is the truth that God reveals to particular people at a particular time. The aim of special (sometimes referred to as particular) revelation is relationship. Special revelation would include the Bible, which contains God’s specific rules for a relationship with him and proper relationships with others. All humans have a general sense of justice, the Bible specifically describes how to live justly. All people have a general idea about proper sexual relationships, the Bible explains the specifics of sexual ethics. When people say that morality comes from the Bible, this is what they mean. The Bible explains God’s specific requirements for how we must live. The Bible does not establish morality, God does. The Bible is God’s revelation to us of what his moral expectations are of us.

        Now this leads to a concept that even many Christians are not clear on. The purpose of the law in the Old Testament is NOT to justify us before God, but to show us that our relationship with God is broken. Remember, special revelation is always about relationship. The ten commandments are an incredibly basic moral code, but upon further investigation it is apparent that we have difficulty following even the most basic commands. Jesus teaches that when we have anger in our heart toward another person, it is the same as murder and looking lustfully at someone is that same as adultery (Mt 5:21-30). Repeatedly we find the ‘heroes’ of the Bible falling short of God’s standard. Abraham lies (Gen 20), Jacob deceives his father (Gen 27) and steals from his brother(Gen 25), the patriarchs of the 12 tribes sell their brother Joseph into slavery (Gen 37), Moses is a murderer (Ex 2), David is an adulterer and arranges a murder (2 Sam 11), Solomon is worships idols for political gain (1 Kings 11), and the list goes on and on. Why would a holy book contain stories of its heroes being anything but holy? Because the Bible is not a set of rules that if you obey God will be happy with you. The Bible contains a set of rules that expose us for who we are, people who fall desperately short of God’s standard for our lives and by doing so we will incur God’s just judgment for our sin. In this way the Bible is unlike most other holy books. It is not simply a prescription of how we must live, but more so a exposition of the motivations of our heart that causes us to ask, “Is there any hope for me?” (This concept is explained in Rms. 7, Gal 3).

        Which leads to one more special revelation. The Bible also says that Jesus is God’s ultimate special revelation to us. Hebrews 1:1-3 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…” In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God is showing us exactly who He is and what He is like. The Bible teaches that Jesus lived a perfect life while on earth, the life that God required of me, but I could never live. Jesus was put to death on the cross as a substitute, facing the death penalty of my sin for me, in my place. Jesus rose from the dead, proving that He is who He said He was, and that He did what He claimed He would do. Jesus took my punishment in my place, so that I could be made right with God (2 Cor 5:21).

        So if you are still reading and not completely bored out of your mind here is why I think this story of the Bible is important for our conversation.

        1) I think this innate sense of morality, or the Nature Moral Law, is one of the strongest proofs of God’s existence.
        2) It is most clearly seen at work, when you are the offended party. No one quibbles about the origins, validity, or absolute-ness ( I think I just invented a word) of morality when it’s your sister that was raped or when your lunch money was stolen or when your sensiblities have been offended. We simply demand that the other person has knowingly violated a standard and they must make it right. It is one of those things that is so true that we rarely notice it.
        3) Maybe you are different than me, but birds sharing and fish being altruistic seems very far way from the deep sense of justice, fairness, and rightness that I find inside myself. Does Dawkins or another author you know of explain this process? I would say niceness in the name of self preservation is different from the morality that most people live by.
        4) If our morality is truly just evolved behavior based on the need to survive and propagate, then we are the most deceived of all creatures. We live our lives looking for love that does not exist. We strive for purpose and meaning that can not be found. We are awestruck by beauty, long for good art and respond to moving music only because of a chemical reaction in our minds. Right? Our experience with love is just a conditioned biological response somehow necessary for our survival (or the survival of our ancestors).
        5) And what I find even more unimaginable is that people who know we are just chemical reactions and conditioned biological responses could live this life pretending that they haven’t seen behind the curtain. Live like they don’t know it is all a ruse.
        6) So, I believe this crazy story the Bible teaches. I see the imprint of God on humanity, a people made in the very image of God. I see this Natural Moral Law at work all around me. I find Jesus compelling, and when I read the gospels I sense that I am interacting with deep, life altering truth.

        I hope this explanation of a Biblical worldview of morality helps. I’m sure you’ve heard a least portions of it before. I’m intrigued by the conversation and I’m anxious to hear more about your position. I’m familiar with some of Dawkins’ work, but I’ll definitely read what you’ve suggested. Thanks, Brandon.

      • Brandon,

        Your answer was an interesting read. A few of the points you brought up I have heard before, but there were a lot of things that I hadn’t heard before when hearing the religious view of the origins of morality. I appreciate you taking the time to further explain. While I don’t think we’ll really agree on the origins, it seems that we do both agree that morality is innately within us.

        Addressing some of the bullet points you have at the end of your reply:
        1) I don’t see us agreeing on this point; where you see this as a proof for God, I simply see it as a result of evolution of both humans and society. I do understand the reasons why you see this as a proof for your god though after reading through your post.

        2) I completely agree. It seems like our personal morals are often taken for granted, too, until they’re violated (knowingly or unknowingly) by another person).

        3) Dawkins does explain this a little in his chapter, and for further explanation I’ve been recommended “Moral Minds: The Nature of Right and Wrong” by Marc Hauser and “Freedom Evolves” by Daniel Dennett. Dawkins’ chapter on morality was based in part off of the first book. I recommend these books hesitantly, though, as I have yet to read more than excerpts from them, although they’re both next on my reading list.

        4&5) I wholeheartedly disagree that an evolved sense of morality rather than a divinely inspired sense leads to us being deceived creatures. As I see it, our purpose and meaning in life are what we make it. My chosen purpose in life is to help make others’ lives better and safer, and I’ve chosen a career path to further that purpose. The people I know and love in my life give it meaning. Love may be just a chemical reaction in the brain, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful of a feeling. The beauty of music and art are indeed only chemical reactions in our mind, but that does not diminish the happiness they provide. For example, I know that a rainbow is simply water particles in the air refracting the sunlight, but knowing how it works doesn’t make it any less beautiful to me. Knowing how wonders like Niagara Falls or The Cave in the Mounds formed over thousands or millions of years didn’t make them take any less of my breath away when I saw them with my own eyes. I think I can safely speak for many of the people who share the same beliefs as I do that seeing behind the curtain doesn’t diminish the amazement we have at the world and universe around us. In fact, looking at the statistical improbabilities we see all around us makes everything even more precious to me. To be completely honest, I’m a much happier person now than when I followed Catholicism. Knowing how different forces in the world work based on scientific observation leaves me with an even greater sense of awe than knowing that the world’s strings are being pulled by a deity. Knowing that we just happen to be on a planet that has just the right elements to sustain and create life that stays just the right distances from a star that burns at just the right temperature leaves me with a much bigger sense of awe than knowing that an intelligent creator made everything this way. The thing here though is that beauty is subjective. While you may find it beautiful that this world was created just for us by a designer who loves and cares for us, I find it beautiful that we are made up of the same materials that our planet and our bodies are made of, the same elements that stars are made of and spew out – that we are literally stardust. “Seeing behind the curtain” doesn’t necessarily lessen beauty or make all of life seem pointless; it simply redefines beauty and purpose and meaning.

        6) For your last point, it’s simply a difference in worldview and belief systems. Where you see influences of God and evidence of Natural Moral Law, I simply see the result of people’s choices and thousands of years of evolution. Our differing belief systems lead us to interpret what we see a little differently.

    • I never mentioned anything about the founding fathers. I was clearly stating that our country has been filled with a majority of Christians since the start which I researched on this website, http://www.forerunner.com/forerunner/X0192_America_-_A_Christia.html if i am wrong or this website has wrong quotes, I look forward to your debate on this topic. I never claimed that our founding fathers claimed christianity at all. Please try to understand my side of the argument instead of jumping at me about claims that I never made.

      My point about Christians being able to stand up for their beliefs whether we are the majority or not still stands and you did not try to discuss anything about the points I actually did make, but the claims that you assumed I made that I did not. So I did not have a false statement, because instead of debating respectfully with me you have both made a claim for me that I never made.

      Christina, I am so sorry that the christians you have talked to say that the Old Testament does not matter anymore because they obviously do not understand the bible and are speaking out of pure ignorance. The Old Testament and New Testament form a complete text and one would not exist without the other. They are both significant and I accept both as truth. The rules in the Old Testament were meant to set a part the jewish people from the other people groups. God was teaching them that it was not okay for His people to follow certain patterns that other cultures were deeming okay. He was setting His people a part.

      When Jesus came, which is recorded in the New Testament, He made a new covenant with God’s people. God made His law in the Old Testament out of love, not out of mindless obedience or trying to be the rude man up in the sky trying to make people live His way. God created the world and therefore knows how it works best and was helping His people to live the way that was best. The people, sinful in nature, took His rules to a different level. The great moral principles God had given to Moses in the Ten Commandments had been turned into hundreds of ceremonial rules. People thought they were living holy lives if they just obeyed all those rules. But many people found enough “loopholes” to obey all the rules and still live wicked and greedy lives. That is when Jesus made a new covenant and made following God not about all of those rules, but about the heart and our intentions.

      The teachings of Jesus, the Old Testament laws, and other New Testament teachings (John 1:16-17, Acts 13:39, Romans 2:25-29, 8:1-4, 1 Corinthians 9:19-21, Galatians 2:15-16, Ephesians 2:15) make it clear that Christians are not required to follow the Old Testament rules about crimes and punishments, warfare, slavery, diet, circumcision, sacrifice, feast days, Sabbath observance, ritual cleanness, etc. Christians still look to the Old Testament scripture for moral and spiritual guidance (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But when there seems to be a conflict between Old Testament laws and New Testament principles, we must follow the New Testament because it represents the most recent and most perfect revelation from God (Hebrews 8:13, 2 Corinthians 3:1-18, Galatians 2:15-20).

      However, freedom from the Old Testament Law is not a license for Christians to relax their moral standards. The moral and ethical teachings of Jesus and His apostles call for even greater self-discipline than those of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-42, 43-48, 7:1-5, 15:18-19, 25:37-40, Mark 7:21-23, 12:28-31, Luke 12:15, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Galatians 5:19-21, James 1:27, 2:15-16, 1 John 3:17-19).

      Now that I have hopefully made that clear to you about the Old Testament and the New Testament. I hope that helped you to understand that better. I made the claim that Christians normally have the morals that I trust more for running the country I am a part of because I do not believe that abortion is right and I do not believe that same-sex marriage should be legalized. I do not judge those who make those decisions but that is just the belief that I have, so obviously those that I would want to run this country are the ones that believe the same. Which is how the majority of America believes too which is why christians are most likely to get elected. There are other morals too that christians have about putting others first instead of looking out for yourself before others… I mean the list could go on and on.

      I do read my bible every day and attend many studies on the bible that I cling to and believe is 100% true. If you have any place where the bible says to kills others that do not believe in God then please show me.. I cannot find a single example for the accusation you have placed against my religion. Christianity teaches about kindness towards others (Ephesians 4:32, I John 4:7-8, 2 Peter 1:7) Please show me an example in the bible of Jesus commanding his believers to kill others that do not believe the same, because I cannot find that anywhere.

      Again, I hope you know that my tone here is respectful and firm in the beliefs that I have. I look forward to hearing your response. Thank you for responding.

      • I understand you did not specifically mention the founding fathers, but you did state that this country was founded on Christianity, which is incorrect. Not only was this country founded on the principles of religious freedom, but it was also founded on the beliefs of separating church and state.

        Your link’s facts are indeed correct, although mostly irrelevant. What people were planning to do, or people’s personal beliefs, really doesn’t change the fact that this nation was not founded as Christian. Some states did initially declare their own governments as allied with a specific religion, which helped to lead to part of the First Amendment which prevented the government from favoring a religion. Also keep in mind that deism – belief in an impersonal creator who basically created the universe then stopped paying attention to anything in it – was fairly popular, and referencing a Creator in the Declaration does NOT equate to referencing the Christian god. Many Christians use the Declaration’s reference to a Creator as proof of the country’s Christian origins, but they are giving it context that just isn’t there. There is no reference of the Christian god. Many people of that time believed basically nature was their “god,” or like Einstein believed that the universe was created and then developed and evolved on its own. The fact that many states required a specific religion was also a problem for many of the founding fathers who saw how preference of one religious sect over another caused excessive discrimination in England, which was also an impetus for separating church and state in the USA. This is examined to an extent here: http://www.alternet.org/belief/155946/the_ungodly_constitution%3A_how_the_founders_ensured_america_would_not_be_a_christian_nation/?page=entire

        I don’t mean this in any disrespectful way, but this is pretty much exactly why I never look to theist-based publications (the Forerunner is Christian-based) because every single time I find that the authors will either misinterpret statements to use them to support their own argument, or use completely irrelevant facts to support their own point, or cherry-pick facts and only mention those that uphold their own argument and ignore the ones that refute their side. While many, but not all, of the things in the article you noted are factual, this does not point to the founding of the US as a Christian nation. Our founding fathers realized how much of an issue this preference of sects were, and tried to help curb it.

        You can see an unbiased explanation of the founding fathers here: http://www.earlyamerica.com/review/summer97/secular.html This country was NOT founded on the Christian belief system; it was founded on the ideas of separation of church and state and religious freedom, because the founding fathers recognized the excessive discrimination and oppression that resulted from a government favoring a specific sect or religion like in England.

        One thing cited in the above link is the Treaty of Tripoli, which specifically states “As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion…” in the beginning. Regardless of the intentions for looking for new land, or the personal beliefs of the people founding it, or even the laws set in place by individual states, this country was not founded as a Christian nation.

        Addressing one of your next points: ” I do not believe that abortion is right and I do not believe that same-sex marriage should be legalized. I do not judge those who make those decisions but that is just the belief that I have, so obviously those that I would want to run this country are the ones that believe the same. Which is how the majority of America believes too which is why christians are most likely to get elected.”

        I respect that you don’t judge people who make these decisions, but the biggest issues I have with religious politicians is they attempt to have laws passed based on their religious beliefs. Banning abortion and same-sex marriage because one does not believe it is moral according to one’s religion is unconstitutional, and this is what many theists do not understand. Creating laws based on one specific religious belief hinders the rights to personal and religious freedoms for people who don’t follow that religion. Many politicians, pro-life advocates, and anti-gay-marriage advocates cite nothing but religious reasons for why these are “wrong,” which again is unconstitutional.

        In fact, statistical analysis of both abortion and same-sex marriage actually show that both would be beneficial, or at the very least not harmful, to our society.

        http://www.freakonomics.com/2005/05/15/abortion-and-crime-who-should-you-believe/ – this article examines how legalized and readily available abortions can lower the crime rate. In one of my criminal justice classes last year we had an entire discussion on just this. Not only did crime in states that had easy access to abortions have a 30% decline in crime (when those aborted would have been at peak crime age), but there was also a decline in things such as teen drug use and teen pregnancy. The article goes into a bit more detail about all of this.

        http://www.reddit.com/r/DebateAnAtheist/comments/pzzm8/update_1_samesex_marriage_debate_any_flaws_with/ – the person who created this thread shares many of the same arguments I would put forth, including many of the same sources I have bookmarked for debates on same-sex marriage. I would like to quote a couple specific lines, too, that sum up the entire argument rather succinctly: “Marriage predates organised religion, it predates reliable recorded history, and exists today as a legal contract, for atheists and theists alike, whatever the additional implications theists may choose to associate with it. People are free to disagree with gay marriage but to use the government to prevent it is to violate the rights of homosexuals to exercise freedom of thought and association and have security of the person.” In addition, 11 countries already allow same-sex marriages country-wide. You may find some of the information on the Wikipedia page interesting, especially the information about the history of same-sex marriages: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage

        I know that the above two issues were not technically related to the rest of the post, but I felt they were important to address because they definitely fall into a debate about morals. While some theists feel both are morally wrong, there is nothing to suggest that either are wrong in actuality – the only reasons I have seen against both of these issues have been strictly religious and therefore should have no pull or sway over a government decision. Additionally, making decisions based on a specific religion limits the rights and freedoms of people who don’t follow that religion.

        “If you have any place where the bible says to kills others that do not believe in God then please show me.. I cannot find a single example for the accusation you have placed against my religion. … Please show me an example in the bible of Jesus commanding his believers to kill others that do not believe the same, because I cannot find that anywhere.”

        2 Chron 15:12-13 They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with their hearts and souls; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman.(Anyone who doesn’t seek the Christian God)

        Lev 20:27 A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them. (Wiccans, a few other pagan religions with spirit familiars or who use “magic”)

        Lev 24:16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death. (Anyone who blasphemes, which is practically every nonbeliever, and quite a few believers)

        Ex 22:18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. (Wiccans, a few other pagan religions)

        Ex 22:20 He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed (Any religion that sacrifices to anyone but the Christian God)

        Ex 31:14 Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death (Anyone working on the Sabbath, including both nonbelievers and believers)

        Not to mention that all through the bible there are stories of followers of the Abrahamic God going through different lands and destroying those who didn’t believe in him. More than once the bible shows that any who don’t believe in the Christian God should be put to death (and have been put to death in the stories).

    • Caroline,
      I do understand the power dynamic. I apologize if you personally have ever been wronged by someone who claimed to represent Jesus. Please know my intent is not to fight to maintain power, but simply to point out what I believe to be inconsistency in Mr. Bryant’s and the FFRF’s position.

  16. WOW… What an awesome letter/response. Not that I ever agreed with the person/people complaining, but this letter actually made me realize even more reasons why I disagree with them. Way to go Brandon!

  17. A very well written letter, thank you. I am an 1982 graduate myself, glad to call you alumni.
    You noticed he is not pushing for an equal footing but his own belief to be followed, but for what reason? Does he have any connection to the school or is he just one of those that travel around and cause problems. I’m all for equality, give him the same amount of time for his graduating child to recognize their religion. No child? No time. This is a celebration not a forum, go debate and cause problems somewhere else.

  18. This is precisely what I wanted to say when I first learned of the complaint. I just didn’t have the talent to express myself the way you so excellently did. I was too upset that 4 people, out of the literally thousands that attended the ceremonies, should have that kind of influence. And at least one of them doesn’t even live in Georgia, let alone Houston County.

    You have my vote to be the Houston County Board of Education’s responder to these ridiculous charges. In fact, I think you should challenge the whole separation of church & state that has led this country to have one of the highest per capita rate of prison inmates.

    Please don’t let anyone change Houston County’s graduation ceremonies. My son graduates in 2 years and I want a similar ceremony for him. The Perry High ceremony was amazingly beautiful and moved me to tears when the faculty encircled the graduates in a prayer of love. How could anyone object to that kind of loving send-off???????

  19. I’m surprised no one has pointed out yet that you mis-quoted the constitution. Please take note that neither the words “Freedom from religion” nor “Freedom of religion” exist in the actual quoted text (see below). I believe that the actual text further supports your argument and I encourage to continue to fight the good fight. This is a very well written letter and I hope that it receives the attention it deserves. We are very much a nation of squeaky wheels and it is always encouraging to see truth coming from the silent majority.

    “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.”

  20. Brandon, I am very proud to call you my youth pastor. You speak the truth in love and with conviction. I know that not everyone will agree with this, but we were not called into this world to have everyone agree with us. I hope that a chosen few will be changed by your words. Thank you for always teaching me new things even when not intended.

  21. Very well put , although in all fairness if we are going to pray to Jehovah we need to allow others to pray or hold the right not to ! I say pray to whatever god you want or don’t want because I know the God who answers by fire !!! And in dealing with an atheist or any other worldview I think we should always do it with love and humility and it seems like you have done so look forward to hearing the outcome

    • Thanks David! I would agree with you, also. A student from another religious background should be able to pray accordingly. If an atheist student is in the position to be asked to lead a prayer at graduation he or she should have the right to refuse.

  22. Mr Nichols,

    As you have posted your response letter publicly, I assume that opens it up to responses from others. I would like to make a few comments on some of the points you brought up.

    Firstly, there is your definition of an atheist which is slightly off. Atheism is not the belief that a god does not exist, but rather the lack of a belief in a deity. Small point, but important, as the textbook definition of an atheist is what you stated but this does not reflect the atheist population. The vast majority of atheists are agnostic atheists, which means that we recognize current science and technology cannot definitively prove the existence (or lack thereof) of a deity, BUT we believe it’s most probable that there is no deity pulling the world’s strings based on what we can observe. I also don’t agree with you saying that atheism is a statement on religion. It’s the same concept as saying that not believing Obama exists is a political statement; it’s simply disbelieving in the idea of a dogma.

    In your next paragraph, I do agree that actively advocating removal of religion from public (and government-sponsored) activities definitely is taking a stance on religious issues. But, I completely disagree with your next point. Mr. Bryant is indeed campaigning for legality and fairness, and I will explain further by addressing your following paragraphs.

    The one major point I think you missed is that while the Constitution protects your right to worship whatever you want to worship, it does NOT give the right for a school district to organize a graduation ceremony around religious beliefs. If I understood correctly, the superintendent not only gave his speech encouraging faith in God, but the school also had a gospel singer sing a strongly Christian song.

    The biggest problem with this is that the superintendent is a representative of the government, and therefore this is seen as government endorsement of a religion – Christianity. This is expressly against the Constitution. My younger sister graduated last month, and one of the student speeches had a faintly religious tone; as an atheist, it bothered me a little but that’s the student’s right to believe what he wants. Now, if the superintendent of the district (an extension of the government) had encouraged faith in HIS speech to the students, I would have been calling the district to complain. There is a huge difference between a student sharing his beliefs and the superintendent encouraging his.

    For your last point, I would love to explain this. While I cannot speak for everyone who shares my beliefs (or rather lack thereof), I can share my personal reflections. For me, the difference lies in the fact that the vast majority of people understand that the tooth fairy and the easter bunny do not exist; they help with fun things for kids, but as we grow up we recognize that they are imaginary. The anger does not stem simply from a student praying to a god, but rather the fact that in America people generally don’t follow the religious freedom amendment. Atheists are the most mistrusted and hated minority in America. In fact, even with all of the debate going on about homosexuals, more people in the US would be likely to vote for a gay president than an atheist. (http://www.gallup.com/poll/26611/some-americans-reluctant-vote-mormon-72yearold-presidential-candidates.aspx)

    The problem is that religious people, most notably those under the Christian umbrella and believers in Islam, are extremely intolerant of nonbelievers. Of course there are exceptions, and many of my friends are both religious and nondiscriminatory, but generally speaking religious people are intolerant of the nonreligious. Consider this from the other side of the argument – if the superintendent had actively encouraged denying God’s existence, I’d bet a considerable sum of money that a large number of people in attendance would have complained to the district. Perhaps you personally would not have, but I could almost guarantee that the district would still receive many complaints.

    In addition to being mistrusted and hated by the Christian/Islam majority in the US, atheists are actively alienated in some communities. On a message board I am a part of, I see stories almost every single day from kids, usually 14-18 or thereabouts, who are struggling with their atheism. They do not believe that a deity exists, and they made the mistake of telling someone they love. I’ve read stories of kids being kicked out of their homes by their religious parents, or being shunned by their religious parents, or being picked on and beaten up at school by religious classmates, banned from social activities at churches by religious leaders, being dumped by a religious boy/girlfriend or husband/wife…all simply because they don’t believe there’s an invisible man in the sky. Then there are the soldiers, like Mr. Bryant. People who risk their lives to protect America’s rights to things like freedom of speech and religious freedom, only to be treated like a second class citizen because they don’t believe there’s an invisible man in the sky. To people like that, having the superintendent of the school – again, a representative of the government – actively encourage belief in a deity is nothing less than a swift kick in the face.

    Addressing your conclusion paragraph, from what I’ve seen your first statement is backwards. The single biggest argument I see for the repression of atheists is that this is a Christian nation founded on Christian morals, and in many religious debates I’ve been in the Constitution’s amendment for religious freedom is always claimed by the theist. Religious people use the freedom of religion amendment to try to force their religion on others. A prime example would be the teaching of creation along with science classes. I’m not going to address this any further, as it’s an entirely different can of worms, but here the Constitution is being used to further the Christian Creationist agenda.

    For your next point, the thing is that most people don’t realize that freedom OF religion is also freedom FROM religion. They are one in the same. You have the right to believe what you do. I have the right to believe what I do. No government entity should ever tell us any different. This brings us back to the central point – the superintendent, as a representative of the government, cannot endorse a religion publicly at a graduation ceremony.

    As a citizen of this country, I also feel very strongly that fairness and freedom should be upheld. As such, I wholeheartedly support a secular government. This country was founded both on the idea of religious freedom AND on the idea of the separation of church and state. Out of all of our founding fathers, maybe one or two were actually religious; the majority were agnostic, deist, or what counted as atheist for the time. They believed strongly that religion had no place in the government. This is the idea behind having a secular government. The government cannot, and should not, endorse any single belief or lack of belief. Just as a government official can not encourage faith in the Christian God, s/he also cannot encourage faith in Allah, Buddah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. S/he cannot encourage prayer to any deity, or adherence to any holy book. S/he also cannot encourage people to deny a deity.

    The problem with religion is that it is a sticky subject. Everyone has different opinions on it, and those opinions come from many different places. Allowing the superintendent of the school to advocate faith in a God is a violation of the Constitution. Having the school provide a gospel singer to sing a religious song to those gathered is a violation of the Constitution. Just as having the superintendent advocating atheism would be a violation of the Constitution.

    I hope this addresses the concerns you had regarding Mr. Bryant’s complaint. If not, I would be happy to discuss further.

    • If our founding fathers truly believed strongly that religion had no place in government or that a government representative cannot endorse a religion then why did they do so during many of their public speeches. I think you should go and read a few of Ben Franklin’s and George Washington’s speeches and then rethink your position. Yes they were Deist. The purpose of the 1st amendment was to keep the government from persecuting someone for their religious beliefs, which was one of the main reasons many people came to this new world.

    • Christina,

      I am not sure where to begin, so I suppose I will start at the top. First, atheism is, in fact, a worldview, however flawed. And for a school board or any other government entity to disallow a prayer or other mentions of God in the name of not offending atheists is taking a position on religion.

      Second, you are absolutely correct that the Constitution does not give the school district the right to “organize a graduation ceremony around religious beliefs,” although your description of the ceremony seems to be a bit of a stretch from my understanding of what took place. But, if you read the Constitution carefully, it also does not restrict such a right. The first amendment restricts the CONGRESS from making any “law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The founders were wary of the idea that the government could establish a single religion and instead wanted broad freedoms for people to worship as they chose.

      Now, we can ignore for the sake of argument that the school board is not the Congress (The Constitution specifically prohibits the Congress from doing other things too, and instead leaves certain matters to be decided by the individual states.) but we cannot ignore the second part of that phrase. Nowhere in the Constitution will you find the phrase “separation of church and state” and nowhere will you find a requirement that a superintendent (or any other elected official) must hang up his/her religious beliefs by virtue of being elected. A school superintendent encouraging graduating students to have faith in God is no more a violation of the law than Washington or Lincoln or FDR invoking God in public speeches was a violation of their oath. Neither is an expression of a religious belief by a government official and endorsement of religion by the government he/she represents. Now, had the school board required that all students profess a faith in Christ prior to receiving their diplomas, I would see your point.

      Next, and this will probably get a little more touchy, I take issue with your description of religious people, and Christians in particular, as somehow ignorant because we happen to believe something that you have chosen not to. The arrogance in such a viewpoint is astounding. You speak of Christians as being intolerant of your views and yet you equate our belief in God with a belief in the tooth fairy by some adult who never quite grew up and became enlightened. How’s that for intolerant? You cannot be intellectually honest and cry foul over supposed Christian intolerance of your viewpoint, while in the same paragraph referring to the Creator of the universe as the invisible man in the sky. Now, I find in very plausible that you might have run into people who claim to be Christians who were hateful toward you, and perhaps even did hate you. I can tell you, though, from my perspective, that I do not believe that most Christians hate atheists, at least not the Christians that I know. I can also tell you that the Bible does not advocate such hatred. However, I can believe you are wrong without hating you, and I cannot claim to believe the Bible and believe that you are right that there is no God.

      Now about Mr. Bryant, you claim that the superintendent’s encouragement to have a faith in God was somehow a “swift kick in the face.” If Mr. Bryant believes, like you do, that religious people are to be equated with those who believe in the Easter Bunny and that we are blindly and ignorantly worshipping some invisible man in the sky, why wouldn’t he have just dismissed the superintendent’s words and trusted the students to be “smart” enough to make the right choice as to what they believe? This point actually flows nicely into your next point, which is that “OF” and “FROM” are the same thing. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Freedom OF religion indicates that someone should be free to choose any religion he wishes, or no religion at all. Freedom FROM religion, at least the way you, Mr. Bryant, and the FFRF advocate, supposes that there should be no mention of any religion in the public square, lest we offend or exclude someone. These are two very different concepts.

      As to your last point, again you are misguided by nuance. One cannot read the many writings of the founders including Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and others and logically conclude that they believed that religion had no place in government. They did believe that government had no business establishing a religion, but those are two very different ideas. Religious people are allowed to be in government and they do not have to check their religion at the door. Virtually none of the Presidents did. FDR, in fact, led the nation in prayer to the Christian God, asking Him for his provision and mercy for the boys readying the invasion on D-Day. Certainly nobody accused him of establishing a religion.

      I felt compelled to answer your comments because I cannot sit back and allow my belief system to be attacked. I pray that you will allow yourself to objectively explore the ideas of Christianity (as opposed to the flawed Christians like me who so often do such a woefully poor job of representing it) and look closely at the very strong evidence for creation, for example. Or read “The Case For Christ” by Lee Strobel. You may be surprised by what you discover.

      • Brian,

        I think you may have missed the main point of this discussion. It’s not about disallowing mentioning gods in the name of not offending atheists. It’s about being fair to everyone and respecting everyone’s beliefs. It’s easiest to make examples about Christians vs atheists because they’re pretty much polar opposites as far as religion goes, but consider everyone else – Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Wiccans, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains… Every single one of these groups is being alienated by using a Christian prayer.

        The point of my argument is not advocating complete removal of religion; it’s advocating disallowing religious ceremonies and sermons in public places including schools. As I stated in my reply to Mr. Nichols below, the diplomatic and fair way to have handled it would have been to have a moment of silence for personal prayer or reflection rather than to choose a single God and advocate faith in it.

        As far as your argument against mine in regards to the application of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, I addressed this below in my reply to Mr. Nichols, so I won’t rehash it here. I will repeat, however, that while the specific words of the Establishment Clause limit Congress, in application it also limits the government. There are indeed precedents for similar situations to this, and in each case the courts seem to agree that the Establishment Clause does apply even though the case isn’t against Congress.

        With your next point, I do take offense here. I did the best that I could to explain my point of view without coming off as attacking anyone, yet you still accuse me of this. I never described religious people as ignorant; I even stated that I have many friends who are religious. I also did not equate your belief in God with “belief in the tooth fairy by some adult who never quite grew up and became enlightened.” If you will re-read what I said (in fact, I’ll copy/paste it):

        “For me, the difference lies in the fact that the vast majority of people understand that the tooth fairy and the easter bunny do not exist; they help with fun things for kids, but as we grow up we recognize that they are imaginary.”

        This was in response to:

        “Someone talking to a non-existent creature has never offended me. I might think they are crazy or smoked too much pot in college, but I wouldn’t find it offensive or be angered by it. If the student had prayed to the Tooth Fairy or if Dr. Hines had encouraged students to maintain a strong faith in the Easter Bunny, would you have found it equally offensive?”

        Mr. Nichols was the first one to bring up this point, so I think it is unfair of you to single me out for my answer. Regardless of your personal feelings, my point still stands; the difference between the scenario Mr. Nichols postulated is the fact that the vast majority of the population regard the tooth fairy and the easter bunny as imaginary, while the vast majority of the population regard their specific deity as real. The difference, for more clarification, is that in this proposed situation there is no conflict of belief. Everyone present would most likely realize encouraging faith in the tooth fairy as some sort of satire because everyone present would most likely realize this entity is not real. In the real situation, where faith in a single god – the Christian god – was encouraged, you have an audience of people with varying beliefs in many different gods, or no gods at all. If I wasn’t clear in explaining this, please let me know and I’ll go into more detail.

        Addressing your perceived sleight at my description of a deity as an invisible man in the sky, I’ll just copy/paste my response to Mr. Nichols’ post below:

        “What I was using as a simplistic observation (he is everywhere yet invisible, commonly believed to be a “he,” and believed to reside in heaven which as far as I know is believed to be in the sky) apparently offended people.”

        It was not meant to be something offensive; again, it was merely a simplistic observation.

        To your statement that most Christians do not hate atheists, “most” is irrelevant. I invite you to reread my 6th-to-last paragraph above, describing how people have lost relationships and family bonds, and been discriminated against by Christians simply because they were atheist. They rejected the Christian god, and in return were rejected by the people who preach to love each other.

        Your follow-up statement, that the Bible does not advocate such hatred, is completely false.

        “Whosoever would not seek the LORD God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman.” –2 Chr.15:13

        According to the Bible, I should be put to death because I do not believe in your god.

        If you would like me to provide more passages from the Bible that advocate both hatred and killing of nonbelievers or those of other religions, I would be glad to put together a list for you.

        Continuing on, your next statement is, unfortunately, irrelevant because you misunderstood my comparison of the tooth fairy and deities. I’ve explained this above, and have also explained my stance on this throughout my posts.

        Freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion are indeed one in the same in this day and age. We, as citizens of the USA, have the right to choose our beliefs. We have the right to believe, period. But we also have the right to choose not to believe. You expect your beliefs to be respected; why should our lack of belief not be respected? What is a public prayer at a graduation ceremony but forcing the Christian belief on everyone in the audience? Keep in mind that this is not a black and white issue; it’s not Christians vs atheists. All of the religions I mentioned above were left out, as well, by having a Christian prayer and a Christian gospel song. This audience was there to see their children graduate, not to attend a sermon. Even if the part of the speech advocating faith in the Christian god was only a minute or two long, it was still completely inappropriate. As I stated in my reply to Mr. Nichols below, there would have been nothing wrong with a moment of silence for personal prayer or reflection. Actively advocating faith in a specific deity, by a superintendent (who is an extension of the government) is unconstitutional.

        I also have a comment on one of your statements: “Religious people are allowed to be in government and they do not have to check their religion at the door.” How many of our presidents have not been Protestant? Are you aware of how many states banned atheists from holding any public office until recently? While legally religion cannot be a reason for discrimination, in practice it is.

        In addition, a president or other high-profile person doing something does not make it right. Not only do social expectations change over time, but also these people are still fallible. If Obama had led the nation in prayer to the Christian god asking for the troops overseas, you can bet that a lot of people would have made a stink about it, and rightfully so.

        I have not attacked your beliefs, and if that is how you read my words I will not apologize for it. I will not apologize for perceived sleights against you, as they were not intended and would not have been found if you had read my words objectively. I hope that you will allow yourself to objectively explore the ideas of others besides yours. I was raised Catholic; I have done my research on Christian beliefs. I can look at both sides objectively.

        I feel that this needs to be pointed out, too, and there’s no other way to say it other than bluntly: just because you hold your beliefs dearly does not mean they are above anyone else’s beliefs, or that they are exempt from being questioned. Correct me if I am wrong about your feelings, but the tone of your reply made it clear to me that this needed to be said. Questioning your beliefs, or responding to a point in a way you do not like is NOT a personal attack. Nothing I have said has been meant as an attack. If you take it as a sleight or as an attack, that is because you are adding meaning to my words that just isn’t there.

        As far as your last statements, the thing is that I HAVE looked at the “evidence” for creation. I have read the Bible. I have read through many of these religious-advocacy books. And I have still come to a completely different conclusion than you have. I have not read the book that you suggested, but I definitely will as I am always interested in “the other side’s” arguments. I would like to suggest two books to you as well – “A Letter to a Christian Nation” by Sam Harris, which is available here: http://lusitania.logik.li/files/Sam%20Harris%20-%20Letter%20to%20a%20Christian%20Nation.pdf and “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. You also might be surprised by what you discover.

    • Though this has nothing to do with your statement. Calling our God an “invisible man in the sky” is offensive. Since the subject of being offended and uncomfortable is what the underlying anger is with everyone, you should know better than to pick at a religion. No one has directly picked at your lack of beliefs, so don’t pick at ours either.

    • Christina,
      Thanks for the excellent post. You are logical in your arguments, respectful in your tone and still passionate about the subject. I not only enjoyed reading your post, but also was challenged by it. There are obviously some issues discussed that we are more than likely simply not going to agree on.

      I am working on a response to a few of your points, which have been brought up by several others as well. Please be patient with me. I’m trying to keep up with the comments and blog traffic, but honestly the response has been overwhelming. Additionally, I want to do justice to your well thought out post by responding in kind.

      Fridays are typically ‘family days’ for us, so it may be late tonight or tomorrow before I post again. Thanks for your patience. I hope we can continue this dialogue.
      Brandon

      • Thanks for the many great comments. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response. I’ve outlined what I perceive to be the three main arguments against my position. My responses are an attempt to clarify what I’ve previously stated. I understand that we might not find agreement on all of the issues being discussed on this blog.

        1. The Power Dynamic in this country justifies Mr. Bryant’s Response
        I do understand the power dynamic involved. I freely admit that often Christians push an agenda simply because we are the majority. I can clearly see how a non-believer would feel threaten by this ‘mob mentality.’ One of my motivations for writing this letter was to present an alternative to the ‘we got more people than you around here so shove it’ argument.

        Judicial rulings, changes in culture, challenges against long held moral positions, and the rise of organizations like FFRF indict a shifting in this dynamic is occurring. My question is: Does a rapidly shifting dynamic make the response of Christians at least understandable? If so, does the same logical of the presented arguments justifying Mr. Bryant’s response apply to a Christian’s response? It could be argued that a rapidly changing dynamic is more jolting and threatening than a well established one. Shouldn’t Christians be afforded the same understanding? More over does it justify the position? Does it determine it’s rightness?

        I would say that the power dynamic makes Mr. Bryant’s response understandable and, for that reason, he deserves to be treated with respect. However, I don’t think that dynamic justifies the rightness of position.

        2. Atheism is not a worldview
        I think explaining the concept of worldview will clarify this argument. A worldview is the system of foundation beliefs which define how a person sees and interacts with the world around them. Worldview answers questions like: How did the world begin? What the meaning of my existance? What is wrong with our world? Is there hope? If so, what should i hope in? Who or what is the authority of my life? How do I decide morality? A worldview is the framework that determines how a person perceives the world, how they process information, and how they interact with their environment. Many philosophers, including Kant, describe religious and philosophical perspectives as worldviews.

        Everyone has a worldview, even if it is very basic in form. My argument is that worldview, even when not affiliated with an organized religion, answers the same foundational questions of religion. Atheism provides a framework for answering these questions and interpreting the world in a similar way to religions providing that framework. A Christian will find hope in the saving work of Jesus, while an atheist might find hope in the intellect of man. A Christian believes that the world was created by a loving, personal God, while an atheist might hold that the world began because of the forces of evolution. The point is that these foundational beliefs inherently influence the way we interact with the world and do inform the very foundations of religious belief and practice.

        Let me give you an example from the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” We can argue all day about the personal religious beliefs of the Jefferson and the founding fathers. But we do have a clear worldview expressed in their writings, all people have certain rights because they were given those rights by their Creator. Their worldview, as theist, is informing and shaping their view of humanity, especially human rights. It would be silly to argue otherwise.

        I would go a step further and say that if we remove the Creator from their argument then we must come up with an alternative explanation of unalienable rights that is both sufficient and plausible in order to maintain consistency in our worldview. Without an alternative and compelling explanation then the need to respect the rights of others disappears, even right of liberty (including the free expression of religion). Do you see the powerful influence of worldview now? Which leads me to the final argument…

        3. I am arguing for the establishment of religion
        Nothing thing could be further from the truth. I do not want a Governement sponsored religion which requires religious participation of American citizens. In fact, as a pastor I find this possibility terrifying. I would not advocate compulsory prayer, required Bible classes, or demanding religious participation. The Constitution does prevent Congress from making laws to establish religion.

        In the environment of public school teaching from a secular perspective is still teaching on worldviews issues and does have religious implications. For example, I have conversations frequently with students who say, “I don’t believe in God. I believe in science.” The problem is that statement reflects a false dicotomy. Theism and science are not competing or mutually exclusive worldviews. The statement reflects the influence of secular humanism, and it’s necessary religious implications. In other words, what a kid learn at public school influenced his decision about God and, I might add, did so with poor logic and reasoning.

        Again, I’m not advocating a curriculum change. I am arguing that an attempt to exclude religion from the public square and government activities is an us versus them mentality and assumes that the Constitution guarantees a freedom from the influence of religion. It simply does not. If freedom from religion is the standard, then one could argue that a secular or atheist viewpoint advocates certain views about religion and therefore should also be excluded. In fact, we could go a step further a say that an this position without an explanation for the origin for human rights (see above) has grave implications for the protection of citizen’s rights and should be excluded. After all students could realize that no one is endowing rights to people and therefore, there is no need to respect the rights of others. I would never advocate exclusion of this kind and I would protect the right of an atheist to free exercise of their beliefs, but I believe the standard being promoted by FFRF would because it restricts free exercise in fear of a sloppy slope to establishment. It seems to me the logical conclusion of squelching the influence of religion in public school would be shooting themselves in their own foot.

        The point is influence is everywhere, and just as including religion in school activies can influence, so can excluding it.

        I hope this statements help clarify my position. Again, thanks for the excellent discussion.
        Brandon

      • I apologize for the late response, but I do have some rebuttals for your points.

        1) Addressing your first point, it’s not so much the Christian agenda being pushed that we see as “threatening.” It’s often the people pushing it. I have a lot of respect for religious people like yourself who can engage in a debate, defend their positions and beliefs, and still be respectful of the other side. Unfortunately, this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. As a recent example, there was an atheist teen, Jessica Ahlquist, who started a lawsuit to take down a prayer banner at a public school. This is the response she got from her classmates and others (There is a lot of strong language): http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-SkxAzaywzPw/TxYWJnvdvBI/AAAAAAAAH-c/4Ot_-ppKgrg/s1600/Screen+Shot+2012-01-17+at+5.44.41+PM.JPG

        The most poignant comment here, in my opinion, is when twitter user “carys” says “When I take over the world I’m going to do a holocaust to all the atheists.” These are the type of people that we feel threatened by, because they physically threaten us. According to ABC News, 3 police officers were stationed at Cranston High School, Ms. Ahlquist’s high school, because of the sheer amount of threats to her.

        In fact, the opposite seems to be true; it seems that many religious people feel as if they are being attacked and threatened when secular agendas are being pushed, or when they perceive any sort of sleight towards their beliefs. While I did not intend to be offensive, this can be seen in the reaction to one of my comments above. I referred to the belief in a god as the belief in an invisible man in the sky. What I was using as a simplistic observation (he is everywhere yet invisible, commonly believed to be a “he,” and believed to reside in heaven which as far as I know is believed to be in the sky) apparently offended people.

        To answer your question, “Does a rapidly shifting dynamic make the response of Christians at least understandable?” yes, I definitely think it is understandable. Christianity has enjoyed being a majority religion in the US for a long time, and instead of growing less religious over time like most developed countries we have grown more religious (which I find ironic as we are the only developed country I know of that actually had secular roots for its government). But, just because a reaction is understandable does not mean it is acceptable or right. I understand that many Christians feel like they are being threatened because the percentages of non-Christians and non-religious people are rising pretty rapidly. But that does not make clinging on to their hold as the majority religion any more justified.

        The same argument could be said for the race wars of a handful of decades ago. I wish I could say that there’s no comparison between racial and religious discrimination, but unfortunately there is. The major difference here though is that instead of the discrimination being based on visible skin color, it’s based on invisible beliefs.

        And for your last statement here, I’ll take it a step further and say that I really don’t believe any power dynamic really justifies whether a position is right or wrong. It should be judged on the arguments and evidence supporting it, and in this case I do believe Mr. Bryant is in the right.

        2) Even after your definition I still disagree with the statement that atheism is a worldview. It is simply the lack of belief in any deity due to lack of any evidence that we can see. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson notes, there’s no word for non-golf players, or non-skiers. They’re just people who don’t partake in an activity and it really doesn’t affect them beyond that.

        To further discuss your point, atheism in itself also does not influence worldview, as far as I have seen. The questions you cited as examples surely can be answered by scriptures, as well as by science and personal experience/reflection. While every person surely has a worldview, my argument is that atheism is not one in itself.

        When we are born, we are by default atheist. (I’m not saying that this is the right or correct “belief” system, simply the default one.) When we are born, we really can’t comprehend what is going on around us, and our minds are not yet developed enough to reason. Regardless of one’s belief about deities, religion is a man-made system. There may or may not be a deity, but religious worship is something created by man. As we grow older, we may adopt a specific religion based on the region we grow up in, or based on personal choice, or we may simply not adopt any religion. Adopting a religion will surely change how one’s worldview develops – all of the questions you posed have different answers through religion than through non-religion. But an atheist’s worldview is not affected by religion; it’s formed by what we are taught and what we observe as children, what we research, what we observe through our lives as we grow, and not affected by adopted religious beliefs. It’s akin to the control group in a scientific experiment. In an experiment, you administer a “treatment” to one or more groups, and keep one group “untreated” as the control group. You then observe how the “treatment” affects the subjects as compared to the default – the control group.

        In fact, atheists tend to have many of the same morals as “good” Christians. (To clarify, by “good” Christians I mean those who truly follow what they preach and treat others well rather than try to wrap bigotry in religion.) I’m pointing this out because our morals are a big part of our worldview. Without any type of religion to explain morals, science steps up. Many of our human morals have been seen to have evolved in many different animal species. Things like protecting one’s family, disallowing murder and thievery in societies, providing for those who cannot provide for themselves, taking care of one’s body, have all been observed.

        As far as your example about the Declaration, I refer to my above paragraph. Scientifically, we do have an explanation for unalienable rights based on our evolved morals.

        I don’t know if this is a point that we will completely agree on, but I do agree that one’s worldview is a very powerful influence. We may disagree where specifically it stems from, but it is indeed powerful.

        3) Addressing your last point, I do understand that you are not arguing for the establishment of a religion. As far as theism and science not competing or being mutually exclusive…I honestly don’t see that backed up by fact or observation. In fact, from what I’ve observed, the opposite seems to be true. From my own personal experiences (I was brought up Catholic, and followed the religion until middle school), most theistic religions are incompatible with science. In my religious ed classes, we were taught that questioning things was bad, and that questioning things led to an eternity in hell. Science actively encourages questioning everything that can be questioned, even (and especially) our most strongly held beliefs.

        Then there is the creation belief. The scientific evidence conclusively proves that this is not true, yet creationist Christians are taught to disregard science outright. The same thing happens with evolution theory.

        In itself, religion and science are incompatible. There are definitely intelligent religious people who do retain their beliefs while still practicing science. The most common example I see of this is Christian scientists believing the Bible is completely allegorical and therefore not truly an account of history.

        If all religious scriptures were taught as allegories rather than historical fact, then science and theistic religion would not have an issue. But as it is, many religions actively encourage disbelief in science because the religious teachings and scientific findings contradict each other.

        4) I would like to add one more comment here. It has been stated in the comments multiple times that (paraphrasing) because the Constitution only states that Congress cannot establish a religion that it is ok for public schools to endorse religions. In practice, the Establishment Clause’s power is not just limited to Congress being unable to establish a religion. It also prevents the US Government from showing preference to any single religion, which I believe is what happened at this school graduation. As a representative of the government, the superintendent included a Christian prayer in his speech. To further explain why this is unconstitutional, I would like to, again, draw your attention to the Jessica Ahlquist case. A description of the case is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahlquist_v._Cranston

        In this case, a prayer banner hanging in a public school is called into question. The end decision by the Rhode Island district court was that the banner was technically unconstitutional.

        And there is precedent for this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Establishment_Clause#State-sanctioned_prayer_in_public_schools

        Many of the lawsuits cited have to do with mandatory prayer, but I would like to draw attention to the fourth paragraph in this section – about the Lee v. Weisman case. “…the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the offering of prayers by religious officials before voluntarily attended ceremonies such as graduation. …the Court established that the state could not conduct religious exercises at public occasions even if attendance was not strictly compulsory.” Personally, I would count a gospel singer as a “religious official.”

        I doubt there would have been any controversy if the graduation ceremony had included a moment of silence for “prayer or personal reflection.” It’s a diplomatic way to make everyone happy; no specific religion is supported, no one is forced to pray or listen to a prayer, or really even to reflect if they don’t want to.

        As a last statement, a decision does not need a precedent to be a correct or fair decision. It’s ridiculous to expect that every single situation will have a precedent in law for that specific situation. For the most part, we have to go off of what has happened already. There have been many cases about prayer and religion in public schools, and most cases reaffirm that prayer should not be in public schools. In fact, in most forms it is unconstitutional due to the Establishment Clause. While there is not a precedent for this exact situation, there are precedents for very similar situations. Personally, if this were taken to court (which I doubt it will be) I would expect the decision to be in line with the decisions in these past cases: that the superintendent including a prayer or encouraging religion in his speech, and having a gospel singer sing a Christian-based song, are both unconstitutional.

  23. This is a some what dishonest and self serving argument reflecting a lack of research in to what you try to discuss and a lack of openness about the reality that you are a youth pastor. I suggest you do some reading not only of those you are arguing against (atheism) but of your own holy books. By forcing those who do not follow christianity to witness prayer you are going against Christ’s teachings of being humble and private in your religion. Atheism isn’t about suppressing other religions, it’s just not believing in god(s). By observing christianity you are an athiest to all other god(s). The people aren’t trying to get religion out of school because they hate it. They are trying to get it out because it has no place in a state run secular institution. In a world where our education is getting worse and worse due to budget cuts and voucher schools do we really need another distraction? Would you feel the same if it was a Islamic prayer? The athiest would because they are there to learn, not to be indoctrinated.

    • Voteferpedro,
      Thanks for your post. I’m also a huge fan of Napoleon Dynamite and love the nickname. I have tried to answer your concerns as respectfully, yet as critically as possible. My intention is not to be insulting, but to encourage good debate and require consistency in your position. If I have crossed that line, I apologize. I know that tone is very difficult to discern in this format, so please know my intention is for this to be polite yet firm correction. Given the nature of the accusations you’ve leveled at me, I think my tone and format are fair. First, let me address your arguments against my character.

      Not revealing I’m a youth pastor.

      1. This article is posted on my blog, which contains biographical info about me including my vocation. If I was trying to be dishonest about being a youth pastor, then I hope I would have been smart enough to not put it on this blog.
      2. My blog also has links to our church’s website.
      3. That info is available to anyone who visits my blog, and, according to my blog stats around 400 people did read my bio.
      4. What is your vocation? I noticed you didn’t mention it in your post. You actually didn’t even put your real name on the post, if you attend church, or your personal belief system. Are you then susceptible to your own argument?
      5. I did place a link to the post on my personal Facebook page, which also has my bio and clearly states I’m the youth pastor at Central Baptist Church.
      6. I also placed a link on my Twitter account, which also has my bio.
      7. In a different forum, like the newspaper, then identifying myself as a youth pastor would be important and I would. But, my personal blog already does that, so why would I need to redo it for one particular blog post?
      8. This is an ad hominem attack which is a logical fallacy. In other words, you are attacking the character of the person, instead of interacting with the ideas.

      My knowledge of Atheism

      1. I, both, in the post and in commenting on the responses of others have been open to correction on the position of atheist.
      2. Additionally, my point isn’t to break down atheism in order to prove or disprove, but simply to point out that it is a worldview with religious implications.
      3. If you have actual correctional for me about my understanding of atheism I would gladly listen.
      4. Again, this is an ad hominem attack. You are critiquing my research habits, instead of making an argument about the subject at hand.

      My Knowledge of the Bible and Jesus

      1. You are right, Jesus is humble. I have tried to follow Jesus’s example of humility and if I have failed, please forgive me.
      2. Jesus was also stern (Lk 11:39-41)
      3. Jesus also publicly corrected people (Jn 8:39-47, Mt. 9:1-8, Mt 26:51-56)
      4. Jesus pointed out worldview inconsistencies. (Lk 11:42-44, Lk 10:25-37, Jn 8:1-11)
      5. Some even found Jesus insulting. (Lk 11:45)
      6. Jesus instructed his disciples to be public, but not attention seeking. (Mt. 5:14-16; Mt. 6:16-18)
      7. Jesus instructed his disciples to tell (Mt. 28:19-20), proclaim (Mrk 16:15), and witness about him to all people. (Lk 24: 45-48, Acts 1:8, Jn 20:21)
      8. Jesus and his disciples addressed the public on numerous occasions, both in front of like minded people and people who we’re hostile toward their message. (acts 2:14-41, Acts 4:1-21, Acts 7:1-52)
      9. His disciples grew from 120 to thousands in matter of weeks, because of their public proclamation of the message of Jesus and living out in public the teachings of Jesus. (Acts 2:41, Acts 2:47, Acts 5:12-16).
      10. None of these examples lead me to share your conclusion that Jesus models privacy about beliefs for his disciples or asks his disciples to be private about their beliefs.
      11. If you have some biblical evidence for this position I would love to hear this argument further.
      12. Yet, again this is an ad hominem attack and an attempt to discredit the idea by discrediting the person.

      As for the rest of you post. I did not accuse atheism of “suppressing other religions” or for being motivated by hatred. I also, understand the intent of the complaints filed against the school board. I’m not sure how to engage the rest of your argument because it is based on conjure about how I would respond in a future event, an impossible standard of protecting people from even witnessing religious acts, and arguments that I didn’t make.

      I think there have been some fantastic responses opposing my view. For example, Olivia and Christina were well reasoned, fair, and mostly cordial. Some have pushed the limit, but have not, in my opinion, crossed the line of respectful debate. I would encourage you to read some of their posts and then re-enter this discussion following their example.

      Thanks for reading,
      Brandon

      • Brandon,

        Excellent response. I could not have said that better myself. I agree with you that Olivia and Christina have set a great example of how these sorts of topics should be debated, even if I disagree with their conclusions. It saddens me that we have reached a point in this country where this sort of discourse is the exception, rather than the rule.

        As a graduate of WRHS, I appreciate your willingness to bring this issue to the attention of so many and I apprecaite your willingness to take a public stand. God bless you.

        Brian King

  24. When the United States of America was formed it was for religious freedom. We were formed as a Christian Nation believing in Jesus Christ.. Our oldest and most prestigious colleges were seminaries or at the least strongly Bible based.

  25. How do a few complaints regarding the graduation make Christians feel so threatened? They have enjoyed religious dominance in every aspect of American life… Now imagine if the superintendent had advocated the Muslim faith: he would be bombarded with hundreds upon hundreds of complaints and would likely lose his job, and not a single Christian would think twice about threatening anyone’s religious beliefs. They would continue to cite the Constitution as a justification for the dominance of their faith and intolerance of all others through continued misquotations and ignorance. Despite what the majority of Christians think, the Constitution does not advocate Christianity in particular and was written with the intent of all religions being treated equally. Now if Christians would stop victimizing themselves, maybe some complaints wouldn’t be such an issue.

    • Bailey,

      You have missed the point of the debate. This is not at all about Christians feeling threatened in their faith. Instead, this is about the very idea that the government should have the right to take away your right to express your views to avoid the risk of offending someone. What Mr. Bryant seems to want is for the school board to disallow any mention of God, or any other religious figure, because it would exclude those in attendence who do not believe in God.

      Suppose, though, that we turned that around and decided that Mr. Bryant (or you) were not able to express his belief that there is no God (or whatever he believes). Sure that worldview might offend some people, and would certainly exclude many. But the fact of the matter is he should have the right to say it, and I will defend that right, whether I agree with him or not.

      As to your point about the superintendent being Muslim…that worldview should also be allowed. As I have pointed out in previous posts, no one is trying to convert anyone and nobody is saying that you must confess your faith in Christ (or anybody else) to graduate.

      As to the rest of your post, I am really not sure where to begin or how to respond. I think you will have to be a bit more specific about a few of your points in order to have a rational debate. For example:
      1) On what evidence do you base the assumption that the superintendent would be fired for advocating the Muslim faith?
      2) Can you cite specific examples of the “continued misquotations and ignorance” you speak of?
      3) I know a lot of Christians and I don’t know any who believe that the Constitution advocates Christianity. Can you cite specific examples of such belief?
      4) Can you be more specific as to how Christians are victimizing themselves and how an end to such victimization would put an end to complaints like Mr. Bryant’s?

      If you can please be a bit more specific on these issues, I (and I am sure others) would be happy to continue this debate with you.

  26. I recently graduated from different Georgia public high school. As salutatorian I spoke of my steadfast faith in God, knowing that I would offend others, including some of my close personal friends. The Val and the superintendent also expressed their faith in God and the fact that they felt that our graduating class should nourish a continuing relationship with God. As Christians we are called into the world to make disciples of all nations. This command includes our own community. I personally feel that it is expected for most graduation ceremonies to reference God, just as most marriage ceremonies do since they are both turning points in life. Walking at graduation is a choice and a privilege that one embraces; however, attending graduation as a guest is also a choice. With the foreknowledge that Christian beliefs are likely to be shared, individuals disagreeing with this concept can make the conscious decision to stay at home.

  27. Christina,
    The only thing I would like to address with you is why someone outside of Houston County is wanting us to change the way OUR county does things. He has no students in our school system, he doesn’t pay our taxes. I’m curious as to how many times he’s even visited our county. He’s a relative of the student, not the parent!! We have had public prayers in our schools lead by students, we have had public prayers in our state & local government, at our cities little league and yes at our graduations! Its obvious that Houston County residence don’t have an issue with prayer!! It should be left up to OUR residents of Houston County!!

  28. Many readers have wisely commented on the misconception of atheism as a “worldview” so I don’t want to spend time on it, but Mr. Nichols’ comparison of the two begs it. One’s lack of belief in a deity does not a worldview make. The two concepts *may* overlap to certain people (especially those who prefer a theocracy to a democracy–think Taliban!) but in this case it is absurd. To reduce the central argument of Mr. Bryant’s plea for an adherence to the Constitution to the facile explication that he simply wants to apply his “worldview” to everyone–including Houston County, Georgia– is myopic at best.

    The gentleman from North Carolina who attended the graduation makes one coherent, wholly factual argument that is undeniable: that for a public school graduation to include prayer is unconstitutional. No one (unless I missed it) has mentioned the spate of Supreme Court decisions to support his argument, so I will. Here is a list, but pay special attention to Lee v Weisman from 1992 addressing exactly this type of scenario:

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/church-state/decisions.html

    Here’s the case link for Lee v. Wiesman:

    http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1991/1991_90_1014

    What is most ironic to me, to all the religious peeps out there who have made such impassioned attacks on Mr. Bryant’s letter, is that you haven’t considered what happens when you become the minority. When it isn’t your prayer, but someone else’s prayer–one that you don’t believe– becomes the one you and your family must sit through at graduation. Or work. Or class. Fundamentalists, take note, because Catholics pray differently than you do, and they are being born at a far greater pace than Protestants. How happy will you be when your improvised prayers are replaced with the Hail Mary? It’s something to consider.

    What so many who insist on their right to dominate the public sphere with their religious ceremonies fail to recognize is simple, factual history. The founding fathers were products of The Enlightenment, and being such were loathe to not only the enforcement of specific religious beliefs, but also the “slippery slope” of rote, institutionalized religion on the masses. To put it into perspective, one must realize that these brilliant men are not so far removed from The Inquisitions of Europe, a time when non-conformity to religious tenets (real or imagined) could land a person on any number of torture devices, or perhaps a toasty fire at one’s feet.

    Lest we forget our own famous witch-hunt in Salem? Where 20 people died after being falsely accused of witchcraft…no wonder the founding fathers were so adamant to protect the public from theocratic tendencies of governments. And to another post: you’re right to some extent on the fathers and religion, only a good number of them were Deists, believing that God operated much like a watchmaker, winding up the world and then letting it play out as it would–not as Calvinists believe it to be predestined.

    Which brings us to the “choice” of the matter. Constitutionally it is compulsory to attend school. That’s why public school exists–it was a RADICAL ideal to educate the masses. Most citizens go to public schools, where according to the the Establishment Clause, there should be no establishment of religion. That doesn’t end at the school exit; it extends to school events, as well. Nothing is stopping prayer groups at school, or the FCA, or churches for that matter, from holding gatherings before or after the public ceremonies for fellowship and prayer. However, imposing the entire public in attendance to prayer is (drum roll) *unconstitutional*.

    Mr. Nichols, I go to church. I taught in a religious school (and loved it). Which is precisely where school prayer belongs. I believe in your right to worship as you wish. I do not, on the other hand, believe dismissing all beliefs other than your own as wish-fulfilling “worldviews” is appropriate–or wise, for that matter. It is my hope that we can try to put ourselves in others’ shoes with regard to respecting all beliefs. But I know with the level of religious bullying that goes on, it is really too much to hope.

    Peace

    • As a Christian, I would just like to say that if the person speaking at a graduation was to pray to Allah, or to Mary, or to whatever god they believe in, or if they chose to not pray at all… I would not be offended because that is their belief. But to take a speaker’s right away to pray to the God they believe in is wrong and that is all Brandon is trying to say. We all have a freedom to believe the way we want to believe and we all have the freedom to express our belief. Having someone pray in a public place to their God is not (drum roll) unconstitutional. But telling someone they cannot pray to their God is.

  29. Great job!! THANK YOU for speaking up & speaking out! You did a phenomenal job with your wording and getting your point across!

    🙂 ….just AWESOME!

  30. For clarification, I wrote that prayer in a public graduation is unconstitutional. Prayer led outside of religious clubs in public school or events is unconstitutional. If you read the decisions from the Supreme Court, the branch of government charged with deciding what is and is not constitutional, you will see that they did, in fact, declare it unconstitutional and therefore it is. They have the final authority. Period. So this is not up for debate. Please read these decisions so you understand. You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts–these are facts. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/church-state/decisions.html

    It’s also not up for debate whether someone has a right to pray or not. I did not write that. To deny people their religion is antithetical to our country’s very fabric–but just as there are limits to free speech, there are limits to authorities proselytizing in a compulsory, publicly-funded school. That being said, as aforementioned, is IS unconstitutional to establish religion in a public school graduation. Again, read those decisions–this is the law, and it’s not up for debate. No matter how much you don’t like it.

    By the way, Mr. Nichols, I wholeheartedly disagree with your stance on this–in fact, I find it dangerous, but I applaud you for the conciliatory and civil voice you lend to the conversation. Manners–one thing I do miss about the South!

    • Egalitefraterniteliberite,
      I haven’t been called dangerous in long time… I almost took that as a compliment.

      Thanks for link to the Supreme Court decisions on separation of church and state. I am having hard time finding a decision that applies to our particular situation. Engel v Vitale is a ruling on a school district composing a prayer and requiring students to recite it daily during instructional time. Lee v. Weisman is a decision regarding a school district inviting a clergyman to a graduation to lead in prayers and acts of worship. In both of these cases I agree with the ruling and can clearly see establishment.

      Would you mind specifically citing a ruling that applies to this situation? Also, could you outline how these graduation services were establishing religion? I am not a legal scholar, so your help would be appreciated.

      Thanks for kind words. I am a southern boy, but I am also naturally extremely argumentative and condescending. Any civility in my tone is due to the teachings of Jesus at work in my heart and life. The Bible teaches that every person has intrinsic, God given value and should be treat as such. I agree and so I’m trying.

      • Yes, thank you for the mention of our God-given value–I think human dignity is too frequently, and ironically overlooked where religion is concerned! St. Francis said something along the lines of “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” I really like this quote because I believe our actions and examples count immensely. You are following that principle by inviting people to discourse and keeping it respectful of their ideas–so if you’re having to overcome condescension, you’re doing an excellent job. I was definitely not calling you dangerous–it’s the idea that majority religion can dominate the public that is dangerous to me.

        Lee v Weisman applies here. Though the specific circumstances that brought the case to SCOTUS were the invitation of clergy, the reasoning behind the decision encompassed far more than that single element. In on of my legal research classes this case was studied ad nauseum, and like most cases that go to the Supreme Court, it is really complicated. But this blurb from the case encapsulates some of the elements that led to the decision:

        “this case creates ‘a state-sponsored and state-directed religious exercise in a public school.’ Such conduct conflicts with settled rules proscribing prayer for students. The school’s rule creates subtle and indirect coercion (students must stand respectfully and silently), forcing students to act in ways which establish a state religion. The cornerstone principle of the Establishment Clause is that government may not compose official prayers to recite as part of a religious program carried on by government.”

        I wasn’t there at the graduation, but I’m imagining that people were expected to be silent and respectful (if not stand, as well) during the prayer–and the ruling specifies that to be “subtle and indirect coercion” and therefore “ways which establish a state religion.” To those who are followers of the speakers’ prayers, the incident was enjoyable, meaningful. To those who aren’t, the incident may have been offensive, degrading. Again, there is absolutely nothing stopping religious groups of any stripe from holding graduation events before or after the event…most probably even on graduation grounds…but to subject the entirety of the public school/those in the ceremony’s attendance to those prayers (mind you, the salutatorian & valedictorian have a pass since they are not representative of the school; they are merely speaking as themselves in message to their peers) violates this ruling, and therefore violates the Constitution. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the superintendent knew it before he spoke.

        As a non-fundamentalist Christian who grew up in Houston County, I know what it is like to be singled out and bullied for my beliefs. For example, in fifth grade I was at a slumber party where one of my uber-Baptist friends singled me out because I didn’t buy into a loving God abandoning his children in Hell, and then went through a litany of reasons I was going there in front of all the other kids there. Then she went through the list of reasons my parents were going to Hell. One of them was that she heard them say the word “damn,” and when I retorted that I heard her mother say it, too, she slapped me in the head until the other girls pulled her off. I was so shocked I was still laughing when she was pulled off. Not because it was funny, but because it was unbelievable.

        This is the kind of bullying that festers when the environment of “we’re right and everyone else is wrong, so we can dominate all spheres of public and social life” is in play. I was actually Christian, so imagine what a poor Hindu or Buddhist or atheist kid would have experienced. This is by no means an isolated incident–it’s pretty common–just Google it or talk to someone who isn’t part of the majority faith in an area. These things go to extremes and it is not only illogical, it’s wholly unnecessary (and un-Christian). If Jesus were here today, would he go to a place where people were required to be and impose himself in a way that required them to listen or stand out by dissenting? Or would he make himself available in a place where people had no necessary appointment and ask people to follow him? I believe he appealed to free will, not impositions. All of this is subjective and from a person who doesn’t subscribe to fire and brimstone, but I believe people who come to their faiths freely, without the use of fear or coercion, are much better messengers of the Gospel than those who use both fear and coercion as their tools of persuasion.

        Hope this helps clear up the issue of Lee v Weisman, and maybe even shed a bit of light on why so many people find this situation disturbing.

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