Saturday, August 23, 2014

Oklahoma Ten Commandments Monument Affidavit

Here is an excerpt from my affidavit filed this week in the District Court of Oklahoma County for the case against the Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma State Capitol (Prescott vs. Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission):

6.      Historically, Baptists have affirmed the Divine inspiration and authority of the Bible.  The Bible declares, and I affirm, the sacredness and holiness of the religious covenant being affirmed in the giving of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19), and it explicitly states that Moses recorded that God personally spoke and wrote down the Ten Commandments:

"These are the commandments the Lord proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more.  Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.  (Deuteronomy 5:22 NIV, cf. Exodus 24:12)

Historically, Baptists have affirmed the religious significance and purpose of the Ten Commandments as being the terms of a religious covenant between God and people of faith.

7.      Many Baptists, as well as many other people of faith -- Jewish, Christian and Muslim -- continue to affirm that the Ten Commandments are properly understood to be the terms of a religious covenant between God and people of faith.   Among them some, like myself, are horrified when attempts are made to have secular courts of law rule that the terms of this sacred and holy covenant no longer have any religious significance and meaning.   In the long run, I believe the effect of such rulings serves to undermine sincere faith by trivializing the value of religious covenants.

8.       Foremost among the terms in the covenant are those that identify Divinity.   The word "God" appears six times, usually within the phrase "the Lord your God" (five times).  The word "Lord" appears seven times.  One of the commandments pertains to the dignity necessary when invoking Divinity and the special care necessary to assure that every invocation of God have meaning and significance:

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."  (Exodus 20:7 NIV)

I believe that the name of the Lord God is "misused" when declarations are made that the words "Lord" and "God" on Ten Commandments monuments are historical artifacts and no longer have religious meaning and significance.   In effect, this undermines religion by negating the significance of the most sacred symbols of religious language.

9.      Historically, Baptists have been among the foremost proponents of the separation of religion and government.   Theologically, this conviction derives from the belief that liberty of conscience is prerequisite for the personal decision and commitment from which Baptists believe sincere faith grows.  Politically, this belief stems from their experience of persecution for their faith by both the English Crown and by the established church governments of Colonial America.   In distinction from nearly every other Christian denomination, the earliest Baptists were insistent that liberty of conscience be secured for people of all faiths and people of no faith.   

While some Baptists now deny that church and state should be separate, many    Baptists and others like myself, continue to affirm the historic Baptist commitment to separation of church and state.   I believe posting a Ten Commandments monument on government property under sham secular pretenses serves to trivialize the holiness of sincere religious covenants and misappropriates a sacred religious symbol to endorse a diluted religiosity devoid of any transformative experience.

10.        I have observed the Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma State Capitol from both within and outside the Capitol building.  The placement of the monument makes viewing it unavoidable to any sighted person walking up and down the Northeast staircase of the Capitol building.   The monument gives me the impression that the Oklahoma state government endorses a certain form of religion.

I have met many people walking up and down that staircase whom I know to be people of other faiths and people of no faith.  People for whom both the U.S. Constitution and the Oklahoma State Constitution secure an equal right to freedom of religion and freedom from religion.  I believe posting the Ten Commandments monument before unwelcoming eyes on government property sends a message that such persons are looked down upon as second class citizens by their government.  I also believe that their irritation with the monument will serve to create unnecessary divisions and conflict within the community between them and people of conscientious and sincere covenantal faith. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Reproductive Biology and Hobby Lobby

Reproductive Biology and Hobby Lobby from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Dr. Dana Stone, OB-GYN speaks about "Reproductive Biology and Hobby Lobby" at a forum sponsored by the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice on August 6, 2014.

Monday, June 30, 2014

On the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby Decision (Updated)

I will be speaking at a press conference outside Hobby Lobby Store at 3160 S Broadway in Edmond at 7:30 PM this evening to object to the Supreme Court's decision today. At the moment, here is what I intend to say:

Today's Supreme Court decision, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, lacks common sense. It tramples on the religious liberty rights of real, flesh and blood, persons in order to extend religious liberty rights to corporate pseudo-persons.

The right to religious liberty is a fundamental HUMAN RIGHT. Corporations are legal constructs, not human beings. Common sense indicates that the religious convictions of profit-making corporate pseudo-persons should not trump the religious convictions of their real, flesh and blood, employees.

The conscience of employers should not trump the conscience of employees when personal decisions are made regarding the employees family planning, reproductive health and their ability to access FDA approved medications and contraceptives.

Those decisions are properly made by the employee in consultation with her family, her physician, and under the guidance of her own minister or spiritual advisor.

We need to begin working together to pass a Constitutional Amendment that will make it crystal clear that the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment only apply to persons who are human beings and do not apply to corporate pseudo-personages.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Preston Clegg: All Leaves, No Fruit

Kylene and I stopped for the Palm Sunday service at Second Baptist Church in Little Rock on our way home from visiting our son and his family in Augusta last week.

Dr. Preston Clegg, formerly pastor at Spring Creek church in Oklahoma City and barely a year into his ministry at Little Rock, delivered a noteworthy, courageous and memorable sermon that day.

This is not the typical Palm Sunday sermon you'll hear in most Baptist churches.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Shades of Theocracy 2: The Question and Answer Session

Farris Debate Question and Answer Session from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Question and Answer session following the debate sponsored by the Norman Tea Party and held at the First Assembly of God church in Norman, Oklahoma on March 20, 2014.

Arguing in favor of calling for a Constitutional Convention to Amend the U.S. Constitution as provided for in Article V of the Constitution were Michael Farris, Founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College, and Oklahoma State Senator Rob Standridge. Opposing the call for a Constitutional Convention and favoring individual states nullifying laws that they deem unconstitutional were Charlie Meadows, founder of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee and member of the John Birch Society, and Bob Donohoo, a regional leader with the John Birch Society.

On the date of this debate, the proponents of nullification were carrying the day at the Oklahoma State Legislature.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Shades of Theocracy: The Debate

Farris Debate from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Anyone concerned to learn how far Oklahoma politics has veered to the right might find this video of a lively intramural debate between proponents of American Theocracy interesting. The debate was sponsored by the Norman Tea Party and held at the First Assembly of God church in Norman, Oklahoma on March 20, 2014.

Arguing in favor of calling for a Constitutional Convention to Amend the U.S. Constitution as provided for in Article V of the Constitution were Michael Farris, Founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College, and Oklahoma State Senator Rob Standridge. Opposing the call for a Constitutional Convention and favoring individual states nullifying laws that they deem unconstitutional were Charlie Meadows, founder of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee and member of the John Birch Society, and Bob Donohoo, a regional leader with the John Birch Society.

On the date of this debate, the proponents of nullification were carrying the day at the Oklahoma State Legislature.

The question and answer session that followed this debate proved to be more heated than the debate itself. I'll post video of that session in the future.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Letter to the Editor of the Oklahoman

I find it ironic that just weeks after the death of Jamie Coots, the snake handling preacher in Kentucky, the Oklahoman published an Op-Ed by State Representative John Bennett encouraging our State Senate to pass his misguided "Religious Freedom Anti-Discrimination Act."

Bennett's bill creates an open forum for religious debate in every classroom. Litigation seeking a voice for every religious belief will certainly proliferate like the lawsuits for religious monuments on the grounds of the state capital.

Do our legislators really want Oklahoma's science teachers to split instructional time between the conclusions of medical science and the religious beliefs of snake handlers?

Public school instruction and policies must remain neutral in regard to religion because they educate children from families of every faith and no faith. The proper domain for religious education is the family's home and house of worship -- not the public schools.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

On the White House Event with Faith Leaders on Environmental Stewardship and Climate Change

Melissa Rogers, Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, opened the meeting at the White House yesterday. I was a little too far away to get a clear picture of her with my phone.

The meeting addressed the moral imperative for people of all faiths and philosophies to respond to the challenge of preserving a hospitable and inhabitable environment for future generations. The event brought together a diverse group of leaders from across the country representing multiple faith groups with the intention of uniting them to address climate change.

Melissa and other administration representatives called attention to President Obama's June 2103 speech at Georgetown University on Climate Change.

The major address was given by Gina McCarthy, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who insisted that "We have a moral obligation to live within the resources of this country" and added that "We have a moral obligation to protect this planet and the people who live in it."

McCarthy called attention to the "Congregation Resources" at the Energy Star website. The Congregation Resources are designed to assist houses of worship in meeting the goals of President Obama's Climate Action Plan which calls for all commercial buildings, including worship facilities, to reduce energy costs and related greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

Participants heard two panel discussions at the meeting. One focused on uniting to address climate change and environmental justice. The other highlighted pulpit leaders taking action on the climate.

One of the pulpit leaders, Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, discussed the work of the Interfaith Power and Light which is a national organization providing resources and networking for a religious response to global warming. Another pulpit leader, Rev. Mitch Hescox, discussed the work of the Evangelical Environmental Network which provides resources, networking and training for evangelicals concerned about creation care and environmental stewardship.

The conference was broadcast live in streaming video. Whenever the video is permanently posted online, I will add a link to it.

Friday, February 14, 2014

On Covenant Marriage with Clean Energy

The Sierra Club held a press conference today to encourage OG&E to break up with dirty, toxic coal this Valentine's day. Here is what I said at their press conference:

We are here today because we want OG&E to give up its harmful relationship with coal and commit to a healthy, wholesome covenant marriage with our environment.

Coal is harming our people and our environment. It levels mountains and gouges the earth. It pollutes our air and water and it is a major contributor to the climate change that threatens to make the world that my grandchildren inherit completely different from the one in which I grew up.

OG&E has been flirting with clean energy but has been reluctant to make a firm commitment. It is time for OG&E to put an end to its toxic relationship with coal and make a lasting covenant to preserve the purity of our environment.

Clean energy is abundant in Oklahoma. Sweetheart deals are readily available for energy produced by wind, solar and natural gas.

We want OG&E to put an end to its toxic, expensive, and downright dirty relationship with coal and commit itself to providing clean, pure and renewable energy to the people of Oklahoma.

As a minister and someone who cares deeply about God's creation, I can't think of a more loving thing to do than committing to clean energy, clean air and clean water for Oklahoma.

In fact, I'd be happy to join OG&E and clean energy in holy matrimony today. We have signatures from 1300 people who think that would be a match made in heaven.

At the conclusion of the press conference Whitney Pearson, Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, delivered a box containing a paper chain with the names of the those who signed their petition asking OG&E to stop using coal to generate electricity. The Press conference was covered by Fox 25 News and the story may make the 9:00 PM news this evening.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On Embryonic Personhood

When Oklahoma state legislators were passing laws declaring every fertilized human egg a person, I spoke against it at the state capitol. The constitutionality of the law has subsequently been struck down in the courts. Here is my perspective on this issue:

I am here to voice opposition to SB1433 because it violates freedom of religion and liberty of conscience. Extending “all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this state” to every human fertilized egg, embryo and fetus imposes one theological construct of personhood on all society by force of law. Imposing such a theological construct violates the First Amendment of our federal Constitution which prohibits passing laws establishing religion.

The theological construct in SB1433 is easily refuted by a straightforward, literal interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. The law of Moses says, "When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him.” (Exodus 21:22 RSV)

In the law of Moses an unborn child is respected for its developing potential for personhood, but this potential did not make an unborn child a person with a legal and moral standing equal to that of the mother. If the mother was killed, the law stipulated “a life for a life.” Only a monetary fine was stipulated for the loss of an unborn child. The Hebrew respect for the unborn child’s developing potential was augmented by a rabbinic teaching that the fetus becomes a “nephesh” (soul, person) when the head emerges in the birthing process. (Sanhedrin 72b)

Under the influence of pre-Socratic Greek philosophy, some early Christians adopted a modified version of the Pythagorean belief that souls pre-existed in a disembodied state and were infused into a body at the moment of conception. Their view of the afterlife differed from the Pythagoreans in that they believed in the resurrection of the body rather than in reincarnation and the further transmigration of souls.

Theologians of the medieval church were influenced by a different Greek philosophy that staked a middle ground between the rabbinic tradition and that of the Pythagoreans. Augustine and Aquinas adopted Aristotle’s doctrine of “delayed ensoulment” and believed that a developing fetus received its soul somewhere between the 40th and 90th day of gestation. (See Augustine’s, On Exodus and Aquinas’ Commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima)

The modern Catholic doctrine that personal life begins at fertilization was prompted by the Roman Church’s opposition to contraception and family planning as well as by a concern to protect the sanctity of human life in the face of advances in modern science and technology. Their commitment to preserving the sanctity of life is highly commendable, but there is wide disagreement among Christians (even within the Roman Church) over the timing for when a fetus has developed sufficiently to begin actualizing its potential for personhood.

Protestants share the concern for the sanctity of human life, but historically, Protestants have not viewed fertilized human eggs and embryos to be persons. Most Protestant denominations have long been on record as considering matters of contraception, family planning and reproductive health to be matters of personal conscience. Among most Protestants, these matters are perceived to be too personal and too sensitive to be predetermined by either ecclesiastical or government decree. Wise and prudent decisions on these matters can only be made under private consultation with licensed physicians, with the counsel of family members, and under the spiritual guidance of the family’s own ministers and clergy persons.

The government has no business inserting itself into these personal matters. In doing so it is infringing on one of the most basic and inalienable of human rights – the right of fully conscious and sentient persons to make vital decisions – life and death decisions -- regarding their own life and their own health under the liberty of a conscience formed by their own religious beliefs and convictions.