A recent front-page story (“County gives up control of Meals on Wheels,” The Daily News, April 12) detailed an unconstitutional government action and concluded with a foolish statement supporting his unconstitutional vote from Galveston County Judge Mark Henry.

The county commissioners, apparently concerned about coming cuts from the Trump administration, have formally agreed with a religious organization — Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston — to provide services for citizens in need, using many thousands of taxpayer dollars.

This is unconstitutional, whether or not Interfaith Ministries is a good group and whether or not the citizens need the services. If religious organizations provide help, the religious believers should be the ones paying for it, with their efforts and their money. Governments at all levels are wisely prohibited by the First Amendment from opposing or promoting religious activities and beliefs.

Judge Henry said, “There’s nothing a government does that can’t be done better by a faith-based nonprofit.” This is not only utter nonsense, as a moment’s reflection would show, but it is not the kind of thing a secular judge, as a judge, should say in support of an unconstitutional decision.

Only with careful neutrality can religious freedom be protected. Quite often calls for better protection for religious liberty seem to be aimed only at defending the liberty of the religious — a mistake.

Without much doubt, the political and cultural establishment in the Galveston area is dominated by people like Judge Henry who at least give lip service to religion (and many of the elite are no doubt deeply religious). Religious folks tend to think that everyone — at least everyone worthwhile — is religious. In Galveston a majority of people belong to houses of worship (20 percent Catholic, 12 percent Baptist, 3 percent Muslim, and various others adding up to 55 percent), but what about the other 45 percent? Some of them may be rascals, but rascals have rights, too. Galveston, by the way, is pretty typical of the area: League City’s numbers are similar.

Freedom of conscience is profoundly important as a basic human right; it’s probably no coincidence that the very first freedom addressed in the First Amendment is religious freedom. Protecting it by limiting government — not by limiting citizens — is the core constitutional prescription. Those who hold dissenting or minority opinions are, it must be remembered, the ones whose rights most need protecting. Majorities, at least in a democratic republic like the United States, tend to be able to look out for themselves pretty well.

Does religious liberty for atheists and other minorities mean that the majority have to give up their own rights? No. Myths to the contrary notwithstanding, the truth, as Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1803, is that “It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.”

The details matter and there is a huge amount of misinformation about this subject, and about atheism, politics and religion — and more. Judge Henry and any readers who hear claims on these subjects should contemplate and discuss with care.

Ed Buckner

lives in Smyrna, Ga.

(24) comments

Carlos Ponce

"The details matter and there is a huge amount of misinformation ... " You know all about spreading "misinformation", Ed. You have a right to believe or not believe but like to play games with American History disregarding what does not fit your narrative.
But take solace in Philippians 2:9-11
"Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place, and gave Him the name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" - even Ed Buckner's

Don Ciaccio

Ed, I'll remind you, it's freedom OF religion, NOT freedom FROM religion.

Gary Scoggin

Ed... This silliness of Mark Henry's statement aside, many faith-based groups are capable of providing community services in an effective and efficient way. The Constitution comes into play if, and only if, they use public funds or the opportunity presented as a platform for proselytizing or forwarding their particular viewpoint. Interrfaith runs other government programs including the Worksource employment centers. And, if you go in one, I'm sure there's not a hymnal to be found anywhere.

PD Hyatt

Why does Ed even care about what is going on in Galveston county? He does not even live in this area or this state? He is the type of trouble maker who doesn't even have a oar in this water and he is doing his best to stir the waters.... Typical liberal progressive demon-crat!

Carlos Ponce

"...but what about the other 45 percent?"
Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston will take care of all regardless of religious affiliation or lack of.

Doyle Beard

Persons like Ed just doesn't get that Carlos, they are busy trying to stir up stuff.

Ed Buckner

Glad to know my words are being read, Carlos, et al. I went to junior high (as it was called then) and high school (Clear Creek High, for whom I even played football--poorly) here. My name is on a plaque/monument in front of CCHS still today. It is true that religious organizations, like non-religious ones, can contract to provide government services--but only if they scrupulously separate their proselytizing and the work being done and meet all the standards, such as nondiscrimination against anyone, that a government agency would have to meet--since taxpayer dollars are being used. I'd bet large amounts that if Judge Mark Henry had said, "There's nothing a government does that can't be done better by an Islamic faith-based non-profit," the response would be quite different. What do I care? It's just as Thomas Jefferson noted--if I care about religious liberty for me, I'd best be prepared to defend it for the Carlos Ponces of the world, too. Carlos Ponce is certainly free to take seriously the bible passages that please him, and I'm free to conclude that Matthew 6 is what he should instead be taking seriously.

Carlos Ponce

All scripture is to be taken seriously.

Ed Buckner

So, Carlos Ponce, scripture directs you not to display your piety in such a way that it may be seen by men. Do you take that seriously?

Carlos Ponce

"Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father." Matthew 5:16
Scripture tells us not to call attention to our good works.
Mark 6:5-6 Jesus says “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you."
"so that others may see them" Jesus considered inappropriate. One prays and performs good works not to show off but to give glory to God.
Do I take it seriously? Yes, yes I do.

Ed Buckner

And I wonder, Don Ciaccio, do you think the governments in the US should support being religious vs irreligious? If so, where would you draw the line? Do you in fact have freedom of religion if that doesn't include the right to have none?

Randy Chapman

People need to wake up and realize that the Religious Industry is in the people importation business, costing the US taxpayers billions of dollars. They are also guiding all those to come here under their wings how to use food stamps and all other free services we pay for, for OUR CITIZENS.

Ed Buckner

Carlos Ponce, as he has long demonstrated his commitment to doing, only takes seriously his own version of what the Bible means, not what it says. I cannot, of course, know his true motives, but his arguments with me always seem designed primarily to show men how pious he is. He probably disagrees with the Bible (and God) about the moral acceptability of slavery (as long as you don't buy slaves from your own tribe/nation--see Leviticus 25). And maybe he agrees with the New Testament/Paul that women should not be allowed to teach men, or maybe he has his own interpretation. In any case, he has a right to believe as he thinks best, and so do I. But neither of us is entitled to enlist the government on our side in religious matters.

Carlos Ponce

"not what it says". I know and follow what it says.
I am not pious. I am a sinner whose only chance at redemption is through the blood shed by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you read the original Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew from which our English versions are derived? If you did you will discover how absurd your assertions about what the Bible actually says are.
Taking parts of the Bible out of context is hardly scholarly. But that's precisely what you are doing. You have to read the entire text.
Have a Blessed and Happy Easter![beam]

Ed Buckner

Invariably--at least in my experience--Christians who should in fact be embarrassed by what their holy book says their god said, did, or wanted instead insist that mistranslation or taking out of context is what is going on. But Leviticus, in context and by all translations, treats human slavery as morally acceptable. Ditto for all versions/translations in re treating women (and children) as chattel property or inferior. The biblical treatments of these matters demonstrate to any thinking person that the books of the bible were composed by men in their own times with their own backward and outdated ideas--not by, nor under the inspiration of, any divine power (if there is one).

Carlos Ponce

"Leviticus" - like I posted, read the entire Bible.
Luke 6:31:Jesus said, "Do to others as you would have them do to you."
and Luke 4:18: "He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives"
A Rice University graduate should be able to figure that one out.
Don't judge the outcome of a book from the first chapters. Read the entire text.

Ed Buckner

This Rice U grad long ago figured out that the Bible contradicts itself--often and in context. And that it would be nothing short of absurd for an all-knowing "God" to unambiguously declare that human slavery is morally fine (if one follows the rules for it set out in Leviticus) in one age, but fail to explicitly contradict that later. Carlos Ponce and many others have found verses that support them as they oppose slavery, with a little interpretation. But famous and influential preachers had no trouble, in the 1840s, in finding verses that explciitly support slavery and declaring, as Richard Furman did, that slavery was not a moral evil, but a God-given institution for public order and moral good. Similar points can be made about keeping women in their place, etc. The bible and other allegedly holy books quite naturally reflect the moral and cultural standards of their time--quite different from what you'd expect if any of these scriptures had really been delivered by an omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent Being. It's a good thing we live in a free country.

Carlos Ponce

The Bible does not contradict itself. May I suggest:
"Explaining Contradictions In The Bible" Episode 857 by Perry Stone
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a73F1SQUSIo&index=6&list=PLrz37Tu8fEqLr38q9WD-_D44QYqLyHXTu
God never declared human slavery "morally fine". Further study of actual scripture will clear this. 1 Timothy 1:8-10 lists "slave trading" as sinful.
The preachers of the 1840s you speak of are guilty of the same lack of scholarly effort as you and should be dismissed.

Ed Buckner

All should know--my access to the online versions of Daily News discussion ends this morning, so say whatever you like--but understand that my lack of a response in no way implies I agree with you or even accept as reasonable your comment. I may, but to know for sure, you'd have to e-mail me--ebuckner [at] atheists.org

Carlos Ponce

Just remember that Jesus Christ died, not for doing any wrong but for our sins, yours and mine. But He rose from the dead. Those who believe in Him are guaranteed eternal life. Those who don't........

Ed Buckner

As you Carlos, and other readers (if any are left on this thread), that guarantees that are not backed up by one who can fulfill the guarantees are meaningless or worse. I have no doubt at all that you believe life eternal is available to those who follow what you say--but that is not evidence of anything guaranteed at all. It's just evidence of your belief, not evidence of anything real or substantial. And it is also not evidence, for or against your beliefs, that Christians disagree among themselves on what happens to nonbelievers like me after death. But then again Christians disagree on many, many things, including moral standards, ways of treating their fellow human beings, and biblical interpretations. Richard Furman and many others would have been just as sure of their interpretations in favor of slavery as you are in opposition. Abortion, women's rights, civil rights for racial minorities, religious liberty, unforgivable nature of blasphemy, and many, many other important (and some trivial) issues divide Christians, despite allegedly being guided by the eternal word of God. Have a good life.

Ed Buckner

CORRECTED: As you Carlos, and other readers (if any are left on this thread) should know, guarantees that are not backed up by one who can fulfill the guarantees are meaningless or worse. I have no doubt at all that you believe life eternal is available to those who follow what you say--but that is not evidence of anything guaranteed at all. It's just evidence of your belief, not evidence of anything real or substantial. And it is also not evidence, for or against your beliefs, that Christians disagree among themselves on what happens to nonbelievers like me after death. But then again Christians disagree on many, many things, including moral standards, ways of treating their fellow human beings, and biblical interpretations. Richard Furman and many others would have been just as sure of their interpretations in favor of slavery as you are in opposition. Abortion, women's rights, civil rights for racial minorities, religious liberty, unforgivable nature of blasphemy, and many, many other important (and some trivial) issues divide Christians, despite allegedly being guided by the eternal and unchanging word of God. Have a good life.

Carlos Ponce

"Christians disagree among themselves on what happens to nonbelievers like me after death."
Not really.
As to Richard Furman,as a young man he was opposed to slavery but changed his mind when he became a slave owner. Looking upon his dissertation it is apparent that his advocacy of continued slavery was more self serving - "Exposition of the Views of the Baptists Relative to the Coloured Population of the United States". Where he makes some ludicrous assumptions: "...Africans brought to America were, slaves, by their own consent, before they came from their own country..." He does cite some Biblical references but ignores passages that contradict his narrative. His attitude seems similar to the Liberals of today who insist on bringing Syrian refugees to the United States although they prefer "safe zones" in their own country. That attitude is "we know what is best for you".
He does however write "Should, however, a time arrive, when the Africans in our country might be found qualified to enjoy freedom; and, when they might obtain it in a manner consistent with the interest and peace of the community at large, the Convention would be happy in seeing them free.."

Ed Buckner

Carlos Ponce, you speak to the narrow point I made about Furman--and with more detail and information than I thought you'd be likely to have (well done on that), but you miss entirely the much bigger issue. You claim that Christians don't disagree on what'll happen to me in the afterlife, but the only way you can sustain that claim is by defining the many self-described Christians who disagree with you as not being true Christians (a variation of the no true Scotsman fallacy). Similarly on a huge range of issues. Millions of people who consider themselves Christians, guided by scripture, disagree with each other sharply on abortion, capital punishment, social (government) support for people in poverty, women's rights/status, and many more issues. You can claim that the "Christians" who disagree with you are not correctly reading or understanding scripture--and so can they.

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