an article by the Associated Press stating that, last Monday, right after he was inaugurated the new Governor of Alabama, Dr. Robert J. Bentley stated in a public address to a church congregation that “anybody ... who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, ... you're not my brother and you're not my sister.”
Some people will interpret this very narrowly, as a statement of Gov. Bentley’s personal religious beliefs about his ‘brothers and sisters in Christ,’ but that is so much spin control. Gov. Bentley’s statement was not some narrow statement of theology. His statement was all-embracing, and as a public utterance on the day of his very inauguration, it is hard to escape the impression that Gov. Bentley, intentionally or not, was putting non-Christians on notice that they really are second-class citizens in Alabama.
Sure, as Gov. Bentley’s communications director stated in trying to control the spin on the governor’s statement, “He is the governor of all the people, Christians, non-Christians alike,” but that is not the point. By law, yes, he’s the governor of all. That’s not the point under dispute. The question is, will he govern all these citizens as equal before the law, regardless of their religion? That is very much up in the air at the moment.
At the very least—and this is as generous an interpretation as one can make here—Gov. Bentley is guilty of almost incredibly bad judgment. To say the least, this is not a desirable trait in a governor.
Gov. Bentley’s statement is starkly unconstitutional and highly un-American. The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution so that no one religion was to be established or privileged in the United States. The Supreme Court has certified that this First Amendment restriction applies to federal, state, and local governments. For the new chief executive of a U.S. State to make a public statement—on the day of his inauguration, yet!—that only Christians are his brothers and sisters is unconscionable. It’s not just bad judgment; it sounds like an intent to violate the First Amendment of the Constitution.
The Founding Fathers went to great lengths to make people of all religious backgrounds, or none, fully enfranchised within the United States, full citizens. This reflects the Founding Fathers experience with the history of religious warfare in Europe. The Fathers and their associates in the Continental Congress and the supporters of the Continental Army of the American Revolution were a diverse group for their time and place—some Protestant Christian, some Catholic Christian, some Jewish, some Deist, at least one a committed atheist (Thomas Paine)—and they wanted America to be a place where religious diversity had a home. When the chief executive of a U.S. State publicly proclaims that only Christians are his brothers and sisters, such a statement is a violation of the very spirit of American religious inclusiveness.
Finally, there is the matter of Gov. Bentley’s take on Christianity. Speaking as a Christian myself (specifically, a Latter-day Saint), I even find Gov. Bentley’s stance on Christianity to be deeply flawed. As an example of true brotherhood, Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37), someone who was not a Jew like Jesus, and who would not have been accepted as a believer by the religious authorities of Jesus’s culture (or by Gov. Bentley, it would seem).
Gov. Bentley needs to learn some better judgment. Beyond that, he needs to learn that all people are the children of God and thereby his brothers and sisters. As far as America’s voters are concerned, they need to learn not to use religious affiliation as a qualification for public office.
American equality before the law regardless of religion is truly On The Mark.
(This post expands on a comment of mine on a news item in The Huffington Post. The original news article is available here. An archive of all my comments on The Huffington Post is available here. Readers of this blog are welcome to become “friends” or “fans” of mine on The Huffington Post.)
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[The photo of Robert J. Bentley was taken at a campaign stop in Huntsville, AL in July 2010. The author is known as Zwilson14, who published it on Wikipedia under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, and the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license versions 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, and 1.0.]
(Copyright 2011 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)