Editor, Times-Union:

During the past week, the Times-Union has reported on parents demonstrating in support of teachers at Lincoln School and an atheist group’s complaint that that some teachers at that school had violated the separation of church and state by presenting Christian stories and/or films in December. And Ken Locke wrote an opinion piece in support of the teachers and parents.

My concern, as a Christian, is that there are a couple of misunderstandings on the part of the teachers involved (whom I don’t know), the parents and Mr. Locke.

(1) The claim frequently made is that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation. Typically, this is based on a couple of ideas. One is that the first Pilgrims, in 1621, were Christians who were leaving Europe to be able to practice their faith, which was Christian. This is true.

What’s often lost in the mists of history is that this was a case of one group of Christians leaving a country that had an established Christian church because their views differed from the state church’s views. They first went to Holland, and then to the U.S. (I’ve been in the church in Holland that commemorates their pilgrimmage from England.) Note carefully that this was a case of Christians leaving a country where Christianity was the state religion. But they wanted freedom to worship as they wished, not under the dictates of the state religion.

The second argument is that the founders of the U.S. at the time of the rebellion against England were Christians. Some certainly were, but not all. And the form of Christianity (Deism) that the founders believed would be significantly foreign to most American (evangelical) Christians. That the U.S. was founded on Judeo-Christian (rather than Buddhist or Shinto) principles is mainly due to the fact that the people who came to the U.S. came from England and western Europe and thus were deeply imbued with the beliefs of those geographic regions, which included both Christianity and Judaism but not much else – although the ideas of the Enlightenment were at the forefront of their minds.

(2) The second major claim is that the Constitution is Christian or, at least, that it protects the right to practice Christianity. The latter is certainly the case. But because the founders were concerned that no religion be given priority in the U.S., they were careful to separate the functions of government from any specific religion, stipulating that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” in the First Amendment. In the context, their concern is that religious people were to be free to practice their faith but that the government was not to promote or encourage any specific religion. And that includes Christianity and Judaism.

As a Christian, I don’t want any religion promoted in the public schools, which are a function of our government.

Jim Eisenbraun

Warsaw, via email