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July 4 ad exaggerated our Christian heritage
William W. Ziegler's op-ed column on Hobby Lobby and their Christian ad.

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Date published: 7/22/2012

IT'S WITHIN the rights of Hobby Lobby's owners to publish whatever they want when they buy a full-page ad in The Free Lance-Star [July 4]. But it reflects poorly on their Christian witness when they lard that page with messages encouraging discrimination and with inaccuracies bordering on lies.

As referenced in the ad, John Jay did write a letter in which he declared it "the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers." This reminds us that, along with their visionary striving for human rights, many of the Founders were tainted with the prejudices of their times.

Fortunately, they got it right in Article VI of the Constitution: "[N]o religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Otherwise, presumably with the blessing of Hobby Lobby's owners, we'd have told Rep. Eric Cantor and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, "Sorry, you need not apply."

The ad's two worst misrepresentations purport to show that the Supreme Court declared the U.S. to be a Christian nation and that it ruled in favor of explicit teaching of Christianity in schools. It did neither.

In Church of the Holy Trinity v. U.S. (1892), the issue to be decided wasn't the religious affiliation of the U.S.; it was whether a U.S. church had the right to hire a pastor from outside the country, in spite of a federal law barring any employer from recruiting foreign workers. Its remarks about the prevalence of Christianity were to show that Congress did not intend that its labor law be used to prevent a congregation from choosing its own pastor.

The Hobby Lobby ad grossly distorts the sense of the court's ruling in Vidal v. Girard's Executors (1844) by strategically altering a key word. Here's how the ad quotes the decision: "Why may not the Bible, and especially the New Testament, be read and taught as a divine revelation in [schools] ?" This, the ad explains, was from a "Unanimous Decision Commending and Encouraging the Use of the Bible in Government-Run Schools."

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