This Week in God

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at just how confused some federal lawmakers can get when it comes to religious liberty.

In Colorado, the Air Force Academy has spent millions of dollars on a chapel, but also spent $80,000 for a worship center to be used by self-identified pagans cadets. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), a right-wing freshman congresswoman, told the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins that this is “crazy.”

Perkins: Do you see this as a part of a growing trend that we see that there is really kind of a marginalization of Christianity and almost a promotion of other forms of, I would have to say, fringe religions?

Hartzler: I agree, I think so. Christianity is the main religion in our country and as a policy for the Department of Defense we need to defend the practice of religion but we do not have to obligate taxpayer funds to facilitate or accommodate it or pay for it.

Perkins: Is it the government’s role to try to put all religions on the same plane?

Hartzler: No, it’s not their role at all. Their role is to facilitate basic policy for our country and to not to try to lift up one religion over the other, they should be defending the basic rights that we have, that freedom of religion here, and certainly not facilitating or accommodating fringe religions, it’s crazy.

I suspect Hartzler hasn’t, and probably doesn’t want to, think this one through. The Air Force Academy has already built a chapel, which will meet the spiritual needs of Christian cadets. To see this as “a marginalization of Christianity” is pretty silly.

But Hartzler really runs into trouble when she starts fleshing out her worldview in more detail. Christianity is the “main” American religion, the Republican says, but one religion shouldn’t be elevated over another, except “fringe religions,” which shouldn’t be “accommodated.”

Here’s the follow-up for Hartzler: who gets to decide which religions are “fringe”? If she thinks the government should decide, she may want to reevaluate her understanding of “freedom of religion.”

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church in eastern Kentucky has reversed course, and agreed to accept mixed-race couples into the congregation. (thanks to R.P. for the tip)

* At the White House this week, the Obamas and the Bidens hosted a Hanukkah celebration, during which the president noted “our unshakeable support and commitment to the security of the nation of Israel.”

* The Bronx prohibits the use of local public school facilities by local houses of worship. A church filed suit, but lower courts sided with the city. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

* A high-profile Atlanta megachurch pastor, Bishop Eddie Long, announced this week he would stop preaching, following a series of scandals, including allegations of sexual misconduct with five young men.

* And finally, Rick Perry’s culture-war ad drew plenty of criticism this week, but none quite as amusing as this video: