Are religious services okay in publicly funded parks?

This post on the blog, Reasoned Audacity, prompted me to ask that question and pose it in a comment to the blog authors there. I’ve not found them to be all that responsive to the comments people leave on their blog, and the slant of their posts closely reflects Charmaine Yoest’s affiliation with the Family Research Council, a group with the stated role of “Combining a solid commitment and dedication to the God-ordained institutions of marriage and family, the organization has established itself as one of the premiere conservative social policy organizations in the nation.”

BUT…from what I’ve read about Charmaine Yoest, I’m guessing that she is an experienced intellectual and engaged in the real world, even if she sees it rather differently than I do. To someone like me, that means, there’s always hope for engaging in a discussion or debate, and that’s a good thing. FWIW, Charmaine Yoest’s mother, Janice Crouse, is also an experienced advocate for the same end of the ideological spectrum (see here for a 2005 interview on PBS, conducted by David Brancaccio, where he introduces Janice Crouse as follows: “Janice Crouse is a senior fellow at the Beverly Lahaye Institute [yes, the same as Tim LaHaye etc.] think tank for Concerned Women for America, one of several Christian right groups pressuring the President to tilt global AIDS prevention efforts emphatically from condoms to sexual abstinence until marriage.”). [links added by me]

So, in fact, I’ve left a few comments there and I’ve sent an email or two, though not in a while and I don’t believe I’ve gotten any responses. I prefer debate to silence, but that’s just me.

Like a good blog post, the one I reference provoked me in a thoughtful way and this is the comment I left:

I would have left this comment on the 4/05 post re: Easter sunrise but I couldn’t find a “comment” button!

I don’t know if either of you have ever been to Israel or the Mt. Sinai, but I would urge you to go sometime. Your description of waking up at 3am to go to the sunrise service parallels the experience many people of many faiths, and probably a good number of those with no faith that has a name we’d recognize, have at Mt. Sinai.

Mine occurred in December 1984. My younger brother was visiting me for two weeks in Israel (I was there on a volunteer program I learned about at Georgetown – Sherut La’am) and the Sinai was still part of Israel (it became Egypt in the summer of 85 I believe).

We went on a tiyul into the Sinai, I think it was a three or four day thing, sleeping in Bedouin tents and so on. And it included ascending by foot to the top of Mt. Sinai before sunrise. You can see pictures from that morning here.

Now – there was no service, it wasn’t a particular holiday (secular new years and Chanuka excluded) but it was a religious experience for me just the same.

Should the service you attended on the Grand Canyone be allowed? I have no problem with it – but I would only want to be sure that anyone and everyone who wants the same would also get the permit. Are national parks in the habit of not allowing such things? I’m not familiar with that, but I see church and other kinds of picnics in our municipally run parks all over NE Ohio. So long as there is equal access, I fail to see that as government endorsement of religion – so long as there isn’t selective exclusion.

If there are such cases, I hope you’ll point to them – I’m often called naive.

Have a lovely holiday – we have several inches of snow here – no community Easter Egg Hunt – outdoors anyway.

Ironically, the smell of the simmering matzah balls I’m making is permeating my workspace as I type this!

I haven’t much time to research the troubles in publicly funded parks related to this issue but I did find this post on the site, AtheistActivist.org. The position taken by that group is far beyond what I believe in – I don’t think I could support such eviction of observation, so long as everyone was afforded the same opportunity and there was no endorsement or exclusion being done by the park and the groups involved respected the public nature of the location.

But, as I indicated at the Yoest’s post, I’ve just not ever read about this issue before and would be interested in reading more about the problems, alleged and real.

2 thoughts on “Are religious services okay in publicly funded parks?

  1. I agree with you on this issue Paul. I really have a hard time understanding the antitheist part of the spectrum. I mean, I understand it – but if their interest is to force people to think one way or another, I don’t see how that is any better than any other group that advocates conversion of others to whatever it is that that first group believes.I’ve written about this before – Judaism in general really frowns on proselytizing. That’s very ingrained in me. Observing with zeal to the extent that it doesn’t infringe on others – fine. But observing with the objective of pushing one’s ideas as being superior or the only way? Never. At least that’s how I interpret my religion for myself.

  2. Some people are theist, some are agnostic, and some are atheist. The more radical branch of the latter is the antitheists, which I define as those who strive to eradicate religion. The antitheists would like to ban any practice of religion which might contaminate the environment of innocent bystanders. The best place to start this campaign is by saying that any religious activity on public property automatically puts the general public at risk of being involuntarily exposed to religion, and therefore all religious activities on public property must be banned.I’m not saying that it’s okay for a particularly evangelical religious group to swarm into the neighborhood park on Saturday afternoon and start making cold calls. But isn’t it okay for a Christian congregation to gather in a park at sunrise on Easter for a short service, as our congregation has often done? No one is picnicking; we don’t try to tackle the joggers and jam the Gospel down their throats. When we want to hold a church picnic, is it not okay to use a public park?The thing is, I’m pretty sure a Native American group could hold a daybreak service to honor their gods, and most folks, including the antitheists, would think it was quaint and completely non-threatening. Here’s an interesting example: The Ohio Union, the older of the two student union buildings at Ohio State, is being demolished so that a new student union can be constructed. During the closing ceremony, a Native American group was called upon to perform a ceremony to invite the good spirits in the building to hang around and wait for the new building to be constructed. There wasn’t a peep of opposition from the ACLU or anyone else. I’m not picking on the Native Americans. There are probably a number of cultures who could get away with holding ceremonies of their religion in a park if it was also good theater. It’s the mainstream Judeo-Christian religions which attract the wrath of the antitheists.Imagine…

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