Rich Mayfield: Caution, believer on board
Readers of this column are well aware of my fascination for rear-ends ” on cars, of course. I am endlessly entertained by what folk deign to place upon the back bumpers of their automobiles. Everything from one’s political preferences to a favorite clothing line is un-embarrassingly announced while idling at an intersection or racing by on the interstate.
Although I’ve yet to declare my allegiances so publicly, I certainly honor those who do and have absolutely no quarrel with placing one’s electoral choice or religious predilection out there for all to see. I do get uneasy, however, when the state offers to help pay for it.
In this case, the state is South Carolina whose legislative leadership has proposed an automobile license plate decorated with a cross and a stained-glass window that declares “I Believe” directly above the obviously Christian symbols. It can be had for any South Carolinian who is willing to both fork over the dough and denigrate the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Despite what some may assume, being a resident of a Bible-belt state doesn’t excuse you from the foundational principles of these United States. The Bill of Rights puts careful concern into that famous wall of separation that not only prohibits a state-sanctioned religion but allows Americans a religious freedom many of the world’s citizens are denied.
The argument proffered by those believing South Carolinians seeks to deflect the constitutional concerns by claiming that the state already provides advertising space for a plethora of other prejudices. A quick look at the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles web page may surprise you with its variety of possibilities for going public. Like NASCAR or nurses? The SCDMV can provide you with a plate that will announce your allegiance. The same service is offered to Shriners, the Special Olympics and square dancers, as well. And all of it is well and, maybe even, good but not when it comes to advocating a particular religious preference. Such public proselytizing is not only best left to private concerns but constitutionally forbidden by our government for our government, even if that government is filled from top to bottom with Bible-banging believers.
Just past July 4 is a good time to celebrate the wisdom of our founding fathers whose clear intentions were to prevent the religious restrictions perpetrated by past overseers and establish a nation where every citizen would be free to believe or not. The very suggestion that a state provide special benefits to believers should be anathema to all Americans.
Perhaps even more persuasive than our Constitution would be the reminder that proclaiming one’s religious preference from the back of a Buick may offer frequent opportunities for a kind of reverse evangelism. After all, getting cut off by a speedster sporting a Christian cross could cause a potential convert to reconsider the possibility. I often tell of the time a clergy friend of mine lost his cool while driving through town and in a fit of pique pointed his middle finger at an offending driver. It was only when the woman in the next car’s chin dropped down to her dash that my friend remembered he was still wearing his clerical collar.
So if not for our cherished nation’s integrity then for our own slightly tarnished dignities, surely we can all agree that it is best to keep religious sentiment out of our statehouses and onto our sleeves, even when it means the fish floating on your Ford runs the risk of ruining your religious reputation.
Local Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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