Gov. Bryant can Strike a Blow for Religious Liberty

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Published on: August 25, 2015

From Todd Starnes, writing at Fox News:

There was no halftime show under the Friday night lights at Mississippi’s Brandon High School — the marching band had been benched.

The band was ordered off the field because the Christian hymn “How Great Thou Art” was a part of their halftime show — in violation of a federal court order.

“The Rankin County School Board and District Office are very saddened students will not be able to perform their halftime show they have worked so hard on this summer,” the district wrote in a statement to the Clarion Ledger newspaper.

And why is this ban in place? Because of a ruling from an out-of-control judicial tyrant wearing a black robe named Carlton Reeves. In a stunning display of unconstitutional, anti-Christian bigotry and prejudice, this Obama-appointed jurist said the district is “permanently enjoined from including prayer, religious sermons or activities in any school sponsored event including but not limited to assemblies, graduations, award ceremonies, athletic events and any other school event.”

The origin of this draconian rule was a 2013 dustup over – horror of horrors – a clergyman offering a prayer at an entirely voluntary awards ceremony. The fact that both the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives open every single session with a prayer offered by a clergyman seemed to have no effect on this tunnel-visioned oligarch.

To add insult to injury, this totalitarian has threatened to slap a $10,000 fine on the school district if it does not meekly submit to this form of involuntary servitude.

The plain historical fact is that the Constitution gives a federal judge precisely zero authority over a local school district. In the Constitution given to us by the Founders (not the one mangled by the courts) the First Amendment restrains the actions of Congress and Congress alone.

Congress is forbidden by the Constitution from doing two things. The first is picking one Christian denomination and making it the official church of the United States. That’s the “establishment” clause.

The second thing Congress, and by extension the entire federal government, is prohibited from doing is “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. The federal government, including the judiciary, is expressly forbidden by the First Amendment from restricting in any way the free exercise of the Christian faith in any state, anywhere, at any time. Under the Constitution as written, the regulation of religious expression is reserved exclusively to state authorities.

The right of states to have an established church within their borders was expressly protected by the Founders’ Constitution, and in fact, nine or 10 of the thirteen original states had established churches at the time of the Founding.

In other words, if it’s okay with the state of Mississippi to have a high school band play hymns at halftime, it’s okay. Period. And the federal government doesn’t have a thing to say about it. The Constitution says so.

And even if the First Amendment did apply to the states, this judge would still be wrong, because it guarantees the right to the “free exercise” of religion, which at a minimum would include a band playing religious music at the halftime of a football game.

But in Judge Reeve’s Hitleresque world (Hitler famously said, “the church must be separate from the state”), it will now cost the Rankin County School Board a cool $10,000 to exercise a constitutionally guaranteed right that should be theirs for free.

Now Todd Starnes, to his everlasting credit, is willing to fork over the 10 grand himself if the school goes ahead and authorizes the band to play “How Great Thou Art” at their next home game. And to the everlasting credit of Brandon High School fans, they broke into their own rendition of the hymn when this mean-spirited judge wouldn’t let the band do it.

Starnes quoted a town resident who said, “It breaks my heart to see where our country is going — getting farther and farther away from the Christian beliefs that our country was founded on.” Miss Mandy added, “We are getting tired of being told to sit down and shut up. People are ready to fight back.”

Starnes add his own comments. “Miss Mandy is absolutely right. The time has come to stand up to the secularists. The time has come to put an end to their cultural jihad.”

So who can strike the real blow for religious freedom here? That would be Mississippi governor Phil Bryant. The time has come for a governor somewhere to stand up for religious liberty and simply refuse to meekly capitulate to judicial tyranny any longer.

Gov. Bryant would be well within his rights, both under the federal Constitution and the Mississippi constitution, to tell the Rankin school board that the band is free to play “How Great Thou Art” as often as they want to on the football field or in a concert or at a graduation ceremony, and that he will use every bit of his authority as governor to protect their freedom to do so.

The Mississippi state constitution has a robust free exercise clause, which gives the governor all the legal authority he needs. Here’s how it reads (emphasis mine):

“…[T]he free enjoyment of all religious sentiments and the different modes of worship shall be held sacred. The rights hereby secured shall not be construed to justify acts of licentiousness injurious to morals or dangerous to the peace and safety of the state, or to exclude the Holy Bible from use in any public school of this state.”

It’s time for Gov. Bryant to say this about Judge Reeves, “The judge has issued his ruling. Now let him enforce it.” And the reality is there wouldn’t be a single, solitary thing Judge Reeves could do about it other than fume and rant and rage. He has no enforcement powers whatsoever, no officials he can order out to detain anybody or to compel servile underlings to comply with his outrageous ruling.

Were Gov. Bryant to take a stand for religious liberty, the first blow against judicial tyranny in America could be struck. Other governors would be empowered by his example to protect liberty in their own states from judicial overreach, and pretty soon there would be so much liberty and freedom breaking out everywhere judges wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. We would once again be the “land of the free.”

Governor Bryan, a lonely nation desperate for religious liberty turns its eyes to you. What will you do?

(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)

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