NY Gov, federal court scale the wall of separation

At a recent press conference, New York governor Kathy Hochul remarked, “I prayed a lot to God during this time and you know what -- God did answer our prayers,” Hochul stated, before denigrating those who have not yet received a coronavirus shot.

“He made the smartest men and women, the scientists, the doctors, the researchers -- he made them come up with a vaccine. That is from God to us and we must say, thank you, God. Thank you. And I wear my ‘vaccinated’ necklace all the time to say I’m vaccinated. All of you, yes, I know you’re vaccinated, you’re the smart ones, but you know there’s people out there who aren’t listening to God and what God wants. You know who they are[emphasis added]

“I need you to be my apostles,” the governor added, saying that receiving the treatment is how New Yorkers can “love one another.”

If the governor said this in a tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic manner it was a brazen insult to the deeply held religious convictions of many New Yorkers she claims to serve. Worse yet, if she was serious, she has anointed herself theologian in chief of the state of New York.

Declaring one acceptable theological position on any issue while seated atop the pinnacle of state authority, and at the same time seeking to restrict the practice of any contradictory theological belief would simultaneously violate both the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment (applied to states by the U.S. Supreme Court and passage of the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses).

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country a federal court chastised an American citizen for his chosen method of expressing gratitude to God. In ruling that the Bremerton (WA) School District was justified in firing high school football coach Joe Kennedy for kneeling in silent prayer at midfield after games, Judge Milan Smith of the Ninth Circuit went out of his way to criticize Coach Kennedy, saying he “personally find[s] it more than a little ironic that Kennedy’s ‘everybody watch me pray’ staged public prayers… so clearly flout the instructions found in the Sermon on the Mount on the appropriate way to pray.”

Federal judges are empowered to interpret the laws of man, not of God.  Judging the sincerity of one’s religious expression crosses the line of separation so normally worshiped by the Left. The unconstitutionality of this “sermon on the bench” is matched only by its pettiness.

When the Founders drafted the religious liberty and free speech clauses of the First Amendment to prohibit an official state church, protect the right to live according to conscience, and to speak even unpopular opinions, could they have envisioned a day when government officials would look with such virulent disdain upon the views of their fellow citizens? Thankfully, whether they did or not, the document they crafted still stands as a bulwark against just such smug, self-assured tyrants.

As C.S. Lewis pointed out “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

When those in authority, elected or not, seek to impose their preferred theology or ideology on a free people, those who seek to remain free would be wise to recall the exhortation Benjamin Franklin proposed as a national motto that wasn’t adopted but did end up on the personal seal of Thomas Jefferson -- “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”

Lathan Watts is Director of Public Affairs at First Liberty Institute, a non-profit law firm and think tank exclusively dedicated to defending religious liberty for all Americans.

Image: Sebastian Rothwyn

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