In preparation for Easter this past weekend, an an Easter sunrise service in downtown Chicago, a 19-foot cross was erected on Daley Plaza in Chicago.
What struck me about this event was not the ceremony, or even especially the use of a cross. What struck me about this event was that Rob Sherman, a nationally known atheist from Buffalo Grove, Illinois, applauded the way the event was done. I thought: "What gives? Had Rob become a Christian?" The real answer is one many conservative Christians need to think about I believe.
This event was sponsored by The Thomas More Society (Catholic). The More Society obtained a city permit for the cross and their event. Sherman therefore applauded the city of Chicago and The Thomas More Society for properly working together to gain legal approval for "free exercise of private religious speech in the public square." Christians from several different backgrounds worked on this project. Sherman noted that he had no problem with an expression of faith in public, only with government-sponsored displays.
Though I do not always agree with Rob Sherman I think we ought to consider what is being said and done here. What Sherman opposes is his government funding and backing the display of any particular religious expression using tax-payer funds. In this case public property was used, by permit, for the free exercise of faith.
The problems we face in this area are significant but many of them could be more easily solved with solutions like this one. I do not think the framers of the Constitution could have envisioned a time when Christianity would not be virtually synonymous with the culture but such is the time we now live in. With every passing year other religions, and no religion, have a major place in public life in America. The government does not need to support any of them. The great blessing of America is that we have no established Church or religion.
My critics will say "Christianity," at least broadly conceived, "has the rightful place at the center of our society and that government should acknowledge that in some form." (Many symbols of faith do clearly exist on public buildings, flags, city logos, etc. and these need not be removed since they are part of our history, not part of promoting or favoring a religion in the present! This is where the arguments of atheists, to my mind, are stretched too far.) My response is that Christianity did have such a place historically but it doesn’t have it now, regardless of what you and I think about why this came about. I seriously wonder how much these various fights over displaying Christian symbols on public property at Christmas, to use the most common example, really matter to the mission of Christ and the spread of the gospel in our society?
Here is a novel idea. If you want to have public religious services on government property then get a permit and have them. It makes sense if you think about it for long.