Do Christians have civil rights? Earlier this week, citizens of Davenport, Iowa, were informed that City Administrator Craig Malin planned to change the name of Good Friday to “Spring Holiday” on official city documents, per the recommendation of the Davenport Civil Rights Commission. After the city and state grew appropriately outraged, the decision was reversed and Mayor Bill Gluba pled that the city move on to “more important issues.” But, this issue might in fact be the most important.
Over the course of the past several decades, political correctness has been applied to protect the rights of communities experiencing discrimination, and that can be appreciated. The inclination to not offend your fellow man is as natural as wanting to catch someone who is falling. It’s inherent in us. But at what point do the scales tip, and the balance of political correctness shift towards infringing upon the rights of many, and their own civil liberties, for the supposed protection of a few? In Davenport, the scales aren’t just tipped, they’ve gone missing.
Good Friday is one of the holiest days of the year for Christians. It marks the day Jesus Christ was crucified. And on the Sunday afterwards, Christians celebrate Easter, rejoicing in his resurrection. You do not have to be a Christian to understand how important these days are to those who worship the faith.
Imagine if this Davenport incident had been about the Jewish observance of Passover which often coincides with Easter, or the Muslim observance of Ramadan, which is also celebrated across our land of religious liberty. The outcries would have been louder, and the claims would’ve included an assault on the motives of the person responsible. Were the decision-makers bigoted? Were they anti-Semitic? But in this case, it is actually a “Civil Rights Commission” making these ridiculously un-American assaults on a religion. The motive automatically gets accepted as benign.
So what is the purpose of the “Civil Rights Commission”? Is it designed to protect the liberties of a few at the expense of most, or should it be empowered to protect the rights of all, even against the outcries of a few? In Davenport’s case, it was created in 1962, and given enforcement power in 1974 to protect all persons from discrimination. So in other words, what began as a noble effort is now a tragedy of unintended consequences.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech: “With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.” This does not sound like a man convinced that Christianity should be pushed from the public square.
King went further: “…we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” Again, the civil rights icon of the twentieth century was not advocating for protection from religion, but rather a peaceful coexistence rooted in its core philosophies on display to all.
The Davenport “Civil Rights Commission” told reporters that they “had no plans to change the name of ‘Easter Sunday’ because it fell on a weekend and government offices were already closed.” Never before had Jesus’ resurrection being celebrated on a Sunday seemed so convenient. They had “discussed changing Christmas” but decided against it when they determined enough religions celebrate Christmas. The Christmas-celebrating, Easter-ignoring theologians must only live in Davenport.
During Holy Week, it is easy to forgive the transgressions of those on the Davenport Commission. For Christians, it is imperative. But it is also imperative that the rights of all those who wish to worship as they see fit are protected; even against those who demand that worship be hidden from public view. Our nation was founded on principles that demand that all men are created equal. The easiest way toward equality is not to ignore the differences that make America great, but to embrace a nation that is welcoming to faith, freedom and civil society.
Rory Cooper is the Director of Strategic Communications at The Heritage Foundation.