Opinion, please: Rick Warren

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen the controversial Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inaugral. There has been plenty of commentary about this decision.

So, I’m curious: what do you think about the decision? Is it a slap in the face to LGBT supporters of Obama? Is it Obama broadening the tent? Or something else?


45 thoughts on “Opinion, please: Rick Warren

  1. VJP – I am sorry about the language, will try to be better about that.

    MB – dude, you crack me up.

    Genevieve – I am with you, why can’t we have a secular ethics leader speak at the inauguration? Western culture is held back by the misapprehension that ethics are derived from faith/religion. That mindset blocks an opportunity for ethics to be taught in a secular fashion by our society in every venue; and for various religions to back it up if community members are in those religions.

    A ethical society, one where all members of the community know right from wrong, regardless of their differing faiths or even the absence of faith, is a much safer and more reasonable society. Modern Japan is one example of this, and I know it is not perfect, but they sure have a lot fewer criminal acts than we do.

  2. For those of you offended by the inclusion of anyone mentioning the word “God” in Obama’s inauguration, let me remind you that the vast majority of Americans believe in God. If we expand the tent to include agnostics, you atheists are left out on the periphery.

    Now, the majority of Americans are against gay marriage as proven time and again when the issue is put to the vote. Even in ultra liberal California Proposition 8 passed.

    If one confined the vote to only the religious, such measures would pass by even larger majorities.

    What was Barack to do? Offend the majority by excluding the invocation from his inaugural ceremony? Include it but have it given by someone who thinks gay marriage is just dandy?

    You atheists are too hard to please.

  3. The Prop 8 issue is a farce. The way in which the movement attempts to bring even those of us who support recognition is absurd. Everytime an advocate appears on a program it turns into being about hate mongering and bigotry and then they tie it to religion and of course evangelicals in particular as being the ill of their problems. They conveniently neglect to ever respond to other elements within society whom may oppose them from within the ranks of the Democrat Party itself not to say that evanglecials are solely Republican because they are not as I am one of them.
    They would be served greater by more focused and centered direction over the elements of the debate that require real legislative attention; like working to open the awareness channels regarding what rights the gay community through marriages seek to be afforded. For example, I know no one (even those who support Warren) who think that a partner or spouse should not be afforded insurance rights, beneficiary rights or survivorship etc. If they would just put things in those contexts when making the case and not the whole religious battle- after all not all churches are opposed to gay marriage as the Episcopal Church has opened up to it as well as having and recognizing gay/lesbian Priests so lets not put all people of faith in a box with the rhetoric spouted by the activists. So if a church “recognizes” the marriage before God exactly what is the movement after othern than what appears through the activists as special considerations, special status arguements all over again which turn people off from the basic premise of why they are seeking the reognition of marriage in the first place. PR nightmare for the cause.

  4. “You atheists are too hard to please.”

    Actually, we’re pretty easy to please. No God of any flavor in the government, no government in the God/religious activities of any flavor. No one is saying our viewpoints should prevail because they are the minority, nor should the majority be silenced because the minority is in disagreement. The issue is, why is religion in an inauguration? Because I seriously doubt that God actually cares who is President of the US. And if he does, does he care about all countries and their leaders? What happens if one leader starts a war with another one and God chose both leaders? Just the ones with money? What if God doesn’t like the President, but likes the country? And that implies that God doesn’t like some countries, and also that God recognizes geo-political borders, and frankly, if I were to believe in a God, my God would be above such petty disputes, figuratively and literally, and love all people, and not give a damn what country they were in, where the British drew lines on a map, or what job they had. (My God would also have a driver, so screw all your “What Would Jesus Drive?” bumper stickers.)

    Also, just because someone is in the majority doesn’t make them correct, or make taking action based on “Most Americans believe/do XYZ” the rationale, correct thing to do. Wikipedia “1942 Japanese-Americans” if you don’t believe me. (Is that a weird version of Godwin’s law? Sorry, I didn’t mean to if it is…)Indeed, our civil liberties and the like are there to protect the minority from the majority.

    Actually (MB, watch this), my Con Law professor had an interesting point to make about the first amendment and I think it can be analogized here- The First Amendment doesn’t exist to protect speech that the majority loves, or by extension, the bill of rights/related laws don’t exist to protect that which the majority has accepted. Such activities and speech have protection inherent from their acceptance by the majority. Such laws exist to protect the speech the majority doesn’t believe; not because the speech is righter, or because it will become the majority one day, but because we still like to pretend in this country that someone in the minority can still express an opinion without the fear of majority oppression. The laws exist to protect minority speech because the majority has no real incentive to do so, and because such churning of ideas is vital to the marketplace of ideas, oh, screw it, Oliver Wendell Holmes said it better. “If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition…But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas…that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.” Abrams v. United States.)

    Ok, so, see, point being, your argument that I should stfu and deal because I’m not in the majority is like, totally counter to the a key reason that we have, you know, a Constitution.

    Now, the question remaining is, is the fact that someone’s going to be offended by speech no matter the topic something that should be accepted when picking an invocation speaker at inauguration? And if so, what? We pick based on POTUS’ religion, which seems fair enough, I guess, being that it is his inauguration. Except it’s kind of NOT, because he was actually elected democratically this go round. SO, since this is government endorsed speech, kinda sorta maybe, why, I ask again, is religion even being brought into government? You can be religious and be in government, and religion can guide the decisions in gov’t of the individual, but government cannot itself be religious or endorse religion, and I guess all I’m asking is why do we need an invocation, other than the fact that most people believe in God (although I would guess that not most people believe in Warren’s god)? Obama can go and have his prayers or whatnot, but why do they have to be part of the official celebration?

    And I guess I still don’t get where this fits in between Oprah and whatever musical acts are slated? If God is so important to an inauguration, why does he have to be scheduled in? Show some respect and give the guy a day! If God is so important, shouldn’t He get the whole inauguration? Why does God have to be trotted out and presented as part of what is essentially the handing over of power, an official recognition of victory? Did God win the electoral college? I doubt it, because that would mean that God picks favorites, and I don’t think that’s how it works. (For the record though, yes, God is a Phillies fan. There is no other explanation. Then again, what just and loving God wouldn’t be a Phillies fan? 😉 )

  5. Genevieve,

    I am going to attempt to make two points.

    First, you commented:

    “My God would also have a driver, so screw all your “What Would Jesus Drive?” bumper stickers.”

    Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, so I doubt he would in the present day have a chauffeur. Perhaps he would on occasion allow someone else to drive.

    Second point:

    You almost seem to point that minority voices should be allowed equal time at the microphone and majority voices should be squelched. That if 10 people sitting in a room are asked for their opinion, the one dissenting voice should be allowed equal time to put forth his/her minority viewpoint as the other 9 put together.

    If there is going to be an invocation, must each and every minority viewpoint be allowed equal time at the microphone?

    OK, 48 hours after we started (and some were still displeased their voice was not heard) we finally finished the invocation and we were allowed to get to the rest of the inauguration…

  6. Your first point I shall dismiss with my usual flawless (that’s a joke) logic. I said “my God.” You referred to “Jesus.” Who ever said that my God was Jesus? I said MY God would have a driver. Your God did not, I dismissed any respect to your own non-chauffeured god, and I make no argument with your own god’s non-driving ways. But if I were to have a god, well, he’d have a driver.

    As for your second point. Dude. “No one is saying our viewpoints should prevail because they are the minority, nor should the majority be silenced because the minority is in disagreement.

    You said, “That if 10 people sitting in a room are asked for their opinion, the one dissenting voice should be allowed equal time to put forth his/her minority viewpoint as the other 9 put together.”

    No, but I will grant you I was unclear. The marketplace of ideas doesn’t work like that. It works like a regular market. It’s not a formula; it works like if 10 people in a room have 2 opinions (9 to 1), it means that the 9 guys can’t tell the one guy he’s not allowed to speak entirely, they can’t punish him for his thoughts, and he should be allowed an opportunity to put his ideas into the stream of things. Does it mean everyone gets equal time? No. Does it mean that you can’t throw me in jail for standing on the street corner and proclaiming the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Yup. Does it mean I get to have your church to do it in? No. Does it mean you have to give me equal time? No, that’s up to me, to try and get my message out there. Think of it like antitrust law- the Sherman Act is only there to protect antitrust injuries. The Sherman Act does not protect competitive injuries- injuries you got because you just were a bad business, the demand wasn’t there, you didn’t make enough units, you didn’t advertise enough, etc. It protects against price fixing, horizontal restraints on trade, boycotts, monopolization- antitrust injuries that go against “the rules of open, free and fair competition” that serve to hide information and keep people from actually competing. Similar idea with the First Amendment. The Sherman Act doesn’t save a business from competing, but rather enables it to fully compete. The First Amendment doesn’t give you an equal amount of time at the mike, but rather, provides the protection so you can go and try and get that time for yourself.

    But that’s really for private speech; our issue here is, I think first, is the invocation government speech or is it private speech? Because here, we’ve past the “marketplace of ideas” and found a winner, which would be Warren. He won! He gets to give an invocation.

    If it’s private speech, then it really doesn’t matter if I disagree or you disagree or anyone is offended, because it’s protected under the 1st amendment as mere advocacy of an abstract idea. Under RAV, advocacy is protected, even if the majority finds it offensive. You have the right to open your mouth.

    If it’s government speech, well, that’s a different matter. Gov’t speech doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be content neutral- what would be the point of political parties otherwise? However, here, I think it’s different because we have speech sitting very close to the Establishment Clause. (Or is it? Is Obama President at the time of the invocation? Or is he still a Senator? If he’s not, this could be moot. That’s a fun problem, actually. He chose Warren when he was just a Senator. He’s still really just a Senator. Not even. So, if he’s not the POTUS yet, can his choice actually constitute gov’t speech? And if not, does it turn into gov’t speech at the inauguration? Can one Senator’s choice violate the Establishment Clause, or since he’s just 1/100, can that not really do it? That should be a totality of the circumstances analysis, and I could get lost in that problem…)

    That means we’ve stepped away from the marketplace of ideas to the government picking the message of the speech. Is the government speech establishing a religion? Is the government speech endorsing religion? I think that this is like that Summum case (no decision yet as far as I am aware, so I have no official answer for you, littledavid). There, there was a blending of private and gov’t speech, as I think arguably Warren’s speech is. It’s possibly endorsed by the gov’t, it’s got a high degree of gov’t involvement, we’re brushing up against the Establishment Clause…except there’s no opportunity for this to be a public forum, like a public park is. Is the acceptance of Warren’s invocation an endorsement of religion? I’m not sure that it is; I think, like the Summum case, the gov’t has a right to control and choose its message, but it’s tricky because it’s so close to the Establishment Clause and because it’s a gov’t choice of a particular subset of a religious message.

    I think that it’s just not a good idea to tie religion of any sort into an inauguration. I also think that, well, Obama’s not Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or anything else, and eventually, you hit a logistical limit. However, not only is there a limit to what can be included, there’s a limit to what can be excluded. I don’t think that including a pre-chosen religious message as part of the celebration is a good idea, and I think that it could violate the Establishment Clause, unless arguably, he’s not the gov’t yet. He’s just a guy about to be President, and as such, it’s just a guy giving a talk before he becomes the gov’t, and it’s protected (not from jerks like me, but rather, protected in the sense that he can legally give the invocation).

    I could also get lost in the idea of temporary gov’t speech versus permanent gov’t speech. Arguably, this is temporary. We’ll forget about it by Jan. 21. Warren who? I barely remember the guy’s name right now, I’m more interested in the legal issues now. Where perhaps we might start to worry is permanent gov’t speech, which is more likely to violate the Establishment Clause or the First Amendment.

    At the end of the day, though, I think we all just want to b**ch and moan about something. I mean, I know I do.

    I also know I’m tired of talking about the law when I’m supposed to be on winter break. (Shaddup, MB.)I also realize that I keep taking winding turns in this argument and end up just lost in the cornmaze of it all, so, um, the end.

  7. Gen, in what way is having an invocation at the inauguration “close to the Establishment Clause”? How is an invocation in any way equivalent to having a government-established religion? Are all political appointees going to be Christian? No. Are special taxes going to be levied on those who are not members of the official religion? No.

    Having an invocation is, quite frankly, catering to the majority who believe that God does care about us.

  8. Genevieve,

    Actually Jesus is not my God, he is my Rabbi. I am uncertain as to whether or not he is/was God, but I do know that I love him profoundly.

    And it is not my God who is non-driving. Yours is the one that needs a chauffeur.

    As to whether or not Rick Warren deserves to give the invocation? Seems the minority on one issue do not want him given that honor because on that issue he represents the majority viewpoint.

    As to the establishment cause? If you are upset about an invocation even being included I’d bet you’re furious about our money having “In God we trust” engraved upon it.

  9. Anon, it depends on what the definition of “establishment” is. SCOTUS seems to think, and they have that special benefit of being SCOTUS, that “[w]hen the government acts with the ostensible and predominant purpose of advancing religion, it violates the central Establishment Clause value of official religious neutrality, there being no neutrality when the government’s ostensible object is to take sides. Corporation of Presiding Bishop of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. Amos, 483 U.S. 327, 335, 107 S.Ct. 2862, 97 L.Ed.2d 273. A purpose to favor one faith over another, or adherence to religion generally, clashes with the “understanding … that liberty and social stability demand a … tolerance that respects the religious views of all citizens.” Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639, 718, 122 S.Ct. 2460, 153 L.Ed.2d 604. Pp. 2732-2734.” McCreary County, Ky. v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky., 545 U.S. 844, 845 (2005).

    The Court looks to see if there is a legitimate secular purpose to the religious speech at issue- like a historical purpose in the example of the 10 Commandments. (It’s a very, very case-by-case analysis, that depends on how you frame the totality of the circumstances.)

    So, is this speech emphasizing and exalting a religious message, or is there a secular implication of having an invocation? What’s the predominant purpose of the invocation? Do we look to its purpose in isolation or in context with the secular elements of the inauguration as a whole? I keep asking you guys why we have to have an invocation and how it fits in between the music, the speeches, etc, but since no one has given an answer other than “we always do and the majority of Americans aren’t atheists,” I can’t answer your question. It seems like everyone’s saying that we’re doing it because we’re mostly Christian- but that gives the invocation in isolation a predominantly religious purpose and that’s not right. In context, it might be trickier, but you could still make the argument that it violates the predominant purpose test.

    Maybe it’s just a nod to the religion of the President-elect as an individual (and here we can return to the fun problem of was he even the gov’t when he chose Warren? Can his decision when he’s not-gov’t change into a gov’t decision? Is an inauguration actually gov’t speech? I have no idea, but if it isn’t, I’m wasting a lot of time here!) and his supporters. Then, the invocation is ephemeral and arguably not really made with the predominant purpose of exalting a religious message, but rather for the secular purpose of glad-handing all you religious folks who voted for him. Which is kinda cynical.

    It’s like in the actual Supreme Court- Moses is up there, but he’s in context with secular law givers, and the purpose of him being there with his tablets is about the laws that he wrote down- in context, with the secular elements, it’s cool and not establishing anything, due to it’s predominantly secular purpose. Here, I don’t know the context, I don’t know the predominant purpose, but I could argue it either way once we have the test established.

  10. Genevieve,

    You asked:

    “What’s the predominant purpose of the invocation?”

    The purpose is to reassure those of us who believe in God that God has a place in our government. If Barack had run as an atheist, then I guess most of us would not have had a problem if he removed the invocation or allowed an atheist to give the invocation.

    But Barack did run as a Christian.

    It’s Barack’s inauguration and you atheists were unsuccessful in getting one of yours elected.

    Believe me that the extreme right wing of Christians is just as upset about Rick Warren being given this honor as you are. You only had to tune into Christian radio long before the selection was announced to hear the voices criticizing him for being too liberal.

  11. MB,

    Jesus might have taken the metro in those limited areas of the nation where it was available.

    But even there, when it came time to run to the grocery store and attempt to bring home a trunk full of groceries to feed the family, he would have drove himself.

  12. I do not understand why all of the sudden people are acting like Obama is some great champion of the LGBT community. Far from it. And Rev. Wright is no fan of the LBGT people either…

    Seems to me that there is convinient memory loss because Obama gets a free pass on EVERYTHING… after all, he is “The One” even to those who morally oppaosed them and supported Hillary, right?

    Ah the beliefs we sacrifice to simply be on the wining band wagon.

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