I was hardly surprised, given D.C.’s political demographics, to see Mayor Anthony A. Williams calling on Mount Calvary Holy Church Bishop Alfred A. Owens Jr. to “publicly apologize to the community” for his remarks from the pulpit, where he used the terms “sissy” and “faggot” in reference to homosexual men (Loose Lips, “Mayor Slams Bishop Owens,” 5/19). I would expect the mayor would similarly chastise a GLBT spokesperson who condemns fundamentalist Christianity.
But what I found particularly shocking is the mayor’s edict that, if Owens does not offer a mea culpa for what amounts to a mainstream interpretation of Christian scripture, he “could not continue as an honorary member of the [city government’s Interfaith] Council.” The mayor’s threat to remove him is, plain and simple, using governmental power to influence, even dictate, theology. In constitutional terms this constitutes an overt breach of the “high wall of separation between church and state”—an “establishment of religion” even—which ought to trouble everyone concerned about religious liberty.
Conversely, around Logan Circle, where church parking practices on Sundays have long crossed the line between legal and otherwise, when, at the neighbors’ behest, the city threatened to enforce the law, the mayor later backed off in response to the hue and cry from the churches. So far, no one has connected the dots to point out that an explicit decision to not enforce the laws for the benefit of particular churches’ attendees is a prima facie breach of separation of church and state. But would the city have afforded such a “get-out-of-jail-free” card for those churches had they preached the same message that Owens did? This rhetorical question illustrates how the government can misuse its power to influence, even dictate, churches’ theologies—something against which our Constitution supposedly protects us.