John Krull

John Krull

Even in an insane time, some bits of idiocy are too great to endure.

Take the “debate” about whether statues of Jesus will be pulled down amidst the current furor over whether monuments to Confederates and slaveholders should continue to stand.

A few days ago, President Donald Trump said the push to remove marble tributes to Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and other historical figures who either took up arms against the United States or held human beings in bondage also could threaten similar representations of Abraham Lincoln and, yes, Jesus.

Trump vowed that never would happen.

Give me break.

Lincoln is a secular historical figure and public decisions about whether to honor or not honor him are just that — public decisions. They can be voted on, up or down, just as questions about whether Barack Obama, George W. Bush or Donald Trump should be similarly honored can be.

Jesus is another matter altogether.

Likenesses of Jesus — accurate or not — cannot and will not be erected or torn down by a vote of the citizenry or through public pressure.

This isn’t because the thrice-married Donald Trump, odd defender of supposed traditional values, will man the barricades and fight back the infidels.

No, it’s because of the U.S. Constitution — a document this president really ought to get around to reading someday.

There shouldn’t be any statues, busts or other representations of Jesus placed on public property at taxpayer expense in the first place — unless, of course, the same tributes are open to and offered to all other faith traditions. The establishment clause of the First Amendment prevents government from endorsing any religion.

Statues of Jesus on private property, on the other hand, can’t be touched by public pressure or majority vote. The free exercise clause of that same First Amendment prevents government — the instrument of majority opinion — from interfering with individual religious expression.

Those clauses in the Constitution exist because the founders wanted to make faith a private, individual matter. We don’t get to take votes on whether our neighbor should be a Baptist, a Muslim or an atheist. Such questions are left up to our neighbor. Questions of conscience are her choice and her responsibility.

Not ours.

The right isn’t absolute. No right is.

We don’t have a First Amendment defense that would allow us to claim that a divine power urged us to shoot up a fast food restaurant or a nightclub and thus get away with murder. Nor can we rob banks and argue that we’re merely confronting the money changers.

But all reasonable individual expressions of faith — including displaying statues or paintings of Jesus Christ — are protected.

And, unless the First Amendment is repealed, those expressions of faith always will be.

It’s possible Donald Trump does not understand this. The list of things this president does not know is long enough to be considered almost endless.

But, even if that’s the case, it’s irresponsible for him to suggest that statues of Jesus somehow are imperiled — for at least two reasons.

The first is that this national debate about how we should view the most painful parts of our country’s past is going to be agonizing enough as it is.

Make no mistake about this. The discussions millions of Americans are having right now about how we should regard the Civil War and our tortured history regarding race probe this nation’s deepest and most enduring wounds.

To have a president who refuses to be part of the healing process is bad enough.

To have one who insists on deepening those wounds is even worse.

Much worse.

The second reason Trump is irresponsible is that he’s misleading Americans about their rights — rights he’s duty-bound as president to defend.

The fact that he may not understand those rights himself is no excuse.

He’s the president.

He should know his duty.

Even in an insane time, some bits of idiocy should not be tolerated.

This is one of them.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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