Florida Governor’s Bible Scroll Controversy

Here’s one I missed from a few days ago:

TALLAHASSEE —  Saying it is ”fundamental” to freedom to be able to display ”religious symbols,” Gov. Charlie Crist has quietly placed a boxed Jewish scroll on the door leading into his formal Capitol office…Crist said…that he is “celebrating the diversity that is Florida: many religions, many people, many opportunities.”…”Being able to display religious symbols is just as fundamental as being able to practice your religious beliefs,” the statement said. “I am honored to display a mezuzah on my door. The freedoms and ideals that make our country great are the same ideals that people all over world seek every day.”

Crist was given the mezuzah, which contains extracts from the Bible (Deut 6:4-9 and 11:13-21, to be precise), by Rep. Adam Hasner on a recent trade mission to Israel:

Hanging the mezuzah was a show of gratitude to Hasner and a demonstration of awe inspired by his trip to Israel, Crist said.

It was installed with the help of Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Schneur Oirechman. The ACLU, meanwhile, complains that displaying the mezuzah on government property undermines the principle of religious neutrality, and suggests that Crist will be obliged to display other religious symbols. Rep. Dan Gelber, defending Crist, made a strange observation:

“I know a lot of people, Jews and Christians and Muslims, who put these on their door. It’s a good luck sign. For some people it has religious meaning. But I don’t think there’s anything improper about it. I don’t think it’s intended to proselytize,”

So it’s just a superstitious amulet rather than a religious symbol, then? Interesting distinction.

Prior to his election, Crist explained that

…Floridians would “rarely” see the public pronouncements of his faith that have been common from [Jeb] Bush.

“I have a deep faith in God, but it’s not something I’ve ever worn on my sleeve,” he said. “To me, it’s a private thing, and maybe that’s the way it is for most people.”

Unless it’s some kind of mystical “awe” experienced during a trade mission, of course…

Crist said that the religious conservatives who have had great access to Bush’s office would find an open door to his, as would other groups – meaning that the religious conservatives’ voice would carry less weight than it has.

“All religious groups would have access to the governor’s office if I’m elected,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s a big tent.”

Crist also spoke about religious displays:

…Even on the issue of the Ten Commandments – a U.S. Supreme Court case in which Crist’s office filed a friend of the court brief in favor of the displays – Crist said he would draw a distinction based on the money involved and how many people would see the message.

…Crist said he would support such displays as allowed by the court, particularly if the public money involved were a “nominal amount” and the display would affect a relatively small number of people, but he would oppose putting the commandments in every public school classroom, where they would be imposed upon children of non-monotheistic traditions.

So is Crist’s mezuzah really about “diversity”, as he claims, or is it just a bit of religious pandering? If the latter, Crist may not have Jews in mind so much as the Christian right, who appreciate this kind of “Judeo-Christian heritage” gesture. And when Crist leaves office, will his successor be willing to have bare a door jamb with two nail holes forever reminding visitors that he or she chose to remove a religious symbol?

It’s also worth noting that there has been a trend in recent years for some Christians to appropriate Jewish cultural products: back in May I blogged on a company which provides Christians (and not just Messianic Jews) with shofars, mezuzahs, menorahs, Kiddush cups, prayer shawls and other items.

2 Responses

  1. […] of the story is Governor Charlie Crist, who likes to pander to the  Christian Right. He’s in no mood to appeal for a bit of calm: I am grateful to […]

  2. […] who is a Methodist, has a particular fondness for Jewish cultural practices; in 2007 he invited Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Schneur Oirechman to install a mezuzah on the doorpost to his office. This […]

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