I am going to address prayer at governmental meetings. And, yes, I do realize that if I am not directly in the buckle of the Bible Belt, I most certainly am in the hole next to it.
This is NOT a discussion of religion, the merits of any single one, or the tenets of their dogma, so keep that in mind as you read along. I am the last guy who will have that discussion with you as it is fruitless and usually leads to ill feelings and heated tempers.
The only other topic that seems to incense the American public as much would be politics, so I suppose I want to discover for myself if fire really burns by talking about both at once.
What I am about to say will most likely leave a bad taste in the mouths of many of you.
Prayer and religion have no business intermingling with governmental bodies and their proceedings, despite what the U.S. Supreme Court might have ruled in the case of Town of Greece, NY V. Galloway by a vote of 5-4. The following is a summation of the court’s ruling taken from their blog site:
The town’s practice of opening its town board meetings with a prayer offered by members of the clergy does not violate the Establishment Clause when the practice is consistent with the tradition long followed by Congress and state legislatures, the town does not discriminate against minority faiths in determining who may offer a prayer, and the prayer does not coerce participation with non-adherents.
I have two issues with this ruling and both have to do with the Establishment Clause of the U. S. Constitution which, in essence, bans the establishment or endorsement of a single religion by the state. Although there is no true “Separation of Church and State” language, the framers’ intent was perfectly clear of the inherent dangers of co-mingling religion and government. It is one of, if not the major, reason this nation was founded as a group of colonies intent to escape religious persecution.
Why does this bother me so much?
The court’s ruling is too vague in referencing the “tradition long followed by Congress and state legislatures” and is creating NEW law out of tradition. If this logic is sound — and I am sure if you ask the five justices who voted for this ruling they will say it is — then tradition can bind us all in ways we never expected. A slippery slope, if there ever was one, of which there’s no traction for reversing momentum.
Think of all the outdated traditions still observed in the United States, just the ones that pop into your mind and you will see how this could be an issue.
But, as much as the tradition reference bothers me, it’s the dependence upon a local governmental body to NOT discriminate against minority faiths that really gets me.
Who determines if a minority faith is discriminated against? Who is going to know whether a minority faith has or will be invited to participate? And how long before one of the more fundamentalist groups (whether in Pickens County or Podunk, Tenn.) protests when a representative from a local mosque is next on the calendar?
By simply “never getting around to” inviting a minority faith, the local, state or federal body is indeed breaking the Establishment Clause with an endorsement of religion by omission. And that will happen … you can count on it. There will be another round of court cases lasting years which will do nothing to solve the question of where religion and prayer belong in the governance of our nation, state and hometowns.
The fact is, it doesn’t belong. If religion were indeed the backbone of our nation, it would be a theocracy, not a democracy. It is the FREEDOM OF RELIGION that is the backbone … and no, there is no caveat attached that states as long as you belong to this particular group.
The school board for the School District of Pickens County has seized upon this case, following a brief stint in the national spotlight over this very topic in the recent past, and is considering how to change their rules concerning prayer to open meetings. A majority vote will win and I respect that.
So the question becomes: should the board (or any agency of elected and or governmental officials conducting business) fail to provide true diversity, are they breaking the Establishment Clause and discriminating against the very principle most Colonists came to America for in the first place?
In my opinion, yes.
I’ll be watching closely as governmental agencies move to the new standard as set forth in the Town of Greece V. Galloway ruling. I have a reasonable expectation there will be Seventh Day Adventists, Latter Day Saints, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, Pentecostals, Snake Handlers, Shakers and many other recognized faiths invited to provide the invocation.
Should there be nothing but one after another of the mainstream Christian groups (Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran, for example), THAT would be establishing religion. And at some point, someone will say in a very loud voice: See you in court.