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The subject of the story, a minister and council member from Fredericksburg, VA, was to say a prayer to open a council session.
In order to walk the fine line which substitutes for a "wall of separation" these days, it was requested that the Minister keep the prayer nondenominational, as other council members have done.
He did not feel, in good conscience, that he could pray without mention of Jesus, so he "missed his turn" in the rotation. Then he consulted a law firm, and decided the next opportunity, he would open a council session with a prayer not to God, but to Jesus.
And the ACLU sued.
Disclaimer: The minister sounds like a great guy, very humble, a bit of a reluctant poster child, although he did find a less reluctant law firm which specializes in this specific field of law (one which has become a multimillion dollar industry.)
The question really goes to where the line is drawn, and ties into my earlier post on the national Menorah/Christmas Tree:
1. The founders come up with the establishment clause (against establishing state sponsorship of religion in any form.)
2. We leave vestiges of religion in the public sphere, and constantly attempt to reinsert religion into the public sphere, where the constitution is specifically written to keep the public sphere separated. ("Public sphere" meaning anything which is the province of the state.)
3. Inevitably, the whole "oh we can all agree on this" fiction falls apart, as the principal is either not understood or not agreed to by all participants. The reverand, although he is painted sympathetically in the story, seems not to have any understanding that there is a reason the state's ceremonies do not promote Christianity. In part, he can not be blamed; if he prays to God in public, and in connection to the apparatus of the state, why not Jesus?
Why not indeed?
You all know my viewpoint as a civil libertarian. Here is a response from the point of view of a Jew (at least one not afraid to make waves):
- Let us say I have no idea about the Establishment Clause, and I am only concerned with fairness.
- Let us say I am perfectly okay with non-denominational prayers invoking God -- even though such "non-denomination" prayers could be said to favor the monotheisms over polytheistic faiths.
- But now I notice that some of our state-sponsored religious events open with prayers to Jesus, essentially in the name of the community.
- Am I therefore excluded from the community to some extent? Am I a sort of second-class citizen? Or should I just let it all roll off, even though the use of the public sphere for Christian religion almost inevitably follows the use of the public sphere for "nondenominational" religion?
This is meant to follow the thoughts of the "other" in the debate over the separation of church and state. This particular case is ongoing, and we don't know which side our justice system will come down on.
I mention it only because I've been keeping the church/state pot boiling here of late, and I found it interesting that it's particularly hot right now, right around where I spend the latter part of my childhood.
My own reaction:
Don't have a prayer, nondenominational or otherwise, when opening your civic procedings.
As in the case of the Constitutional Convention -- Where Franklin tried to get a prayer inserted, but failed -- one can evidently make it through a whole meeting without an appeal for supernatural intervention, and, if we are to judge from the results of that gathering, one is able to succeed in such endeavors. God either considers that particular rite secondary to good governance, or he is "hiding" his true wrath at such a God-free civic exercise, for some unknown reason.
If it's good enough for a Constitutional Convention, and good enough for the Bill of Rights, it's good enough for me. Prayers are for the home, the church, and other private gatherings, where they need not be foisted on unbelievers, or different types of believers, with the imprimateur of the state.
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