It’s in the news again. The constitutionality of when, and where, and how one can pray is under legal challenge. Senator Marco Rubio submitted an article to the Christian Post about a ruling from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. It says the town council of Greece, New York is in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to The United States Constitution because it invites chaplains from the community to give an invocation at the beginning of their meetings. This ruling is made in spite of the fact that those invocations have been offered by representatives of “various Christian denominations, the Jewish faith, and a Wiccan.”
Despite these accommodations the Second Circuit Court of Appeals was not swayed and ruled this practice of the Greece township unconstitutional. Senator Rubio made an excellent case for the history of legislative prayer. He noted our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and since its inception legislative prayer has been commonplace from the highest levels of the federal government to local representative bodies like the town council of Greece.
A basic rule of interpreting and implementing any law is to give due consideration to the intent of those who enacted it. The first ten amendments to the Constitution are known collectively as the Bill of Rights and were adopted shortly after the Constitution itself. The First Amendment is considered a cornerstone of the rest. The first words of the First Amendment read, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
I find it significant that the very first words of the First Amendment of the Constitution were written to prevent a state adopted religion, and to protect the freedom to worship as we please. The intent of these words was to stop the establishment of a state church that would persecute and attempt to restrict the freedom to worship of those who refused to join and conform to the dictates of such a church. That was the historical context of those who had fled the persecution of the Church of England. There is no evidence the intent of these words in the First Amendment were meant to prohibit legislative prayer which was commonly practiced in the first thirteen states.
It is asinine for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to assert otherwise. But that is what we have come to expect from the federal court system. Rulings that divorce themselves from the clear intent of the law, to issue one judicial fiat after another to impose their arbitrary and subjective opinion on what they think the law should say rather than interpreting it for what it says. The court’s decision in this matter has not stopped the establishment of a religion; it has prohibited the free exercise thereof.
While I embrace the Christian faith, I do not object to, feel offended or threatened by, or fret over those of other faiths who pray. I expect Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, etcetera, to pray as their conscience and convictions dictate. I think it is irrationally fatuous for atheists to claim they are threatened or harmed by prayer to a God they claim does not exist. No one is harmed by the prayer of others; we harm ourselves when we do not pray.
There is a story about prayer in the Old Testament that is appropriate here. Men jealous of Daniel during the reign of Darius incited him to decree no petition could be made for thirty days except to him. Daniel continued to pray three times a day to God as was his practice. His accusers notified the king and Darius was forced to throw Daniel into the lion’s den.
The next day Darius calls to Daniel in the lion’s den, “has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Daniel replies, “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime” Daniel 6:20, 22.
The decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals is being appealed to the United States Supreme Court. Senator Rubio and thirty-three Senators have filed an amicus brief supporting the practice of legislative prayer. I applaud their efforts, but regardless of how the Court ultimately rules, I will continue to pray when I wish privately and when asked publicly. Because by doing so, I have not violated the law of God or man.
And I always bear in mind the real Supreme Court does not convene down here.