Legislative Prayer

The town council of Greece, New York, opens their meeting with prayer.  Because most of the religious leaders in the town are Christian the opening prayers have been predominantly Christian.  Two of Greece’s residents objected to the practice and filed suit.  The case has meandered its way through the appellate system and has now made its way to the Supreme Court of the United States.  Those nine black robed justices will now ponder what, if any, role prayer will play in a legislative meeting.

     I could write a treatise on the role that the prayers of Christians have played in the founding of our nation and the Christian consensus that birthed those prayers.  But I think a history lesson is of little concern in our nation’s rush to self-destruction, or the intolerance of their professed tolerance.  These truths will be immolated on the altar of relevance as the current court struggles with appeasing those of every religious persuasion.  The recent discussions indicate the court’s dilemma over determining what could be considered a “non-sectarian” prayer.

     Justice Samuel Alito asked attorney Douglas Laycock, “Give me an example of a prayer that would be acceptable to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus…Wiccans, Bah’ai.”  Chief Justice John Roberts chimed in, “And atheists,” to which Justice Antonin Scalia added, “What about devil worshippers?”

     The Bible tells a story in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John about a man who is born blind and is healed by Jesus.  The Jewish religious leaders feel threatened that Jesus may cause them to lose their place of influence and position of authority and try to get the man to denounce Jesus.  They question Jesus’ authority saying, “we do not know where He is from.”

     The man who was once blind seems to see a number of things more clearly when he replies, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes.”  To the man who can now see, the test of effective prayer is seen in its answer.  He goes on to point out, “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him…If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

     Just weeks ago I wrote an article entitled A History Lesson.  It seems appropriate to remind ourselves again that when the original thirteen colonies succeeded in defeating what was the greatest military power on the face of the earth at that time, Great Britain, we were close to never becoming a nation united.  It was the man who history claims was a deist, Benjamin Franklin, who did what deists are not supposed to do; he requested the intervention of God.

     Franklin said, “I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of heaven and its blessings on our deliberations be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one of our clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.”

     Given the historical context of Franklin’s request it is fair to say it was Christian clergymen that were called upon, not atheists, Muslim, Buddhists, or Hindu.  It was this gathering at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that forged the document that would later become the supreme law of our nation, the Constitution of the United States.  The first Ten Amendments to the Constitution known collectively as the Bill of Rights were soon added.

     Those early prayers must have been answered.  The reason we have an immigration problem is people come here seeking a better life.  Other nations send their brightest students to be educated here, and despite our financial problems other nations still consider the United States a good investment.  I guess those prayers Franklin asked for were answered.

     It is historically myopic and judicially asinine to deny the practice of Christian prayer before any legislative meeting, when the very document the Supreme Court of the United States is obligated to interpret, was predicated on the very same practice.  It is clear the founding fathers did not enact a prohibition of their own practice nor was that their intent.

     I think the Supreme Court needs to let the Establishment Clause do what it was meant to do, give people the freedom to exercise their religious views.  It is not the responsibility of the Supreme Court to determine what prayer should be or sound like.  There is no judicial dilemma; the Court has no obligation to restrict the practice of prayer.  If the citizens of Greece, New York, do not want their elected officials to have someone pray before a town council meeting, then vote them out.

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