Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Prayer in public meetings

Should governments hold prayers before or during public meetings? Nothing fails like prayer in government

By Annie Laurie Gaylor
Gaylor is co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive. Calling upon other elected officials and citizens to rise and pray is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of county government. Supervisors, after all, are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. They don’t need to worship on taxpayers’ time. That line between the Jeffersonian “wall of separation between church and state” is being crossed when elected officials misuse their authority to promote their personal religious views at government functions.
A government board ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion. Such governmental endorsement of religion excludes the 15 percent of the American population that is nonreligious (American Religious Identification Survey 2008), including more than 1 million Virginians.
The numbers of nonreligious are growing rapidly in this country, as shown by the Pew Forum’s survey last year finding one in five adults has no religious affiliation. We nonreligious citizens are offended, excluded and made to feel like political outsiders when our government oversteps its power to conduct or impose prayer. Since government prayer often invokes Jesus and Christianity, it also turns those of other faiths into second-class citizens.
America was founded in part by refugees seeking freedom from religion in government. They sought to escape tyrants who told them which church to support, what religious rituals to engage in, or what to believe or disbelieve. Whether to pray, whether to believe in a god who answers prayer, is an intensely personal decision protected under our First Amendment as a paramount matter of conscience.
The U.S. founders who adopted our entirely godless Constitution knew there can be no religious liberty without the freedom to dissent. If the framers of our Constitution found no need to pray when they adopted our secular Constitution, why does the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors need to pray over sewers, building permits and variances? Isn’t it a bit vain to imagine that a deity, if there is one, would be interested in the prayerful demands of supervisors anyway?
If constitutional injunctions do not impress, perhaps scriptural ones will. Christians who know their Bible are familiar with the biblical injunction of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, condemning public prayer as hypocrisy, and advising:
“Enter into thy closet and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.”

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