Putting a religious tone into what ought to be secular, inclusive activities


 

Putting a religious tone into what ought to be secular, inclusive activities
 


2 October 2015 at 12:12:26 PM
salon

The United States is not a christian nation. That's well established, despite the efforts of some fringe radicals to say differently. This nation is made up of people of all religions, as well as no religion at all, and that's as it should be. However, the direction of Somervell county has been to attempt to insert one particular religion, christianity, into government functions via ceremonial prayer at the start of meetings. 

When I first started attending local government meetings, there was no prayer and, except for school board meetings, no pledge of allegiance. I always felt that the emphasis was on govenrment business for everyone and that religion didn't enter into it at all. In fact, taxpayer money doesn't go to religions. The group that I belonged to was that of United States and Somervell County citizen, where all of us have a vested interest in knowing what our government does and expressing our opinion. If I wanted to attend church and pray to a particular god, that's what I would do, but I don't want that in a government meeting. I believe that were I a practitioner of the Muslim faith, the local community wouldn't want prayers going out to Allah. 

I read this earlier regarding the Pledge of Allegiance, which I beileve most people know is a socialist pledge that originally did not have any religious overtones and where children raised their arms straight out, nazi-style. In this country, no one of any age is required to participate in the pledge of allegiance, just like no one is required to participate in a prayer. 

The problem with all of this is that it places a religious tone into a secular patriotic pledge, something not agreed upon by all in this country. This U.S. government is (or is supposed to be) secular to allow everyone privately to practice their own religious preferences. Most importantly, "under God" in Lincoln's day meant "God willing" — far different from "under God" of today. "God willing" means if God approves, with God's permission, with God's blessing. "Under God" today means that we are under the control of God, obedient to God, that God is our protector and God is watching over us.

For those who have different beliefs and yet are patriotic citizens of the country, that is offensive. The Pledge of Allegiance without "under God" served us well for 62 years, and could again. It is time for the "under God" part, fearfully cobbled into an otherwise perfectly good patriotic pledge, to go.

 What the author says can be equally applied to a prayer at meetings. The Supreme Court in the case of Town of Greece v Galloway applied an *offended* rule. PDF, ie, just because attendees at a meeting may be offended over a particular prayer being offered doesn't mean they have to stay there in the room to listen to it. 

Respondents claim that the prayers gave them offense and made them feel excluded and disrespected, but offense does not equate to coercion. In contrast to Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577, where the Court found coercive a religious invocation at a high school graduation, id., at 592–594, the record here does not suggest that citizens are dissuaded from leaving the meeting room during the prayer, arriving late, or making a later protest. 

Now, certainly anyone attending doesn't have to be part of the prayer offered by someone in the audience towards the governmental officials. A person could leave the room or come late, etc, and I've even seen, in some other cities, where board members have gotten up and left because they didn't want to even hear the prayer. And that's what the Supreme Court suggests here too

To be sure, many members of the public find these prayers meaningful and wish to join them. But their purpose is largely to accommodate the spiritual needs of lawmakers and connect them to a tradition dating to the time of the Framers. For members of town boards and commissions, who often serve part-time and as volunteers, ceremonial prayer may also reflect the values they hold as private citizens. The prayer is an opportunity for them to show who and what they are without denying the right to dissent by those who disagree. The analysis would be different if town board members directed the public to participate in the prayers, singled out dissidents for opprobrium, or indicated that their decisions might be influenced by a person’s acquiescence in the prayer opportunity. No such thing occurred in the town of Greece. Although board members themselves stood, bowed their heads, or made the sign of the cross during the prayer, they at no point solicited similar gestures by the public. Respondents point to several occasions where audience members were asked to rise for the prayer. These requests, however, came not from town leaders but from the guest ministers, who presumably are accustomed to directing their congregations in this way and might have done so thinking the action was inclusive, not coercive. See App. 69a (“Would you bow your heads with me as we invite the Lord’s presence here tonight?”); id., at 93a (“Let us join our hearts and minds together in prayer”); id., at 102a (“Would you join me in a moment of prayer?”); id., at 110a (“Those who are willing may join me now in prayer”). Respondents suggest that constituents might feel pressure to join the prayers to avoid irritating the officials who would be ruling on their petitions, but this argument has no evidentiary support. Nothing in the record indicates that town leaders allocated benefits and burdens based on participation in the prayer, or that citizens were received differently depending on whether they joined the invocation or quietly declined. In no instance did town leaders signal disfavor toward nonparticipants or suggest that their stature in the community was in any way diminished. A practice that classified citizens based on their religious views would violate the Constitution, but that is not the case before this Court. In their declarations in the trial court, respondents stated that the prayers gave them offense and made them feel excluded and disrespected. Offense, however, does not equate to coercion. Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable; and an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views in a legislative forum, especially where, as here, any member of the public is welcome in turn to offer an invocation reflecting his or her own convictions. See Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U. S. 1, 44 (2004) (O’Connor, J., concurring) (“The compulsion of which Justice Jackson was concerned . . . was of the direct sort— the Constitution does not guarantee citizens a right entirely to avoid ideas with which they disagree”). If circumstances arise in which the pattern and practice of ceremonial, legislative prayer is alleged to be a means to coerce or intimidate others, the objection can be addressed in the regular course. 

Here is an example of a Florida governmental body that opted to stop prayer at meetings after a vitriolic prayer from Grace Bible Church

Nothing in the record suggests that members of the public are dissuaded from leaving the meeting room during the prayer, arriving late, or even, as happened here, making a later protest. In this case, as in Marsh, board members and constituents are “free to enter and leave with little comment and for any number of reasons.” Lee, supra, at 597. Should nonbelievers choose to exit the room during a prayer they find distasteful, their absence will not stand out as disrespectful or even noteworthy. And should they remain, their quiet acquiescence will not, in light of our traditions, be interpreted as an agreement with the words or ideas expressed. Neither choice represents an unconstitutional imposition as to mature adults, who “presumably” are “not readily susceptible to religious indoctrination or peer pressure.” Marsh, 463 U. S., at 792 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)

All that said, my question is why should it even be necessary for anyone to have to consider leaving the room in order not to hear a (most likely) religious oriented invocation? Does it REALLY require that a secular govenrment meeting that is supposed to be for ALL have to have a religious invocation calling upon the gods in order to function? Yes, I"m offended, and yes, I do not have to participate, and I don't. But the effect of seeing local government meetings change their structure to now include prayer has made me less eager to even attend in the first place.  

Further, of course it's not permissible for elected officials to lead the citizenry in the invocation or direct the audience on what to do (such as "Bow your heads with me". Since invocations are open to all to do, it is interesting to contemplate what provisions have bene made by each governmental entity on their policy for inviting citizens of any belief to offer invocations. 

A few examples:

Here was a governmental body this year that wanted to ONLY allow christian prayer. They can't do that. (Lincoln County, NC) In fact, there was a Muslim prayer and THAT's why the entity decided to get rid of prayer altogether. Bigots! 

...the chairman walked out before the board’s first Muslim invocation Monday night.

Commissioner Alex Patton, who proposed the change, said he is trying to protect religion by banning it from the board room.

Patton said the board needs to focus on issues like the economy and education and not get sidetracked.

After months of controversy, Patton said he felt it was time to remove religion from county government.

“To me, the final straw was when our chairman got up and walked out,” Patton said.

Duston Barto, with Foothills Interfaith Assembly, had been preparing to read from the Koran. It would be the first time a Muslim would lead invocation.

Because governmental entities also have to include, if they have prayer, invocations from atheists, this Yuba city atheist did one in January. Note that some on the council took their seats AFTER. 

For the first time ever, an atheist group was invited to read the invocation at the start of the Chico city council meeting. However, it appears not everyone on the city council was okay with it. Councilmembers Sean Morgan and Andrew Coolidge were both absent during the atheist invocation and took their seats after it was over. Neither confirmed their absence was related to the invocation.

Many groups have been fighting the city of Chico for years saying prayer has no place in government, but the president of a local atheist group thought if you can't beat them, join them.

Time to scrap invocations at secular government meetings.

 


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