Battle over religion in the public square: Round 1

November 10, 2007 at 9:01 pm 1 comment

Russ Pulliam, the associate editor of the Indianapolis Star, wrote the following:

The drive for a religion-free public square has been set back by an appeals court ruling about public prayer in the Indiana General Assembly.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which wanted to banish prayers in the name of Jesus to open legislative sessions.

But the ruling hardly settles the long-term debate over whether the public square ought to be stripped of diversity in prayer or religious references from the Bible.

The court ruled that the plaintiffs didn’t have legal standing to file the suit.

For those opposed to federal court censorship of prayers in the legislative chambers, the ruling was a victory, even on a technicality.

“We’ll take the win anyway,” said House Minority Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. “A hole-in-one is a hole-in-one no matter if it hits a tree or you hit it right in the cup.”

To extend Bosma’s golf analogy, there are still many rounds to play in this debate over the right relationship between personal faith and government in the public sphere.

On one side, the ACLU and its allies have waged a 60-year campaign to make the public square barren with respect to religious faith. Behind this campaign is an assumption that faith belongs to a bygone age of superstition and that it should be confined to the private sphere or individual expression in the marketplace.

From another side comes the argument that the Jewish and Christian faiths are the foundation of representative government, providing the basis for the best strengths of Western civilization.

In the middle of this debate is the question of who should be the referee.

Advocates of a religion-free public square look to the federal courts to manipulate the Constitution on behalf of their cleansing campaign.

The First Amendment prohibits a federal religious establishment, or a state church, such as the Church of England. But a divided Supreme Court has been tempted to swallow the notion that religious faith is a problem in American life, instead of a foundation for solutions.

Thus the justices have encouraged this campaign with a bewildering series of rulings about when prayer is acceptable or not, or when Bible verses can be cited in public and when they can’t. The court’s rulings have only invited more lawsuits instead of providing for civic harmony.

Clearly, the authors of the Constitution would not object to prayer in the name of Jesus. In starting the nation, they prayed together, cited the Scriptures for wisdom and authority, and looked to the Bible and Christian faith for the roots of a new nation.

Maybe the Founding Fathers were wrong. Maybe the Constitution is wrong. But if that is the case, opponents of public prayer need to propose a direct constitutional amendment to advance their cause instead of tying up the courts with their efforts to outlaw religious expression in public places.

In Indiana, critics of prayer in the Statehouse have an option that works much quicker than the federal courts. Members of the House of Representatives stand for re-election every two years.

Here was my reply:

I guess I shouldn’t be shocked at Mr. Pulliam’s flagrant misstatements and generalities, but I am. I see no evidence that the ACLU has ever made any attempts to “make the public square barren with respect to religious faith.” I would argue the contrary – the ACLU protects each religion’s right to express itself in its own way.  The argument at hand is not prayer in the statehouse – it is sectarian prayer in public.

I would also take issue with Pulliam’s statement that “Clearly, the authors of the Constitution would not object to prayer in the name of Jesus.” While most were Christian and this would have been their  method of prayer, America was founded on religious tolerance, not Christian doctrine. A few Google searches will net numerous quotes from the Founding Fathers about upholding religious neutrality and tolerance. George Washington even thanked the Jewish community for reminding him that plurality was more important than unanimity.

The Constitution is not wrong. It upholds the rights of everyone, especially those in the minority. We don’t need an amendment to outlaw public prayer. What we need is a good old fashioned dose of common sense, decency, and respect for others.

Sometimes I’m embarrassed to live in such a backward state!

Added 11/15/07:
Check out the online conversation – unbelievable!?

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Entry filed under: Separation of Church and State. Tags: , , .

Jeffrey Harrison z”l James R. McAlister z”l

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. UN-Orthodox  |  May 6, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    Shalom!
    I’m glad I found your website!
    I’m not a Jew, but married to one. We are not “synagogue affiliated”, so we are square pegs in a round hole. Let me say this:
    As a non Jew, I have chosen, after much research and reading, to break away from what the world calls “christology”- my husband and I celebate Pesach- not pagan Easter, Hanukkah- not pagan “Christmas”, etc.
    Having grown up as a non Jew, signs like this make me embarrassed and ashamed for the subtle antisemitism still within the gentile so called “Christian” church.
    Please know, there are many real Christians that do love and support Israel and the Jewish people.
    Todah rabbah for this article!
    Shavua Tov,
    A goy Friend

    Reply

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