Should governments – local, state, or federal – be able to open meetings with Christian prayers or invocations to Jesus in any of his three manifestations? Well, you can see where a fundamentalist Christian might like that but how would it feel to be a Muslim, or a Hindu, or maybe a Pagan like me?
How would those zealous Christians on the board feel if the meeting was opened with prayers to Allah, or to another deity, say Thor, for example? We hear again and again how freedom of religion is so important to fundamentalist Christians (just ask them) but their support exists only where their own religion is concerned. Just let Keith Ellison (R-MN) open up a meeting with a prayer to Allah and see what I mean.
For example the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners in North Carolina wants an invocation in Jesus’ name to open their meetings. Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU.org) relates that “The record in the case indicates that 26 of the 33 invocations given from May 29, 2007, until Dec. 15, 2008, contained at least one reference to Jesus, Jesus Christ, Christ, Savior or the Trinity.” But a couple of citizens, Janet Joyner and Lynn Blackmon, took exceptions to these prayers and sued the board with help from the ACLU and AU.
Watch the video:
The ACLU announced:
“We are pleased today for our clients and all religious minorities in Forsyth County who have felt shut out and alienated by their own government because of its public stance in favor of Christianity,” said ACLU-NCLF Legal Director Katherine Lewis Parker…
“No one should be treated as a religious outsider when attending local government meetings,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program for Freedom of Religion and Belief. “Today‘s decision reinforces the basic idea that the government shouldn’t play favorites with faith.”
Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan said in a press release,“The government must never send the signal that one faith has preferred status. When Americans go to government meetings, they should feel welcome regardless of their beliefs about religion.”
Naturally, fundamentalists see this as an attack on Christianity. The Alliance Defense Fund claimed the court was “censoring” Christianity. “They don’t want private citizens invited by the board to express themselves according to the dictates of their consciences,” lawyer Mike Johnson said. World Net Daily is quick to announce to the world that the name of Jesus has become “illegal” – which, of course, is not true at all.
The problem for fundamentalists is that the court ruled for the separation of church and state. In other words, prayers should be nonsectarian so that in the words of one of the three judges to rule on the case, they “unite rather than divide.”
A dissenting judge claimed that the ruling “regulated” public prayer and of course, the Alliance Defense Fund was quick to agree, claiming the Constitution can’t rule “on which religious words are acceptable and which are not.” The problem is that if government utilizes one religion and one religion only in its prayers, it is “establishing” religion – something the Constitution forbids. It is not as if the courts said what can and cannot be said in church, mosque, synagogue or temple, the proper venue for sectarian prayers.
It is not, as Alliance Defense Fund’s Senior Counsel Brett Harvey claims a matter of making people “comfortable” but of not making government the property of only one religion. The ADF wants Christians to be able to “express themselves according to the dictates of their consciences” but if the prayer were being offered to Thor or Allah, they would not now be advancing this claim. They would be working as hard as they could to ban prayers to gods other than Jesus.
The necessity of preventing the establishing of any one religion is something the Founding Fathers understood very well, if Brett Harvey does not. And they’re taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court, as Glenn Beck’s The Blaze proudly trumpets.
You can imagine how quickly these folks would change their tune if the board or a member of the board opened their meetings with a prayer to a god other than Jesus. Then suddenly they would be calling for the Supreme Court to rule the exact opposite of what they are demanding now. Because it isn’t about religious freedom and it isn’t about what the Constitution supposedly says; it’s about protecting and privileging Christianity and denigrating every other religion. That is what it is about and that is what it has always been about – for oh, about twenty centuries now.
So the name of Jesus is not under attack. World Net Daily would certainly not being sporting headlines that the name of Thor is under attack were the shoe on the other foot. The Constitution cannot mean one thing for Christians and another thing for followers of every other religion, but that is what fundamentalists want us to believe.
Americans must be awake to the threat posed by this sort of thinking to our civil liberties and to the Constitution’s insistence on a separation of church and state. In fact, the only god not under attack is Jesus, because it is all other gods – and the idea of no god at all – who are under attack by the Alliance Defense Fund and other fundamentalist conspirators.
As ACLU’s attorney in the case, Katherine Parker said,
“As every other court that has reviewed this case has found, Forsyth County has taken a very public stance in favor of one particular religion — Christianity,” Parker said. “We will continue to advocate for our clients, and all religious minorities in Forsyth County, who seek to have a government that stays neutral on matters of religion.”
If we are going to have true religious freedom in this country then it must apply to all religions – and no religion – equally. Belief and disbelief must have equal voice and no religion can claim pride of place – as Christianity was doing in Forsyth County – over any other religion, no matter how many Christians sit on the board.