Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The New Secular Religion and its Opposition to Prayer

Here’s one more story out of thousands on the same exact subject:

  • For years, the Vermont town of Franklin near the Canadian border started Town Meeting with a prayer. A lawsuit stopped that from happening this year…Since the town votes from the floor and residents have to attend to be heard, the Vermont Chapter of the ACLU says residents are being compelled to attend religious worship.

What’s the matter with this picture? Well, let me suggest several flaws:

  1. Perhaps the main one is that this violates the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…”

  1. Historically, prayer had been part of the Congressional meetings of the USA. Evidently, no one then believed that prayer violated the Constitution.

  1. There is no compelling reason for the Fed to trump local sovereignty. What if 90% of the community wants prayer in council meeting? Why should the values or religion of the federal government impose itself on a local, popularly chosen practice?

  1. All laws and judgments reflect a certain values orientation, and these judgments are necessarily religious in nature. It seems hypocritical of the Federal government to censure the town council for a religious practice, when the Fed’s imposition is also religious. It is also hypocritical for the ACLU to fault the council that it “compelled [residents] to attend religious worship,” while the Fed and the ACLU are practicing their own forms of compulsion.

  1. It is therefore hypocritical to discriminate against Christianity and not against other forms of religions. Our public schools have become indoctrination camps for the religions of naturalism, multi-culturalism, moral-relativism, and sexual permissiveness. While it is acceptable to present arguments in favor of sexual license, arguments to the contrary have been deemed “religious” and therefore proscribed.

  1. Any public school student is “compelled” to do many things that they don’t want to do. It is therefore not enough to censure a council because it “compelled” its guests to be subjected to a prayer. This is certainly preferable to being compelled to hear the lies and distortions coming out of many meetings. In fact, we are compelled to do many things that go against our values. We have to pay taxes and drive within the speed limits.

  1. There is no neutrality. A prayer-less council meeting represents an imposition of another kind – one that can be equally offensive to religious people. This enforced silence conveys the ideas of secular humanism - the belief that prayer is not necessary.

  1. A democratic nation must rule by the consent of its people. If it fails to do so, it will loose this consent and thrust the nation into turmoil. There are no vital national at stake to justify squelching diversity and the will of local communities. There are no reasons why the Fed must enforce uniformity. Such enforcement pushes us closer to having a totalitarian state.

We tend to forget that our legal climate wasn’t always this way.  Up until recently, it has been characterized by the understanding that living together required tolerance and the respect for the conscience and free expression of others, even for those with whom we disagreed. For example, in 1940, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case involving Jehovah Witness children who refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Justice Felix Frankfurter argued for the majority that our common national interests for patriotic cohesiveness required the Pledge. In response, Justice Harlan Stone retorted that religious liberty argued for,

·             “The freedom of the individual from compulsion as to what he shall think and what he shall say, at least where the compulsion is to bear false witness to his religion.”

According to Stone, our freedom of religion and expression should even take precedence over certain national interests. In contrast, now even the passing fads of political correctness have been elevated over our religious freedoms.

Thankfully, Frankfurter’s decision did not stand. In 1943, in a very similar case, Justice Robert Jackson wrote for the majority and affirmed:

·             “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Sadly, now an invasive national orthodoxy is attempting to squelch all expressions of religious diversity. In contrast, in 1965, the Court heard a case that directly impacted national security but ruled to grant qualified U.S. citizens the status of “conscientious objector.” However, this designation could only be given to “those persons who by reason of their religious training and belief are conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form.” 

This was a ruling that would certainly be divisive and could actually compromise national security. However, there was still enough respect for religion and the sanctity of the conscience that the court overruled national security concerns. Even the liberal Justice Stephen O. Douglas concurred with the majority:

·              “…any person opposed to war on the basis of a sincere belief, which in his life fills the same place as a belief in God fills in the life of the orthodox religionist, is entitled to exemption under the statute.”

Even in this critical area where there were legitimate concerns about national security, the Court ruled against imposing a uniform solution. Respect for sincerely held faith was deemed more important than the immediate national interests. How far have we come!

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