Friday, April 17, 2009

Opening Meetings with Prayer

If you follow the news, now and then you run across an article about some locality where there is a controversy over opening a town meeting with prayer (or similar government meeting). The issue usually cited for wanting to ban opening prayers is that our country was founded on "separation of church and state."

But I think using "separation..." misses important points from our nation's history. Throughout our entire history, I doubt that any leaders of any meetings or public gatherings wished to have an immoral outcome. Even now, many leaders find their guide to morality from their faith, yet people are not always comfortable with an overt mention of faith.

Our first President. George Washington, was not shy about his faith (or the general need for faith) when he said the following in his farewell address:

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. … And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion … Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail to the exclusion of religious principle. It is substantially true that virtue of morality is a necessary spring of popular government."

Regarding opening meetings, the First Congress of the United States, having recently ratified the Constitution and Bill of Rights, opened with a prayer - a three-hour prayer.

When objectors mentions "separation of church and state" it is usually a reference to a metaphor Thomas Jefferson used in a letter. The phrase is not found in our Constitution or any other founding document. But if you want to look to Jefferson, consider that it was he who was the first president (small "p") of the Washington, D.C. public schools. He required that the main sources for reading practice and discussion would be the Holy Bible and the Watts Hymnal. And from Jefferson's "Notes on Virginia" we see some great words: "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?"

And one should not forget that every one of our 50 states' constitutions mentions God, the Almighty, the Creator, etc.

So when one invokes their religion in public, we should be glad that they are not relying only on current popular opinions to determine what is right/moral and what is not. Let's be grateful that they are looking to a mind greater than their own for some help and guidance. These folks are elected. If a leader is obnoxious or inconsiderate of the feelings of others in the room when giving a prayer, the voters have a simple solution. This is not a Constitutional issue.

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