Tuesday, May 11, 2010

No First Amendment Rights for the Elderly?

In Port Wentworth, GA, the local senior center has a meals program that is strongly subsidized by tax dollars. Because of this tie-in with government money, and because of a profound misunderstanding of the phrase "separation of church and state," the programs leaders told the seniors that they could not say prayers before their meals. They may still pray, he says (big of him), if they do so silently.

Such an action must have Thomas Jefferson, who used the "separation" phrase once in a letter, rolling over in his grave. Jefferson was not a fan off the government taking any more control than what is explicitly specified in the Constitution. On the same line, he probably would not have approved of tax funding of seniors' meals in the first place, but that is a different story. If one wishes to quote Jefferson, you can find many more examples where he used the phrase "freedom of religion" than where he referred to "separation."

The supposed Constitutional limit is not found in the First Amendment, which simply prohibits the Federal (or state) governments from establishing an official religion by law. In fact, the same First Amendment protect our freedom of speech. Couldn't a senior say a prayer out loud as a freedom of speech moment?

It is probably worth noting that the same Congress who wrote and ratified the First Amendment gave us a historic record that could shed light on what they thought the Amendment means. They petitioned our first President to declare a national day of prayer and fasting. They authorized and attended worship services held in the U.S. Capitol building (which Jefferson attended). They had the U.S. Marine Band play at some of those services. They opened each session of the Congressional meetings with prayer.

Requiring people to say a certain prayer as a condition of getting the subsidized meal would be a violation of their Constitutional rights. And not allowing them to pray aloud is also a violation of their rights.

Read more on the story here:

Port Wentworth nixes prayer at senior center

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