Monday, February 7, 2011

Day of Prayer Declaration in 1622

There are several examples on this blog of our founders' declarations for days of fasting and prayer, many from around the time of our Declaration of Independence and later years. But it was the continuation of a tradition that started long before that.

Consider Plymouth Plantation, when there was a severe lack of rain in 1622. Governor Bradford had no federal government to look to for assistance. Instead he looked to the leader that he and his people wanted to be in charge. He wrote this declaration:

"I may not here omit how, notwithstand all their great pains and industry, and the great hopes of a large crop, the Lord seemed to blast, and take away the same, and to threaten further and more sore famine unto them. By a great drought which continued from the third week in May, till about the middle of July, without any rain and with great heat for the most part, insomuch as the corn began to wither away though it was set with fish, the moisture whereof helped it much. Yet at length it began to languish sore, and some of the drier grounds were parched like withered hay, part whereof was never recovered. Upon which they set apart a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer, in this great distress. And He was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer, both to their own and the Indians' admiration that lived amongst them. For all the morning, and greatest part of the day, it was clear weather and very hot, and not a cloud or any sign of rain to be seen; yet toward evening it began to overcast, and shortly after to rain with such sweet and gentle showers as gave them cause of rejoicing and blessing God..."

This was before the Constitution was written, so there was no cry of "separation of church and state." Indeed, the framers who wrote the Constitution took care to assure the states that the new federal government would not interfere with such practices and beliefs by the states.

As found in "Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647", by William Bradford, Samuel Eliot Morison.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hawaii Senate Feels Pressure and Discontinues Prayer

The senate of Hawaii had a practice of opening meetings with prayer. Apparently these prayers sometimes invokes Christian phrases, and now the senate has received notice from the American Civil Liberties Unions (ACLU) that they must stop of face a lawsuit. The ACLU bases such actions on the so-called "separation of church and state." The senate considered using a non-sectarian prayer instead, but finally voted to just discontinue prayer altogether.

To say that such a prayer is unconstitutional is an interesting concept, but is inherently misdirected. The very men who wrote the Constitution opened their first official meeting with a prayer, and the presiding chaplain read from a psalm. Did these men not understand the document they wrote? Were they hypocrites? Or is it possible that modern courts have essentially re-written the Constitution to fit their ideological views?

After the 1947 Supreme Court decision that started to erode the rights of religion, the veryACLU mentioned above said that the decision "gave new meaning to the Establishment Clause." That says it pretty well. Unfortunately, it is not the job of the court to give new meaning to laws. They are supposed to decide how to fairly apply the laws as they were written by the people charged with creating them.

Read the Hawaii story below:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Graduation Ceremonies in Churches Need Protection?

You can find other posts on this blog about controversy over churches serving as the venue for high school graduations and some other functions. Often, one group or another will take the matter to court to try to block the use of the church. Sometimes it has worked and other times the school has succeeded with their planned use.

There are some very good reasons that schools have chosen to use churches in these stories. Generally the churches have offered ample seating capacity at a price lower then secular venues in the same areas. Often the churches have comforts not found in high school facilities, such as air conditioning, more comfortable seating with a better overall view, better parking, better sound systems, and large-screen monitors.

That seems logical, and would be considered a good business decision in most circumstances. Perhaps if you are new to this blog, you are wondering what the objection could be. Almost without exception, the issue raised is a violation of the so-called "separation of church and state." As a reminder, the "separation" phrase comes from a letter of Thomas Jefferson. It is not a phrase contained in our legal founding documents, but rather was intended as a convenient metaphor to describe one aspect of the First Amendment. That amendment covers religion, and in fact the first two short clauses are called the Religion Clauses. The first of those two is called the Establishment Clause, and the second is called the Free Exercise clause. The whole First Amendment is:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Clearly the word "separation" is not found there. The context of this is a limitation on the actions of the Federal Government ("Congress"). Many believe the 14th Amendment places the same limitation on the state governments, in that it guarantees that the rights of a citizen under the constitution may not be abridged by any state.

In all of that, where do we justify not allowing a high school to hold a graduation ceremony inside a church facility? Does that establish a state law? Does is prohibit the free exercise of one's religion?

The Liberty Counsel has stepped in now to help various schools in Georgia that may have been threatened with legal action for planning to hold graduations in churches. Matt Staver, the founder of Liberty Counsel, said:

"Clearly, public schools can use religious venues -- churches and other venues -- just like anyone else [and can] make a common-sense decision based upon size, location and costs," he contends. "The First Amendment does not interfere with that decision."

Read more below: