People of faith, our responsibility as citizens of this nation is to be informed, pray without ceasing, and TRUST GOD AGAIN. Use your voice and resources to preserve Judeo-Christian principles in this nation. There’s no time to waste.
I wish Thomas Jefferson were here. He could help sort out this “sectarian prayer” trouble. Jefferson, a Deist, coined the phrase “separation of church and state.” Yet, as president he attended Christian worship services weekly … in the hall of the U.S. House of Representatives with the Marine band supplying the music. Episcopalians used the war office. Baptists used the Treasury. And all with his permission.
It seems Jefferson did not understand separation as some understand it today. He and other founders resisted government establishment of faith, to be sure. But they found a way to do so without government suppression of religion.
The freedom to practice faith (in public and private) according to one’s own conscience, without fear of government favoritism or interference, is a national treasure kept in the First Amendment. For most of American history, this has included the freedom to pray publicly and uncensored before government assemblies. Until now.
The ACLU has made a relatively new discovery that this practice is unconstitutional. And here and there it has found jurists who agree. To be sure, it wants to protect the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. But it has embarked on a nationwide campaign telling vulnerable, local governments how this praying is to be done at the expense of the Free Exercise clause. It begins by “advising” and moves quickly to legal threatening. If local governments let citizens pray before them, their prayers must be sanitized of particular convictions … or else.
This bullying works much of the time. When threatened, many cave quickly. But not all. To date, Forsyth County has not. It shouldn’t. The ACLU is not invincible and freedom is still invaluable.
In 2005, the ACLU sued the Cobb County, Ga., commissioners to end the kind of free, sectarian prayer policy that Forsyth County seeks to protect. Cobb County won in 2008. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court upheld the constitutionality of allowing public prayers that invoke the name of Jesus or other religious deities at government meetings. The court rejected the ACLU argument that the establishment clause permits only nonsectarian prayers for such meetings. Today Floridians, Georgians and Alabamans can pray freely before legislative gatherings in Allah’s, Yahweh’s or Jesus’ name.
As of Jan. 28, citizens of Forsyth County cannot. We are under a court order that tells us how we may pray before our commissioners. It gives us permission to pray only if we adhere to certain restrictions. We must not pray as most people of faith do. We are allowed only to pray muzzled in silence or to an amalgamated deity who the court finds acceptable and safe for us.
This order censors prayer in the public arena for the sake of “diversity” and “inclusiveness.” But this sounds like dangerous doublespeak. We must enforce uniformity to protect diversity? We exclude all in order to include all?
Religious freedom is a basic human right that no government may lawfully deny. It is not a gift of the state. It is rooted in the inherent dignity of the human person. Religious people are entitled to participate in public life on an equal basis with everyone and should not be excluded for professing their faith.
This is why the Forsyth County prayer case matters — and why making it a matter of money is dead wrong. Some say the price is too high. We say, “What price liberty?” If religious liberty is lost, no liberty is safe in America. That’s why our organization, the North Carolina Partnership for Religious Liberty, has raised $55,000 to back the county in this fight.
But thinking only of dollars, we miss our destiny. We enter dangerous territory. President Kennedy wisely counseled, “Let us not be blind to our differences — but let us also direct our attention to our common interests and to means by which our differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” Similarly, we must work to make America safe for religious diversity with liberty for all. Safety will not come from government suppression and control. It comes from inclusive, diversity-respecting policies like the prayer policy of our Forsyth County commissioners.
In the original version of America, we were convinced that no price for freedom was too high to pay. We said, “Live free or die. Give me liberty or give me death.” We knew freedom, though never free, is priceless. In the new America, some measure it in dollars and find it too expensive.