I realize, Jay, you are eager to draw me into this case
because your side is likely to win. My position has been consistent: Michael
Newdow and all of the other plaintiffs in this suit are right on principle, but
that doesn’t mean the court will agree with them.
Public events like presidential inaugurations,
gubernatorial swearings-in and even city council meetings should be open to
all. Everyone should feel welcome at these gatherings. When we include sectarian
prayer at such events, we send the message that some believers are more
welcome, even that they are better citizens. (Don’t bother arguing that
exclusion of prayers is hostility toward religion, Jay. Anyone is free to pray
on their own at any time during these events. It’s the government sponsorship I
object to, not the praying.)
Having said that, I accept that legal challenges like this
are not likely to succeed in the current judicial climate. Dr. Newdow brought a similar case in 2004 that was not successful. I failed to see the point in
bringing another (which is why AU did not join the case), but I do believe his
filing brought a lot of important historical information to light.
Prayers at inaugurals are an on again, off again
phenomenon. The Constitution’s version
of the Presidential oath does not end “so help me God.” I had hoped that Barack
Obama would have dropped both of these practices, but he did not. (It only adds a problem that Rick Warren is
the first voice we’ll hear at the inaugural. I certainly don’t anticipate that
he will give some homophobic prayer, but we know him already by his acts
against same-sex marriage.)
In this case, you claim to be standing up for religious
freedom. What you are actually standing up for is a brief prayer recited in a
pro forma manner as part of day-long celebration to mark the instillation of a
secular ruler of an officially secular nation. You are standing up for the
coupling of religion and state in a highly symbolic and ritualized manner. Is
this a real prayer with a real religious message or just a by-rote exercise
that is included because everyone expects it to be?
In the Book of Matthew, Jesus warned against such
ostentatious public prayers. It’s better to pray alone in your closet, he said.
Jay, you have argued for the right to pray in public on behalf of the
government because it is “traditional.” Notwithstanding the evidence, that is
not even the issue. If a “tradition” (of whatever genesis or duration) is
non-inclusive and demonstrates an official preference for one religion over
others or religion in general over secularism it is wrong. Plain wrong.