A Central Florida atheist group filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Lakeland this week in an attempt to stop prayers at the opening of city commission meetings. The Atheists of Florida are particularly outraged by the regular use of the name “Jesus Christ” in the prayers. One meeting on April 5th this year turned heated after one citizen present at the meeting got into a yelling match with atheists who were attempting to voice objections during the prayer. Commissioners had to recess the meeting.
Courts historically have ruled that invocations at meetings of government bodies are constitutional. Lakeland’s policy in particular was validated by the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The courts stipulation has been that governments like Lakeland make a reasonable effort to incorporate all religious faiths. The Atheists of Florida argue that Lakeland is not following these guidelines. Their lawsuit contends that the city’s prayer practices violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They also complain that they were made to feel uncomfortable for not standing during the invocation and for omitting “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Once again the confusion arises: “Separation of church and state” is not intended to be “separation of faith and state.” The Founders original intent was clearly to protect the liberty of religious faith and conscious from a state-mandated faith, such as Europe practices. Their fear was to protect faith from governmental power, never to lock faith out of government.
The Truth stands: Prayer is our admittance that we are and always will be dependent on God both individually and corporately. How we embrace this “self evident” truth and how we express it in our individual faith is a matter of personal liberty, not to be prescribed by government. But the freedom of any individual or collection of individuals who’s will is expressed in a governmental body must never be suppressed and denied. We have the freedom to pray, personally and publically, as individuals and as a community. Let religious freedom reign!
“God, we again acknowledge our dependence on you, as individuals, families, communities, and a nation. We pray that you will give us wisdom and courage to preserve the freedom we have in this country to express our faith as our conscience deems. We acknowledge the historical roots in our nation anchoring us to a Judeo-Christian essence. We do not exclude other faiths; but we do embrace our foundation. We ask for your blessing on this nation. We ask that all sectors of our society would bless you in return: business, family, education, media, arts, religion, business, and government. We commit ourselves to you fully and finally! Come and lead and guide us…. In Jesus…”