Prayer, Plain and Simple

May 5, 2010: Police order a group of Christian junior high school students to stop praying outside the U.S. Supreme Court building. The officer told them it was against the law. Say what?

The students, from Wickenburg Christian Academy in Arizona had traveled to Washington to study American history. After taking photos on the steps of the Supreme Court building, their teacher gathered them in a circle and they began to pray. Shortly after, police officer abruptly interrupted them and ordered the group to cease and desist because they were “violating the law.” 

15 students and seven adults complied with the officer, left the Supreme Court grounds and continued their prayer. 

My guess: I doubt that this police officer is an anti-religious zealot. I doubt he/she hates Christians or is an ALCU plant waiting to pounce on pious youth and brand them as anti-constitutional rabble. I do see this as a sad and dangerous outcome of a climate created by those who have – evidently successfully – labeled Christians expressing their faith in the public square as enemies of the peace. Perhaps it’s a sorry product of other violent religious radicalism, but to stifle civil and religious liberty in the interest of “keeping peace” is the first step toward a society willing to suppress rights for sake of security. This officer has been so indoctrinated by the cult of diversity and civil neutrality that he/she has forgotten the very constitution that the Supreme Court is sworn to help clarify. How ironic – that this seeming slight breech, though far from slight in reality – should happen on the doorstep of our highest court, during the very session they were deliberating the limits of religious free speech.  

“God help us! God, give us wisdom and courage to continue to pray to you at any time and at any place. We again commit to you to stand publically for our faith and to declare for all to hear that we depend on you and need your goodness and guidance in our individual lives and in our nation. Lord, have mercy!”

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…”

Anat Hoffman has been ordered not to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for 30 days.  Jerusalem police detained her on Monday after she brought a Torah scroll to the women’s prayer section of the Western Wall, holiest sites in Judaism and a remnant of the ancient site of the original Jewish Temple.  Hoffman leads “Women of the Wall,” a group of conservative Jews that challenges the limitations put on women’s prayer. The Israeli Supreme Court under the influence or ulta-Orthodox groups has ruled that women can’t read from the Torah in the temple area. Witnesses of yesterday’s confrontation said Hoffman had possession of the Torah scroll in the prayer area but was not reading it.

There’s a story in the Christian Scriptures – John 4 – of a woman from Samaria, a region in 1st Century Israel, who asked Jesus about the proper place to pray. She was concerned because Samaritans were not allowed to pray in the Jewish Temple. They countered that the right place to meet God was on the holy mountain in their region where God has once met with his people. Jesus answered her and all of us in the process, that  the location of worship does not matter. He simply said, “True worshippers worship in spirit and in truth.” What matters is the heart of prayer and worship.

“We pray today for all those who feel banished from their relationship with God. For those who have suffered from the rejection of restrictive religious systems, who have been ostracized from their relationship with God by human rules and regulations. God, meet them where they are! We worship you wherever we are. The heart of praise and adoration is all you require. Remind us all today that no human boundary can bar us from your presence. We are invited to come boldly before you, as we are, where we are. It is your grace that invites us and then prepares us for your presence. God, thank you for coming to our space first, in Jesus, so that we can come to yours! In Jesus!”

Freedom of speech is a constitutional right everywhere in America, except – evidently – on college campuses. The University of Illinois has sacked Ken Howell, an adjunct professor who taught courses on Catholicism because one of his students accused him of hate speech. Professor Howell’s crime: He admitted that he personally agrees with the Catholic Church’s teaching that homosexual sex is immoral.

Beware: When expressing a personal moral conviction becomes “hate speech,” we have fully fallen off the ledge into the abyss of a “Brave New World” where the thought police judge intent over action. Wo be unto the people who cower under the boot of such tyranny!

“God, help us!”