Prayer, Plain and Simple

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!”

President Obama’s Justice Department has filed a lawsuit challenging the Arizona’s immigration policy.  Fancy that! Siding with the government of Mexico over against a State government, the suite accuses Arizona of trying to “second guess” the federal government. Officials in Washington claimed on Tuesday that Arizona’s “invalid” law interferes with federal immigration responsibilities and “must be struck down.” Arizona counters that it is simply backing federal laws on immigration that Washington itself has refused to enforce.

Everyone involved agrees we have a problem. America is an immigrant nation. Some 95% of our current citizenship come from families who came to America from somewhere else. The question at hand is HOW do we foster immigration and manage the process in a productive and healthy way? And does Arizona have a right – even an obligation – to ensure the integrity of its border?

Once again, we see a challenge here that is really beyond our human wisdom and capacity to resolve. We need God’s perspective and strength more than we need mere human, political, economic solutions. Let’s offer prayer for this specific challenge…

“God we thank you for our ancestors who risked their lives to travel to America and begin a new life here. We thank you for leading them and for blessing them with this great and generous land. We pray now for the many who are still risking all to come here to begin anew. We thank you too for the orderly process we have in place. We thank you that there is a way for people to join in the American dream, and we thank you that our government is in place to aid this process. We ask that you would intervene here and now in our current immigration process. Provide ways for those who long to be part of America to join us. At the same time protect us from those who would use our freedoms to damage our freedoms. Give Arizona officials and the Justice Department a win/win solution to this present crisis. We ask for peace and security without sacrificing freedom and the hope of new beginning. In Jesus…”