Tue, May

OK-to-Pray In Government Meetings Decision Not What America’s Founders Had In Mind

WHO WE ARE-Here we go again!  

I thought we were living in a nation that was based on separation of church and state—so declared in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights in 1791.  Without question, it was written to protect religious freedom and that implies religious diversity, space for humanism, and other modes of spiritual, figurative, or literal thought. 

Over the more than two centuries since, many people have felt free to distort and contort the meaning of that guarantee.  As Jack London once stated, “(They are) quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, not in the significances.” 

The recent 5-4 U. S. Supreme Court decision in Greece v Galloway is a slap in the face to our founders and their descendants.  

The Constitution was clearly written so that it could adapt to the changing times, certainly a future that could not be foreseen by our founders.  I am a loose-constructionist of that seminal document for which the amendment process was adopted in order to keep up with the changing morés in our society—thus, I believe our interpretations of our Constitution are meant to be modified with each new period of our history.  Religious practice is, indeed, a case in point. 

Thomas Jefferson was a Deist who wrote his own version of the Bible, deleting any portion from it that could not be scientifically or historically proven.  The founders represented varying degrees of religiosity, but none of them wanted to impose their own religious leanings, interpretations, or even doubts upon anyone else, let alone to be imbedded in legal code. 

Other than slavery (which must never be treated lightly—a subject for another time), people were not meant to be treated as second-class citizens.  We did away with monarchy for that reason.  America was to have no aristocracy with its lords and ladies.  We were to be equal and equally treated. 

Furthermore, regardless of what all too many in this country choose to believe, this is not a Christian nation nor is it a country of Christians (no extant document has ever stated otherwise).  We are, in fact, that melting pot (or mixed salad—take your pick) of nationalities, religions (including agnostics and atheists), ethnicities, and creeds—a precept in which all of us rightfully take pride.  

Yet when it comes to application, we are “kosher” in separating one group from another. 

For years we have fought to keep religion out of schools because students are considered a captive audience who cannot simply get up and leave when religious discussion or prayer comes up in the class or assembly room.  Nevertheless, for years I, as a teacher, witnessed religion creeping back into the school setting, encroaching upon religious freedom.  Often Christian clubs were held on campus during school time.  Many invocations before official ceremonies, like graduation, included “in God’s name” or “in Jesus’ name.”  Statements like those simply don’t belong.  

Why can’t we have moments of silent reflection that can serve the same purpose as the more official god-invoking prayers? The students at my school represented a broad spectrum of religious thought, not just Christian, so what about the non-believers or other-believers, such as the Jew or Hindu or Buddhist, or Muslim?  Our actions (and not just in schools), therefore, must be compassionate and considerate of the sensitivities of others in any setting. 

This is not about being politically correct.  It is about being more inclusive.  It is a reminder that no prayer is completely non-denominational or non-sectarian. All this reminds me of when “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance (I was in first grade then).  We, as a nation in the post-War years, wanted or needed to prove just how much we were the antithesis of the communist (equivalent to atheist) countries with which we were engaged in what became a costly and totally wrong-headed Cold War. 

That addition was wrong then and it is wrong now, for a similar reason to why “In God We Trust” should not be part of our coinage. 

Often as the only little Jewish girl attending many different schools during my formative years, I always felt uncomfortable during Christmas when there was a Christmas tree in some form in every classroom and Christmas songs were taught to all students, but my religion was completely ignored as if it didn’t exist. 

I remember my third grade teacher who, at the beginning of each public-school day, wrote a prayer verse on the black board which she expected all of us to write down and memorize.  Somehow, at eight years of age I sensed that there was something very wrong with this demand.  I asked to be transferred to another classroom (to a much harder teacher) and was granted my request.  I was glad to put up with the increased academic demands rather than feel so out of place in the previous setting.  

Keep in mind, this did not come from my family which was basically pretty secular but from me who for as long as I can remember took great pride in my heritage and thus in who I am. 

What is happening to modern Christianity today in America is a growing right-of-center, regressive movement to Christianize the world (after all, I was always told as a child that if everyone believed that Jesus is God, the Messiah would return and we would all live in Paradise).  

Indeed, many Christians today (for a purely selfish motive) do believe that a total “ingathering of Jews in Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus,” the Messiah.  Armageddon will then arrive, along with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Last Judgement, at which time the true Christian believers will prevail while the rest of us will be sent to hell eternal. (Of course, the Jews are considered synonymous to the Beast, the Anti-Christ, who must ultimately be defeated.  Just think how the Muslims and others are envisioned.)  

It has been said, though quite ironically, that this contemporary Christian movement is the greatest impetus behind the growing atheist numbers in America and many other parts of the world.  Certainly, groups like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State see what is transpiring with their own sense of horror. 

As big a supporter as I am of President Obama, not even I can agree with everything he supports or opposes.  I am disappointed that his administration endorsed the plaintiffs’ case to allow these Christian prayers to be invoked before Greece, New York’s councilmanic meetings.  Apparently, the Solicitor General’s office was more concerned that the practice of opening prayer before

U. S. congressional sessions be allowed to continue untouched by court rulings. 

I am uncomfortable with that latter practice as well (I like to be consistent).  As the world and our nation become increasingly more agnostic, the prayer issue will one day become a moot point.  Until then, whose god are we talking about when we utter, “Oh, my God”? 

Just sayin’.


(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, A Quick-and-Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts.  She also writes for CityWatch.)






Vol 12 Issue 38

Pub: May 9, 2014