The “Naked Public Square” in Fayetteville, North Carolina

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First page of Constitution of the United States

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A federal judge has banned Christian prayers from the city council meetings in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Only “non-sectarian prayers” will be allowed. This is the latest sortie in the attempt of the United States government to enforce what the late Father Richard John Neuhaus called “The Naked Public Square.” That term refers to the systematic removal of religion (especially Christianity) from public discourse in the United States. Usually proponents of the naked public square refer to Thomas Jefferson’s referring to a “wall of separation” between church and state. Yet the term “separation of church and state” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution–the First Amendment only forbids the U. S. Congress from establishing a religion and forbids the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion. It does not even forbid a state from having an established church if that individual state so choose. It took the creative reading of meaning into the First Amendment by members of the Supreme Court and by secularist federal judges to force a so-called “religiously neutral stance” on the American people. Religion is relegated to the private sphere.

Yet no one can remain neutral on religion–as William James pointed out in his famous essay, “The Will to Believe,” “neutrality” is de facto a rejection of religion. Religions claim to have implications for the whole of life, public and private. To privatize religion is to destroy an essential part of religion’s identity. A “neutral stance” of the government is, in effect, an endorsement of practical atheism.

There also can be no such thing as a “nonsectarian prayer.” A prayer to a deity of any kind reflects a bias toward theistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Theravada Buddhists do not believe in God, or else believe that whether a deity exists is not important to ending desire and suffering. Would not a prayer to a deity oppose their teaching? Atheists would not agree with any kind of prayer. A prayer not using the name of Jesus is nonsectarian; it is biased against Christianity and toward the other two great theistic religions. A removal of a prayer from city council meetings would not help, since this would reflect a bias toward (practical) atheism.

A better solution would be to allow ministers from various faiths to present a prayer or devotional at the city council meeting. A Jewish rabbi or a Muslim Imam could pray to God without invoking the name of Jesus. A Theravada Buddhist could present some sayings of the Buddha about ending desire. A Christian could pray in the name of Jesus. An atheist might present a short meditation on the glory of science. Those in the audience who do not agree with the theology behind a particular prayer or devotional or meditation can surely tolerate it–no one is forcing them to give up their religious beliefs. If I am ever asked to pray publicly, I will pray in accordance with my religion, Christianity. I will end my prayer “in Jesus’ name.” To do otherwise would violate my conscience. A Jewish rabbi who leads a prayer should not be required to use the name of Jesus. A Theravada Buddhist need not make a reference to a deity. That is a solution fair to different religious groups that makes more sense than a “nonsectarian prayer.”

 

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O’Donnell is Right on Church and State

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Cover of "The Naked Public Square: Religi...

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So Christine O’Donnell denies that separation of church and state is in the Constitution, and a law school audience gasps at her “gaffe.” Besides being another confirmation of my negative opinion of the legal profession, this is a good opportunity for going over the First Amendment’s “Establishment Clause” on religion. Just what does the clause say?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

I don’t see the words “separation of church and state.” Enough Supreme Court justices, from Hugo Black onward, imagined that those words were there, and through their vivid imaginations they ruled that the First Amendment meant “separation of church and state.” For those who follow in the footsteps of Justice John Marshall and support the tyranny of the federal court system, this is the end of the matter. Those individuals with more critical minds will ask whether the original intent of the Founders was to separate church and state. Now the deist Thomas Jefferson referred to “a wall of separation between church and state,” but that is not in the constitution. What the First Amendment does is forbid an established church such as the established churches still found in some European countries. It also allows freedom of religious expression. There is no justification in the Constitution for what the later Father Richard John Neuhaus called “the naked public square,” that is, the public realm stripped of all religion. Atheists and secularists, who often time are more haters of God than nonbelievers in God, have erotic dreams about removing religion totally from the public square, as if their position is truly a “neutral” position. Their position is not neutral; rather it is positively secularist and anti-religious in orientation. This was not the intent of the Founding Fathers. Many of them were deists, true, but they still believed that a religious populace was a necessary check on rabid individualism that could lead to moral chaos.

O’Donnell’s critics will say “The Constitution means what the Courts say it means.” I cannot argue with people who support judicial tyranny. And for postmodernists who deny that there is any meaning to any text other than what the reader says the text means, I have no rational arguments to use against people who are fundamentally irrational.  Although I’m not the biggest fan of Rush Limbaugh, there is one statement he says that makes lots of sense: “Words mean things.” Words are not arbitrary in meaning, and that includes the words of the Constitution. The fact that judges have read into its words things that are not there does not change the fact that the Constitution has an original meaning. And that meaning does not include “separation of church and state.”