Dahlia Lithwick over at Slate has written a fantastic, must-read, I-was-nodding-my-head-and-saying-“yes!”-to-just-about-every-sentence- piece about a recent legislative prayer case in North Carolina. If you read only one article today, this should be it.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Board of Commissioners of Forsyth County’s policy of beginning each session with a prayer—which was almost always offered in Jesus’ name. The supporters of the legislative prayer policy argued that about 95% of the community is Christian and some people are just being “hypersensitive.” What does Lithwick say to that?
“It doesn’t matter if only 4 percent of the community is expressly excluded by references to a certain deity. It also doesn’t matter if only 1 percent of the community feels that way, or even if only two ‘hypersensitive’ non-Christians object. The Bill of Rights is not subject to popular referendum. That’s why it’s called the Bill of Rights and not, say, American Idol.”
Judge Paul Victor Neimeyer asserted in his dissent that nonsectarian prayers aren’t actually real prayers and that “the majority has dared to step in and regulate the language of prayer—the sacred dialogue between humankind and God.” As Lithwick noted,
“possibly the only thing more terrifying than the prospect of a federal court stepping into ‘a sacred dialogue between humankind and God’ is the prospect of a federal court writing that sentence in the first place…The kinds of nonsectarian, ecumenical prayer Judge Niemeyer scorns as mere ‘civil niceties’ are, in fact, the very delicate mechanism by which a society that is deeply religious has also managed to be deeply tolerant.”
To this I’d add, that this case provides just one more example of why legislative, government-sponsored prayers, shouldn’t be happening in the first place. As Rev. Gaddy has said time and time again,
“For those individuals who find peace and comfort through prayer or reflection, current events provide abundant source material for those exercises, but I do not believe any of us need the government to tell us to pray or to meditate. That is not the business of any office or leader at any level of our government.”
Big shout out to our friends at Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the ACLU who represent the plaintiffs in this case. Now seriously, go read that article already.