John Brock: Public religious expression can be restored but clergy must lead
Published Tuesday, September 25, 2012
One high school valedictorian had the right idea. When she was told that she could not mention God in her graduation speech, she complied. The first thing she did, however, when she took her place at the podium was to produce a very loud and energetic sneeze. In unison, the graduating class responded with a hearty, “God Bless You!”
First the ACLU and other anti-religious groups took on nationwide organizations. Now, they have worked their way down to preventing time-honored opening prayers among South Carolina groups. The local school board, which has always started their meetings with a prayer, will no longer do so because they have been threatened with a lawsuit if they continue. Furthermore, the board stated that prayer would also be prohibited at all school functions including graduation and sports events.
The opponents of public prayer have won numerous legal actions to the extent that they no longer have to actually go to court. They just threaten and local boards and public officials cave under the threat. Anti-spiritual groups have just about wiped out public prayer — predicated on a bogus “Separation of Church and State” rationale.
It appears that local folks are not going to retreat quietly on the issue and already there have been efforts to thwart an invasion into religious liberty on the local scene. I suspect we will see further actions.
There is a legitimate way around anti-religious threats. It will take the efforts of local clergy groups and other interested parties to allay prohibition efforts. We will get to that in a moment.
Prayer before high school and college ballgames has just about disappeared. And the anti-prayer bullies will not stop until public prayer is totally eliminated from the American scene. I have always contended that our founding fathers, in an effort to prohibit American government from establishing a state religion such as the colonial Church of England, intended for our nation to be free of state-sponsored religion — but our founders never intended to prohibit the free practice of individual religion regardless of where you did so.
To be certain, no government should establish religious practice but should be careful to not prohibit public expressions of spirituality. Our forefathers constantly referred to God in our founding documents, discussions and in their own official public prayers! In recent years, government and independent groups have acted contrary to these founding statements.
There is a way for religious individuals and groups to return to the practice of public prayer in just the way our forefathers intended it to be.
The same provision of our US Constitution that prohibits the establishment of religion also mandates freedom of expression, public assembly and speech. Therein resides the means for the reinstitution of public prayer. But it will require the leadership of religious leaders.
This leadership may be in doubt. Unlike the great religious leaders, emboldened by the outgrowth of Martin Luther's proclamations and the Reformation, too many religious leaders of today have fallen prey to the threats of anti-religion government, organizations and individuals. They, too, are fearful of lawsuits and loss of tax exempt status.
Their fears are in vain. Nowhere does the US Constitution prohibit the expression of beliefs, political or otherwise, from the pulpits of America. Nevertheless, the unconstitutional threat of tax exempt status has bullied some pastors and religious leaders from expressing their honest beliefs from the clerical podium. Some even appear to be timid about expressing views in any forum outside their own church walls and those who do speak out too often agree with the view that there should be no public display of religion. Although burning at the stake is no longer a viable problem, I have had a number of pastors tell me in recent years that their preaching and teaching from the pulpit is tempered by the threats of government. And, who can blame them?
But now is the time to gird ourselves, both clergy and laypersons, with new courage to call the bluff of those who would take away our fundamental religious practices. And here's how:
SHOW UP EARLY!
As we have pointed out, Americans can claim the constitutional right to free assembly and speech. So, suppose the proponents of public prayer, led by the clergy, decided to show up two minutes before the official opening of ALL public gatherings including but not limited to School Board meetings, ballgames, county and city governing boards, etc. and hold forth with public prayer. Clerical groups could assign a church volunteer to lead each such occasion. High school students have shown us the way with their before-the-school-bell rings “Meet me at the pole” prayers.
Even the ACLU cannot legitimately oppose. We will be exercising our freedoms of assembly and speech as well as our right of religious expression — two minutes before the official start of a public meeting. In large venues such as sports events, those offering prayers could bring along a bullhorn in order to be heard. No government sound system or anything provided by any public entity would be utilized. Ball fields and government buildings are public places and, therefore, must allow free public assembly and speech of citizens — even religious individuals or groups.
We could start a revolution of public prayer all across America as others adopt our answer to attempts to wipe out public prayer. If Muslims, Hindus, Voodoo practitioners, etc. want to express their views as well — more power to them, but conventional prayer will be reinstituted onto the public scene and we no longer have to kowtow to fictitious anti-religious mandates.
Perhaps it could spark another Great Awakening of spirituality across the land. Spiritual revivals don't usually start in great cities like New York or Chicago. They start in places like Georgetown County. It's certainly worth a try.
If all else fails, we can all sneeze at public gatherings.
John Brock is retired and lives in Georgetown County. He can be reached by Email: email@example.com.