Prayer is in the news.
Let me rephrase that: Public prayer is in the news.
As in prayer before government meetings. Prayer in public school. Coach-led prayer on the gridiron.
All have made headlines lately. And it leaves me with a question.
What if, in each of these news stories, we changed a few words?
Many Christians applauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 ruling that it was OK for a town council in Greece, N.Y., to open its meetings with a chaplain’s prayer invoking Jesus.
OK. Let’s change a few words: Say the court said it was OK for a town council to open its meetings with an imam’s prayer invoking Allah. How many Christians would also support that?
The ruling would seem to allow it. And a recent survey found that Islam is now the second-largest religion – behind Christianity – in North Carolina and many other states.
I hope I’m wrong, but I fear that some Christians – and I am a churchgoing Catholic – would say that only Christian prayers should be allowed. Or that Muslim prayers should not be allowed.
OK, next: The state General Assembly is poised to pass a bill that would affirm students’ rights to pray in public school and would allow teachers and staff to “adopt a respectful posture” during student-led prayers.
One of the bill’s co-sponsors said it was filed as a reaction to a 2012 case in which a first-grader was forced to remove references to God from a poem about her grandfather.
Clearly, this first-grader was wronged by a constitutional illiterate. But let’s say the first-grader used a different word: Not God, but Vishnu, a major God in Hinduism.
Do you still think the bill would have been filed? Is the legislature as sensitive to minority religions as it is to Christianity?
Next, there was news that an atheist group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, had launched a complaint against Clemson University’s football program. The group charged that Tigers football coach Dabo Swinney crossed the line separating church from state (Clemson is a public university) when he scheduled team devotionals.
The current edition of “Decision,” the magazine published by the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, cast this as an attack on Christian Swinney’s religious liberty.
What if Swinney were a Buddhist? And he scheduled team meditations? The atheist group may still have filed a complaint against Clemson, but would “Decision” have still run an article?
Don’t get me wrong: I believe prayer to be powerful. And I am all for true religious liberty.
I just wonder if the debate over public prayer is really more about something else: Some who belong to the majority religion trying to establish its dominance, get the government seal of approval and crowd out some other faiths.
That’s what happens in countries like Saudi Arabia. But this is America, and we’re getting more religiously diverse by the day.
OK, now, what do you think?
-- Tim Funk
Friday, June 13, 2014
Prayer is in the news.