Sectarian Prayer Alert in Thomasville

Rev. Donnie Lunsford, pastor of New Grace Baptist Church, and Thomasville City Councilman, Dwight Cornelison, want more Christian prayer at public meetings, and they’re all fired up, writes The Dispatch. More after the break.

They’re planning a February 3, 2007, breakfast called the “Christian involvement conference.” Cornelison said the following, I feel certain, in a Bible-thumping manner:

We’re going to dispel the rumors that Christians can’t be involved[.] . . . God ordained government, church and the family. It’s a Christian duty and obligation to participate in civil government.

Um? What rumors? I like Christians. We’re, in fact, overwhelmingly involved. Otherwise, actually, I don’t disagree with any of that. I think that’s just fine. Yet, it doesn’t justify Christian prayers in governmental meetings, during which elected representatives make decisions affecting the lives of all people of every unique faith.

Here’s their plan to make it constitutional:

Among the ways, he says, are to offer invocations before meetings are officially called to order, for council members to seek inspiration for themselves only rather than to pray on behalf of the entire city or to invite clergy on a rotating basis from a representative cross-section of the city’s faiths.

But then, one has the problem of “defining” religion. Not to mention that, inevitably, some faiths will be tossed to the curb because of some of someone’s subjective judgment that the particular faith is not public-meeting-prayer-worthy.

Cornelison surprised me by saying this:

If someone who is Muslim is elected to council, and they want to pray to Allah, I don’t have a problem with it[.]

Well, that’s a good starting point. Especially considering the Muslims (and people of various non-Christian faiths) in the country have dealt with Christian references and prayers by governmental officials for, oh, several hundred years. But why should it matter that the elected councilperson is Muslim. What if a concerned citizen is Muslim?

I wonder what Keith Ellison would say in response to this.

~TheMinstrel

Comments

Thanks, Minstrel

Recommended.

Doubting Thomasville

I'm adding a Thomasville tag to your post. Looks like Thomasville is trying to be the New Jerusalem. They started with the gay marriage amendment vote.

Thanks.

I forgot to add tags.

Less than enthusiastic.

I am no bible thumper, but I just can't get stirred up over this issue. My take is that the state shouldn't and can't declare or force a certain religion on anyone. But, I also don't think it can be in the business of other people's business.

I once realized that if I support a woman's right to choose, in my mind, I have to support the right of some guy to buy a lottery ticket.

Likewise, I am left thinking of my wife's favorite series of bumper stickers:
"Don't like abortion, don't have one." and
"Don't like gay marriage, don't have one."

I can't help but feel that in in the same vein:
"Don't like prayer, don't do it."

I feel like the most important right is that of personal freedom and I don't want the government telling me I have to pray, nor that I can't. I don't agree with forced prayer obviously, but I also have no problem with folks looking on while others pray.

I realize that my liberal decoder ring might be stripped from me for declaring this point of view and I am prepared for that.



One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

I appreciate your opinion, Robert.

Thanks. There are several reasons I have a problem with governmental, sectarian prayer, not the least of which is--from a purely Christian prospective--the following:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men--extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess'. But the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 18.10-14

Prayer at city council meetings just feels Pharisee-esque for some reason. Even moreso on the national stage.

Furthermore, the First Amendment Establishment Clause prohibits sectarian prayer in certain circumstances--I believe, the aforementioned circumstances.

Not to mention, elected officials should understand how to adequately represent "the people," which means, primarily, understanding that not everyone is Christian. And that's ok. As dear mommy tells her child, "This is not the proper time or place, dear one. It's not time to play; it's time to be a big boy."

And...

I am not saying I am a big fan of prayer at public meetings. But, as with everything there is a time and place. The Orange County Democratic Party Convention decided to forego its opening prayer in lieu of a cheesy rah-rah fight song. I could have done without either, but who cares? I just sat and listened politely (actually, I had to use the restroom and thought that was a good moment, but you get my drift).

Then again, some town in Utah with 99.9% mormons might want to open their town hall meeting with a prayer. My feeling is that it is not up to government to decide what these people can and cannot do in that situation anymore than it should tell two women they cannot be legally bonded or that they control a woman's reproductive choices, OR that Orange County HAS to start their meeting with a prayer.

Personal freedom.


One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

A "Community Standard" for an appropriate prayer?

Like the "community standard" in obscenity cases? Interesting approach. But how does one determine the community standard with regard to religion? Or, with regard to obscenity, for that matter. Gallup pole? Ultimately, we both know a judge/jury will determine the community standard. Not a fan. And what of the .1%? What if the area is only 75% Mormon? What of the 25%? Too bad, so sad?

I see your point, though. Thanks.

Yes, too bad so sad.

How about abortion? If we get 51% to say it is wrong, do you want it made illegal? Or, what about marriage equality, do we have to reach your 75% threshold? I think not.

You have the right not to pray, you have the right to not be forced to pray, but you don't have the right to stop others from praying. Or, at least you shouldn't if you hold any other personal freedom dear.

We protect the rights of the minority in this country, but I still believe that we all have our inalienable rights - even those of people with whom we don't agree.



One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

But, I'm advocating the rights of minorities!

You say, "you have the right to not be forced to pray, but you don't have the right to stop others from praying. Or, at least you shouldn't if you hold any other personal freedom dear."

I would never advocate a position that forces people to stop praying. I like prayer. I think people should pray a lot. However, prayer by governmental officials in governmental meetings, during which the officials make decisions affecting the rights and lives of all people, constitutes an illegal establishment of religion. It's unconstitutional. And it's unconstitutional so that the rights of minorities--religious minorities--won't be usurped by a Christian majority.

I disagree.

Again, let me make it clear, I don't like prayer at government meetings.
But, to think that:
1. people praying before a meeting somehow relates to "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" is wrong.
2. people NOT praying before a meeting will influence their decisions, is wrong.

Now, if Congress wants to pass a law saying that prayer at a government-supported function shall constitute the establishment of religion, therefore it is illegal, that is different.
There is a disconnect in my mind between the establishing a religion clause, protecting the rights of minorities, and protecting the rights of majorities.

If this was an easy issue, it wouldn't be an issue. But, again, I hold the right to Personal Freedom in high regard and don't accept treading on it lightly - no matter how politically incorrect that is sometimes.


One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Hmm.

You said, here's the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Then you said: "Now, if Congress wants to pass a law saying that prayer at a government-supported function shall constitute the establishment of religion, therefore it is illegal, that is different."

So, now you're a textualist? Strict constructionist? Oh, my! :)

He's not a textualist.

He's an obtuse-ist with too much time on his hands and a strong desire to aggravate us today.

:)

While I am more than willing to aggravate today...

I am also not a hypocrite.. I would like everyone to answer the questions I asked below, then explain how it differs.


One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

I think you misread him here, Robert

He was pointing out the weakness of a "community standard" approach by drawing our attention to the inherent absurdity in the tyranny of the (50.1%) majority.

This one's pretty simple. When council members — elected representatives of the people — turn their official meetings into prayer meetings, they marginalize those who believe differently. And this isn't belief about crunchy vs smooth, or hybrid vs SUV, but belief about what any religious person ought to hold most dear. There's a real harm here, whether you feel it personally or not.

And is there a benefit to counterbalance that harm? Is there something that makes a "Lordy Jesus" prayer practically better than a moment of silence? Nope. Jesus don't fill the potholes and he don't make the trains run on time.

Pray yourself silly, but don't turn government into an arm of the church (even a little bit).

I have a hard line on this

When people are representing We the People in all our wide diversity, public, communal prayer is completely out of line. Anyone can pray all they want personally and privately, but when they create an expectation that others should pray along with them, they are endorsing a role for god in public policy that is neither desirable nor appropriate.

I have a hard line on this.

When people are representing We the People in all our wide diversity, public homosexuality is completely out of line. Anyone can be homosexual all they want personally and privately, but when they create an expectation that others should accept their homosexuality , they are endorsing a role for homosexuality in public policy that is neither desirable nor appropriate.

When people are representing We the People in all our wide diversity, blacks are completely out of line. Anyone can be black all they want personally and privately, but when they create an expectation that others should accept their skin color, they are endorsing a role for blacks in public policy that is neither desirable nor appropriate.

When people are representing We the People in all our wide diversity, public, Judaism is completely out of line. Anyone can be Jewish all they want personally and privately, but when they create an expectation that others should pray along with them, they are endorsing a role for Jews in public policy that is neither desirable nor appropriate.

It's a slippery-slope taking away one person's right based on your own personal opinion.


One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

But no.

You said: It's a slippery-slope taking away one person's right based on your own personal opinion.

Except, no, and no. We're not taking away rights. We're guaranteeing the rights of religious minorities. And it's not based on one's own personal opinion. It's based on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and that little clause called the Establishment Clause, which happens to directly and explicitly address this very issue.

at what cost?

If 99% of Americans want and accept marriage equality, will you hold it back to protect the rights of the minority?

Yes or no.

If 75% do the same?

Yes or no.

If 51% do the same?

Yes or no.



One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

You're missing the point

Marriage equality for gays doesn't interfere with the rights of heterosexuals to marry.

If marriage equality required heterosexuals to become homosexuals, then yes, a 1% minority should prevail.

There are no heterosexual rights being abridged when gays get married. None.

praying in public doesn't interfere with the rights of atheists

It might annoy them, but it doesn't interfere with their rights NOT to pray. Like I have said over and over and over - I am against any form of forced or coerced religion, and maybe that is the real-world outcome of this. If so, I think those who do the forcing or coercing should go to jail
Nonetheless, if you go to the God County commissioners meeting and they start with a prayer, that doesn't interfere with your right not to believe.


One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

It does interefere

when the atheists are children . . . or people who are disadvantaged and afraid of being ostracized if they don't bow their heads . . . or people who believe in a different god but need "approval" by a Christian city council.

You've seen the real and deleterious effects of majority steamrolling.

If a county commissioner meeting begins with a Mormon prayer and you step up to the podium and pray a Jewish prayer, there's a good chance you'll be penalized for your outburst.

Doesn't interfere with my rights?

To participate in the graduation from my public high school in Maryland, you were required to attend the baccalaureate ceremony, which included a prayer led by school and state officials (US Rep Roscoe Bartlett (R)) and had more than overtones of religion. This was coercion to attend a religious ceremony. I shouldn't have had to go to this religious thing in order to walk across the stage in a (hideous yellow polyester) graduation robe.

More recently, at the Durham Health Dept holiday luncheon, we had to observe a moment of silence, which most people used for grace or whatever. I just sat there. That's fine in my book.

My high school had one of those groups that would meet at the flagpole on certain days and pray before school. By school rules, they were required to have a faculty advisor (just like the debate club.) That is fine; membership of the group is purely voluntary, and all clubs have to have advisors.

But the non-Christian student, be they Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, or whatever, would feel less able to make a statement in class regarding faith. (This is true regardless of whether the teacher is known to be Christian; the majority of classmates probably are.) School-aged kids feel tremendous pressure to fit in and not to rock the boat by voicing different opinions. Having a different opinion could, in some places, lead to having a lower score on your report card.

I remember my homeroom teacher (which functioned for attendance and announcements and the pledge) being one of those stolid right wingers. He'd add "born and unborn" to the end of the pledge, and periodically comment on the politics of the day. He was a history teacher. Anyway, at some point around 10th grade I hit a rebellious phase where I decided saying a pledge to a rectangle of fabric was dumb, so I stopped. I remember him giving me dirty looks, but I ignored him. He couldn't do anything to me, since he didn't grade me on anything. I didn't have any of the actual classes he taught, thank goodness.

I fail to see how holding

I fail to see how holding back marriage equality protects the rights of minorities. Holding back marriage equality hurts minorities--more specifically, it hurts gays like me, who would very much like to legally marry some day.

I would advocate marriage equality regardless of any percentage.

Wait...

so you have no problem supporting policies whether they have minority or majority support, so long as you agree with them?


One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Haha. Please. I would be

Haha. Please. I would be perfectly happy to found every argument I have made today with precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court and/or federal appellate courts. To suggest that I haven't considered the law in this regard is insulting.

That's a dodge.



One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

I happen to believe that

I happen to believe that gays should be classified as discreet and insular minorities under the equal protection clause--thus, protected from the whim of the majority and guaranteed the fundamental right to marry. I happen to believe that the First Amendment protects the rights of religious minorities from governmental favoritism toward majority religions. As far as percentages and policies in other areas of the law, if you'd like to discuss them, ask away. I may or may not agree with what you say, contingent--not upon my own personal agenda--but actually, upon what I like to call "the law."

touche'

mental exercises over.

One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

I don't know if you're exaggerating my comments

to make a particular point or if you're just being a pain in the butt today, but your extension of what I said to gays, blacks and Jews is silly and you know it. There is no slippery slope and I have said nothing about taking away anyone's rights. Pray all you want. Just don't create an institutional presumption that I have to pray along with you. And don't defend your policies on the basis that god gave you the secret sign.

And don't create an institutional presumption that I have to be black because you are.

And don't create an institutional presumption that I have to be gay because you are.

And don't create an institutional presumption that I have to be Jewish because you are.

And don't create an institutional presumption that I have to be a pain in the butt because you are.

:)

I am being a pain in the butt.

Just as I am when it comes to the lottery. I made the decision some time ago, and it was really painful, that I would not be a hippocrit when it comes to my beliefs. If I believe in personal freedom, then I believe that a lottery ticket should be legal. Do I think all gambling should be legal...well, yeah, I guess I do.

Obviously, there have to be lines you draw, no one wants murder and mayhem to be legal. But, where do you draw those lines and who draws them? We as a society do based on our social norms.

Well, when do the norms shift enough to change our laws?

What percent of the population has to accept marriage equality before it becomes a fact?

What percent of the population has to accept prayer in public schools before it becomes a fact?

*I* can't accept the minority position in one case and the super-majority position in the other as the answer to those two questions.

And, that, is why I am a pain in the butt.


One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

I'm in favor of gambling too.

That is not what the lottery issue is about.

The lottery issue is about state-sponsored gambling to fund public services ... and I think that is wrong on every front you can consider. Just like state sponsored prayer is wrong on every front.

It's not about rights per se, it's about who is doing the doing. State-sponsored gambling? Wrong. Personal gambling in the "free market?" Knock yourself out.

Hmmm....

I think the lottery is poorly planned and poorly executed. I'll give you that and my gut is to not like any aspect of the education lottery, which is why I am trying to go on more than my gut, too Bushy for me.


One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

oh man "hypocrite"



One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

How so?

nt

Got it.

I thought you were talking about me, not your spelling.

:)

Never mind.

I spelled it wrong, I was oh manning myself.



One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Nice try, but this doesn't work for the fairly obvious reason

...that Anglico is talking about a council creating the expectation that other should "pray along with them," which you turn into "accepting." Accepting isn't the same as doing, of course. I'd be relatively as pissed if my city council started its meetings by reciting "this is a gay city, and we hope the spirit of gayness will uplift and sustain us all."

Relatively as pissed, but not as pissed, because there is no constitutional amendment prohibiting certain relationships between government and gaiety.

and that will be the last word because I blew coffee out my nose



One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

And forgive us

A six-year-old was overheard reciting the Lord's Prayer at a church service: "And forgive us our trash passes as we forgive those who passed trash against us."

And, yes I am being a pain in the ass everywhere.

also at MyDD.


One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

You can, and you WILL, SOLDIER!

Robert:

What percent of the population has to accept marriage equality before it becomes a fact?

What percent of the population has to accept prayer in public schools before it becomes a fact?

*I* can't accept the minority position in one case and the super-majority position in the other as the answer to those two questions.

You don't get a pass here just because those two sentences look alike. Marriage equality and prayer in school are inherently different things, and, more importantly, the postures of government in relation to these things are vastly different.

Gay marriage. The question is whether the government will grant or deny a bundle of rights to one group that it already grants to another on the basis of a cultural difference between the two groups.

School prayer. The question is whether the government will mandate a more-or-less-broad cultural observance on government property involving a class of Americans (children) who are especially susceptible to coercion.

(Note, please, that I'm not saying that the two issues don't share any common traits.)

There is no inherent problem with taking any combination of views on those two questions.

Robert, you're reducing both of these questions (and more, including abortion) to questions of majority support when, as I know that you know, the conclusions that other people have reached here should have no bearing on your determination of what is right. Screw the majority and minority alike. By focusing on the question of popularity, you're skipping right over the difficult and very different issues involved in each of your examples. If I can say this as a friend, I think you're being a bit lazy.

let me think about it...

and let me ask you a question.
marriage equality is an issue of rights - should everyone have the same right to marriage.
what is the underlying right involved with "prayer"? The right to pray? The right not to pray? Or, the individual right to choose?


One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

The right not to pray.

Which is very similar to the right to choose to pray. If an individual council member wants to pray silently before a meeting, great. More power. But the council shouldn't be able to have everybody pray.

Much like anglico said way upthread and more succinctly than I managed in a reply to the same comment.

Good question

I think that we should stick to talking about prayer in schools or council meetings (rather than prayer generally), because I think that these raise their own set of issues.

I don't think that anyone really challenges any person's right to pray wherever they want. Both school prayer and council prayers present problems because in each case an arm of the government is incorporating prayer into its official business. The right in question, then, would seem to me to be the right to be free from a government establishment of religion.

I do think that other fundamental rights are implicated here: governments tied closely to a religion tend to prevent others from practicing their beliefs. But that's down the road a bit. The first issue of rights that we come to in considering school or council prayer is whatever that right in the First Amendment is.

Minstrel, It's Good to See You Here

These are difficult issues that should be discussed more, so I'm glad you're here getting the conversation going. Also, I miss our law school rotunda chats. :)

Lance, my friend

I miss them, as well.

Whew, that was quite a conversation. I'm spent.

p.s.

in real life we probably agree on 98% of things and would vote the same way 99.9% of the time. Hope to see you around.


One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me