Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Alliance Defense Fund on censoring prayer

The Alliance Defense Fund is a great organization that does yoeman's work defending freedom of speech and freedom of religion against censors who would use the courts to silence Amercians who don't share their (athiest) ideology. It's kind of an ACLU for people who believe that the First Amendment means what it says.

Brett Harvey is a Senior Counsel at the ADF. He has a great post:


Can The Government Censor Prayer?
Posted onOctober 14th, 2011

By Brett Harvey – ADF Senior Counsel

In a remarkable 2-1 split decision, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which presides over the four states of the Carolina’s and the Virginias) invalidated the policy of Forsyth County, NC that allowed prayers to be offered before meetings of the County Council. The court acknowledged that the county policy was “neutral and proactively inclusive.” However, it was struck down because the court found that the county did not “proactively discourage” private citizens from mentioning Jesus in prayers.

The decision is troubling on many fronts. It is out of step with many other federal courts that have considered the validity of public invocations, including the United States Supreme Court. It ignores the religious heritage and history of our nation. But more troubling is the impact of the court’s decision on prayer itself. The court decision ignores a key purpose of a public invocation. It requires the government to censor private prayers and engage in comparative theology. The majority opinion punishes a county for the demographic make-up of the community and signals to people from many faith traditions that their prayers are not welcome.

In a series of short blogs I will explore some of the troubling aspects of the decision in Joyner v. Forsyth County, NC decided on July 29, 2011.

In Forsyth County the commissioner invited people from every faith background in the community to give an invocation. The county had nothing to do with who prayed because the prayer giver was taken in the order he or she volunteered. The county took no part in regulating the prayers and refused to screen prayers in advance. The content of the prayers was a product of the demographics of the county and entirely controlled by the conscience of the person praying.

Incredibly, the court wrote “It is not enough to contend … that the policy was ‘neutral and proactively inclusive’” rather the court decided that the county was required to be “proactive in discouraging sectarian prayer in public settings.” By using the phrase “proactive in discouraging,” the court means people whose faith requires them to pray in the name of Jesus or some other deity need not apply.

Rather than have a policy that invites people of all faith backgrounds to give an invocation, the court evidently expects the county to screen prayers to ensure only court approved words are used or to punish those whose prayer would include a sectarian reference. When the government tells private citizens there are words they can’t say in a public prayer, that is censorship. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized that discouraging sectarian prayers is a form of controlling the content of prayers and found that exercising such control violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. See Lee v. Weisman. Nothing gives the government more power to establish religion than to have the government tell people how and to whom they should pray. In the past four years, five different federal court cases have upheld public invocation policies like the one adopted Forsyth County. The decision of the 4th Circuit is out of step with these other federal courts and out of step with the U.S. Constitution. [emphasis mine]

Government control of public prayer is censorship. The use of govenment force to regulate religious expression violates the Establishment Clause. The government has no business regulating prayer and religious expression.

Voluntary prayer by govenment officials, or prayer in a government building or on government property, is not a violation of the Establishment Clause, because no force is used. It is not an Establishment Clause violation if participation is not compelled, because compulsion-- mandatory church membership or mandatory support of church activities with tax money-- is the part of the essence of an Established Church.

The First Amendment is the charter of freedom, not the tool of ideologues intent on suppressing Christianity. Freedom does not end at the boundary between private and civic life. The irony is that it is the censors who prohibit prayer in public schools who violate the Constitution, by using courts to control the content of speech and prayer.


27 comments:

  1. Shorter Egnor: "Look, there are other religious nutters who agree with my misinterpretation of the separation of church and state!"

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    1. Shorter Anonymous: "Look at me, look at me!"

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  2. Well, the courts are only upholding the law. If you want to pray before a publicly funded meeting, then do it in church beforehand or do it silently, privately.

    If the churches want to demonstrate that there's a general freedom of prayer, why don't they invite people of other faiths to give an invocation before their services?

    I'm still trying to work out what you mean by '(athiest) ideology'. The only ideology I'm aware of that attempted to suppress religion was Communism, but obviously you don't mean that.

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    1. Also, it's 'yeoman' not 'yoeman'. And what are these 'govenment' officials? Have you been imbibing the booze a bit much today?

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    2. "...suppress religion was Communism..."

      Tell that to Richard Dawkins and other New-Atheists!

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    3. Johann, please...

      Aren't there enough cirrhotic livers in Australia to keep you occupied and off the byways of the internet making inane comments about American constitutional law and the US federal court system?

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    4. @Boggs: He has a better grasp of U.S. Constitutional law than Egnor has. Or you have.

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    5. Anon,
      Apparently you seem to think you have a better grasp of it than the authors of the constitution did. After all, they lived in a day when the Lord's Prayer was said at the beginning of each class and congress.
      Many of them LED that prayer.
      The establishment clause was included to counter sectarianism - not promote eliminative materialism.
      Get your post modern rose coloured glasses of and READ the bloody thing.

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    6. After all, they lived in a day when the Lord's Prayer was said at the beginning of each class and congress.

      Except they didn't. They had a Chaplain and sometimes had a morning prayer, but it wasn't the Lord's Prayer. Nor was it uncontroversial - several founders including James Madison opposed the idea on the grounds that it violated the Establishment Clause. And the practice has been challenged many times, one of the significant challenges was in the 1850s. Pretending that this was some sort of accepted and hallowed practice against this backdrop is engaging in fantasy.

      There was a proposal put forward in the first session of the Constitutional Convention to open its sessions with prayer, but it was tabled and never voted upon because it was deemed too controversial. It was never raised again.

      Prior to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, the Continental Congress sometimes opened its sessions with prayer, but at least one Chaplain resigned due to the controversy that this caused.

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  3. There is nothing in the US constitution that prevents public prayers. Nothing. There is, however, quite a fundamental point about PROTECTING the right to worship.
    People can pray and express their faith wherever an when ever they want in a free country.
    Keep up the GOOD fight, Dr Egnor. You're on the side of liberty and God, that's quite clear.
    You're spot on the mark both morally and legally.
    This kind of effort (as in above post) is exactly the kind of counter measure that is required.

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  4. I don't have a dog in this unique US squabble, but didn't the alleged Jesus Christ allegedly say something along the lines of

    "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

    Looks like you're headed for the lake of fire, Egnor. On the bright side, we might finally have a chance to meet in person.

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    1. Not that I am Satan, mind you.

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    2. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
      Matthew 28:19

      Have you been baptized Troy?

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  5. I'm so happy I live in a country where most people don't give a shit about religion.

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    1. How's the weather in Pyongyang?

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    2. I'm actually surprised by this answer, mregnor. I was expecting something about Russia.

      Anyway, it's funny how you think that if people don't share your delusions, then they automatically live in a dictatorship. My country has never been communist, try again.

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    3. Judging by the level of conditioning, I would guess somewhere over the rainbow.
      I think the personality we're talking to (Anon mk iv?) is probably the tin man, although there is is some definite bleeding in from the scarecrow.

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    4. [My country has never been communist, try again.]

      You don't identify your country. It's a safe bet that if your countrymen don't believe in God, either you were communist or you will be Muslim.

      "Secular" has a shelf life.

      Praise Allah.

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    5. Clear evidence that Egnor is a secret Muslim, which is something I've said all along.

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    6. Future Muslim from PyongyangDecember 9, 2012 at 6:05 PM

      You are completely nuts, Michael.

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  6. Conservatives seem to be willfully ignorant to the fact that the word “public” has multiple meanings. When Crusader says “There is nothing in the US constitution that prevents public prayers.”, well, that is only true for certain meanings of the word “public”, like “for everyone to see” or even “maintained for or used by the people or community”. When it comes to public prayers as part of a government function different rules apply. The courts allow it on a limited basis if the government sponsored prayer meets certain criteria, which leads to the inevitable arguments about who gets to say what prayer when. I say lets avoid the controversy, and stop trying to use the government to advance personal religious beliefs.

    Pray all you want; stand at the back of the room and mumble to your invisible friend all night for all I care. Just stop being spoiled children and insisting you have some sort of right for a turn at the mike to spout your religious nonsense, thus sparing us from the sad spectacle of your pretending to communicate with the creator of the universe.

    Perhaps I would be more tolerant if there where also a right that would allow me to repeatedly heckle government sponsored prayers without being ejected from the proceedings, and to continue to have my presence and participation encouraged.

    -KW

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    1. And what is the Constitutional basis for outlawing reference to God in civic speech?

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    2. When you ask questions like that, you proclaim "I am an idiot" proudly to all.

      People who are not idiots read the First Amendment, and the jurisprudence of the last 200 years.

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    3. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." [emph added]

      Where has congress demanded public prayer of a certain religion?
      Where is the clause that bans voluntary worship in a public space?
      I understand you don't believe in God Anon - but do you believe in literacy?

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    4. Where is the clause that bans voluntary worship in a public space?

      God you are an idiot. There is no such clause, I just explained the difference between “public” and “public” and it apparently flew right over your head.

      I’ll try again. Any individual or group can worship wherever and whenever they want. What you can’t do is use the auspices of government to promote your religion. I can decline your invitation to join you for prayers in the park, but I, and my elected representatives, should not be required to participate in religious observance as the price of admission for participating in government.

      You would be whistling a different tune if public meetings started with a lecture on the foolishness of Christianity, which neither establishes a church, nor keeps you from worshipping as you see fit, but is a repeated government condemnation of your religious beliefs, and as such, is not allowed.

      I don’t know about Canada, but in our country, the constitution largely prevents the majority from using the government to force their religion on minorities, hence the wishy-washy acceptance of prayer to an ambiguous god, verses a specific reference to a particular god, in this case Jesus. That way, only the atheists are discriminated against. Unfortunately for you, as atheists become a larger more vocal segment of society you can expect them to reject the status quo.

      -KW

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    5. KW,
      "God you are an idiot."
      Hey! Watch it. You're discriminating against atheists by invoking God's name.

      "There is no such clause, I just explained the difference between “public” and “public” and it apparently flew right over your head"
      Actually, it was rather a pathetic attempt at trying to split hairs and I completely disregarded it for the sophomoric trash it was. Public means PAID for by the tax coffers of the public. Park, town-hall, or school - no difference - so long as participation is VOLUNTARY.

      "I’ll try again."
      Don't bother. Your explanation is as useless as scrotum on a grown man's hip.

      "You would be whistling a different tune if public meetings started with a lecture on the foolishness of Christianity, which neither establishes a church, nor keeps you from worshipping as you see fit, but is a repeated government condemnation of your religious beliefs, and as such, is not allowed. "
      You are truly a nerd with layered persecution complexes! Saying a prayer is not condemning you or your materialist pals. Your analogy is false.

      "I don’t know about Canada, but in our country, the constitution largely prevents the majority from using the government to force their religion on minorities"

      Canada is world famous for religious suppression.
      Our Christian charter is known worldwide as a fascistic totalitarian means to oppress religious minorities - especially atheists. We have camps for them.

      "That way, only the atheists are discriminated against. "
      Poor souls...er...sorry...I mean bags of meat.

      "Unfortunately for you, as atheists become a larger more vocal segment of society you can expect them to reject the status quo."
      A waking wet dream? Wow.
      The more vocal these anti-theist, intolerant idiots get the more resistance they will meet. But you're getting close whistling now. Whistling Dixie, that is.
      BTW,
      Don't lump yourself in with them KW, you don't have the BALLS to be so confrontational off line. We both know that.
      Now off you go to play with your rod, technician.
      Leave the conversation to the grown ups.
      Dismissed.






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    6. Don't lump yourself in with them KW, you don't have the BALLS to be so confrontational off line. We both know that.

      Typical cwusader. When he's been destroyed in his argument he resorts to threats of violence. Some Christian!

      Go plan with your widdle guns, cwusader, and leave the discussion to grownups.

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