Sunday, March 3, 2013

Religious Wars in America Illustrated by Conflict over Prayers at Rapid City Government Sessions

Freedom of Religion – or – Freedom to Impose Religion?

The war about religion in the United States has heated up in the last several decades.  This is in part due to politicians, primarily those of a Conservative bent, who see political gain in exploiting religious differences.  But it is also in part due to sincere people who believe that their religion is so correct, so right, so perfect that it is their duty to impose their religious practices on others.

One place those advocates of public displays and enacting of religion prevail is at government functions, which often start with prayers.  In Rapid City, South Dakota this practice has drawn the ire of a religious freedom group which is threatening to sue to stop this practice.

Rapid City wants to keep prayer at council meetings
At a meeting of the Rapid City Council this month, attendees bow their heads in prayer. (Kristina Barker / Rapid City Journal February 4, 2013)

The Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation recently sent a letter to Rapid City officials saying that it received a complaint from a South Dakota citizen who objects to the invocations before each public meeting. The group has called for a stop to the practice.

Make no mistake, this is not a non-denominational practice, it is practice of a specific religion.

One South Dakota magazine editorial reads, in part:

“Christian officials give a Christian pastor a public platform to say things like, ‘in Jesus' name,’ 

And that same editorial provides an eloquent defense of opposition to the practice.

“... We're not all Christians, Rapid City, but we are all citizens. No church needs your official public affirmation of its faith. But all citizens deserve your affirmation of their equal status. Leave the prayers ‘in Jesus's name’ to the clergy in their pulpits. At City Hall, focus your words on the mission of justice and mercy that all Americans share

It is also true that the group challenging the practice is heavy handed, writing offensive letters instead of sitting down with people, explaining the issue and the problems and trying to reach a satisfactory compromise, like having a moment of silence for silent prayer, checking the scores or finding how one’s stocks did or whatever one wants to do in a moment of silence.. 

But in the end this is really about imposing religion on others, because if it is necessary to attend a meeting then one is subjected to participation in religion whether one chooses to do so or not.  And that is just not American despite the pious claims of patriotism of those who support the practice.

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