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Opening Arguments

God, what a waste of time

Lots of talk today about the decision by a federal judge who sided with the Indiana Civil Liberties Union and told the Indiana House of Representatives it could open its sessions with prayer, but not sectarian prayer. (Hat tip to the Indiana Blog Review for all the links.)

Tracy Warner notes, correctly, that the case will continue to be interesting because it represents a fundamental clash between the freedom to practice religion and the freedom not to have a religion imposed on us. He also says Christians don't have anything to fear from such cases. True, but neither do non-Christians. The House opening with a prayer isn't exactly rounding up heretics and burning them.

Taking Down Words notes with apparent approval that this is a smackdown of House Speaker Brian Bosma, while The Dogwood Files calls it a loss for the First Amendment. I'd call it a loss for everyone involved. Lots of time, lots of money, lots of posturing on both sides, no real difference in anybody's life no matter how it finally comes out.

Masson's Blog does a good job of taking us through some of the wording of the decision and notes that, in pushing Christianity, Bosma went against his own policy. Liberal Indiana thinks the issue is whether all religions have a fair shot at the opening prayer. (I'm not sure about that; as I understand it, the issue isn't who steps up to the microphone but what is said at the microphone.) Deliberate Chaos suggests slyly that this is a ploy to promote religion by making it forbidden fruit.

My first thought was that somebody -- maybe the legislature, maybe the court or, God knows, maybe me -- is a little unclear on what prayer is. Most religions believe their god is the only god and that only following the rules of that god will do. People who follow the rules of some other, false god are doomed. As I understand it, the point of praying is to talk to your god and make sure the two of you are straight. Just throwing out words to any god who might be listening is not praying. It's just talking.

Posted in: Hoosier lore


Shawn Plew
Wed, 11/30/2005 - 10:03pm

I may edit my post at Liberalindiana a bit. I feel the intention of the decision is not to give everyone a fair shot necessarily (i.e. quotas for each religion as per how many times they get to step up to the mic) but more that no religion gets to use the mic to advance solely their belief-set.

Masson's post is an excellent resource for the meatier parts of the decision, and I'm going to read over it once more before cleaning up my original post at LI.

I think it's going to get a lot of fundies hot under the collar. No Christ in prayer? That's just some kind of crazy talk!

Unless of course your diety of choice is Allah or Vishnu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or whatever.

Anyway, I have more thinking to do on this.

~Shawn Plew

Thu, 12/01/2005 - 6:43am

I think the Court had a good passage on non-sectarian prayer and its value:

"We cannot adopt a view of the tradition of legislative prayer that chops up American citizens on public occasions into representatives of one sect and one sect only, whether Christian, Jewish, or Wiccan. In private observances, the faithful surely choose to express the unique aspects of their creeds. But in their civic faith, Americans have reached more broadly. Our civic faith seeks guidance that is not the property of any sect. To ban all manifestations of this faith would needlessly transform and devitalize the very nature of our culture. When we gather as Americans, we do not abandon all expressions of religious faith. Instead, our expressions evoke common and inclusive themes and forswear . . . the forbidding character of sectarian invocations."

The Court also notes that minority religions seem to have the ability to speak publicly in a way that does not offend the majority:

"Clerics of religious minorities often have substantial experience in getting along with a majority who believes differently and in avoiding giving offense to that majority in a public setting. Perhaps it is not mere coincidence that the only transcribed prayer in the 2005 session from someone outside the Christian religion, that of the imam, was inclusive and non-sectarian."