OK, separation of church and state. I get it. Can't have the government trying to impose a religion on us. But so many of the complaints against religious impulses these days are too trivial to take seriously. I'm supposed to believe this is a threat against my religious freedoms?
SEYMOUR, Ind. – Food pantry volunteer Shirley Sears patiently walks a young woman through a series of questions on an application for emergency assistance. After they complete the form, Sears tells the woman she has one more question.
"Is there anything," Sears asks, "that you would like us to pray with you about?"
Yes, the woman replies without hesitation. Reaching across the small desk that separates them, Sears grasps the woman's hands and begins to pray.
That scene has been repeated thousands of times over the past 15 years inside this small, southern Indiana food pantry operated by non-profit Community Provisions of Jackson County. This month, the practice was found to be against federal policy, leaving the pantry's founder with a Solomon-like choice: Stop the prayers or give up truckloads of free food provided through the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program.
Granted, if I needed food from the pantry, I'd probably be annoyed by the prayer requests, but I don't think I have a constitutional right to not be annoyed. They're just asking people if they want to pray; they don't withhold food if people say no thanks.
I also get that money comes with strings. You take federal cash, you play by federal rules. But what the government is saying here is that it can put conditions on what it grants, but the people accepting the grants can't. Is that fair, huh, huh, huh?