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Mark West / June 8, 2012

To Pray or Not to Pray?

Our community has recently been confronted with the question of whether public officials should be allowed to pray at governmental meetings. This question about prayer in the public arena is no new issue. Unfortunately though, it is one about which too many Americans have fallen silent, and they have succumbed to the onslaught of a vocal few who oppose most or all public references to God and His Son, Jesus Christ, in any public setting. Are those few who cry foul and oppose prayer and other religious practices or symbolism justified in their demands? Are they accurate in their portrayals that America is and always has been a secular nation? Let’s examine the facts. I would like to suggest that there are at least two reasons for the basis and continuance of prayer by our local officials when opening meetings. First, there are the historical traditions and examples of our Founding Fathers and of countless local, state and national leaders over the course of nearly 250 years of history. This first reason is ample, pervasive and without dispute, if one is willing to examine original source documents, quotes and policies from our nation’s beginnings. Second, there is a reasoned and rationale basis for continued prayer.

Our community has recently been confronted with the question of whether public officials should be allowed to pray at governmental meetings. This question about prayer in the public arena is no new issue. Unfortunately though, it is one about which too many Americans have fallen silent, and they have succumbed to the onslaught of a vocal few who oppose most or all public references to God and His Son, Jesus Christ, in any public setting.

Are those few who cry foul and oppose prayer and other religious practices or symbolism justified in their demands? Are they accurate in their portrayals that America is and always has been a secular nation? Let’s examine the facts.

I would like to suggest that there are at least two reasons for the basis and continuance of prayer by our local officials when opening meetings. First, there are the historical traditions and examples of our Founding Fathers and of countless local, state and national leaders over the course of nearly 250 years of history. This first reason is ample, pervasive and without dispute, if one is willing to examine original source documents, quotes and policies from our nation’s beginnings. Second, there is a reasoned and rationale basis for continued prayer.

Our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values and principles. Of the 250 Founding Fathers, over 95 per cent of them were orthodox Christians. Their worldview was based on the God of the Bible and their faith rested upon God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Their writings, speeches, proclamations and lives, both public and private, exemplified the basic tenants of Christianity which included prayer.

Unlike those today who would demand that citizens who serve in government must park their core beliefs outside governmental buildings, our Founding Fathers’ core beliefs were ever acknowledged and openly expressed, whether they were engaged in the life- and-death struggle for the birth of our nation, or in the drafting of our nation’s foundational document, the US Constitution, or at the inauguration of our nation’s first President, George Washington. In all of these instances, prayer was an integral, vital, and regular activity of these imperfect, yet committed men.

Let me cite just three examples of the many hundreds that I could cite, that illustrate the role that prayer and religion played in these men’s lives during their public service.

At the height of the Revolutionary War, Dr. Benjamin Rush, who is recognized as one of the top three Founding Fathers, exchanged correspondence with John Adams, who was our nation’s second President and co-drafter and signer of the Declaration of Independence. In that correspondence Dr. Rush expressed his concern over whether the colonies could actually win the war against Great Britain. John Adams responded that the war could be won if “… we fear God and repent of our sins.” This Founding Father revealed that the key to their victory in war required a spiritual approach, which certainly would have involved prayer.

As the war concluded and the Founding Fathers set about to draft our nation’s Constitution, there was great strife and dissension as many ideas, policies and ideologies were debated. In fact, this dissension became so great that Benjamin Franklin finally stood and suggested that prayer be invoked on a daily basis in order to seek God’s direction and wisdom in the establishing of our nation. Specifically, here is a portion of Franklin’s quote:

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.’

"I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that Service.”

Finally, as the Founding Fathers unanimously selected George Washington as our nation’s first President, we see a man who was deeply connected and committed to his spiritual values and convictions as a Christian. In fact, George Washington exemplified his commitment to his Christian values during his Inauguration as President in the first public ceremony as our new nation’s first leader. As referenced by noted historian, David Barton (from wallbuilders.com), George Washington observed seven specific religious activities during his Inauguration:

1. The Bible was used to administer the oath of office.
2. The religious nature of the oath including “so help me God”
3. Inaugural prayers by the President

4. Religious content in the inaugural address

5. The President calling the peopler to prayer or acknowledge God
6. Inaugural worship services

7. Clergy-led inaugural prayers

So we can clearly see from the above examples that our nation was initially founded by men of distinctly religious and Christian convictions, and they did not envision public service to preclude expression of their spiritual convictions, or the practice of prayer.

Let’s move from the ample historical support for prayer in public settings to a practical and rational basis for determining whether prayer in our nation in public or governmental settings along with an emphasis of the Biblical values upon which our nation was founded is not only appropriate, but that failing to do so will ultimately place in jeopardy the future of the greatest nation the world has ever known.

It stands to reason that in any nation, culture or civilization there will be divergent views on nearly every subject, including religious convictions and ideologies. How we address these divergent views will reveal the level of respect that one person or group has for another.

In my view, the recent insistence by a very small handful of individuals that our civic leaders “cease and desist” from the public expression of what they believe and practice privately reveals a well organized, disingenuous and deliberate assault on the traditional values upon which our nation was founded.

Consider this reality. If one doesn’t fear God (or even believe in God), I would suggest that listening to someone’s invoking of God’s name before a body of government should be no more offensive than observing a lunatic speak to some imaginary, fantasy friend. In both instances, the God-fearing governmental official or the lunatic in the insane asylum is personally convinced of the reality of the person to whom he is speaking. But this personal conviction has no direct or indirect bearing on the agnostic, atheist or “sane” individual. The latter person’s response should be one of indifference, skepticism, amusement, or even pity, if they are indeed convinced of their own truth.

I would contend that those who would seek to remove prayer from any public venue are actually cloaking their efforts in a revisionist and deceptive recounting of our nation’s history. As a side note, I find it ironic that these same “offended” individuals are likely not insulted in the least by the overwhelming and incessant blaspheming of God and Jesus in Hollywood movies, TV shows, etc. It appears to me there is a significant double standard when folks are fine when it comes to profaning God’s name but opposed to using God’s name in prayer.

Finally, I would remind our governmental officials of a story from the Old Testament that reveals the proper response we should all be willing to take when confronted with the choice between following the dictates of one’s conscience or the dictates of others, even when the “others” might be authorities in government. We are all familiar with the account of Daniel who was thrown into the lion’s den. But what many may have forgotten is that the reason Daniel, a civic official who was second only to the king, was thrown into the lion’s den was his continual practice of prayer, in direct violation of the king’s order. When Daniel’s daily practice of prayer was exposed, the king had no recourse but to condemn Daniel to death in this manner. However, Daniel trusted in His God and was delivered. While none of us will face a lion’s den if we pray, we will all face God someday and be held to account for whether we followed and honored Him or whether we yielded to the latest pressure of the day or even the intimidation of threatened lawsuits.

I pray that our County Commissioners will remain strong and take heed to Ephesians 6:13 from the New Testament which challenges us: “… and having done all, stand firm.”

Chattanoogans, will you join me in praying for our County Commissioners and taking a firm stand for prayer in our community?

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