Yesterday Rachel Alexander, a colleague of mine at The Stream, published an article about Satanists and atheists seeking to pray at governmental meetings:
It was a pick-your-poison strategy: Either accept the Satanist prayer or strip regular prayers from the meetings altogether, one of [the Satanists’ spokespersons] explained to The New York Daily News. “We got what we were going for,” she said. Two members applied to deliver the opening invocation and were approved by the left-leaning majority of council members and the Democrat mayor. The conservative minority on the council first tried to limit prayers to council members, but were eventually forced to agree to eliminate prayer completely….
Emboldened, the group has now applied to give the opening invocation at city council meetings in four other large cities….
So what’s wrong with that? They’re exercising their freedom of religion, right? Maybe so, technically speaking. I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know what the case law says about it. That doesn’t prevent me from exploring what’s wrong with it. Something definitely is.
Think about it from the perspective of the person praying. Prayers have been offered at governmental meetings since this country was founded. The purpose of the practice is neither to establish nor disestablish any religion. It’s not even to promote any religion. That’s a secondary effect, no doubt; it’s impossible to let a Kroger manager speak at a city council without giving some visibility to his store, and it’s impossible to give a person a platform to pray without also giving a public boost to his or her religion.
But when a Catholic priest stands up to pray, if he’s truly a priest at heart, he’s not there to convert anyone to Catholicism. He’s there to pray for the meeting; that is, to ask for the good blessing of God there. It’s the same when a Baptist pastor, a Jewish Rabbi, a Mormon stake elder, or any other religious leader shows up to pray. Though undoubtedly they all hope to represent their religion well, they’re there to pray. Not only that, but they believe in the reality of prayer. They believe their prayers will make a difference for the good of the meeting, and for the people being served by that governmental body.
That’s the ideal scenario. I’m sure some religious leaders have lesser motives for praying. Maybe they’re proselytizing. Maybe they don’t believe in prayer, and they’re doing it just for show. Maybe they’re trying to tear down some other religion.
If they do, we sense rightly there’s something wrong there.
Praying for the purpose of destroying all other persons’ participation in prayer is a lesser motive. That’s what’s going on with these Satanist and atheist prayers. It isn’t a secondary effect of their praying, it’s the primary purpose, and it’s quite intentional.
There’s something wrong there.
The Baptist minister doesn’t come to force everyone to accept either his religious or his legal beliefs. These Satanists and atheists do. Their purpose isn’t to pray some good effect for the people. It’s to force governments to end the practice of public prayer; to force others to accept their legal and religious beliefs.
There’s something really wrong there.
Some skeptics complain about religions being “anti-“, as in “anti-homosexual,” “anti-science,” and so on. These Satanists and atheists define themselves by being anti-religion for public policy purposes. There’s hypocrisy there.
And some skeptics fear a “theocracy.” This is the closest we’ll ever come to seeing that happen in America. It’s more atheocracy than theocracy, but it still comes fully packed with what people fear about theocracy: the use of legal force to compel people to accept one’s religious and legal beliefs for public policy purposes.
We could focus on whether these Satanists and atheists have the First Amendment right to pray at governmental meetings. That’s an important question, and for all I know, case law might land on either side of the dispute.
The risk, though, is that we’ll get our noses stuck in the law books trying to figure that out. It’s not the only thing that matters. There are still false motives, hypocrisy, and atheocracy in play on when these anti-religionists seek to come to these meetings with their prayers.
In other words, there’s something definitely, obviously, and plainly wrong there.
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