Prayer Discontinued From Town Council Meetings-Overreacting Christians Don't Understand the Constitution or Inclusion


[Originally published at Divided Under God on March 13, 2013]

Longview, Washington local town council
Longview, WA Town Council | Photo Source
Recently in Longview, Washington, an atheist named Dan L. Smith threatened legal action against the local town council for their refusal to discontinue religious invocations at their meetings. This threat came after years of emailing the council members and their refusal to take action. As a result, Mayor Don Jensen has instructed the group that meetings cannot begin with a prayer mentioning Jesus Christ, but rather, may make a mention to god in order to keep the prayer general enough to represent multiple religions.

The local blogosphere has erupted with Christian commentary, and their understanding of the U.S. Constitution is unsurprisingly horrifying. Since the mid-1950s, the concept of the U.S. being a “Christian nation” has snowballed into a generally accepted premise among citizens, especially those of that faith. The introduction of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was a move made by Eisenhower in 1954 during the Cold War, thought by many to be a message to Americans and the world that the US was a godly nation and better than the ungodly communists we were at war with. So those that have grown up in the 50s or later have always been taught that god was part of this nation. Those that do their research and understand the Constitution and the Founding Fathers’ intentions know that’s not the case.

Despite the facts and US judicial history, two bloggers caught my attention while they were spreading their misinformation, faulty logic, and exclusionary opinions. They have written articles in the voice of being the victim, a common stance of the religious, but can’t seem to understand that the town council of Longview has been excluding non-Christians since meetings began opening with prayer in the 50s.

Gary DeMar, a blogger for “Political Outcast” and Dave Jolly, a blogger for “Godfather Politics” have posted articles slamming the decision, claiming that Christianity is part of the fabric of our nation. They’ve also claimed that town council members are being “raped” of their First Amendment rights to free speech and religion. One went so far as to offer ways to win an argument with someone opposed to the opening prayer.

I’d like to address a couple of their points here. First, Gary DeMar stated the following:
The First Amendment does not apply to city council meetings since it only restricts “Congress” from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .”
Courts have concluded time and time again that the First Amendment applies to the entire government, not just Congress. The fact that the town council is affiliated with government should be a simple sign that there should be nothing religious affiliated with it, as that would be an endorsement of religion, prohibited under the Establishment Clause.
The simple solution is for any Christian who is called on to open a meeting with prayer to end it with these simple words: “We make this prayer in the Year of our Lord Jesus Christ 2013.” If people object, pull out a copy of the Constitution and show them that you are only following what the Constitution itself acknowledges. “The Year of our Lord” is part of the Constitution.
Oh, you nailed it (that’s sarcasm in case you can’t tell). This is the only place in the U.S. Constitution that a deity is mentioned. That should tell you something. And the only place a deity is mentioned is where the document is dated. What you failed to mention, Mr. DeMar, is that this was the common way to show the date on official documents at the time, both for the religious AND the secular. A mention of Lord here is insignificant, does not specify a specific deity (Christ is not mentioned), and is a horribly ignorant argument.

Dave Jolly took the position that:
…the atheist minority has succeeded in bullying yet another community to turn away from the Creator of the universe for fear of offending someone and being faced with a lawsuit.
First off, it’s pretty difficult for any minority to be a bully. Being outnumbered is kind of a hindrance to being an effective bully. The reason atheists win these types of cases is because they’re on the correct side of the law. Atheist advocacy groups have extremely limited funds in comparison to any faith-based organization or church. If atheists were wrong about the law, they’d surely have the floor wiped with them by high-paid church lawyers. But faith organizations don’t often get involved in these cases because they’re losing battles.

Gentlemen, no one is forcing you to abandon your religion or to stop practicing it. Your rights are not being violated. What’s being asked is that government institutions do not favor any particular religion, just as they are asked not to favor any particular gender or race. If you weren’t part of the religious majority, what message would it send to you if your government sponsored a religion that you aren’t a part of? How would you react if the town council started meetings with a Muslim prayer? Simply stated, beginning a government meeting with a prayer shows the citizens that the government is not representing all, but instead, is representing the citizens of that religion.

Many U.S. citizens, present and in our past, have come to this country for religious freedom, because the country they came from endorsed one religion and oppressed others who did not subscribe to the nationally endorsed faith. That is the reason behind the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: to prevent the government from showing preference to a religion and moving toward an oppressive state. It’s time to stop playing the victim and start reading your history books. The “Christian nation” concept has been propagated for far too long without resistance. Finally, non-Christian groups are speaking up, and rightfully so, so that the U.S. can get back to becoming the inclusive nation it was founded to be.

About Kevin Davis:
Despite his Catholic upbringing and experience as a "saved" Christian in his early college years, Kevin came out as an atheist in the mid-1990s. A US Constitution enthusiast, he now focuses on defending the separation of church and state through his blog, DividedUnderGod.com. Kevin keeps us aware of current legislative and judiciary efforts that aim to weaken the Wall of Separation that is so important to our success as a nation free from religious influence and oppression.

You can find Kevin on Twitter (@DividedUnderGod), Facebook, and in Chris Johnson's upcoming book A Better Life -- 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy & Meaning in a World Without God.

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