I Don’t Think President Obama Prays Like I Pray
Prayer has been in the news a lot lately. The recent Supreme Court ruling that public prayer before town council meetings is indeed constitutional has a lot to do with that. Opponents of public prayer, like American United for Separation of Church and State, American Atheists, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, believe that any prayer offered in public is inherently a government attempt to coerce people into a specific religion. Apparently they don’t believe people are smart enough to think for themselves.
Before the Supreme Court ruled on this case prayer was in the news as a result of a tragic shooting that took place during the Easter season.
A former Klu Klux Klan member killed three people at Jewish center in Overland Park, Kansas over Easter weekend in a display of racial bigotry that shocked many. President Obama took the opportunity to encourage religious tolerance during his Easter address from the White House.
“Nobody should have to worry about their security when gathering with their fellow believers,” Obama said. “No one should ever have to fear for their safety when they go to pray.”
I couldn’t’ agree more with the president, words I’m not sure I’ve said before. But on this issue at this moment in time President Obama is right, no one should ever have to fear when they pray. Oops, wait a minute, the president and I have said two different things, but the slight difference between our statements is critical. Let’s review.
The president said that no one should fear for their safety when they “go to” pray.
But what I said is that no one should fear for their safety when they pray.
Did you catch the difference, don’t miss it because it not only informs us of the difference between religious freedom and freedom of worship, it tells us exactly where the president stands.
You see, the president is stating that when people go to church they should feel safe, they should not worry about violence erupting. No one disputes that or disagrees. Churches should be sanctuaries, places of refuge where people are indeed safe and free to worship according to the dictates of their faith.
But where the president and I part ways is that I believe such safety should extend from the church house to the work house, from the school house to the White House. Herein lies the central difference.
Though the Supreme Court just ruled that town councils opening with public prayer is indeed constitutional, there is nonetheless an effort to suppress public prayer.
The countless stories of people being told not to pray in public is growing. Groups have been confronted by park police or city police and told they cannot pray in public. Groups have been confronted by security at national monuments and told not to pray. And we all know about the constant attacks our students face regarding prayer in school.
Atheist groups have even sought to have the National Day of Prayer declared unconstitutional and ended, even though it does not specify who a person prays to, the very fact that a day of prayer exists is enough to cause some to file a lawsuit.
Read Liberty Institute’s comprehensive report on the growing hostility to religion in America. Click here to download UNDENIABLE: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America.
As you can see, the slight difference in the President Obama’s statement and my statement makes a world of difference in practical application. Yes, people should be safe when they “go to” pray at their church. But they should be just as safe to pray in their place of employment, their school, their local park, or at the White House. We cannot, as a society, relegate prayer to a weekly ritual at churches. This thinking is not only hurting our country, it is hurting people of faith that have lost the ability to effectively pray.
Prayer is not just “something we do,” prayer is a part of our everyday lives as believers in Jesus. We pray daily, all day, in an ongoing conversation with God that we are instructed to “never cease” (I Thess. 5:17). The idea that we only pray at church is incompatible with a deeply held tenet of the Christian faith.
So when a school tells its athletes that they cannot pray before games, it is assaulting their religious freedom. When a teacher tells students they cannot pray before a test, it is assaulting their religious freedom. When a boss says there will be no prayers at work he is assaulting the religious freedom of his employees. When police tell American citizens they cannot pray at the park or the Washington monument they are assaulting the religious freedom of every American citizen.
Theologically speaking it is true that it’s impossible to stop prayer. Prayer is done daily in all of these places without anyone knowing it. We pray silently and will continue to do so. But the point is that to try and stamp out audible prayers is an egregious infringement on our religious freedom that must not be tolerated. The Supreme Court has acknowledged that prayer is a fundamental right that cannot be infringed.
In his majority opinion in the Town of Greece case, Justice Kennedy essentially said that grown adults need to act like grown adults and quit thinking that the Constitution guarantees every person the right to not be offended. Kennedy said:
“… the reasonable observer is acquainted with this tradition and understand that its purposes are to lend gravity to public proceedings and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens, not to afford government an opportunity to proselytize or force truant constituents into the pews … That many appreciate these acknowledgments of the divine in our public institutions does not suggest that those who disagree are compelled to join the expression or approve of its content.”
Just because someone prays doesn’t mean you have a right to be offended, neither does it mean you are being coerced. The exercise of one person’s religious freedom does not violate your lack of religious belief, or your civil rights. As adults we should be able to exercise tolerance for those we disagree with by accepting that others think and believe differently than we do.
So, with all due respect to the president, people should not only be free from fear when they “go to” pray at church on Sunday; they should also be free from fear when they pray at work, school, the park, at the Lincoln Memorial, and everywhere in between.