published Friday, July 6th, 2012

Prayer policy a stop-gap

With their adoption of a new prayer policy, members of the Hamilton County Commission might believe that they've resolved the issues -- and addressed the federal lawsuit -- arising from their long-standing practice of allowing public prayers before each meeting. They have not. They merely have muddled the issue. The lawsuit and often venomous debate about the legality and necessity of prayer that endorses a specific religion at a public meeting should and will continue.

The issue arose publicly in May when a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation pointed out that "every 2012 prayer so far [at commission meetings] has been given 'in Jesus' name.'" That, the group rightly suggested, easily met the criteria for endorsement of the religion-specific prayer. A prompt response from the commission upon receipt of the letter could have resolved the issue. No such decision was forthcoming.

The proper response would have been for the commission to end all prayer at meetings. If not that, commissioners could have asked for a moment of silence or reflection during which those in attendance could pray or not as they chose. Either certainly would have defused the issue.

Alternatively, commissioners could have instructed those offering prayers to be more inclusive -- to pray in the name of "God" or "the Creator," for example. That would not have been as desirable an outcome as the first options, but it might have provided serviceable resolution. That path was not taken either. The prayers in Jesus' name blatantly continued.

The new rules approved last week without public discussion affirm the commissioners commitment to public prayer with a couple of caveats that may or may not pass legal muster. The new policy will employ a database of religious congregations in the county to invite leaders to provide a prayer at commission meetings. Blanket invitations will be sent to all those on the lists. Those responding affirmatively will be invited to pray on a first-come, first-serve basis. The invitation, though, comes with stipulations.

The policy says that prayer is voluntary and that the speaker cannot proselytize or seek to advance any specific faith nor disparage the religious faith or nonreligious views of others. It adds that the invocation can be a "prayer, reflective moment of silence, or a short solemnizing moment." While welcome, the new rules and instructions won't resolve the question of government-endorsed prayer here. It's a stop-gap effort to delay a definitive decision.

There is no assurance, for example, that the individual offering an invocation will follow instructions. There's no certainty that using what commissioners say is a central database of religious congregations "with an established presence in Hamilton County" will provide an acceptable diversity of speakers. Many religious groups simply do not appear on such lists, and their exclusion from such a database should not disqualify them from the commission's invitation to provide an invocation.

Commissioners clearly are reluctant to halt prayers before meetings. That's understandable. In a community as imbued with religion as this one, eliminating prayer from a public forum would require a considerable act of political courage, one that commissioners, so far, have been unable to summon. Instead, they've chosen to kick the issue down the road -- to the federal courts.

Judge Harry S. "Sandy" Mattice will hold a July 26 hearing to consider whether to grant a preliminary injunction to halt the prayers until he can rule on the lawsuit over prayer at commission meetings. Until the matter is adjudicated, commissioners should halt public prayers before meetings. It wouldn't be a popular decision, but it would be an eminently fair one given the principle involved.

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The Times editorialist inveighed:

“eliminating prayer from a public forum would require a considerable act of political courage, one that commissioners, so far, have been unable to summon.”

Surely you jest. Not even the President, the Supreme Court, or the Congress is willing to muster what you call “political courage” – the “courage” to deprive citizens of their right to solemnize public occasions with a prayer. Just because a few citizens feel uncomfortable with selected clauses of the First Amendment (free speech and free religious exercise), doesn’t make the elimination of those rights an act of courage. Your suggestion is clearly unconstitutional, and, (rightly) sensing that it will lose in court, you are grasping at straws.

July 6, 2012 at 9:05 a.m.
Leaf said...

whats_wrong is ahem, wrong. Obviously the courts will rule against Hamilton County. The law is very clear and rulings on this type of thing are consistent. The commissioners are just going to waste taxpayer money on a losing case to make a childish political point.

July 6, 2012 at 9:44 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

What is this insane fascination about praying before every public function? These people who think that God is somehow blessing us the more times we bow our heads in prayer are nuts. Look, folks, say your prayers in private, at home before you leave out for the day, between you and your God, just like it's supposed to be, and then show up ready for work. There's a time to pray (if one is inclined to pray at all, that is) and there's a time to get the stuff of life done. Those who need to pray constantly, like Tebow and his silly posturing over and over during a game) have some sort of mental illness and too many people are praising that sort of thing for its spirituality when in fact it's just plain nuts.

The idea of calling in someone from each religion each and every work-day to initiate a prayer before getting down to the ho-hum everyday business of working?? Good grief...that's just laugh-out- loud funny.

July 6, 2012 at 10:09 a.m.
ebenji87 said...

World, have you not researched the other countless Supreme Court decisions in favor of separation of church and state? The cases blocking the ten commandments from being displayed on government grounds, and outlawing prayer from schools and other government functions. If the commissioners are arrogant enough to keep spouting off their Christian prayers and this issue must go to court, then they WILL lose. No doubt.

No one is trying to say you cannot pray, just don't do it at a government meeting where not everyone is of the same belief system. Or else allow everyone of all religions to pray. I'm in favor of that, because it is inclusive and fair. I myself don't see the need for prayer in any of these meetings. Do you honestly believe praying actually has any influence on the outcome of the commissioners decisions? I think to believe so is hopeful, at best.

It's like when you're at a football game and both teams pray for victory before it begins. Who is 'god' supposed to listen to and favor, the team that prayed the hardest?

July 6, 2012 at 10:10 a.m.
librul said...

Oh yeah - include all RELIGIONS, that'll fix it. NOT. There are taxpaying citizens whose beliefs are being trampled upon even under this suggestion. Those who reject the appeal to myth and ethereal deities as an affront to reason are still being shunned and excluded. They include atheists, rationalists, humanists, and dozens of other philosophies in which "gods" play no part. But they are U.S. citizens no less than any of the commissioners or their Reverend "attorney". They comprise a sizable minority in the country and are well represented in the local area. The commissioners are still out of bounds and their arrogant policy stipulation serves as proof that they do not intend to represent the whole of our citizenry as they have sworn an oath on their own holy book to do.

July 6, 2012 at 10:43 a.m.
conservative said...

Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,

Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us

He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.

Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.

July 6, 2012 at 11:30 a.m.
dao1980 said...

Talk about vanity.

How about believing that in all of the universe and the vastness of it's place in and around our perception of time, the creator of all that exists, looks like us and acts like us.

That he is a he, and that he is a slave to human emotions like anger and jealousy.

That we need to stay in his ear like needy misbehaving children so he knows we still care, and that somehow we deserve an afterlife above all other creatures that don't.

That (here's the biggest whopper) all of Gods thoughts and feelings are contained in a book, that we wrote..

Now that vanity, is surpassed by no other.

July 6, 2012 at 11:56 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Good points, dao.

Christianity is itself a religion of vanity and self-righteousness. It's ironic that self-righteousness is one of the sins that christians like to preach against, yet born-again christians cannot help but be self-righteous, simply believing as they do - that they and they alone are on the one true path to heaven and salvation.

And look at the very nature of the God they worship: one who himself (male? hmm...) is jealous and petty, demanding constant attention and worship, one who commands blind, unquestioning obedience over individual creativity and autonomy. And if one dares to think outside the box and utilize the logic and the reasoning mind with which God has endowed us, choosing a path that is uniquely our own (in other words, exercising our free will), then that God will cast us into hell, there to burn and suffer for all eternity. "But he loves us!" - as George Carlin used to say.

How can christians - at least the fundamentalist, proselytizing ones - be anything other than vain, jealous, small minded, self-righteous, and sadistic, when the very god they worship is all of the above?

July 6, 2012 at 3:42 p.m.

It’s sort of ironic that you would quote George Carlin. According to him, no one has the right to not be offended by someone else’s speech.

July 6, 2012 at 6 p.m.

Until someone has been denied the opportunity to offer a prayer, no one's rights have been violated. Your desire to not feel left out during an invocation because you do not happen to acknowledge the same deity as that of the speaker is a weak excuse for denying the First Amendment rights of Hamilton County citizens. Such invocations have been regularly given at official functions in every branch of government – at the federal, state, and local levels. The practice of solemnizing public events with prayer has continued uninterrupted since the republic was founded. It has been affirmed by the courts as Constitutional. Perhaps the plaintiffs need to develop thicker skin.

July 6, 2012 at 6:18 p.m.
Easy123 said...

"It has been affirmed by the courts as Constitutional."

This is a lie.

July 6, 2012 at 8:51 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

To Ken Orr and his fanatical bible-thumping brothers and sisters in jeezus:

It is useless trying to argue with you christian troglodytes. No amount of reason or logic will ever penetrate those stunted, vacuum-sealed minds of yours. It's troubling and baffling to me how anyone can be so dense and so willfully blind that they cannot see the glaring absurdities of the Bible. Yet you go on quoting and quoting and quoting the most idiotic verses that have no relevancy to anything whatsoever. You are so far out there, in your righteous little universe, babbling your biblical BS... you guys are downright creepy.

July 6, 2012 at 9:12 p.m.

I used to be one of those bible quoting guys. Then I had to be honest that the talking snake and talking donkey were really to much. Therefore the whole book is full of fairy tales. Don't be concerned about their rantings about the wrath of god. They might as well threaten to have Santa Clause put you on the naughty list.

July 7, 2012 at 11:14 a.m.

“In light of the unambiguous and unbroken history of more than 200 years, there can be no doubt that the practice of opening legislative sessions with prayer has become part of the fabric of our society. To invoke divine guidance on a public body entrusted with making the laws is not, in these circumstances, a violation of the Establishment Clause; it is simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country. As Justice Douglas observed, "[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306, 343 U. S. 313 (1952).

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES 463 U.S. 783 Marsh v. Chambers No. 82-23 Argued: April 20, 1983 --- Decided: July 5, 1983 Held: The Nebraska Legislature's chaplaincy practice does not violate the Establishment Clause.

http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/463/783/case.html

July 7, 2012 at 11:21 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Interestedbystander, it is not for myself that I am concerned about their rantings, but I know the influence that these psychos (and I don't use that word loosely - I do regard them as mentally disturbed) have over people who are weak and vulnerable. The blind faith of the Bible thumpers can seem impressive in its tenacity and cock-suredness. It is powerful enough to convince those who are unfulfilled and seeking answers outside themselves to look upon these Bible quoting nuts as actual emissaries of truth. The hapless victims become robotic converts themselves and they perpetuate the lies and the false God, and they keep passing off the primitive fairy tales as reality to the next hapless victims. And so, the dark cloud of the Dark Ages just keeps growing and metastasizing like a cancer over the land. That is what creeps me out.

July 7, 2012 at 4:41 p.m.

I think it would be safe to assume that you guys were never taught how to read ancient literature. Dark Ages indeed.

July 7, 2012 at 7:11 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Not exactly sure what point you are trying to make, wwwtw. If you are saying that Handel was a product of the Dark Ages, then you really ought to reconsider your statement. Methinks it is you who didn't quite get the hang of reading comprehension, or you just never grasped the divisions of history. The Dark Ages were the early medieval period between, roughly, the late 400s - 800, perhaps even extending into 1000. Handel lived in the 17th and 18th centuries. In fact his life coincided perfectly with the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment. Just sayin'.

July 7, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.

The Dark Ages were, in part, characterized by the inability to read and fully appreciate ancient literature, including the literature of the Bible. To classify its entirety, or any of its parts, as fairy tales reveals a deep misunderstanding of the literary genres contained in it and of standard, scholarly methods for interpreting them. Some posters here are as literalistic in rejecting the Bible as others are in embracing it. Neither reflects a respectable (or respectful) knowledge of what is actually there.

It would take a more thorough influence of Christianity among Europe’s barbarians before the light of Scripture and literacy could at last shine brightly there. And when it finally did, it gave us Dante, Rembrandt, Galileo, and Handel – not a bad heritage for people who believe “a fairy tale.”

Where are the Handels of “enlightened” secularists (people who regard the Bible as a fairy tale)? My guess is that you’ve never been exposed to anything other than literalist misreadings of the Bible. 'Tis a pity.

July 7, 2012 at 9:27 p.m.
Easy123 said...

WWWTW,

That is a complete misrepresentation of the Dark Ages. The period is characterized by a relative scarcity of historical and other written records at least for some areas of Europe, rendering it obscure to historians.

The Bible is full of fairy tale or at least what we would call fairy tales today. Much like the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Bible is mythology. There are very beautifully written verses in the Bible but that is not how Christians view the book. It is not simply literature to them. They base their lives on it. They view it as absolute truth. It is their religion.

Are you trying to say that Christianity gave us Dante, Rembrandt, Galileo, etc? All of these people were under the oppressive hand of the Catholic Church. Dante was exiled from Rome. The Church banned Galileo's work. It would seem that the examples you gave are terrible in showing the influence of Christianity in Europe after the Middle Ages. These people fought with the Church constantly.

There were no secularists during that time. If you didn't accept Christ, you were killed. Every heard of the Inquisition? Anyone that didn't follow the rules of the Church kept quiet if they wanted to live.

My guess is that you are one of those moderate Christians that think the Bible has many different meanings. This idea only adds to the incoherence of the Bible. If God breathed the truth into the Bible, then why are there an infinite amount of translations and meanings to each and every verse of the Bible? If you want to view it as literal or figurative, go right ahead. But that still proves nothing. It doesn't prove that Jesus was the Son of God. It doesn't prove that there is a God. You still have all your work ahead of you in proving any of the major claims made in the Bible about God, Heaven, Hell, etc.

July 7, 2012 at 9:49 p.m.
librul said...

Handel et al did what they did because there were people among the relgio-ruling class who would pay them to do it, NOT because their minds were illuminated by the "light of scripture". In Galileo's case, it was his passion for science and discoveries in astronomy that put him at odds with the church and its intransigent interpretation of scripture and rejection of heliocentralism. Todays "young earth creationists", whose minds have still not been illumninated by the bright light of science, are proof that the idiocy still survives.

July 7, 2012 at 10:02 p.m.

You are both making the common mistake of amateur historians (and the textbooks they write). You are flattering the Roman hierarchy by equating it with Christianity. Christianity isn’t Roman. Rome’s actions in the episodes you cite are far more in line with pre-Christian and post-Christian European values than with Christianity as it was (and is) found anywhere else in the world. Europe’s atrocities are Europe’s. They are not those of the eastern religion (Christianity) that, for a few centuries, offered an alternative to Europe’s intransigent tribalism, arrogance, and ignorance. That alternative has now been dismissed, and well, things have unfolded as Nietzsche predicted they would.

July 7, 2012 at 10:23 p.m.

Galileo was a faithful Christian who rightly argued that the Roman hierarchy, in condemning his findings, had misinterpreted Scripture. He did not reject the truth of Scripture. He rightly contended that it simply doesn’t address the matters he was researching. He wanted them to stop misinterpreting the Bible, and they could start by being less beholden to Ptolemy, the pagan whose cosmology they had wrongly embraced.

Most of Europe’s greatest art was produced by people who believed and deeply appreciated the teaching of the Bible. If you don’t believe me, read their journals, letters, and other writings. The Roman church, right or wrong, funded much of it. Whether they deserve credit or blame for doing so is beside the point.

July 7, 2012 at 10:30 p.m.
Easy123 said...

Rome and the Vatican were Christianity. The Catholic Church was Christianity. I'm not sure how you can argue that it wasn't.

Eastern religion? Europe's atrocities?

You're not making a claim here or proving anything. You're just typing to see the words.

July 7, 2012 at 10:33 p.m.
Easy123 said...

CONCLUSION:

Do not go by revelation; Do not go by tradition; Do not go by hearsay; Do not go on the authority of sacred texts; Do not go on the grounds of pure logic; Do not go by a view that seems rational; Do not go by reflecting on mere appearances; Do not go along with a considered view because you agree with it; Do not go along on the grounds that the person is competent;

-Buddha

Your Bible verses are meaningless.

July 7, 2012 at 10:50 p.m.

Easy123 said...

My guess is that you are one of those moderate Christians that think the Bible has many different meanings. This idea only adds to the incoherence of the Bible. If God breathed the truth into the Bible, then why are there an infinite amount of translations and meanings to each and every verse of the Bible?

It doesn’t have many different meanings. It’s difficult to understand because it’s actually a collection of books written in a variety of genres over a long period of time. It requires an open mind and a lot of effort in order to see its coherence and beauty. This is true of all literature, especially that originating in cultures (like the Ancient Near East) significantly different from that of the reader. Just because God doesn’t program our minds to automatically understand it perfectly whenever we read it, doesn’t mean it’s utterly incomprehensible. Most Americans are simply too lazy to make the effort to understand it on its own terms.

The desire to overcome the difficulty of understanding the Bible is largely responsible for the effort to bring literacy (and universities) to Europe and North America.

There are indeed many translations. Some are better than others. Figuring out which ones are more reliable also requires some effort and interest.

July 7, 2012 at 11 p.m.

Christianity did not begin in Europe, but in West Asia ("the Near East"). Don't be so provincial. You ARE aware that Christianity was and is practiced outside of Europe and America ...

You can't hold the religion of Ancient Palestinians, Egyptians, and Ethiopians responsible for the actions of a bunch of medieval Roman men wearing dresses. That's a very narrow perspective on a world-wide movement.

July 7, 2012 at 11:03 p.m.
Easy123 said...

WWWTW,

Why should a collection of books written by people that were inspired by God be difficult to understand? You're trying to tell me that a deity that created human beings and apparently knows us better than we know ourselves couldn't simply tell these people the exact thing to say?

You have laid it out for everyone to see. The Bible is incoherent. But only you and the non-lazy folks truly understand it. Why would your god make it so hard to comprehend? It doesn't make any sense. If you want to make the most people believe in you, why not make it very clear? Why not tell about electricity, DNA, the germ theory, the Internet, the spherical nature of the earth and sun, etc? Why don't the gospels agree on most things?

You're not helping your argument. You claim that God is mysterious and you cannot know his nature or reasoning and in the same breath you claim to understand the Bible "on its own terms". Which on is it?

The Bible is not literature to Christians. It cannot be placed in a genre for a Christian. It is their religion. It is what they base their lives on. They would die before they betrayed it.

July 7, 2012 at 11:10 p.m.
Easy123 said...

WWWTW,

Have you read the Bible? I hold those people responsible for their teachings and actions.

The movement would have never been world-wide without the Roman Empire. It would have died in the Middle East with all the other mystery religions.

July 7, 2012 at 11:16 p.m.

Demanding that all scientific knowledge to be delivered to us in one serving is kind of silly. It’s a lot more interesting when you are part of seeing it unfold over time. But being confined to time and space is a burden for you. The trouble is, you want to BE God – to know everything that it is possible to know instantaneously. Though we share some of God’s attributes, omniscience isn’t one of them. He has simply created humans with a lot of limitations. That’s what ticks you off. It doesn’t make Him unloving or unwise. It just makes Him a being who is distinct from and greater than you and me.

July 7, 2012 at 11:22 p.m.
Easy123 said...

WWWTW,

You're making up the rules as you go. YOU think you know God. YOU think this is how he planned it out. YOU want to be God. YOU already claim to know everything.

Space and time is no burden for anyone. We don't have a choice. I don't want to or expect to know everything at any time in my life. But I would expect an omniscient God to know it and to be able to relay it to his own creation. You're limiting your own god with your claims and then you limit humans even further by saying that we have a lot of "limitations". Like what? What type of conscious limitations can you fathom? This is all we know of the real world. Please show me our "limitations". Technology and science progresses everyday. Christianity has fought that progress tooth and nail.

PROVE THERE IS A GOD. This is the ultimate claim you have no proved. You can wax poetic about your god and his omniscience, but you have not proved anything.

July 7, 2012 at 11:32 p.m.

Since an infinite being cannot be controlled in a laboratory, He can’t be proven scientifically. Neither can justice or goodness or love, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist or that you can’t experience them.

As for why it takes effort to understand the Bible, I guess God could have made the whole world into one homogenous culture with only one language and then frozen it in time so that we could instantly understand everything that has ever been done or written throughout all of history with no effort, but again, that’s awfully simplistic and uninteresting. I’m not sure why it’s a strike against God that he wants us to learn things over the course of time instead of all at once. Or that it happens through collaboration rather than as isolated individuals (again, very western). The method of acquiring knowledge over time (rather than all at once) seemed to invigorate the early scientists in their work as they sought to understand the operations of God’s creation. (READ their frickin’ letters and journals, not what your 8th grade history book told you.)

July 8, 2012 at 12:50 a.m.

While a lot of the Bible is difficult to understand, it’s basic message is pretty clear. Humans and the planet they inhabit are works of beauty, wonder, and careful design. Humans are endowed with great abilities but also significant limitations. Humans rebelled against their Creator and demanded to do things according to their own selfish desires. The result was that the harmony of human relationships, as well as that between humans and nature and between humans and God, was broken. That’s what’s wrong with the world.

God loves humans and that entails giving them the ability to reject Him, which they did. All subsequent humans inherit a sinful nature and the guilt before God that accompanies it. Because of our selfishness, we justly deserve His displeasure.

Almost right away, the Bible records God began making promises to bear the guilt for man’s sin and reconcile a remnant to Himself. Through the Law and Prophets, he revealed His moral standards (on which our moral standards are based, even the ones you use to dismiss Him). He used signs and ceremonies to demonstrate that the wages of sin is death and separation from Him. He promised that, in due time, he would send a divine sin-bearer, the Messiah, who would deliver His people from their self-destructive selfishness. And He promised that Abraham’s seed – the Messiah – would gather followers who would be a light to the nations, helping to restore the things that have become broken by our sin.

July 8, 2012 at 12:51 a.m.
Easy123 said...

You're not rational, reasonable or logical. You are mentally compromised.

Your religious babble means nothing. Absolutely nothing.

July 8, 2012 at 1:49 a.m.

So said the West's earlier illiterate pagans. Some of them eventually came around. So there's hope for you.

July 8, 2012 at 7:29 a.m.
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