published Sunday, December 1st, 2013

On free speech and prayer: He’s got the whole world in His hands

For the last few weeks, students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga have been detouring around a street preacher whose stated mission is to save souls, but whose real talent appears to be offending people.

It’s a classic case of how we — over and over again — use religion as a bludgeoning tool rather than an invitation. A dividing line, rather than a ribbon of unity.

The same is true of “free speech,” which sometimes is confused as a ticket for unlimited rudeness and hate.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court — which opens its sessions asking God to save America and the court — heard arguments on a prayer case out of Greece, N.Y., that will have implications on our own public prayers before Hamilton County Commission meetings, among others.

This case is not about ending prayer. Does anyone really think anyone or anything can stop them from praying?

And it’s not about taking God or Christ out of anything public. It’s about being loving enough to be inclusive with whatever name we all call God and the Savior, or with our myriad strands of belief about just what God intends.

In 1983, the Supreme Court ruled legislatures could begin their sessions with a prayer as long as there is no attempt to proselytize or disparage any faith and the process of choosing the prayer-giver is not discriminatory.

That, in essence, meant the prayers either needed to be one-size-fits-all for believers of Christianity, Judaism and the scores of other faiths; or the prayer givers needed to be rotated among faiths. A Christian one week, a Jewish layman another week, a Baha’i leader another week, and so on. Inclusiveness.

Since that ruling, dozens of other cases have been filed to test the constitutionality of prayers at government venues other than legislative sessions, often with conflicting rulings in the lower courts.

Now, the Greece, N.Y., case may make new guidelines for the smaller public meeting venues. Like Hamilton County and Chattanooga. The high court could rule any day.

In Greece, the town board has almost exclusively offered Christian prayers — “in the name of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who lives with you,” for instance. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s about all we ever hear around here.

And there’s nothing wrong with it, unless it’s used as a divider.

We shouldn’t need court rulings: Common sense and faith should tell us that love and unity will suffice.

Let us pray. Well and fairly. Amen.

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librul said...

Balderdash ... utter balderdash!.

Atheists and agnostics are citizens, too. Atheists and agnostics pay taxes, too. Atheists and agnostics stand in the shadow of the same municipal structure as do all those believers in those "myriad strands of belief". They constitute a growing quarter of the population and are equal among all other citizens under the law. To relegate them to treatment as outsiders and to force the beliefs of the majority upon them is a violation of American principles and law, period.

To remove meaningless public appeals to the deities of the majority, who can all pray in silence (which is mandated by their holy book), from government assemblies is right, proper and respectful of all.

Sadly, it is doubtful that the same radical Supreme Court that views corporations defined on sheets of paper as equivalent to living, breathing, flesh and blood citizens will issue a ruling that is right and proper ... on much of ANYTHING.

December 1, 2013 at 9:36 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

There's a lot of truth and wisdom in what Mrs. Sohn says in her article but the title itself and the ending practically make it all null and void. "He's got the whole world in His hands" makes the silly and thoughtless assumption that the deity overseeing the universe is, as has been handed down to us from the myths of centuries and millennia ago, a male figure, some granddaddy up in the sky. It amazes me that women who otherwise think of themselves as liberated and free-thinking today still mindlessly cling to the patriarchal notion of God as a male figure. If they want to believe that a supreme being created the universe and our earth and the living things upon it, why do they not stop to ask the simple question of why did a female deity hot have an equal hand in the creation of it all? Why do they so readily accept the tired old Christian/Muslim/Judaic notion that God must be a male and a confirmed bachelor?

And then towards the end she says, "Common sense and faith should tell us that love and unity will suffice" (amen to that, sister!), and that would have been a perfect ending. But then she goes on to add, "Let us pray. Well and fairly. Amen." How about let's NOT pray - in public, I mean. For those who believe in the power of prayer, why don't they just keep their prayers to themselves, as truly heartfelt prayers should be anyway, in the privacy of their hearts and homes and places of worship? But for those who want to insist on prayer being offered up to begin government or public meetings, then be sure that you include us atheists/agnostics into the mix. Herewith is a sample of an atheist prayer that, if I were inclined to pray I might offer up to whoever might be in attendance at whatever public gathering:

My brothers and sisters in attendance, it is not up to some invisible granddaddy in the sky that I offer up these words but rather to you yourselves and myself as well. The problems and issues that we are faced with today have not been created by some vengeful deity but rather by our very own selves. Therefore it will not take some supernatural intervention to rectify them or to make whatever positive changes we deem necessary but only our collective wisdom and intelligence, driven by the interests of what is best for all concerned. Let us proceed with focus and clarity and with hearts and minds that are open, knowing that we are all in this together and that we are all stewards of this earth, and whatever decisions we make must be not only for our immediate good but for that of our children and grandchildren who will follow after us. Amen.

The day that an atheist can run for president and stand just as much chance of winning as a Christian, or the day that an atheist is not thought of as being "immoral" just by nature of not believing in some mythical being up in the sky, that is the day that we will have truly made a dent in breaking the shackles of religion that keep us chained to the Dark Ages.

December 1, 2013 at 6:19 p.m.
LibDem said...

Common sense and faith tell us that a government that can't function without an opening prayer to a cloud needs to go home and think about its handicap.

December 2, 2013 at 7:11 a.m.
ProudAtheist said...

"In God We Trust," the 10 commandments in the courtrooms, and government officials praying before a public meeting in a government building are all unconstitutional. These all favor Christianity, and they all violate the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment.

We are NOT, and never were, a Christian nation, and politicians need to learn about our founding fathers and founding documents in order to realize this fact. The Constitutional was drafted an entirely secular document, as it states as the very first amendment that the government shall not pass a law which will help to establish a religion, and that they may not favor one religion over another. In addition, the Constitution states that no person running for public office should be required to take a religious test. If they need more proof that we're NOT a Christian nation, they can always read the Treaty of Tripoli, which states that "The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."

It's time that the American people hold these bigoted government officials accountable for these clear violations of the Constitution and rectify these violations by taking "In God We Trust" off of our currency; doing away with the motto "In God We Trust" entirely, as it favors Christianity over all other religions since "God" is exclusive to Christianity; taking the 10 commandments down from the courtrooms since it's exclusive to Christianity; and abolishing public prayer by government officials in public governmental buildings, because their prayers are entirely exclusive to Christianity and favor one religion over others.

December 3, 2013 at 7:35 p.m.
inquiringmind said...

The basic problem is everyone wants to be sure the prayer spoken is of their religion and are offended when it is the prayer of another creed.

PROUDATHEIST, many of the influential founders held faith in deism, a distorted form of Christianity. They believed in God and a Jesus whose actions were restricted by rational scientific law. Go read about Thomas Jefferson. To their credit they came to this continent to avoid being forced to adopt a brand of Christianity different from their own. However, in the 1700's it was a natural fact of life that the majority religion ran the government according to their dogma.

As for the poor, disturbed woman at UTC who yells and accuses people of being sinners, she might be one of those false prophets talked about in the Gospels, or being used by such prophets, or like the rest of us, be suffering from the burden of sin herself, who knows. The tragedy is the students she alienates from Christianity.

December 5, 2013 at 6:35 a.m.
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