Pray on, Hamilton County Commission

Pray on, Hamilton County Commission

May 26th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

The sheer silliness of the latest assault on free religious expression -- this time at Hamilton County Commission meetings -- can best be appreciated just by contemplating the principles spelled out in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

To wit: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

That is one of the simplest yet most profound guarantees of liberty ever promulgated by man.

But consider only the part that most directly concerns faith: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ... ."

Put that yardstick next to the recent demand by an obscure organization, the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, that the Hamilton County Commission stop praying before meetings.

To take the Wisconsin group (and some activist courts that hold similar views) seriously, one must first engage in the intellectual gymnastics required to embrace the notion that voluntarily spoken prayers -- which those who attend commission meetings may heed or ignore -- amount to the enactment of a law "respecting an establishment of religion."

The First Amendment's prohibition on making a law to that effect was intended rather simply to prevent the creation of a state church.

Search diligently for evidence that Hamilton County's commissioners have devised a plan -- involving the utterance of prayers before their meetings -- to impose a state church. You will not find it.

Heck, have you met the commissioners? Read up on Fred Skillern, Jim Fields, Mitch McClure, Warren Mackey, Greg Beck, Joe Graham, Larry Henry, Tim Boyd and Chester Bankston. Give them a phone call if you like. Whatever your view of their policy decisions, you would scarcely be able to come up with a group of gentlemen less intent on forcing their religious views on the unwilling. They'd likely give you a puzzled look if you suggested such a thing, as they scrambled to figure out what on earth you were talking about.

Nevertheless, the fastidious folks at the Freedom From Religion Foundation are outraged that prayers are offered at commission meetings. They demand action.

Thus, Commission Chairman Henry dutifully advised that he had forwarded the organization's note of righteous -- er, secular -- indignation to County Attorney Rheubin Taylor for review.

Henry pointed out that prayers also are offered in places such as, ahem, Congress. And whatever ultimately may come of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's complaint, he proffered this prediction: "We're not going to discontinue prayer."

Nor does the commission need to do so.

Voluntary, non-coercive expressions of religious faith, heritage and values in the public square do not amount to a government establishment of religion. They are, rather, an example of the constitutionally protected free exercise of religion.

Now if people who are exercising their constitutional liberties could only be freed from bothering with the Freedom From Religion Foundation.