I’ve been following with a certain degree of interest the case involving the Greece Town Board’s use of prayer to open its meetings. I found the practice to be a little unnerving and was kind of shocked on Monday when I saw that the Supreme Court said it was A-OK.
I was even more shocked on Tuesday when I went to the Niagara County Legislature meeting to find that they follow the same practice: prayer to start the meeting.
As I sat there, or stood there, rather, I went from being amused to annoyed to downright upset about it.
A government meeting is no place for prayer. If our county officials want to ask God for help, more power to them. I do so regularly. But I don’t force others to listen — and neither should they.
Of course, we weren’t only asked to listen, we were instructed to rise and bow our heads. I did so, essentially, out of peer pressure. I don’t want to be “that guy” who raises a stink at a meeting over government-coerced indoctrination of religion. But let’s face it. That’s what it is.
Following the prayer, we all put our hands over our hearts and said the pledge to the flag. So you have a baseline for how liberal I am on certain topics, I find the coerced recital of the pledge equally upsetting. Indoctrination of nationalism is offensive to me, too. But back to prayer.
Liberal as I may be on some things, I consider myself deeply religious. I believe in God. I go to church. And I pray, although not as often as I should, no doubt. Those who have read my columns for a long time know that I invoke God from time to time. Maybe that makes me a hypocrite, but I think not. I’m not the government. And I don’t pressure others into my religion.
I don’t want prayer from the government any more than I want my church to tell me how to its interpretation of the Constitution. The two influences just shouldn’t meet.
To be fair, there’s nothing in the Constitution, the Declaration, or anywhere else, really, that says there’s a “separation of church and state.” Some believe it’s implied by the First Amendment guarantee to freedom of religion, which many (self included) interpret as “freedom from religion,” meaning freedom against the type of indoctrination that happens in Greece … and Niagara County … and who knows how many other places in the nation.
The attorney for the Town of Greece applauded the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday, saying the court affirmed “that Americans are free to pray.” On that, I’d agree. But we should also be free from being prayed to … or at.
If, as a Christian, I find the practice offensive, how do others feel?
Scott Leffler is a Christian. But that’s between him and God. You be what you want to be. He won’t hold it against you as long as you don’t pressure him to convert. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.