John Young
Special to the Daily

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May 13, 2014
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Young: Freedom to trivialize one’s religion

It’s always odd to see how some whose allegiance to Christ is most explicit seem allergic to much of what Christ said. About materialism. About militarism. About inclusiveness. About forgiveness.

Then there’s Christ’s comment about public piety — about those who “pray that they be seen by men.”

He called them hypocrites.

It would have been interesting to see how Jesus would vote if he were sitting among the black robes of the U.S. Supreme Court on the subject of public prayer for elected bodies. A one-vote majority ruled it a lawful prerogative.

Let us acknowledge that, yes, nothing in the Constitution forbids hypocrisy.

It’s just too bad that people who truly believe in the power of prayer don’t stand up and say:

“Yes, government-sponsored prayer violates the First Amendment. More onerously, when reduced to a grandstand play, something sacred is rendered superficial.”

If one read the court’s ruling, one would understand that the court authorized trivialized prayer, not the kind that can get personal.

In the words of Justice Kennedy, lawful prayer does not “proselytize.” In other words, what’s legal is pasteurized prayer, not pastor-ized prayer. What’s permissible is sanitized prayer, plasticized prayer.

“To many religious people, God is not dependent on Congress or the Supreme Court,” said former Sen. John Danforth during one of too many debates about school prayer, which he passionately opposed.

“Advocates of school prayer seem to say that all prayer is good, regardless of its contents, that all prayer is equally efficacious, that the fact of prayer is important, not the content.”

Those thirsting for state-sponsored prayer would have dismissed Danforth and his fellow Democrats as anti-God. There would have been problems with that: First, Danforth is a Republican. Second, he is an ordained Episcopal priest.

In many years covering issues and events in Texas, I often had cause to ruminate on the Southern Baptist Convention, and Baptists in general. I came to appreciate the intellectual independence built into the Baptist compact, the rebel notion of the “priesthood of the believer.”

Today’s SBC? It will have none of that. It consistently models creedal conformity. Oh, and government entanglement in religion through things like school prayer? As with other noisy players in the religious right, the SBC is all in.

The latter stance blatantly contradicts the impulses that spawned the Baptist denomination in the first place. Early Baptists were among the most zealous about keeping church and state separate.

I think they had a good idea. So did the founding fathers, no matter how often proponents of state religion try to portray the founders in their likeness.

A prohibition on state religion is not anti-religion. It is just the opposite. It is the most unifying thing written into our Constitution. It means that, unlike the lands from which the ancestors fled, religion will be honored as an individual matter. The state won’t play favorites.

Now listen to the two chief Republican rivals for the uber-powerful position of lieutenant governor in Texas. Both incumbent David Dewhurst and Sen. Dan Patrick said children in public schools should be taught the Christian view of creation alongside evolution theory.

As Patrick says, “I think we really confuse our kids and our grandchildren because we send them to Sunday school; they learn about Jesus, they learn about the creation of the world, and then they go to school and they’re denied the opportunity to hear that.”

This is a revelation (lower-case “R”): All children in Texas attend Sunday school.

And so Patrick is right. The children of Texas Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Unitarians, agnostics and atheists are confused.

Patrick’s words are odious, yes, but let us say that were his wishes to bear fruit, non-Christians would be relieved to know that their own faith wouldn’t be trivialized for display purposes.

Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.


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The Summit Daily Updated May 13, 2014 08:13PM Published May 13, 2014 06:34PM Copyright 2014 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.