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May 10th, 2010
Freethought San Marcos: Unthinking Christians and the National Day of Prayer

Freethought San Marcos: A column

I had intended to write about populism this week, but I was so startled by the unthinking Christians and their groups that chose to participate in the government-sponsored National Day of Prayer on May 6 that I decided I needed to clear up a few points that I tried to make two weeks ago when I first wrote on this subject.

Any religious group that needs the government to sponsor its religious worship is a feckless flock.  Had I been a member of any of the participating groups, I would have been ashamed.  Our founders came to this country to get away from the government’s interference in religion.  If a religion requires government sponsorship to give it meaning, its God must be the most impotent God ever imagined by the human mind.

All of my adult life–over 45 years–I have supported the right of all our citizens to the freedom of religion.  I have supported the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses to follow their religious dictates and refuse to salute the flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance.  To have this right accepted by the government has required that the government be sued on behalf of the children held up to ridicule and derision for following their parents’ beliefs.

On the other hand, I have opposed providing government resources to religious groups for their use in practicing their religions.  In the 1940s, some laws allowed school districts to release students during the school day for religious instruction provided by religious leaders in public school classrooms.  These laws were challenged in Champagne, Illinois, by a mother, Vashti McCollum, on behalf of her son, who was beaten up so regularly over his mother’s religious beliefs that his parents moved him to private school, providing evidence that there are Christian goons among us.  In the McCollum case, the Supreme Court recognized that there is enormous pressure on children to conform to expected norms, i.e., participate in the religious education programs offered through a public school.  When that social pressure is combined with government “influence by the school in matters sacred to conscience and outside the school’s domain,” the result is a force too great to allow schools to become “embroiled” in religious teaching that proselytizes.

Justice Hugo Black, who wrote the opinion in the 1948 McCollum case, concluded, “Separation means separation, not something less.  Jefferson’s metaphor in describing the relation between Church and State speaks of a ‘wall of separation,’ not of a fine line easily overstepped…. It is the Court’s duty to enforce this principle in its full integrity.”

In the 1950s, many school districts tried to force children to pray, and the children of dissenters were beaten as often as the McCollums’ son a decade and more before.  Further, some schools tried to compel students to participate in Bible reading.  Thanks to the efforts of civil liberties groups representing aggrieved parents, the government was ordered by the Supreme Court to cease such compulsory religious activities.

While many religious leaders and pious parents were deeply offended by these rulings, at least one devout minister was not.  The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., remarked that it would be nice if the school day across America could begin with a reading of the Bill of Rights.  “After all, he said, “we Negroes know our Bible.  We don’t need to have it read to us in school.”  It is shameful that all Christians do not have such a profound understanding of the Constitution and an appreciation of the role played by each of our institutions–government and religious.

My own background helped me understand the distinction made by Rev. King.  When I was in kindergarten and first grade, I attended a private school because my birthday fell not long after the September 1 date for admission to public school.  My parents chose to send me to a parochial school (Lutheran) for my second and third grade years.  Each day there, I was required to memorize a Bible verse, a practice acceptable to my parents and one that I dutifully fulfilled.  But when I entered public school in the fourth grade, those religious activities ceased, except (coincidentally) I had to learn a new section of the Pledge of Allegiance for reasons I did not understand.  Frequently, I forgot to say “under God” as the class recited the Pledge each morning, but eventually I learned the words of the new insertion.

As a child, I mostly did what I was told, so I thought nothing of the two new words added to the Pledge.  They meant nothing to me.  Later, as an adult, I realized what a propagandistic bit of political skullduggery the Congress and the President had foisted on us.  By requiring school children to make a religious statement in a secular, patriotic pledge, politicians had succeeded in appealing politically to religious Americans who saw nothing wrong with the government promoting religion.  At about the same time, at the behest of the leading Christian Evangelist of that era, Billy Graham, the National Day of Prayer was begun by act of Congress.  Both the official prayer day and the “under God” insertion in the Pledge were driven by the McCarthyism of the era and a desire to distinguish the US from the atheistic Soviets.

By the time the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) decided that it should challenge the political sacrilege of a National Day of Prayer called by the government, the right-wing Christian evangelical group Focus on the Family had virtually taken over this government-sponsored day of worship, preventing Mormons, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Hindus, and some other non-Christian religious groups from participating in this activity of government.

Now we are told by many Christians that this country is a Christian nation. Apparently, that means they believe that our system of governance is wedded in some way to Christianity, so the country founded on freedom of religion for all its people is now bound to serve Christianity by sponsoring Christian worship and encouraging obeisance to its doctrines.  What a long way we have come in 234 years.  We have gone from a founding based on escaping government-sponsored religion to government sponsorship of religion.

Of course, those political souls who want to impose government sponsorship of religion on all of us are delighted.  Sarah Palin finds it “mind-boggling” for anyone to suggest that we are anything but a Christian nation.  The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in response to Palin that “It’s incredibly hypocritical that Sarah Palin, who disapproves of government involvement in just about anything, now suddenly wants the government to help people be religious.  It is wildly inconsistent with her views on limited government to get the government involved in matters of faith.”

Palin continually tries to convince us that our founders were all like-minded about religion, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Paul Fidalgo, the communications manager for the Secular Coalition for America, responded to Palin’s simplistic and politically self-serving view of our founders by saying, “While the founders’ views on religion varied from person to person, there is no doubt that they believed strongly that religion had no place in government.  John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli which stated in no uncertain terms that ‘the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.’  Our Constitution established a secular government and has no mention of Jesus, Christianity, or a god of any kind, despite the false message spread by figures such as Sarah Palin who claim that America was founded as a Christian nation.”

To combat such palpable nonsense by Palin, and other national, state, and local politicians, the FFRF has produced a YouTube video– “To Christian right: You’re wrong about American history,” and FFRF is sponsoring advertisements that help set the record straight about the religious views of our founders:  President John Adams is quoted (from the Treaty of Tripoli, 1797), “The United States government is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.” Thomas Jefferson – “Question with boldness even the existence of a God.”  James Madison – “Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”  Thomas Paine is quoted, “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”  And a more recent president is included:  John F. Kennedy is quoted (from a speech he gave in Houston in 1960, while campaigning for the presidency) saying, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”

In the 1947 Supreme Court case Everson v. Board of Education, Justice Black wrote on behalf of the Court, “The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state.  That wall must be kept high and impregnable.”  The government sponsorship of religious (mostly Christian) worship has breached that wall.  It is a wall we need far more than the one erected and being erected on our southern border.  A constitutional scholar like President Barack Obama should be able to understand that.

© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins

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29 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: Unthinking Christians and the National Day of Prayer

  1. It’s a shame you didn’t write about populism. Your steady focus on Christianity is rendering your column boring and predictable. Let’s turn the page, Lamar.

  2. So can we end all welfare, food stamp, and free healthcare programs seeing as those are moral/religious ideas and the government is not a church or charity organization and should not be endorsing this sort of mandatory giving ?

    Some don’t believe there is a God, why should they be forced to pay money if people are hungry or sick ? What happened to survival of the fittest. Who is the government to endorse a different form of religion that contradicts Darwin ?

    By forcing us to take care of the poor, isn’t the government endorsing some Christian and other morally religious ideas ? Don’t I have the right as stated in the constitution to be free from such coercian?

    We are being forced to be charitable and robbed of the joy of giving voluntarily. The income tax is the largest violation of the wall between church and state.

  3. Atheists, socialist, communists…. they all still believe that there is a value to society in taking care of the sick and poor that does not stem from a belief in a higher power.

    Now speaking helping the sick and poor…. exactly why do all those right wing Christians that are so hot to demand that we be a Christian country not support welfare programs and universal healthcare. If Jesus was walking down Main Street USA and came upon a obviously ill hispanic man would he first ask if the man had a legal right to be in this country or would Jesus help him without question.

    WWJD indeed……

  4. The belief that there is value to a society in taking care of the poor is still a “belief” . The government is not allowed to establish one belief over another. If communities, athiest, commies, socialist or churches want to help the poor so be it.

    Why is my government trying to force me to believe that taking care of the poor is better for this society rather than the belief that forcing the poor to be uncomfortable in their poverty will get them to act accordingly and better their situation without my tax dollars by working to improve their situation by their own efforts or with the help from the people in the own local community.

    I don’t believe we are helping the poor, I believe we are forcing them to remain poor or else they lose their free government ride.
    They will never own a home, or wealth if they live government check to government check. They will stay dependent on their masters, and will continue to vote in those that deliver the forced offerings to their mailboxes.

  5. tmr asked, “exactly why do all those right wing Christians that are so hot to demand that we be a Christian country not support welfare programs and universal healthcare[?]”

    And your answer: They don’t support welfare because they believe charity should be separate from government. Numerous studies have shown that conservatives give far more to charity than liberals. This includes percentages of income, as well as total givings.

    Chew on that one, tmr.

  6. The right wing fundamentalists, regardless of religious affiliation, will use whatever opportunity that arises to promote whichever deity is worshipped. Pause…Think about that first statement. That’s very profound. Read it again. There’s not that much difference between any of them when you merely change the names. They are dwindling in quantity but the “hangers on” are a bloodthirsty and fanatical composition of “hardliners.” This is reflected again in the need to have a government endorse their particular flavor. Remember this…”Religion to the common man is true and to the wise it is false but to the rulers it is useful,” Seneca the Younger.

  7. WHY do Christians want to encourage public prayer, especially during governmental meetings, in public schools, on military bases etc. when their own scriptures state:

    Matthew Chapter 6 vs5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

    Are they embracing “hypocrisy” or declaring themselves “heathen”??

  8. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (King James Version)

    10 “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”

    (1 Corinthians 5:9-11 NIV) “you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.”

    I am forced to give some of these people free food, rental assistance and healthcare by the same government that Lamar doesn’t want to dictate a religion or even have a day of prayer.

    Some may say I have a moral obligation to take care of someone else. I say the Constitution and the passages from the Bible above say I don’t have to help all types of mankind.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

    “Prohibiting the free exercise” of my personal religion to not give a thought let alone a dollar to the lazy should be as protected as Lamar’s right not to hear a prayer once a year.

  9. Many charities, for example the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders, are secular. To have healthy citizens is in the common interest, if only to prevent uprisings.

    Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress the power to provide for “the general Welfare…”

    The First Amendment is clear that the government is not to mess with religion.

    I remember that many people of faith believed that law was wrong when it was first passed in 1952. Jesus taught to pray in private, after all. (Matthew 6)

    Why do reporters ask pastors what they believe is constitutional? (Their expertise lies in other areas.) Judge Crabb’s ruling took no rights away. Everybody can pray whenever they want anyway. The laws are clearly unconstitutional, the ruling spelling out the reasons, quoting history and case law. You can read it here:

    Many would like to rewrite history. James Madison wrote in 1822: “We are teaching the world the great truth that Governments do better without Kings & Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Government.”

    Please urge the Administration to not waste time and taxpayer money on appeals!

  10. Prevent uprisings ? So because some in our society are afraid of their fellow citizens we must continue to loot the workers to appease the lazy.

    Are some so scared to die that they want to force someone else to pay the bills to keep them alive?

    Obama’s healthcare law promises “free” extended life to some paid for by others.
    Jesus promises eternal life to all who believe he paid for it with his own blood and sacrifice.

    Mark 8:35 “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

  11. I wonder what kind of austerity measures a godless communist/capitalistic china has in store for us. I pray that greece isn’t giving them ideas. End the wars ,audit the fed, reduce spending, raise taxes and leave religion for the Sunday picnic.

  12. Lamar, what are your thoughts on the outreach to Muslims in airports and other public facilities for foot baths and prayer rooms ? Are you equally opposed to that use of public funds ?

  13. Ms. Walker, why do you get to have an opinion on Constitutionality but not a pastor? I predict the opinion you find so clear is headed for reversal unless the administration chooses not to appeal. A wall of total separation is not what the Constitution mandates nor what the current court is likely to enforce. The government cannot establish a religion or prohibit the free exercise of a religion. National Day of Prayer does not establish a religion; it recognizes religion generally but that does not run afoul of the Constitution.

  14. The truly egalitarian (and thereby populist) way of providing for the general welfare is not to foist free money upon the poor, taken by force from the rich. That’s totalitarian, which, according to most textbooks, not too far from populism (see National Socialism).

  15. What has helping the poor got to do with religion its humanitarian to help those in need what ever their religion or beliefs .
    Many secular based charities help those in need .

    Religion is and always has been a tool to control the masses.
    Power was and is in many counties held by those who hold the highest positions in religion …

    Back to replying to the original articule

    praying is a personal matter …….

    and no law will ever be passed to stop you doing so .

    you can pray to any god/s you wish any any time ,any day, at any place .

    you can pray
    on your own
    with friends/family
    in church
    in your home
    at the crocery store
    on the way to work
    returning from work
    you can ever pray sitting on the john if you wish
    you can make any day a prayer day
    make everyday a prayer day if you wish
    the choice is yours

    but why do you need the president of the USA to sanction your decision ??? are you not sure of the validity of what you do ?

    the president of the united states need to spend his time solving the countries problems not wasting it bowing to some special interest groups that thinks the world revolves around them .

    Go ahead pray to your hearts content.

  16. Oh I agreed with most of Lamar’s article, I am just bored with his topics so I try to look at other arguments. I was stretchin it thin but I just got my property tax estimate and thus tangents were explored

  17. Anybody who just got their property tax estimate needs to vent RICK in with you there 🙂

    My point is i believe the fed govt is to big and powerful and spending to much time and citizens money on subjects that are private matters and not their bisiness

    let the people do some things for themselves it they want a day of prayer let the citizens set it up .. no need for big brother govt to intervene .

  18. Have any of you people ever heard of the Black Regiment? A little historical perspective might be in order.

    “During the War of Independence there was a group of heroic men referred to as the “Black Regiment”. The very name enraged the British armies. As heroes in the war, their courage and leadership were hailed throughout the colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia. As a “regiment”, they never once drilled together, yet the strategic impact of their highly disciplined attacks was overwhelming. As a unit, they never fought together on a particular field of battle, yet without question, their leadership provided the spark which ignited victory after victory.

    This “Black Regiment” was responsible for providing the conviction and wisdom necessary for winning a war against the cruelty of an unjust government. What was the “Black Regiment”? Actually, it wasn’t a regiment at all. It referred to the American Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Baptist clergy. ”

    “So influential were the patriot-pulpits of Colonial America that it was said by Prime Minister Horace Walpole in the British Parliament, “Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson.” In fact, America’s War for Independence was often referenced in Parliament as “the Presbyterian Revolt.” And during the Revolutionary War, British troops often made colonial churches military targets. Churches were torched, ransacked, and pillaged.”

  19. I would have found jamming a pencil in my eye, an upgrade over the usual fare.

    How about some local issues?

  20. Among Alaska’s Jews, who make up .5% of the population, Mrs. Palin seems to be will liked. Rabbi Yosef Greenberg of Anchorage Chabad said that, as governor, she had been very supportive of the city’s Jewish museum, and, at the organization’s annual gala, which she attended faithfully, she volunteeres for hora lessons.

  21. Bravo…well written and supported article. You nailed it on so many fronts. But alas, christian zealots will attack the messenger and not take the message to heart in any attempt to understand it or emphathize with those outside of their own belief system. Intolerance and persecution of other religions is one of the 4 cornerstones of christianity.

  22. Sadly, intolerance and persecution are fairly uniform truths for people across races, religions, borders, or any other criteria you would like to use, to define a group. It is just one of the challenges that we all must strive to overcome.

    In the end, I’ll still take a pencil in the eye over trying to ascribe this shortcoming to any one particular group.

  23. Transcript of FDR’s D-Day Prayer:

    “My Fellow Americans:

    “Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

    “And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

    “Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

    “Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

    “They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

    “They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

    “For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.&

    “Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

    “And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

    “Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

    “Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

    “And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

    “And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

    “With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

    “Thy will be done, Almighty God.


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