Theology Thursdays: The ADL/ACLU Anti-Prayer Axis by Don Feder
The Anti-Defamation League is running neck-and-neck with the American Civil Liberties Union in competition for the coveted title: Most Despised Group in America
Both are involved in a concerted effort to purge expressions of faith and religious symbols from our public life.
The ADL is making up for its late entry into the field with a newcomer's enthusiasm.
In late January, Andrew Rosenkranz wrote to the Village of Wellington, Florida, in Palm Beach County, demanding that invocations at meetings of the village council be "inclusive" and "fair" - i.e. not invoke the name of Jesus.
The Village, which (gasp!) has no official prayer guidelines, regularly calls on clergy from local churches and synagogues to offer invocations. Christian clergy have been known to pray in Jesus' name, as their faith instructs them.
Rosenkranz sees this as a clear and present danger to the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. Say the word ("Jesus") and you get a state church?
To bolster his argument, the ADL director misstates a 1983 Supreme Court decision. But we'll get to that in a moment.
When the ADL goes after religious expression, the attack is always two-pronged. If it can't win by intimidation on constitutional grounds, its fall-back position is inclusiveness. "We need to be inclusive of people and their (religious ) differences," Rosenkranz insists.
It's true that public prayer in the name of Jesus excludes non-Christians. So what? Does everyone have to be included in every public invocation?
By definition, atheists and agnostics are excluded from any official prayer. That was the basis for the 9th. Circuit U.S. Appeals court holding that the saying the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional, because the Pledge contains the exclusionary phrase "One Nation Under God."
Atheists are also excluded by the motto, "In God We Trust" on our currency, by witnesses taking their oath on the Bible, and by the president of the United States taking his oath of office with a copy of the New Testament. (The last time I checked, there was no inclusiveness clause in the Constitution.)
Even among believers, all but the most bland prayer will exclude someone. If a rabbi says the Shema (Hear, O' Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is One") by denying the Trinity, he excludes Christians. If Christians are offended, I've never heard them whine about it or threaten to sue.
If a Catholic priest says the Hail Mary, doesn't that exclude Protestants? Any prayer to a singular deity excludes polytheists. Bid deal. Where is it written that everyone must be included in every public prayer?
Grown-ups who can't affirm an invocation with an "amen," listen respectfully in silence - hoping their faith-tradition will be afforded the same respect.
The secularist jihad will do anything to purge public expressions of faith. Where it can't ban prayer completely, it demands nondenominational, "inclusive" prayer - prayer as bland as tapioca pudding.
The ACLU was behind a November decision of U.S. District Judge David Hamilton, who ruled that henceforth and forevermore opening prayers at daily sessions of the Indiana House must be nonsectarian.
In a suit brought by the ACLU, Hamilton misinterpreted the same Supreme Court decision cited by Rosenkranz. "The evidence shows that the official prayers offered to open sessions of the Indiana House of Representatives repeatedly and consistently advance beliefs that define the Christian religion," Hamilton wrote. "The sectarian content of the substantial majority of official prayers in the Indiana House therefore takes the prayers outside the safe harbor the Supreme Court recognized for inclusive, non-sectarian prayer."
In the Marsh v. Chambers (1983) the Supreme Court did not hold that legislative prayers needed to be nondenominational, nonsectarian or non-Jesus to meet the test of constitutionality.
The court upheld prayers by the paid chaplain of the Nebraska legislature, even though for the previous 16 years the legislature had selected clergy of one denomination for that position.
Regarding the ADL's Florida offensive, Gary McCaleb, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund (the un-ACLU), cites a recent decision of the U.S. 6th. Circuit Appeals Court "that being offended is not a constitutional injury and a federal district court in Georgia rejected the ACLU's attack on very similar prayers at a county commissioners meeting."
Expanding on Hamilton's ruling, Ken Falk - the Indiana ACLU attorney who filed the case - explained: "When a human being steps forward to the speaker's pulpit (sic.) and ascends those stairs, that person is now the state of Indiana. As the state of Indiana, that person must be inclusive and can not endorse any one religious faith or belief."
Besides not being grounded in any Supreme Court precedent, this pronouncement is utter nonsense.
At the 2001 Bush inauguration, when Rev. Franklin Graham ascended to the podium to deliver the invocation, did he become the United States of America? And when he prayed "in the name of the Father, and the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit," was that tantamount to the U.S. government endorsing Christianity? If so, why didn't the Chief Justice of the United States, who was present to deliver the oath of office, stop him?
To ask these questions is to highlight the absurdity of Falk's contention (also the position of Rosenkranz and Judge Hamilton).
FYI, according to a Fox News survey, of 53 prayers given at opening sessions of the Indiana House in 2005, 29 invoked Jesus - that's just under 55% of the time, in a state that's probably 90% Christian.
As I said, demands for nondenominational prayer are a diversionary tactic. The real goal of the ADL/ACLU Axis is a radically secular state - one where God, and God-based morality, will be under house arrest - confined to houses of worship.
* In June of 2005, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman wrote to the Superintendent of the U.S, Naval Academy demanding that the academy end the practice of "organized prayers" before lunch. Here the complaint didn't concern sectarian prayers or prayers in Jesus' name, but prayer period. Foxman called the voluntary prayer (offered by chaplains of various denominations on a rotating basis) "coercion."
* The ACLU represents atheist Michael Newdow in his crusade to have the words "One Nation Under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. The 9th. Circuit Appeals Court agreed. The Supreme Court reversed on procedural grounds. Late last year, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton concurred that the Pledge, as currently written, is unconstitutional for recitation in the public schools. The ACLU did not object because "One Nation Under God" is a Christian invocation, but because it's an invocation.
* Last November, Morris S. Casuto, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in San Diego, protested Christmas programs in the public schools, stating his preference for "winter programs." "School and public events should be designed to enable diverse communities to participate without feeling left out or marginalized," Casuto inveighed. To this my friend Bill Donohue of the Catholic League replied, "Following Casuto's logic, the schools should ban Black History Month because it leaves white kids 'feeling left out or marginalized.'"
* Last June, the ACLU achieved a partial victory when the Supreme Court struck down posting of framed copies of The Ten Commandments in Kentucky courthouses (while upholding a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas capitol). The ADL was thrilled, claiming the Kentucky decision arose out of a "profound respect for the diversity of religions in America today." Again, The Ten Commandments aren't sectarian or denominational. Catholics, Protestants and Jews believe they come from God. Who is the ADL trying to include by banishing them - Buddhists, Wiccans, Zoroastrians?
Abetted by activists in the federal judiciary, the Anti-Defamation League and American Civil Liberties Union are intent on removing all prayers, all religious symbols and all references to God from our public life.
Appeals to inclusiveness are a cover.
Ultimately, they seek to purge Judeo-Christian morality from our legal system and government. They understand what many Christians and Jews miss - without God, there is no basis for traditional morality.
Once the vestiges of faith have been swept aside, they can fashion the America they long for - one that will make San Francisco on a Saturday night seem like a Baptist revival meeting on Sunday morning.
Don Feder is a former syndicated columnist for the Boston Herald and author of Who's Afraid of the Religious Right? and A Jewish Conservative Looks at Pagan America. He works as a freelance writer and media consultant and serves as the president of Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation. This article appears on his website, DonFeder.com
Thursday, February 9, 2006