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A Loss of Freedoms
Personal Commentary on Two Current Events -- December 1, 2005
Copyright © 2005 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

A few months ago the Supreme Court of the United States of America upheld one stateís newly passed law. That law allowed the state to forcibly confiscate private land from a legitimate land owner (who did not want to part with his land) and turn it over to another private land owner on the presumption that the new land owner could cause the property to produce higher tax revenues.

That ruling, of course, violates and reverses a long standing principle / right we have long enjoyed in this country, often referred to as the right to private ownership of real property. With this unorthodox ruling from the highest court in our country, the states may now "legally" redistribute any privately held land they deem to be not producing sufficient tax revenue.

Churches produce no tax revenue at all for any state. Church buildings and church property are tax exempt. The Supreme Court has opened the way for the eventual legal confiscation of church real estate by the states. This must surely be among the courtís oddest rulings in recent decades.

Then came federal Judge David Hamilton. The Indiana Civil Liberties Union brought suit against the Indiana State Legislatureís practice of allowing clerics from diverse faiths to pray for divine guidance before sessions. Apparently the ICLU was protesting the fact that more "Christian" clerics than not were praying for the legislative meetings, and worse, the ICLU perceived that specific prayers could be construed as the legislature favoring one religion over others--thus a form of "religious endorsement." Clerics, from any faith, are permitted to volunteer to pray for the Indiana legislators in public. Officially, no faith is given preference, nor was any faith expressly excluded, until now.

Judge Hamilton ruled yesterday that prayers could continue before the Indiana legislators met, but only if the prayers did not invoke the name of Jesus, or His title as "Christ." Judge Hamilton is reported to have said, "The prayers should not use Christ's name or title or any other denominational appeal." Apparently the ruling forbids the person who is praying to address his God by name or to reference his religion or any specific religious practice.

How does one address a prayer to his deity without using His name? How does one close a prayer without using a word like "amen" which might give away which religion the cleric holds dear? We have indeed moved away from the goal of protecting religious expression from government censorship, to protecting government from religious expression.

This ruling would seem to ignore the US Constitutionís edict that government (any branch of government, including the judicial branch) shall not make or enforce any law with respect to a religion, and that the government shall not create its own religious preferences to be forced upon the citizenry. In spite of that precedent, Judge Hamilton has defined what the allowable content of public prayer may be when government officials are present.

It is also reported that Judge Hamilton said, "The prayer opportunities have frequently and consistently been used to advance the Christian religion." Yet, we know that the purpose of the vast number of the prayers uttered over the centuries for lawmakers has been to beg God to favor the land with righteous and wise laws at the hands of these elected officials. That some clerics have used such an opportunity to exalt Christ, or Allah, or Jehovah need not have caused such a far reaching judicial decision mandating what makes for a good prayer and what makes for a bad prayer.

Wiser heads, and cooler, might have realized that if a cleric is deemed inappropriate in his prayer, the legislature has the option of never inviting such a one back. Lacking such a common sense solution, a judge has placed into law the form and content of how we must now pray for the legislature, protecting them from hearing the very name of Jesus, the Christ.

When did the judicial branch of the government decide it had the authority to edit the content of prayers? When did it decide it had the wisdom to know which deities are acceptable to petition in public and which ones are not? And when did the people of these United States vote to give up their rights to free speech, freedom to practice their religion, and freedom to own private property? When did this happen?

Perhaps the question is not properly focused. Perhaps I ought to ask, "When was the last time I prayed for my state legislature at home?" Or, "When was the last time I prayed that my governmental leaders would judge righteously?" Perhaps, just perhaps, it is not entirely the judgesí fault at all, but also my own for not exercising that freedom of religion to pray, to petition God, before such authority was overreached.

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2b,3) But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:44-48)

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. (1 Timothy 2:1-8)

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Page First Published: December 1, 2005
Page Last Revised: December 18, 2005